Friday, March 29, 2013

On Your Mark. Get Set. WHAT?

When you run a race, you always know ahead of time when you will be finished. There is a pre-determined length in miles or kilometers that you will run. Or walk. Or crawl. 5k. 10k. Half-marathon. Marathon. 100-yard dash. Whatever it is, there is an ending in sight. That ending is real and it's tangible, and there's a big sign at the end that says FINISH, and maybe some pretty ribbon to break through as you raise your hands up in victory, and people cheering and saying with delight: "Congratulations! You did it!"

What if someone told you that starting right now, right this second, through no choice of your own, you would have to run in a race that had no finish line? No chance to go out and buy a fancy track-suit. Nobody applauding or even noticing your efforts. No friends holding up signs along the way or handing you water and orange wedges. None of that. Just, from this moment on, your life would be one, long, endless race that leads to nowhere, and there is no Finish Line. None. The race never ends. Well, okay. Let's not get overdramatic here. The race ends when you die.

Would you ever purposely put yourself into any such kind of ridiculous race? No! Of course you wouldn't. Nobody would. Youd have to be a crazy person to sign up for such lunacy.

But that's grief. That's widowhood. An endless race that leads to nowhere - a race that never ends. And when your husband dies in a flash, with no warning, like mine did - that is exactly what it feels like. From the first second that I was jarred awake by that ringing phone on July 13, 2011, it was a new life of: "GOOD MORNING! YOUR HUSBAND'S DEAD! READY? ON YOUR MARK, GET SET, GO!!!!!!

It's been almost 21 months now, and I'm exhausted. Every decision, every turn, every corner, every dilemma or problem or obstacle - these are all things I must face alone now. Without my other half to give his take on the situation. Without his help. And let me tell you - people stopped handing me water and orange wedges long ago. For them, the race was over awhile back. For me, it's always there. Life is exhausting when you are living it without your teammate.

Those of you who have been following my blogposts here, know that my current roommate asked me to leave our apartment by the end of May, just 5 short months after I moved here. I had left the apartment that my husband and I shared for 7 years. Where we lived our short life together.

The news of my roommate wanting me to go was shocking. I was blindsided by it. And when you think you are on solid ground in life, or in your living situation, and then somebody comes along and knocks your house of cards down and wont give you any reason for it - you begin to question everything about yourself.

What did I do? Why did he ask me to go? Did he hate my kitty cats? Did I not keep the place clean enough? Do I smell weird or act weird? Do you find me repulsive or annoying or crude? What could it possibly be that made you suddenly decide that you dislike sharing space with me? But I will never get an answer. And my husband isn't here to talk me out of my insecurities, so they magnify and they grow and they manifest. And then that weighs on my heart, and I begin to doubt myself and my progress. I start to feel like Im moving backwards in this race. I cant see the road anymore or where it is that Im supposed to go next. It is very tiring to feel this way. It sucks to wake up each day, and already feel defeated. How can I be this tired the very moment that I wake up? But I am.

Something that I keep saying over and over again to my grief counselor, week after week, is this: "Everyone keeps telling me that Im doing really well. That I look 'better', or that I seem more 'alive', or that Im doing good things and progressing in all the right ways. So if Im doing everything 'right', why do I still feel like shit? WHY? Why doesn't the pain ever lessen? I know it will never go away entirely, but why does it feel just as intense now as it did when it happened? When will I not feel like shit everyday?"

She reminds me that it's only been a short time - 21 months - and that it will take a very long time before I feel a little bit of release. She reminds me again that the level of pain is equal to the level of love we shared. She tries to comfort me with her words of hope and promise. My logical side understands all of this, and it makes a lot of sense. My heart will never comprehend any of it, and it makes no sense at all.

And so, with no answers about much of anything, and no real reasons why; feeling dehydrated, lethargic, and about to lose my mind; I just keep running. I suck at running. I have terrible feet and my shoes are old. Im overweight and Im breathing hard. I look like a complete jackass. WHERE THE HELL IS THAT FINISH LINE???

But there isn't one. There never will be. But maybe one day - months or years or a decade from now - there will be more answers than questions.

Maybe one day - my ankles will adjust to the rocks in my shoes - and the pain won't be so crushing.

No Finish Line. But another start.

Ready? On your mark. Get set. GO ..... 

NOTE: Picture shown is my late husband Don and I - participating in a 5k Walk in NYC - 2010.


  1. Although I'm only 6 months out, I know exactly what you're saying. It goes from non-stop friends on the sideline to no more water bottles and orange slices, and you have to figure out all this crap on your own. And it sucks! I don't know how to do this on my own.. Great post!

  2. "And my husband isn't here to talk me out of my insecurities, so they magnify and they grow and they manifest. And then that weighs on my heart, and I begin to doubt myself and my progress." - word. He isn't here to process the normal reflections and questions with, no one knows you well enough to get it, to understand it and - yeah, all of that. It is a gag-order, lonely-making, never-ending marathon with no orange wedges.

  3. I loved this article Kelley, and the analogy you used in it. This is something that so many of us can relate to feeling. Thank you for capturing it so well, as you always do. Good work.

  4. Your words remind me of Victor Frankl. When he was in his 30s, he found himself in a concentration camp. Both he and most of his inmates were faced with the loss of their entire families as well as the unimaginable physical and emotional suffering brought to them by their oppressors.

    Please know that I’m not saying that to suggest that some people have it worse than you. I wouldn’t dream of saying that. Your pain is your pain, it cannot be measured and I respect that and honor that.

    I’m bringing this up because what Victor Frankl found (he was a psychiatrist and interested in how the human mind works, even there) was that there was one single factor that enabled people to not only survive these unimaginable circumstances but also grow through them. This single factor was their willingness to find or create some kind of meaning in what seemed to be an utterly meaningless situation.

    It didn't really matter whether that meaning made sense or not from a rational point of view. It mattered that they found a meaning and were able to stick to it.

    So this is the challenge of widowhood too: Find or create a meaning for yourself, and then make your life a journey with a meaning, even when it goes through hell.

    As you suggest at the end of your post, there will be more answers than questions eventually, and there absolutely is a meaning to your journey.

    You might not be able to find that meaning today or tomorrow, but if you are willing to find it or to create it, you will not only experience that this marathon has both a purpose, a finish line, and some good pit stops along the way ... but you will also come out of it stronger and with more gifts for yourself and for the people around you than you can imagine. Including peace in your mind and joy in your heart.

    You can do it!

    Many warm greetings


  5. great article, two weeks out today. :(

    1. My thoughts are with you... this is a hard journey. I'm here if you need me!

  6. Kelley, what an awesome blog and perfect analogy. Everything you said, fits my experience perfectly. I am three years out, but still have days when the exhaustion of just fighting to keep two feet grounded is unimaginable.

    Your contribution to this website is priceless and please don't ever forget that. Your roommate might not need you, but this widow/(er) community thrives on your being.

    Hugs and thanks!

  7. Kelley, what a perfect time for me and this post. I had just told someone that I felt like I have fallen backwards a few months. Everything is caving in again. Not that it has been good by any means but thought I was finally making a little progress. Almost 8 months since the loss of my husband to a long battle with cancer. I'm 55. Feeling panicy and every little thing is a mountain. And how could I feel this tired when I wake in the morning. It is exhausting all day long. And no one cheering me on and giving me water and orange slices. I'll just have to figure it out on my own and continue to visit this blog for support.
    Thank you

  8. Great post Kelley, I'm 8 months out and keep trying to run this marathon, but like all of you, I'm exhausted and confused a lot of the time. Now, we have another holiday, am I the only one that never realized how many stinking holidays there are?

    1. My husband died in October- right out of the gate I had his birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, my birthday and Valentines day within 4 months. Almost did me in...

  9. Powerful post Kelley, what your counsellor said really jumped out at me - "level of pain, equal to level of love shared". Makes such sense. It's almost ten years for me, and yes I've gotten on with life, I've learned ways to live with the changes and I'm by no means a better person for the experience of widow-hood, but I'm for sure a different person. Sometimes, I seriously wonder if that 'finish line' exists.
    Keep your chin up girl, and I'm very concerned for you about your accommodation situation.

  10. Thank you so much Kelly. I am 8 years into widowhood and lately, I have been feeling so down and needy and your insight into insecurities being magnified without the ability to talk things over with your love, hit the nail on the head. It made so much sense and now I don't feel so crazy.

  11. im on roughly the same time frame as you (aug 24, 2011 an accident too ) but I also buried my 19 month old son due to an accident 25 yrs ago. what I finally realized is the important questions will never have answers and even if they did the answer would never be good enough to justify the pain so I quit searching for them. it takes so much energy to search and for me accepting that ill never have the answer allowed me to channel that energy into something positive that I could see the results are a wonderful writer and touch a chord with in every post