Friday, April 18, 2014

Alone, With You

Losing the person you intended to spend your life with transforms you and alters you in so many ways. Since losing my person on July 13 of 2011, I can say with 1000% certainty that I am not the same human that I was on July 12th, 2011. I am broken open. I am torn. I am changed. It's not all bad. I don't like to look at these changes as being positive or negative, because it's not that black and white. Nothing is. It's simply a fact that when you face the tragic, early death of your life partner - you cannot walk out of that as the same person who walked in. Sure, there are many elements of you that make you who you are, and those are all still there - but many other parts of you disappear, change form, or emerge as if brand new. These new pieces of yourself take time to recognize and acknowledge, and they are probably still happening and still evolving with time. It is a re-birth of sorts, and it can be challenging and strange and hard.

For myself, just a few of the new "pieces" I have noticed:

 I am a much more compassionate person. It's not like I was some uncaring asshole before my loss, but now, I am so much less judgemental of other people and their situations or why they might do things or behave in certain ways, and I have so much empathy and compassion for so many others, that I just didn't really think about before.

My patience ratio has completely altered in this "after" life. I have little to no patience for stupidity, ignorance, or judgemental people. On the other hand, I have so much more patience for things like traffic, long lines, and unexpected delays or things going wrong in general. These types of things used to annoy me on a much bigger level, and now, I am normally very calm and rather unaffected by these same things. My new brain just automatically goes to thoughts of: We are sitting in 45 minutes of traffic because there is an accident up ahead. Someone might be dead, and someone else may be finding out right now that their person is gone. There are way worse things than a little bit of traffic. 

I pretty much breathe the words "I love you" to the people that I love, all the time. At the end of a visit or a phone call or a conversation, I will tell my family member or my friends: "I love you!" The newer friends that I have made in the widowed community - they all say it right back, because they have been changed in the same way I have. In my old life, I never would have thought to tell a friend "I love you" every single time I see them, but now, anytime I see anyone, I am very aware that it could be the last time I see them - ever. Morbid? Maybe. But that is how my new brain functions - the same brain that did not get to say goodbye or good morning or anything at all to her husband, who left for work one day while she was sleeping, and never came back. Each time I tell someone that I love them, there is a tiny fragment of me that hopes he is somehow hearing that I love him, too - and that I will keep saying it forever. 

There are so many other changes that I could go on to list here, but the one very big transformation that I have noticed about myself, is the way I feel about going out vs. staying home, and how I choose to spend my time. In the first year or so after my husband's death, I was still living in the small-ish and run-down New Jersey apartment that Don and I had shared for 7 years together. I will never forget the feeling I had each day and each hour after his death, being there, surrounded by things and "stuff" that belonged to a person that no longer breathed, and a life that no longer existed. I felt trapped, like I was being suffocated by loss and grief and sadness, and like the walls of our life that was gone were closing in on me and attacking me at every corner. It was awful. Those first few months and year, I did anything and everything to get the hell out of there for as many hours as possible each week. If I wasn't at work, I was accepting the dinner and lunch invitations from my amazing support system of friends, or traveling to my parents house in Massachusetts for another weekend, just to escape those cruel and depressing walls. There were so many days those first 14 months or so, where I honestly didn't see how I would survive this, because I just felt so damn depressed. 

Then I moved out, and moved into a different apartment back in NY, with a roommate. Even though it was one of the hardest things Ive ever done, it made me feel lighter and more comfortable with just "being home." I was able to control what things I held onto and kept that made me feel safe or comfy or that reminded me of him in a lovely and beautiful way, and I was able to remove all the things that made me feel like I was choking on death and sorrow. Once I did that, everything changed. Now, when someone asks me to go out socially and do something, my response is usually well thought-out, and changes depending on my mood that day or that hour. A year ago, the answer was always "Hell yes!", because I did not like the feeling of being with myself and sitting with my emotions and pain and hollow, empty hopelessness. But now? Now, this new me that has begun to create a new sanctuary of safeness in my new apartment, will often times say "No thanks" to friends who want me to hang out. Sometimes, I enjoy the solitude. I need to be isolated and alone, so that I can recharge my emotional batteries, and be able to go out again and tackle the world. It is exhausting to be in a world where most people simply don't understand you, and have no idea what you're going through. It's tiring to be constantly faced with families and marriage and retirement stories and vacation tales and children and new babies and new homes and new parents - all the things you will never ever get to have, because they all died on that morning that he died.

So, the new me carefully picks and chooses whom to spend my time with, and when I am in the mood to go out, or stay home. I am finding that, these days, staying home is often the much more appealing option. Perhaps it is because I am currently teaching all day, then directing a show that puts me in rehearsals 6 nights per week for the next month, just so I can keep paying my rent and keep surviving. Maybe it's because my commute is a huge pain in the ass to get everywhere, so when someone asks me to hang out in the city on a weekend, all I think is: Subway to bus to subway - 2 transfers and a really long walk late at night - is this really worth it on my one day off? Or maybe it is because I am finally totally comfortable with feeling my feelings, getting them out when they need to come out, and sitting inside of the sadness, and the joy.

I love my family and friends with all of my heart, but there is something to be said about just spending some time alone, and being 1000% okay with that. When Don and I were together, he was more of the "stay home" type, and I was always the one who wanted to go out. He would go with me, and he loved socializing with our friends or seeing a movie together or whatever else, but he was incredibly content to just sit home most weekends, with nothing except his guitars, our kitties, the Yankee game, and me. Nothing made him happier than simply "hanging out" and not ever leaving the apartment. And now I know why. Now I feel the same way about being home.

The funny thing is, when I was in our apartment after he died, I couldn't feel him close to me. I didn't feel his presence. All I felt was the loss and the overwhelming pain of what was no longer there. I had to leave our home, and move someplace new, to be able to really feel him again. Because in the same way that saying I love you to friends is also saying it to him, being alone in my apartment is also being with him in our apartment - even though he never even lived here.

I don't pretend to understand it. I'm just in awe of it.


  1. I moved out of the apartment (and the state!) that my husband and I lived in a month after his accident. I am glad I left that behind because I know it would have been harder to be haunted by the life I would not have, to live in the house where I was loved by him and knowing that I would never again be. Kelley, I hear you. Everything you say here speaks of the journey I have made. I haven't walked far but I know exactly what you are talking about.

  2. I so enjoyed reading this, well, I don't enjoy your loss of Don, but find it interesting that you had to move in order to feel at home. I just told someone that the other day; I'm prepping to depart our house, and am finding it freeing as I purge and sell and give away. Too many reminders of him in this house, with all this stuff, it feels liberating to let it go. I let go of the most important person, this stuff is a piece of cake.

    I, too, don't mind being alone anymore. I'm not lonely, just takes a lot of effort to put ones self out there, and I'd rather not expend it on that. I pick and choose with care, and only go where I know I can exit with ease, back to my sanctuary of home. Just wish I knew where I am going next.

  3. I also enjoyed reading your post but am sorry for your loss of Don. I hear people say all the time how this journey with change you. I have thought about it and did not see any changes in me till I read your post. I can see that I am more compassionate. I noticed this when my husband first began ill and I saw others going to and from the hospital. I always felt sympathy for them but I think the word now is empathy. I could really feel their pain as I was also experiencing it. Also I have become more patient. Since it is only six months for me it will be interesting to see how else I have changed as time passes.
    It was interesting to read about how you felt about your move. I was sad when I cam home today and start thinking maybe I need to make a move at some point. I thought I would stay in my house for a few years and eventually move because it is a big responsibility. I won't make a change until a year is passed but I am beginning to look at it differently.
    And it is true for me that I go out very often and for the past six months I have only been home six weeks. I guess time will give me the answers but I have so many questions swirling around.

  4. Cathy
    Oh my NEXT is the big hurdle for me. I am almost 2 years out and I wish I could get to NEXT! Kelley is right...lots has changed about me. I am so much more compassionate, but I can curse and produce tears in a matter of seconds. I was never much of a cusser before...but I am now. 59th birthday 2 days ago....Happy Fucking Birthday!!! Forward!

    1. Debbie, I just had a bday too. I often feel guilty trying to "celebrate" this day, as well as all the holidays starting with "happy", like Easter. I am now the age my husband was when he died. Life sure is strange, isn't it?

  5. You touch on so many things in this post. The first year after Laura's death I would go out or take a trip away on any flimsy excuse. I wanted to be away from our home. Now I tend to eat in more and just stay home and read. However, when I do go out it is because there is a singer I want to hear or a play I want to see. It isn't just to get away.

    I've also recently started getting rid of stuff. Before I looked at the many "things" we accumulated as "that reminds me of" or "we got that in." But it isn't the thing that holds the memories. I will always have those memories and hanging on to or getting rid of physical things won't change that.

    Early in my grief journey I read Robert Orfali's "Grieving a Soulmate." In that book he states that he had his friends come and take everything that was his wife's out of their home. I thought that was extreme and just wrong. Two years out I can see some benefit to that. I just wasn't ready for that extreme measure.