Friday, March 1, 2013


Ever since losing my husband, people like to rationalize and insinuate that it has to be somehow “less painful” for me, because after all, we didn’t have children. To me, it feels like they are saying we weren’t really an actual family, since it was only me and him and our pets. People have actually said to me time and time again: "Well, at least you didnt have children." As if that is somehow supposed to cushion the tremendous lifetime blow that MY HUSBAND IS DEAD! I’ve also had lots of people wrongly assume that we werent planning on having kids anyway, so therefore, I didnt really lose anything in the way of a future family. Sigh.

Sometimes I really hate people and their insensitive remarks. Who cares if we were planning on having kids or not? Does it matter? The point is; the possibility, the hope, the option; was taken from us the second he died. Not only do I grieve the loss of my husband – I also grieve the family we never got to have. Each time I see other families playing happily together, kids swinging on a swingset, a little boy that maybe looks a bit like Don, a little girl with his sense of humor, a dad and his son tossing a ball back and forth, it all comes flooding forward and instantly hurts my heart. All of these scenarios are cruel reminders of what will never be. There won’t be any kindergarten or 1st year birthday parties or school functions or science fairs or graduations or marriages or grandparent days – not for us. The brutal and sad truth is that my husband will never get to be a dad, and I will never get to be a mom. We will never have our family, and that, in itself, is a whole other kind of loss to grieve.

About 11 months ago, my brother and sis-in-law, Jen, had their 2nd child, my niece, Jillian. She was born after Don died, so she will never know him. But my nephew Brian knew him, and my husband really loved that kid. A few months ago, my brother told me that lately, Brian had been asking questions about Uncle Don, out of the blue. He only 2 years old when he died, and now he just turned 4 and is very curious. He wanted to sleep in the bed with me when I went home for a visit, because he said “Auntie Kelley is sad.” He whispered into my mom’s ear during dinner one night that he had a secret. “Uncle Don died”, he told her, with me sitting only a few feet away. “But don’t tell Auntie. She doesn’t know.” My mom laughed nervously and said: “Im pretty sure she knows, Brian!”

My mom babysits Brian and Jillian once a week while Dave and Jen are at work. She called to tell me this story of the dialogue that happened between her and Brian during their time together recently. I scribbled it down as she was talking, so while it’s not exact wording since I wasn’t there, it’s close. The conversation began when my mom noticed that the fish in Brian’s fishtank were no longer there.

Mom: What happened to your fishes, Brian?

Brian: Oh, they died.

Mom: Oh, they did? Im sorry to hear that. How did they die?

Brian: They died because I forgot to feed them. I didnt feed them and they died, like Uncle Don died.

Mom: (taken aback) That’s right, Brian. Uncle Don died, and we all miss him very much.

Brian: Did Auntie see Uncle Don die?

Mom: No, but she went to the hospital to see him afterwards.

Brian: He used to pick me up and then go really really high , almost to the ceiling, Grammy!

Mom: That’s right honey. He did. He loved playing with you.

Brian: (putting his hands on his hips and getting very serious, like an adult) You know – he was a very nice guy. Uncle Don was a really nice man.

Mom: Yes he sure was. He was the best.

Brian: He was a really good, good guy. A very nice guy.

After that, Brian went back to playing and jumping around and being a little boy, but my mom was stunned by the seriousness in his tone. She said it was as if she was having a conversation with another adult, instead of a 4-year old. Now, I am quite sure that the most logical explanation for this “nice man” thing is that Brian has probably overheard my brother and Jen say things like that about Don, and he is just repeating it. Or maybe it’s something more.

Some say that when people die, their souls or their spirits are easiest to reach by both kids and animals. Im convinced that our cat Autumn sees Don in the ceilings and talks to him, because of the strange way she acts, meowing like a lunatic for 20 minutes straight each night, while staring at the exact same spot in the hallway ceiling. And as crazy as this makes me sound, I often see Don through our other kitty Sammy’s eyes when Im petting him. I sing to them both the songs that we used to sing to them, and I tell them how much I miss their daddy.

Maybe Im nuts, or maybe I just dont have any children to see my husband’s eyes in. Maybe I see him instead wherever good things are, and because he never got to be that wonderful dad he should have been, maybe it makes my heart sing and skip a beat or ten, to hear that he left some sort of impression on a boy who was only 2 years old. Maybe that boy remembers and understands more than we think and know.

Or maybe my husband was just a really nice man, who is now floating or swimming or walking around in the universe out there - sleeping with the fishes.

(Picture one is my husband Don with Brian as a newborn. Picture two is Don lifting Brian in the air, the game that Brian described to my mom in the dialogue above.)


  1. Thanks for telling this story, Kelley. The picture of Don made me teary - he seems like a big loving teddy bear like my husband was - I miss the hugs, as I'm sure you do, too... I have an almost-5 yr. old granddaughter, who was only 14 months old when Allen died. I've had similar conversations with her when she sees pictures of him. The loss of our future will never stop hurting, will it?

  2. Charlie and I did not have children either, but we were/are a family in every way. We had two special cats and two special dogs over the years, and I know they are with him now.
    When Charlie died last April our family included our kitten Lilith. Charlie was instumental in making sure I had her. I know she sees him and sometimes, I think he is in her.

    I have a 2 year old niece who barely knew Charlie, but she came ourt of my bedroom one day saying she was scared. We went in together. I could tell she saw something in the corner of the room. I told her it was just uncle Charles and she waved bye-bye.

    The ones we love never die.


  3. I read a great book by Natalie Taylor, a very young widow who was 6 months pregnant when her husband died in an accident. The book is called "Signs of Life" - it is written in a straight forward and very honest and raw way. LOVE IT!
    In it, she shares a story of a friend sharing with her before the funeral "STFU cards" and her friend hands her an 'invisible pile of STFU cards' telling her she will need them for the funeral and beyond. She goes on to explain that they are "Shut the F*** Up" cards and encourages Natalie to dole them out whenever necessary!!!!!!!
    Even as a widow just entering her third year of hard stupid widowhood, I use my STFU cards regularly. I have also shared piles of them with friends who were in dire need of passing them out themselves.
    Hope that helps - bc yes, people are insensitive, stupid and just plain lacking in common sense. As my Marty used to say "common sense is not common practice" - don't we know it!!??

  4. It is cruel for people to say at least you did not have kids. I have kids and there are days I think thank God, I have them to keep me going. Like you I believe, my husband sent my cats to me and when I am sad ,crying one of them will come to me and show affection. I do believe the little boy does remember, but when he gets older he may forget.

  5. Just as many people will say 'thank god you didn't have kids' as will say 'thank god you have the kids' (and possibly the same people will say both depending on the situation presented to them!). Grasping at straws, trying to throw 'happy' things to think about I suppose...

    So many ways I'm glad I have my girls, so many ways trying to raise them on my own is crazy hard (in particular, watching them grieve and not being able to fix it).

    Beautiful story - it's amazing what kids can remember . . .

  6. Beautifully written and something I can totally relate to. Michael and I weren't able to have children and I experienced the same comments which you did and the sme loss of not only my husband but the family we would never have. We had two wonderful dogs who have now met him at the Rainbow Bridge and a third dog who is still with me and has given me enormous comfort since my husband's death.

  7. Whether someone has kids or not or has been married a long time or just a few years. The loss of your partner/soul mate is like your heart has been ripped in half. People said to me at least you have your kids (10 & 12 year olds). Its been 2.5 years & those people have gone back to their lives & they dont see how much we miss Simon or how I have had to put my emotions on hold so as to comfort our girls & I know when I finally have to face my grief it will be hard. I feel like I died with my husband. Ali :'(

  8. I can completely relate to this insightful post, but even more so, I was touched by the beautiful and touching photos...they went straight to my heart. xxx

  9. You touched my heart, Kelley.

    Oh, and Mjay ... thanks for sharing the STFU cards. Love it!

  10. My grandson was only 2 years old when his grandfather passed away. But my daughter believes that Gramps comes to visit him. He'll be in bed just giggling as if someone is tickling him. He loves to see pictures and watch videos of Gramps, especially pictures of the two of them. I truly believe that Andy is watching over us. Kids are just better at seeing them!

  11. Thank you all so very much for your replies, your thoughtful comments, and your stories. I love reading through everything that you all have to say.

  12. My cat does the very same thing! Every night at 9:30 she wanders through the house making this pitiful cry. She goes to the "man cave" looking for my husband because he was usually there every night. Then she settles in the hallway and stares at the ceiling. I feel like, on some level, he's there with us. My cat reminds me of that and it's comforting.