Saturday, August 31, 2013

Phil Day

Today is the eighth anniversary of my Phil's death. Taryn has graciously shared her blog day with me, so that I can post the annual letter I write to Phil on this day. Thank you, my friend.

Dear Honey,

Eight years have come and gone since you last laughed out loud at a joke that only you thought was funny. Eight years have passed since I last held your hand, or kissed that beautiful brown face of yours. Eight years have slipped by since you jumped out from behind a bush to scare the daylights out of me. Eight years have been lived since the day you went out for a bike ride, and never came home.

Each year as this day approaches, my awareness of how near you are to me is heightened. I hear your voice in my ear; I notice things you'd love (like phone apps for'd be ecstatic about the kind of data that can be collected now!); moments I have forgotten come back to me with surprising clarity; and somehow, during the month of August, I feel you just around every corner. Your presence feels certain to me as the anniversary of your death draws near, which probably makes no sense, but I have given up trying to intellectualize the things I *know* about you in this 'after' I am living.

This year I find myself contemplating the many gifts that have come to me since you left my side. I've been blessed with the opportunity to do work that feeds my soul. In my own small way, I have the chance to change the world.  You always believed that I could change the world, ironically, while you were alive I didn't have a clue how.

Buried beneath the horror of losing you, were the seeds to the future I would never have imagined. The digging out of those seeds hurt so much. The fear of experiencing more excruciating pain caused me to hold those seeds in my hand for a long time before I found the courage to plant them. Once the seeds of my future were tucked into the chaotic dirt left in the wake of your death, I wasn't sure what would grow. But I could hear your voice telling me not to give up. I could feel your belief in me so strongly, even as I actively doubted my ability to grow anything of worth in the wake of losing you.

But you knew. You knew what I could do if only I would believe. At first I couldn't believe in myself, but I held on to your belief in me until those first green sprouts found their way out of that putrid earth pile that your loss created. I stood in wonder when I realized that beauty could truly grow out of tragedy. Looking at my life now, I envision the good around me as incredibly resilient flowers grown from the tragedy that occurred on August 31, 2005. In many ways, I see my current life as a gift from you.

You see, you believed in me so fiercely that you created a foundation of certainty on which I could build a new and amazing life. The love you were able to shower on me during our five short years together, has watered the seeds of my future. Thank you, my love, for giving me so much more than I could comprehend at the time, and for knowing that I would not just survive your loss, but that I would build something worthwhile on the foundation you created for me. I love you not only for who you have been in my past, but also for what you have provided for my future.

Now and forever grateful for you,


Friday, August 30, 2013

Corn Nuts

I used to love Corn Nuts. My husband Don hated Corn Nuts and used to make fun of me all the time for eating them."What is the attraction to these things?" he would say. "Its like eating plywood." 

"Yes, but it's cheese-flavored plywood!", I would retort as I crunched close to his face to purposely annoy him. "Jesus, could they be any louder? I think that's the loudest food on earth." "You're the loudest food on earth".

 I realize this statement makes absolutely no sense to the normal observer, but it is something Don started doing a few years ago, for no particular reason. Anything I would say, he would come back with that; adding "you're" and then repeating the sentence back. The less sense it made, the funnier it was:

Me: "How was your turkey sandwich?" Him: "You're a turkey sandwich."

Me: "We have to call Paul soon and fill out our tax forms." Him: "You're a tax form."

 But let's get back to the Corn Nuts. I have not eaten Corn Nuts since Don died. Why? Because I am terrified that I will choke on a Corn Nut. I am scared to death that I will choke while in my apartment; and be found days or weeks later; when someone finally realizes that I am missing. They will open the door and see me lying on the floor surrounded by cat poop and askew Corn Nut remnants. Then Sammy and Autumn will be taken away by mean men in lab-coats to a Kill-Shelter and when nobody adopts them, they will be immediately destroyed.

 These are the things that constantly come into my head now; after losing Don. These are the kind of panic-stricken, anxiety-ridden, screwed up thoughts that come with the territory of losing someone to sudden and unexpected death. Because once that happens, you now know that it COULD happen again. To anyone. Anytime. Anywhere. And you can never, ever be prepared. Never.

 What if I slip and fall in the shower and die? What if I get mesothelioma? I don't even know what that IS, but apparently enough people have it that there are endless lawyers on TV who specialize in it, so of course, I panic about it. What if Im walking in NYC, and an air-conditioner comes loose from someone's apartment above me, and falls 27 stories, landing on my head? These are the things I come up with while just trying to exist peacefully in my daily life. 

 What if I have a heart attack, like he did? Everytime my arm or my chest or my tummy or ANYTHING in that general area feels a bit "off", I instantly assume "this is it! I'm going to die today!" What if I am standing on the kitchen chair while changing the ceiling light-bulb; and I fall and crack my head open? The cats would not only NOT call 911, but they would also eat the blood pouring out of my head like it was a fine tuna. 

 What if I die in my sleep, or I could slide off the road in the middle of winter after some out of the way comedy gig. I could choke on rice. Sometimes a grain of rice can get stuck. Anything can happen. There are multiple ways that I could die, out of the blue, and it would go unnoticed.

In my old life, I used to love coming up with all the different ways that I might die and sharing them with Don. It was like a game. I loved to annoy him, and he laughed like hell at my ridiculousness. We would take walks along the Hudson River on our street, and there are these areas where you look over and its a large cliff-like thing. I loved to look over the edge and say to Don: "What would happen if I just jumped off this cliff right now? Would I die?" "Yes Boo, you would die." "But what if I didn't die? What if I was just a head in a wheelchair? Would you leave me?" "No Boo. I wouldn't leave you because you were just a head. I'd leave you because you're annoying."

 A few months before he died, he was on his overnight shift as a paramedic; and I was home alone. I was drinking a glass of water, and I almost choked on it. Who chokes on water? It wasn't a full choke; just went down the wrong pipe; but I was coughing and doing the eye-watering thing for ten minutes afterwards. I totally freaked out at the thought of that happening while he was at work and not here next to me. I texted him once I calmed down, and we had this dialogue below. I found it on my phone, so whats written below is the exact text exchange that happened. Sometimes I just stare at these texts from us; and I laugh and smile and cry. This conversation is exactly who we were, and I so miss my partner in banter, and my anchor in life. Everyone has rhythms in a relationship. Our rhythm was that I would panic, he would calm me down. I was emotional, he was logical. When you lose half of your rhythm, there is no balance anymore. So, in my case, there is only panic:

Me: Boo, I just almost choked on water lol.
Him: Seriously? Only you would do that.
Me: I could have died.
Him: You didn't die.
Me: But I could have.
Him: You're fine, Boo.
Me: But this is why I'm glad we are married. We both need someone there in case the other person chokes on something.
Him: LOL But I'm at work, so it doesn't matter that you're married, since I wasn't home anyway when it happened.
Me: But I can text you and tell you and you'll send help.
Him: OR could use that time to call 911 and save your own life!!!!
Me: But you ARE 911, so I could save my own life by calling YOU to have YOU save my life. Its ironic, don't you think?
Him: Yeah. Like rain on your wedding day.
Me: A free ride, when you've already paid.
Him: Okay Boo. I gotta go. We have to pick up a patient. I cant sit here and quote Alanis Morrisette songs with you all night.
Me: You're an Alanis Morrisette song.
Him: LOL Try to get through the rest of your night without accidentally killing yourself.
Me: I guess that means staying away from the Corn Nuts.
Him: You're a Corn Nut. 

Pictured: Corn Nuts. / My husband standing against his ambulance, at work. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013


The other day, my 2 1/2 year old found one of Jeremy's mementos - an autographed baseball still in the box. I had it in one of the boys top drawers to keep so that they might have it one day when they get older.

Naturally, he wanted to play with it. He took it out of the cardboard box, unwrapped the tissue paper around it, and started throwing it around the house. As soon as I realized what he was doing I gently put it away and told him he couldn't play with that particular ball because it was daddy's and it was special.


Later that afternoon, when the rest of the kids came home from school, my 6 year old son found it (apparently I didn't do a good job of putting it away) and was playing with it in his room. A very devastated toddler came crying down the stairs yelling "Cayub can't pay wif da's daddy's!" I called Caleb down and explained to him that it was special not only because it was daddy's, but also because it was autographed and might be worth something one day and we needed to keep it nice. My two year old chimed in, eyes still brimming with offended tears "It's so so can't touch it!" He continued to repeat that it was daddy's over and over.

It occurred to me that Carter was genuinely upset, and I wondered suddenly if I had put too much pressure on him to keep all things 'daddy' sacred. This little man, who never got to meet his daddy, has only connections with him through stories and pictures. It is my mission to make sure Carter grows up to know his daddy, even if he never got to meet him face to face. But I never realized that I could potentially "over-do it" in that everything daddy-related was sacred and untouchable. He seemed so upset by the thought of ruining something that was daddy's.

At the same time, my heart leaped to see how much he respected what was Jeremy's and understood, even at such a young age, that his daddy was something special. I want to make sure that Jer is remembered as something real, and not just an idea or something he has to walk on eggshells about. But how can you really do that with a child who has no tangible memories of his daddy, only the aftermath of everyone else's memories?

I don't know the right answer, but I am pretty sure there isn't one. Hopefully, the tender heart of my 2 year old will grow up knowing that someone very special loved him more than life before he even came into this world. The rest I'm just making up as I go along....kind of like parenting, in general. Now that I think of it, kind of like life.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My "After" ......

...... Part 2.

I arrived in NYC today ....... for the first time since taking my youngest child to college.
This was the day I've been waiting for ...... for about a year now.  It didn't totally look like I saw it happening in my head a year ago.  But that's because I have 2 of my daughters living here with me.
I did NOT see that happening.
At all.

Fortunately, for all 3 of us, this arrangement is temporary.  Daughter #3 is doing an internship for the fall semester.  So once the Christmas break arrives, she'll be heading back to Texas.  Hopefully after Christmas since my plan is to have all of us spend it here.
Of course, this is the point where I could launch into a long post all about "my plans" and how they haven't always panned out.
So I'll just say that my hope is that we all spend Christmas in NY this year.

Daughter #1 is living here until the spring ...... I think.  It could be longer.
If we last that long.  :)

So this is the Part 2 of my "after".
It was supposed to be the Part 2 of OUR "after".  You know, as in ...... after Son #3 left for college.
We had talked a bit about living in New York for a year once he went off to school.  Once the last chick was out of the nest ...... we thought it would be great to live in NYC for a year.  Smack dab in the city.  Just to experience it.
We both thought it would be a great experience because we both loved this city and had many wonderful visits here.

But then ...... he died.
And much of me died with him.
All of my dreams, hopes and plans for the future died with him.
Or so I thought.

Two years ago the NYC dream started to flicker in my mind. It didn't really light up fully, it just flickered in and out, not having enough energy or fuel to really ignite.
Until January of last year.
That's when it went from a flicker ...... to a flame.  That's when I fully remembered our discussion about NY and how cool it would be to live here for a year.
And that's when I thought ....... "I could still do that.  I could totally still do that, once Son #3 goes off to school.  Why shouldn't I still do that?"

And that's when I knew I would.
Come hell or high water.
I would do what we both had agreed would be a great way to spend a year.
Or more.

And now ...... here I am.
I'd love to say that I'm here to stay for the next year.
But I have much traveling to do over the next several months.
So I'll be here for about 3 weeks, then back to Houston and Oklahoma for one week, and then back here.
Rinse, repeat ...... again and again until December, when I hope to get up here and stay for a month, before heading to Oklahoma for a dear, dear friend's daughter's wedding.
And then we shall see.

Because I'm thinking that January and February in Houston might be a much better idea than January and February in NY.
Call me crazy.
It's just what I think.

So this is my "after".  Actually, it's the Part 2 of my "after".
Part 1 was very long, and very, very painful.
I don't like thinking about Part 1 ...... and how horrible it really was.

But "Part 2" could only come ....... once I had experienced "Part 1".
No matter how very much I didn't want to experience that.
I had to get from there ...... to here.
And so I have.

I have surprised myself.
I couldn't have seen myself doing this ...... 5 years ago.  Or 4.  Or 3.
But then came the day ....... finally ...... when I could picture it.
When I remembered it.

And so here I am.
I absolutely love it here.  I hope that I will continue to love it, but who knows?  That's what this year is for.  To try it and see what it's like ...... to just live here and experience it.
Just me.  With the spirit of him.
I have no doubt that part of him is here with me, cheering me on, encouraging me, rooting for me.

So we'll see how it goes ...... for a year or so.
We'll see if I decide that this is a place where I'd like to stay.
It's funny (not in a ha-ha kind of way, but in a strange, ironic, twist-of-fate-way) that my reason for being here is different (mostly) than my reason was about 6 years ago, with Jim.
We thought it would be a neat experience.  We both wanted to just try it it ...... for 6 months to a year.
Just the two of us.
Living somewhere totally different from anywhere else we'd ever lived.

Today ...... today I'm here in NY because it will be a neat experience.
But there's more to it now ....... more than I ever imagined.

I love being here because here, in this city, I am just Janine.
That's all.
And that's so very nice.

I'm not Jim's widow, I'm not "poor Janine, who's husband died".  I don't get "the looks" from people here in NY that I do when I'm back home in Houston.

It's nice to be known, at least for several minutes, as just "Janine".  Just me.
None of those "looks".  No one here is disappointed that I am not the same person I was "before".

Because here ...... there was not a "before".  There is only here.  And making the most of here ...... and now.

I'm excited for my "After ...... Part 2".
We shall see what we shall see.

In the meantime ...... keep breathing, keep walking forward, even after you stumble backwards.
Don't give up.
You, too, will have an "After ..... Part 2".
Even though you can't see it now ...... can't even imagine it.
It will come.

And when it does, look me up in NY.
I love to have visitors.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


One thing I really miss about Greg is that, when I had a rough day, he would let me download to him and he would make things OK.

...and yesterday, I really needed to blurt out what an incredibly crappy day I had* and have someone tell me that it was done and that I was OK and that tomorrow was a new day.

But I didn't have anyone I could blather on to about the really shitty day I had, so I tossed and turned and worried all night, before metaphorically girding my loins and throwing myself into the lion's den again today (and thank goodness today was so much better than yesterday).

I know I could have phoned a friend, but this was not a rational conversation that I could inflict on anyone other than Greg who knew me so well he knew exactly how I was feeling and what I needed.

A man I knew so well I could download all of the angst in my brain without fear of offense, or  misunderstanding, or over-sharing, or overwhelming  him, or being judged. 
Knowing that he would take my scattered thoughts and help me to reorganise them into something I could carry again. 
Knowing he would help me see things in a new light and to gain a bit of perspective.

...and then he'd give me a hug and rub my back and tell me everything would be OK tomorrow....

* Yesterday involved: a day of party food (ie heavily artificially flavoured and coloured, sugary, fatty  food) from the tuckshop at first break; a whole bunch of kids who reacted badly to all those flavours, colours and additives; an anaphylactic reaction to a food additive which was not checked thoroughly enough by the tuckshop lady; and lots of anxiety and other related behavioural problems in my bunch of challenging-but-charming kids.Oh ... and I still had to teach them and make sure they were learning - that's the easy part.

Monday, August 26, 2013


Last Wednesday I had a session with an amazing healer right when I thought I couldn't go another step in this life without something major happening to lighten the pain I was experiencing in my heart and soul.

I had hit a wall and wanted to be done feeling heartbroken and sorrowful, uncomfortable in my own skin and completely terrified by the future. I'd been feeling bitter and resentful, too, when I thought of how my life, when it comes to loss by death, seemed to be the reverse of what we think of as the normal progression. Instead of becoming an adult first and then seeing both parents die and then living a long life and then watching a spouse die, I'd already seen all three foundational people leave this earth in terrible ways by the age of 35. I couldn't (still can't) imagine the rest of my life suffering through more losses than that. I just felt done. I wanted to trade in my heart and soul and life for another one. A do over.

I wanted to feel happiness for others who had both loving parents and a loving life partner. I wanted to feel gratitude for a beautiful sunset, my furballs, art, music, comedy, nature and all the other things that normally make my heart happy, but nothing was getting through the veil of sadness.

The healer saw me at the point at which I could no longer hold my shit together, even in public. I was a trembling, sobbing heap of sadness.

In my sessions with him, he told me that his spirit guide knew that Dave hadn't passed all the way over into the spirit world. He was stuck in the middle void because we were connected with an energy cord, a heart cord. He said that for both of us to go on and do what we needed to do, the cord would need to be severed. He also said he'd seen my soul pattern and that it was the Phoenix. A challenging soul that had chosen a life of suffering only to rise from the ashes and heal, first the self, and then the earth herself. He said I was an Earth healer and that the pain of the earth as we abuse her was my pain as well. I was here to help her in some way.

Now, to hear this and not dismiss it immediately is a testament to how vastly I've changed since Dave died. Before he died I didn't even really understand what a chakra was, or pay one iota of attention to healing arts, or the afterlife much less soul patterns and heart cords. I would have instantly dismissed this sort of information as quackery.

I no longer dismiss anything. Especially if it brings me healing, peace, or answers of some sort. I don't even care if any or all of my healing is because of the placebo effect. The result is the same. I feel better. I don't think much beyond that.

The sessions I had with him were intended to melt away the protective shell around my heart, keeping me from truly living and severing the cord keeping Dave in that middle ground and me stuck in so much pain.

I can say that since then, I've noticed the following (and I'm feeling extremely cautious about any and all good results since it's only been a few days and I know the tumultuous nature of grief and depression so well)...
1. I feel more able to feel. Both good and bad emotions are flowing a little more through me without crippling me.
2. I can enjoy food more than ever.
3. I am, almost without thinking about it, doing chakra breathing exercises and visualizing/meditating for the first time in my life. Meditating had always been incredibly uncomfortable for me and I'd have to force myself before.
4. My voice is stronger and there is a light in my eyes.
5. I feel more present.

I'm still not sleeping really well and I still have a tremor in my arms and hands that stubbornly won't go away but I'd say for the last few days I've felt more alive than dead and that's new for me.

A discovery I've had since the healing is that I've never allowed myself to throw a really good ANGRY fit for the loss I've experienced and the pain I've felt. When faced with adversity I get small and quiet and cry. Reacting that way, I disappear into my pain. Somehow, a new righteous anger has displaced a little of that and I've been feeling that it's also replaced some anxiety. Instead of disappearing into the pain and sadness, I felt larger than it for the first time.

I've felt more powerful than I can remember feeling in a long time, if ever. Also, more than a year ago, when I first sold my house and moved to Portland I became briefly obsessed with the phoenix bird. Some of my computer passwords contain the word phoenix and I considered a phoenix tattoo for a while.

I guess maybe I really am a Phoenix. Rising from the ashes isn't for sissies.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Stay, Jump or Live

Last week I wrote about how much my husband is missing out on (I wrote about it here).

The thoughts of all the things he is missing out on has been weighing heavily on my mind.

I started thinking about how I am missing out on life because of grief, depression, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, financially.. the list goes on.

I decided to start saying YES more often then saying no. Even when I’m depressed. Even when I haven’t slept for night after night. 

I have vowed to say yes.. for the most part.

This weekend was a whole lot of YES.

Yes because I didn't want to miss out. Yes because I have the opportunity.

Yes because I am alive.

Because I am alive I can still experience these things that my husband is missing out on.

Yesterday I ran The Color Run 5k. I knew physically I couldn't run the whole way. I knew financially I should really put the $50 into savings.

But I also knew if I said no, I would be sitting at home doing nothing.. and missing out.

The 5k kicked my butt. But the whole experience was amazing and worth every minute of pain.

Don’t you just love my outfit?
Just ignore my blue teeth.

This morning, with my skin still dyed blue, red and orange, and the wash off tattoos that aren't washing off..

I will be jumping off a side of a mountain.

Yes. Me. Jumping. Off a mountain!

The fear of getting hurt held me back. Financially I was held back. Fear that I would land on my face and be on one of those shows that people get hurt.. and it's kind of funny in a hurt way held me back. Putting my life in someone else's hands held me back.

The song I wrote for my adventure..
At first I was afraid.I was petrified.
Wondering how I would jump off the side of a mountain
With some strange dude strapped to my behind.
But then he said "lean forward"
And I knew it was out of my hands.
I placed my life in his hands.
Let my feet leave the ground.
And I was off.
Flying through the sky.
It was then that I realized...
I will survive.


Because I can. Because I am alive.

And because I choose to live I choose to not miss out on this very slow yet very fast life we live.

I’m learning to let go. To live.

I'm learning to jump.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


“Somehow she knew that you didn’t get many moments like this in your life: moments when you knew, without any doubt, that you were alive, when you felt the air in your lungs and the wet grass beneath your feet and the cotton on your skin; moments when you were completely in the present, when neither the past nor the future mattered. She tried to slow her breathing, hoping somehow to make this moment last forever.”
-Neil Gaiman

It was a day before he left.

My hands graced his chiseled jaw.

My eyes melted looking into his.

He asked what I was doing.

I responded with "Remembering this moment."

It was under the sheets as the sun seeped through.

We'd lift them like a tent and stay in our "warmth bubble".

Refusing to remember that time was clicking by.

In that moment, it was frozen.

It was his hand inching over to hold mine for the firs time.

In that truck on our way back from the zoo.

It was our last kiss.

Gate 14.

It's waking up and stepping outside to smell the dew and feel the warmth of the sun on my back.

It's walking down a path in India and soaking in each smell, sight and person.

It's the knowledge that I get to meet the most amazing people and do what I love.

It's cuddling with my dogs and hugging my family extra tight.

It's now.

It was then.

It's the moments.

The moments before tragedy struck.

The moments after.

Both stunning.

Both beautiful.

Both paving the way for those to still come.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Final House Goodbye

It’s been a long time since I cried for three straight hours.  I forgot how many rolls of toilet paper I can go through per hour.  (Yes, I use toilet paper instead of Kleenex.  TP is more efficient, less messy and much cheaper.  When you are clocking nose blows at between 2 to 3 RPH – rolls per hour  - cost matters.)  I also forgot how bad the headaches can be.

Last night was all about saying goodbye yet again.  Today at 4PM I finally hand the house keys to another person so last night some friends and I enjoyed one last hurrah at the house Maggie and I planned to live in for the rest of our lives.  The phrase of the evening was “final paragraph of a chapter” followed by other phrases like “long, amazing story” and “exciting adventure.”  Many memories were stirred up and stories were told.  It was a wonderful gathering.

The house Maggie and I shared is so, so rich with legends, most of which involve wild parties, alcohol and ridiculous number of cars filling up the cul de sac we lived on.  Other legends entail demonstrations of devotion, hope and love.  A comparative few are stories of difficulty and sadness, but those thankfully are far outweighed by powerfully positive stories.  That house has a positive karma energy buffer strong enough to withstand years of a love drought (although I hope that the new homeowners keep making positive karma deposits by building a fantastic life while living there.)

My new life with my new job and new condo downtown has kept me so incredibly busy that I’ve not had the opportunity to sit and reflect on the enormous changes that have happened.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  I often chided Maggie about a lack of pre-decision reflection.   That girl was always a ready-fire-aim kind of gal.  Somehow, despite the lack of reflection and premeditation, she sure managed to get a lot done in her short life including steal my heart.  Maybe a little more fire and a little less aim would do me good.  Actually, now that I’ve thought about it, I don’t really have time to sit here ponder.  I have a lot of wonderful things I’ve got to git to gittin' done.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


This Saturday, I will be 26 weeks along. The last time I was 26 weeks pregnant (to the day), my husband dropped dead.

Oddly enough, for all the anxiety I had about becoming pregnant, it's been relatively normal and hasn't caused me too much grief. Until I hit the half way mark. Ever since, my brain audibly tells me with each passing Saturday, "only so many more weeks until you're 26 weeks." I am keenly aware that its coming up and I've sat awake a few times now with tears remembering.

Perhaps it will pass like my grief milestones did, where the anticipation is more painful than the day itself. Perhaps I will spend the entire day making sure Steve doesn't drop dead on me. Perhaps I will be a little neurotic and even just spend the day grieving an experience I never imagined I'd be going through again. Perhaps I can fill the day with enough distractions to help me forget. Ok, we all know that wont happen.

I fear that if this milestone can bring me this much anxiety, than the anticipation for birth may just send me over the edge. The two moments nothing in this world can reconcile with my heart: the day my love died and the day I had his baby without him.  Only love could have made me volunteer to face the potential for déjà vu.

It's a good thing love conquers death.

Same Discussion ......

...... same passion.

I had a discussion this past weekend that I've had several times before.
It's a discussion that I am so passionate about ...... that it brings tears every single time it occurs.

All it takes is four words.
Four words that set me off quicker than most any other words can (unless they're negative words about my children).
The words?
"Suicide is so selfish."

That's all it takes to make me whip my head around and set the record straight.

The first thing I instantly know about a person who utters those words is this:

None.  They have never, ever experienced anything close to real depression.  They have never grieved the loss of half of their selves, of the person they loved most in the world, of the future as they imagined it.
They've never grieved hard.  For a spouse, a child ...... for anyone.

Because once you've grieved that kind of loss ...... you know those four words are nothing but a judgmental, ignorant lie.

Here is what I believe.
No ...... here is what I know.
From experience.
The person who uses suicide to end his/her life (for the majority ... I realize that there are always exceptions) is NOT making a choice based on selfishness.  In fact, I don't believe that it's actually a choice for that person.

That's difficult to understand unless you have experienced such deep, deep, painful depression.
It's a depression that causes so much pain that the person thinks they cannot take one more minute of it. Every breath brings pain.  There is no future ahead of them ..... only very cold, very dark blackness.  Darker than the deepest cave.

Not only is the pain (emotional and physical many times) too much to endure, but there is a sure knowledge that every single loved one would be so much better off if they no longer had to deal with this depressed, hopeless, future-less person.
When someone is that depressed, this thought is more than a thought.  It's a fact.
So the act of taking one's own life not only ends their pain (and they believe it's the ONLY way to stop the pain), it also ends the "suffering" that everyone else is going through by being around them.  Suicide, as seen by this person, is a way to put everyone in a much better place.  It's not selfish at all ...... it's the most selfless act they can think of.  No longer will other people have to be "dragged down" with him/her.  Everyone ...... every single person (yes, even their child/ren) will be so much happier, and have a better chance for a happier future, if they don't have to take care of a depressed person with no hope and no future ...... and nothing to give.

When those thoughts come to someone, the act of suicide is no longer a choice.  In the majority of cases, suicide is not planned.
It occurs because of where that person is, down in the bottom of that cave, and because something happens which causes them to just "snap".  Something as ordinary as cleaning out a linen closet that's covered in dust because the house is being re-modeled.  One look at how much dust there actually is can make a depressed, widowed person's mind just snap, and that snap brings the sudden, certain knowledge that they can't take anything else.  Not for one more second.  From that point it's like their actions are on "automatic".  There is no choice.  There is just the knowledge that this HAS to stop. And there is only way one to make it stop.  It's like the mind can now only focus on this one thing and it forces the body to follow along.  It sometimes is almost like this person becomes a robot and follows the brain's command, no questions asked.  No thought of questioning it.  Just following it and stopping the pain.
That's all.

I know that in my "before" ...... I was one of those ignorant people.  I didn't understand what depression actually was ...... what it could do to someone.  I just thought all you had to do was "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" and move forward.
I am ashamed of the "before me" for such thoughts.
But I had no experience with depression ...... or death, really.

And then ...... I did.
My life, as I knew it, ended.  In less than 24 hours my "before" turned into my "after".
And soon after than ...... I was no longer ignorant.
I understood ...... all too well.

So now I am passionate about helping others understand.
Others who've had no experience, lucky them.
I don't believe that everyone needs to experience this hell-on-earth kind of grief to understand.
They just need people like me ...... like you.
They need people like us to explain it to them.
To tell them exactly what I've written here.
To set the record straight.

I will continue to be passionate about this topic.
And most likely ...... I'll continue to cry when I passionately talk to someone about it.
But I'm ok with that.
Because the record does indeed need to be set straight.

I hope others will join me ...... in having the same discussion.
With the same passion.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


A very wise woman (also a widow) once me that when things get really-rock-bottom-bad; find a distraction.

A new distraction that doesn't carry the weight of memories that include him.

I do a range of things at 2am when the darkness creeps in.  I read (always a solitary activity for me), or play endless games of solitaire and then pin things on Pinterest.  Anything soporific enough to induce sleep.

But in the day time, I take pictures.
I take lots of pictures.
I edit lots of pictures.

It is my go-to distraction for when life becomes tedious.

But to take the kinds of pictures I like to take, I need to walk.
I need to walk a lot over uneven ground whilst carrying a (surprisingly heavy) 1.4kg camera and a light but oddly shaped tripod.

Graceful, I am not.  Even with two working legs.

.... so it has been rather difficult to go on photowalks with a foot that is still badly sprained and bruised (thankfully, not as swollen as in that pictures from last week).

....and I could feel the tendrils of darkness creeping in again.

So last weekend, I took myself on a meandering stroll (limp) along a solid, even pathway.

...and the distraction worked.

My foot is still sore and I still feel sorry for myself, but by distracting myself from grief long enough to create something of beauty was enough to reset my mood meter.

I know the grief is still there and I know it cannot be avoided nor circumvented, but these brief distractions when life turns to ash are enough to keep me going.

Thanks Megan - your advice still works so well....

Monday, August 19, 2013

Dark Shadow


Depression. It's my dark shadow. I've been living with it since my late teens. Even so, it can still trick me.

For the last few weeks I've been under its spell and up until today I didn't realize it. Instead of seeing the depression as the REASON I feel as though everything is hopeless and life sucks, I have been thinking that I'm depressed BECAUSE everything is hopeless and life sucks. It's a big distinction but depression has an incredibly convincing way of telling me terrible things and getting me to believe them all.

Complicating all of this is that my sweet husband died and even after more than two years, I miss him all the time. Grief and sadness and depression are all tangled up at times, and so hard to sort out.

But what I can see now (even still in the depression - though it might be lightening a bit now) is that there have been times (even after he died) when I didn't feel that everything was hopeless and my life sucked. I never once felt as though my life wasn't hard and painful and full of grief, but it wasn't hopeless and it didn't completely suck. It contained incredible lifelong friends, nature, new wonderful people, a home, the financial freedom to not have to struggle to find work again, relatively good health, a picturesque neighborhood, the chance to start over career-wise, travel, writing, art and even the opportunity for new love.

Under the black veil of depression, though, at times, my mind told me that none of it mattered and it was too hard to go on. When the veil lifted I could see that the depression had been talking.

And that is what has happened to me again. I fell for it again. Which is a testament to how powerful a force depression can be.

I have to remember to take care of it like any illness. Get as much sleep as I can, eat as well as possible, surround myself with people who can love on me, take my meds, give myself compassion.

This time, again, I forgot about this momentarily. I tried hard to be happy. I tried not to be a bummer. I tried to be something I couldn't be. I thought the fake-it-till-I-make it strategy might work. I felt ashamed for being so sad. It can't be fun to be around someone this sad, right?

Then again, I am sad. I'm terribly sad. I can't fake a different mindset or push myself to be what I'm not. I'm also worthy of love and compassion from myself and others and I definitely haven't been giving those to myself. I've been hard on myself. I questioned my character and wished I could be different. Someone who can feel happiness, silliness and joy.

I am that person once the depression lifts, but right now, the depression has a hold on me and I can't blame myself for it.

It's the depression to fight, not my self. My self is still there. My funny, nerdy, loving, silly self is there. Once the veil lifts, there it will be. It's not the self from before Dave died. She died that day, too. It's a different self, but one I think is pretty great too.

I just have to remember that when my dark shadow whispers so convincingly that I'm not good enough and that everything sucks.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Missing Out

Lately I have been thinking a lot about where I have been, where I am going.. and how lucky I am.

I can’t help but think about my husband.

About how he didn't realize how lucky he was.

I know he had no idea how much he would be missing out on by choosing to leave this life.

I don’t think he had the slightest idea of how much LIFE he would be missing out on.

I look around and realize how much of my life that my husband has never experienced.. and never will.
From things like my “new” house (I wrote about it here).

Things like my achievements in work, life, socially, travel and experiences that just leave me in awe.

It pains me to know how much of life my husband is missing out on.

From watching me change.. and age. To camp widow, to taking a widow retreat in Golden, Colorado (took that trip in 2011), our eight year wedding anniversary, the invention of smart phones, me getting my second (and soon to be third) tattoo, pets that have come and passed. All of my best friends, my husband never met. My husband Is missing out on my family growing and changing. Our friends getting married and having babies. And some of our friends passing away.

Eventually he will miss out on seeing me walk down the aisle and give my life to someone.. again.

There is so much of the day to day “stuff” that he is missing out on.

Sure.. there is a ton of stuff that I have experienced because I am widowed. But I still want him to experience the widowed me.

Whenever something exciting happens I immediately want to pick up the phone and call him. I want to bore him with my excitement.. 

Then I suddenly remember.. three years later, he is still dead.

Then the sadness hits. Yet again, he can’t experience this excitement.

His life ended.. and so did his chance to experience this amazing thing we call life.

Knowing my husband is missing out on so much.. missing out on life.. is one of the saddest things I experience on a daily basis.

Maybe there is more exciting things after this life, but I still want him to experience THIS life.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


My life is much different from many of my loved ones.

I find myself traveling 1/3 of the year.

I happily sleep with two (furry) men each night I'm home.

No one gets on my back for the dishes sitting in the sink a bit too long or the dirty clothes on the floor.

I thoroughly enjoy my solitude (i.e. meditation, reading, playing fetch, watching clouds pass,etc.).

That's just to name a few of my realities ( I guess not noting the obvious...I'm a 27-year-old widow...ooops...add that!).

In the first few years after Michael's death, many (ok...nearly all) were worried about me....

Worried about me being alone.

Worried if I'd drink too much.

Worried that I'd never come out of the deep hole that my grief and self had been thrown into.

Worried that I'd kill myself.

The "remedies" and "prescriptions" came flowing in from all those around.

Not out of ill will...more out of not knowing what else to do.

I remember looking into their eyes and seeing a pain for the life I was living. I saw their fear of ever having to imagine it ever being their fate one day.

I felt their pity.

I felt their gratitude (that it wasn't them).

I felt their lack of control of changing what they could not.

But then, and now 6 years later, I have held onto something that my soul and heart know.

A knowledge that is as pure as my eternal love for Michael.

The knowledge (and now the power) of knowing that what others have seen as an empty life (after his death).

I have known to be an opening for me to find, persevere, rise, fall, and create my life after tragic death.

Empty is just another word for OPEN.

Open to life.

Open to fear.

Open to happiness.

Open to failure.

Open to all that has occurred.

Open to all that will occur.

Remember that. Find power in that. Feel peace in that.

So as I enter our home, 6 years later. Uncork a 91 point wine. Watch an amazing film. Feel gratitude for the day that has passed and the roof over my head. I live and feel the knowledge of knowing that one man's empty, is another man's sanctuary.

And my heart feels grateful. Content. Overflowing. Blessed. Strong.

Friday, August 16, 2013


I never really liked running. Never really saw the point. For exercise? Sure, but I’d much rather play a sport or go swimming or do just about anything other than feel the pounding of my flattened and worn-out feet, screaming for mercy against the hot and unforgiving pavement. Or feel my knees hurting and buckling and cracking with each breath, showing their severe weakness and obvious disapproval of this evil form of torture.
People who run claim that it’s “freeing.” I don’t know about that. To me, it feels the opposite, like a never-ending prison sentence filled with sweat, horrible cramps, and nausea. The only thing freeing about running is maybe the part where the race or the dash or the charity sprint or whatever other forced form of hell has ended, and I am now free to go and grab a drink and a burger somewhere.
Despite this, I have been running for just over 2 years now. It’s not the kind of running that requires good sneakers, or keeping hydrated, or carrying a stopwatch. No. This is much different. This is the kind of running that takes over your life, and that is caused by death.
I began running at approximately 6:30am on July 13, 2011, when I received the series of phone calls that would jar me awake, give me the worst news of my life, and change me forever. My very first sprint was the one that took me from the inside of a taxicab, into the ER section of the hospital, just down the street from where we lived in West New York, New Jersey. My run from the door of that car to the doors of that E.R., I can honestly say, was the fastest I have ever moved in my life. I don’t know what all the rushing was about. He was already dead. Then again, I didn’t know that at the time. Until, of course, I did.
And since that time, that day, that hour – every piece of my existence has been about running. Running from pain. Running from hurt. From loss. From love. Running as far away from the memories as I can, because memories sting and they stab and they reinforce what is now gone. I am not ready for memories. Memories are for 5 years, maybe 10 years from now, when I can feel them without intense sorrow, when I can “cherish them”, which so many people who have not lost their husbands keep telling me to do. Running from pictures, and triggers, and trauma. Running from my heart. My soul. My “before.”
Like the time I packed up everything I own and everything he owned, and finally made the decision to move out of the New Jersey apartment where we shared our entire engagement and marriage and life. The 7 years that we spent there began to eat away at my skin and engulf me – the walls were closing in on me after 8 months alone, facing the nothingness of a life that was now over, a time that would not come back.
So I ran away from the homemade birthday cakes at our kitchen table, the small dinner parties and hang-outs with our core group of friends that shattered into bits of glass, the friendly neighborhood store owners that all knew Don and looked at me with sad eyes each time I crossed their path, post-death. I ran from the hospital where he died, and the other hospital where he worked as an EMT, and the Pet-smart where he collapsed on that cold floor, alone, while working his second job to help support us. I ran from the familiar-looking ambulances with his hospital’s name on them, and the uniforms I would see around town, on other tall men resembling my husband. I ran from our special bench where we would sit at night, and stare at the city skyline, laughing and dreaming and being. I couldn’t get away fast enough from the local restaurants we used to eat at, the movie theatre we used to spend Sunday matinees at, the tennis courts he would play tennis at, just like he did one day before he suddenly died.
So after 8 months of sitting inside of it, tripping over the piles and the stuff that used to be our life, I ran. It was either that, or stay there and be further suffocated by things and objects and items – when the person that made them come to life, was no longer breathing air. And the person that I was now, a widowed woman with only one, small paycheck, could no longer afford to pay rent and live alone. So I left.
But it wasn’t enough. Running or walking or crawling or kicking and screaming away from all those things helped, but it wasn’t enough. The pain was still there. Lurking. Hiding. Approaching. Waiting …
So I ran some more, and started to add new things into my new life, thinking that new things would hurt less than old and familiar things, things that I did with my husband. I have added lots of things, big things and small things, important and mundane things. Like the new comedy class I now teach in NYC. Or the new writing gigs Ive picked up. Or my new apartment, and my new roommate (my 2nd new roommate, and 2nd apartment, since his death). Or my new membership with ZIpcar, instead of our car, which I was forced to sell and get another, safer car, which I was also forced to sell, due to my new “broke widow” title in life. Or performing stand-up at Camp Widow. Or eating and making new foods for myself that I dont associate with foods that he loved. Taking a new walk to a new place that he never saw or went to. Seeing a new film, hearing new songs, thinking new thoughts. Making new friends, breaking new ground, facing new fears.
But it still wasnt enough. Never enough. So then I told myself, I need to think bigger. I need to run away. What If I just left New York? Left my life altogether? Left my teaching job of 11 years, left my familiar, left my problems and my clutter and my stuff - and went somewhere new? What if I went somewhere else, where I wasn’t the widowed girl? I could run away to California or Colorado or The Moon, and just start the fuck over, right? What do I have to lose, when I have already lost it all? And really, anytime that I go anywhere, I instantly feel somewhat better. Lighter. Happier. The sadness still lives inside me, but there is more room for the joy whenever I go somewhere else. My week in San Diego at Camp Widow was so relaxing, so freeing, so healing. And I felt so close to my husband there, closer than I have felt to him in a long time. I slept through the nights, and I felt a sense of peace and comfort around me. New and beautiful surroundings created new and beautiful things.

But that’s the problem. If I am visiting San Diego, or anywhere else, they are new surroundings. It is a vacation. It is temporary. If I lived there, then the new surroundings are eventually no longer new – they are simply the background to where I live. And although moving away sounds nice, it only sounds that way because whenever I go anywhere for a short period of time, it is time away from what is the norm. It feels exotic. It suggests “better.” But it’s not. It only feels that way, because I don’t live there. If I moved somewhere else, my New York issues would just turn into San Diego issues or Moon issues or wherever I ended up issues. I would have their bills and their traffic and their stresses and their problems, instead of the ones I have now. On top of that, I would be losing the very things that help to keep me sane in my new and unwanted life – my old and lifelong friends, my NY connections, my comedy buddies and clubs, my job that is secure and mostly rewarding, my counseling sessions that fuel me with coping skills and hope, my family that is 4 hours away instead of much, much further if I were to move out West. I would be trading in problems for different problems, and Im just too exhausted to deal with that much uncertainty right now.
Like I said in my first sentence, I never really liked running. Never really saw the point.
There is no purpose to running in circles. No reason to marathon and finish where you began. No meaning to a race that cannot end.
I cannot run from the truth. I can’t run from the pain, or the hurt, or the grief. Whether I go to San Diego or Hawaii or stay right here in my new apartment, all that shit comes with me. It is inside of me, the same way that my lungs and my veins and my breath is inside of me. It is an unwanted presence, a giant scar across my face. I can keep washing it off my face, and it may appear to have gone away for awhile, but it never truly leaves. I can’t run from it. I can’t fight it. I have to live with it and through it and sit near it side by side, and learn to look myself in the mirror and not hate that ugly scar.
There is some good news though. The ugly scar and the pain and hurt and trauma and fear are inside me, yes. They go with me. They are me. But if they are a part of me, then so is the hope. So is the love. The laughter. The joy. The birthday cakes and the Christmas mornings and the walks along the Hudson.The music he played. The chords he strummed. The pets he loved and the people he touched. The lives that he altered. My life. The beautiful, epic soul that is my husband, that is now me. It is all inside me. All of it. Every single cell of it. Until the end of time, and then miles and miles beyond that  …
I just need to stop running.
(pictures in order: Don and me, in the life we knew. - Me with my NYC Stand-up Comedy Students in front of Gotham Comedy Club. - Me and my dear friend Diane, from our hotel balcony at Camp Widow West - beautiful San Diego paradise.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Less than a decade, more than a lifetime.

July 19, 2003

It's always been a hard reality for me to swallow that I never got a full decade with Jeremy. Something about that round number made me feel even more like I got robbed.

I started dating Jeremy shortly after I turned 20. He died when I was 28 - I never got to celebrate turning 20 or 30 with him. Just inside a decade.

A few weeks ago, Jeremy and I would have been married 10 years. It kills me that I'll never celebrate that milestone with him. The funny thing is, I've never seen our wedding video. I've had the tape sitting in my purse for more than 2 years, waiting to remember to take it in to convert it to DVD. I finally remembered to drop it off awhile back.

On July 19th, our 10th anniversary, I received a call that my wedding video was finished.

I finally have the DVD to watch....the day of our wedding. And yet, I can't seem to bring myself to watch it yet. I've been waiting to watch this thing for 10 years, and used to complain to Jer all the time that we'd never seen it, and now that I have it - I can't do it. Something too final about it all now. Part of it may be that just hearing his voice generally makes me tear up instantly. Part of it is that I'm not ready to close yet another door. Part of it is fear that it won't be nearly as magical as I remember it....and I'd like to hold on to that magic.

I don't know when I'll get around to finally watching the video. Too much of me has to know that I won't be able to keep it at bay for too long. Too much of me aches to see his face in motion...and that look in his eye when he looks at me that can drop me to my knees - undeniable love. Too much of me wants to fill in the holes of my memory to renew that day in my heart once again to hold on to the preciousness of it. Too much of me wants the reminder that even though I never got a decade with Jeremy, I got more than a lifetime.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

When One Door Closes ......


...... it sometimes slams right in your face.
Some doors are like that.  They suddenly slam shut with so much force that you're knocked backwards.
The door on my "before" life shut like that.

Other doors close very slowly.  You can tell that they're closing, but it's such a slow process that you can't actually see the movement.
But you know it's coming.

My youngest child is heading off to college tomorrow.  We're both making the day long drive and then moving him in on Friday.
And as I drive away, leaving him behind, another door will close.

I've seen it coming.  I've been aware.
But that doesn't make it any easier.
This is the child who's been with the "after" me the most.
This is the child who was with Jim the least.
It's been a tough road.
To say the least.

I'm sure that all of my children have felt cheated by their father's death.
More than once.
As have I.
Many, many times more than once.
But this child ...... this child was cheated the most.

He didn't learn some of the lessons about being a good man ...... that come only by living with one.
He didn't get the chance to have any teenage "heart to heart" talks with his dad.
He didn't experience the calmness that Jim gave during turbulent times.
He's the child who missed the most.

But in spite of all that ...... and maybe because of it ...... we've come to this door.
We've made it.
He's made it.
There were many times when I thought he wouldn't.
And there were many times when I thought I wouldn't.

He still has lessons to learn.
He still has growing to do.
He will still become a good man.
Because of who his father was ...... not how much time he didn't get.
Maybe one day he'll be a better father ...... because of what he missed.
And perhaps he'll be more generous with his time ...... because he felt cheated the most.

It's time for him to walk through the door ...... and on to his "after".
We parented him ...... and his siblings ...... the best that we could ...... while we could.
And while I have no doubt that my heart will ache as I drive away, I will also feel excited for him.
And for all he's about to experience.

This isn't a door that will slam shut permanently.
The parenting door seems to open periodically through the years.
And I'm ok with that ...... because I really don't need another one slammed in my face.