“This is the recurring theme: Quick! She’s in pain! Let’s talk her out of it. Let’s tell her things will be better someday. Let’s remind her to be grateful for what she had. Let’s tell her how smart and funny and kind she is. And let’s be sure, because we know it’s weighing her down, to reassure her that someone other than the man she loves will eventually be beside her, snoring softly, waking up to kiss her good morning, rolling back over to have five more minutes while she gets up and feeds the cat so he can sleep. Great Bring it on. Thanks so much for your kind words. You’ve really relieved my suffering, with all this trying to talk me out of it. The people I love, the ones I will go to, again and again, are the ones who do not in ANY WAY try to “solve” this for me, or fix it, or fix me. They do not make any attempt to cheer me up, or shame me into feeling thankful I had as much as love as I did, and so I should be happy with that. They do not tell me things like it will be better “later,” and that I have much to live for. They do not remind me I am part of the cycle of life. As though that matters, all that pandering, condescending crap.”
– excerpted from “Ask, Don’t Tell: How to Help Someone in Grief”
Judgment, criticism, and dismissive comments are the norm in deep grief, not the exception. Sure, most people have “good intentions,” but the difference between their intentions and the actual impact of their words is vast (I have a whole post on the things people have said to me in the last year – including one of the worst imaginable, “everything happens for a reason.” Just posted last week).
I feel like I could have written the paragraph above, except for the part where the author states she has people she loves that she can return to time and time again to NOT give her this awful type of advice. I have (some) of those people, my mom, and dad in particular and I am so grateful for the love they have given me through this horrible time and all the love they gave Jacob, for so many years. I also have my mother-in-law and sister-in-law who I can go to as well which I am also very grateful for. Other than that, well – that’s about it. I don’t really have friends because as I said many times, Jacob and I were each other’s best friends – we were dependent- oh no! I said that a female was dependent on a male, yeah that’s the truth. So what? Someone said to me “you must not be a good feminist if you are this derailed by losing a male, I just said – fuck you.” – listen, we had no need for anyone else. We were soul mates and he was and is and always will be the love of my life – and for so long, I had a full-blown obsession since 7th grade. Now, it is just me. But some days, the people who are supposed to support and love you most, just add to your suffering in ways I never thought imaginable. Just an insensitive sentence or phrase from someone who is trying to “support” you can knock you down for days. The type of grief I experience every day is so heavy and so consuming it really feels like my body is boiling- like my insides are shaking with flakes of oatmeal coming to the surface. I have no idea who I am. Jacob and I were one person. We walked in rhyme, we developed similar language, mannerisms, everything was so homogenized for so long, I can’t even see myself without Jacob. If Jacob saw me now? Sometimes I think he wouldn’t even love me. But I know that could never be true, because he loved me so much, beyond any earthly terminology. Just as I loved him. Just as I love* him. But I am a total mess. I bet you are too. I bet you lie in your bed or drive in your car or walk through a store, looking at the world like a cat – through the window, seeing people and things, but never being able to truly feel or experience any of them. I can’t imagine anyone enjoying a concert, a football game, a birthday party – how could you? When Jacob’s gone? But that is because my (our) grief is so heavy and just…different. The “fortunate” part of my situation, is I don’t have any invites to really decline because I don’t have any friends… but if you do, please take care of yourself and sometimes (or often, or always) just say no.
In April, I went to a Birthday Party for my nephew (Jacob’s nephew, but still, I call him my nephew because Jacob always referred to him that way to me, “You are my spouse, he is your nephew too!) And I love him to pieces. Seriously, he is one of the cutest and sweetest boys you could ever know. He will always be my nephew – the oldest of two incredible ones. Jacob was blessed with two beautiful nieces also, who I get to call my nieces – and I remember telling Jacob the first time I met his eldest niece and then saw a photo of his second niece, “What is the deal? You just have the cutest most adorable nieces ever?” Anyway – sidetracked – widow brain- I remember the second I arrived at his Birthday Party I realized it was the worst decision I had made in a long while. Not only did I look like complete shit (which who cares? you just lost the love of your life, I know) but I knew I would be boxed into forced socialization and conversations that were like emotional landmines. “So what do you do for a living?”, “So do you have anyone special in your life?”, “So where do you live?” Well let’s see, I have been on leave from Harvard for two years because I am in such grief I cannot move from my bed. Yes, I had a spouse who passed away at 27 and I live with my parents with boxes of our former life as a constant reminder of the misery I walk in. Oh, also – I was put on a medication (a big fuck you, Seroquel) that made me gain 60 pounds in two months! How are you doing?
The problem with these situations (any social situation where strangers are around- solely family gatherings are much different) they aren’t made for people like us – who are truly suffering. Who are in the most desperate, dark places imaginable. The darkest of the dark type of grief. You can’t small talk, you can’t laugh politely, you can’t put on a brave face and all I wanted to do is go home, write about memories of Jacob, talk to him out loud, and cry in my room until I fell asleep. It didn’t feel good to get out, to drive, to be around people- none of it. Of course, seeing Jacob’s wonderful family – who I consider my family- and seeing my little nephew open his gift (a pillow of Jacob and our cat Abe) was a beautiful moment – but so fleeting. You cannot push yourself in grief. No matter how much of a Type A personality you have. And trust me, as a student at Harvard, I was one of those (but honestly, not as tightly wound). People ask stupid questions because they are used to it – one year and one month ago if someone asked me all three of those questions I would have answered them with enthusiasm and with Jacob right by my side. “Oh I am a graduate student at Harvard and this is Jacob, my spouse, and we live in Cambridge, Massachusetts! We love it. We love our life there!” Because these stupid questions are so much a part of our lexicon during any social event – they become incredible punches of grief to those in mourning. I cried that day when a friend of the family suggested I watch the new Wes Anderson movie that just came out. I told him I couldn’t do it – I had watched every single one with Jacob (his favorite being The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore a close second). But I just couldn’t bear the thought of going without him. I thought He can’t see this with his eyes. I can’t hear his commentary. He was looking forward to it. It is so unfair! I started to cry some more. Then I had to leave, I was unable to control the breakdown. Then not too long after, another “friend” told me I was doing a disservice to Jacob’s memory by not watching it and that Jacob “would want me to go see it.” I hate these comments, I swear. No, he wouldn’t. HE would want to watch it with me by his side. So be quiet. Stop speaking for him, when his voice was always the closest to my ear. Take this example: just say no to anything social you are invited to when there are strangers around for a long while (this was 6 months after I lost Jacob, so like I said – people’s timelines are all over the place- and there is NO timeline in grief.) And I have bad news for you: there really is no timeline at all. Grief will stay with you for the rest of your life.
There are some events I can go to where I know I will be around people that 100 percent know my situation and are there to dry my eyes and offer support or just kind of… leave me alone. I feel contagious sometimes. But I would rather be left alone than being asked derailing questions…I feel like if Jacob would want anything – above all else, he would not want me to deal with this suffering inflicted by other people. Support has to be support. It can’t just be called support while all it’s really doing is eclipsing your story and downplaying your grief.
Everything is dark. Suddenly the only movies you can swallow are horror films (Yes, Jacob and I watched them before, but I always watched them for him, not because I wanted to that much- out of love for his sweet, sweet soul). Now it is the only type of movie I can watch. War documentaries have become soothing. Any form of misery or agony as entertainment is all I can endure and that doesn’t make me/you a bad person or unhealthy – it is because IT IS THE ONLY THING YOU CAN RELATE TO. I have profound trauma associated with my grief. So the trauma of war is something I can relate to in a different way and somehow find a weird comfort in it. Seeing your loved one dead and holding them in your arms at 25 is completely unnatural – just like a lot of the tragedies of wartime. So please understand, this darkness is because you have no light in your life right now. And you are all alone in this. Even with me here, with family by your side- you have to cry alone, walk this path alone, deal with the shit comments people spew your direction alone – and I wish you didn’t have to. I wish for Jacob back every second of every day. And somedays, to believe in this living is just a hard way to go. (John Prine lyric) What John Prine meant by that is – well, to believe in this life of suffering – this pain – this is not easy. Essentially, what is the point of all this? It is a hard way to go. And for us young widows, it’s like we have been dealt a hand of cards from Satan himself. I have no answers. No one does. But I know that anyone that gives you light, that lets you tell your story, that’s the only way you can start believing in this life again (or attempt to) – because you cannot hide an entire life that was destroyed, inside of you. A part of me died the day Jacob passed. Almost all but this body. That will always be gone. You need to tell as many stories as you can of your soul mate and your shared life – and if your family and friends don’t show up? Then find a support group – a real one that helps you. I hate when people say “You should find a grief support group” – literally everyone in the groups around my area are in their 60s. They have had children, a long life with their spouse they have grandchildren – WE HAVE BEEN ROBBED OF ALL OF THAT. It’s bullshit and it is not fair. I am not saying you would not benefit from going, or their grief is any less than mine- but for me, I want people around my age to relate to – so I don’t feel as isolated. I tried going to these groups – several, and I heard “I am so grateful I have my kids and grandkids to keep living for.” How am I suppose to feel after that? A support group has to support you- it cannot just be a title. Again, this is just my opinion.
So I am going to give you one resource called Soaring Spirits International there you can get hooked up with “Widow Village” which is a highly moderated social network of widows from all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. There is a Widow Penpal program where I met my first … friend! I say that with an exclamation mark because sometimes I think she is one of the only friends I have. I also feel like Jacob would really, really like her. I could always tell who he would like or dislike – we were always on the same page with people. She has an almost identical situation to mine (age wise), she knew her spouse since middle school (just like me and Jacob), and she was left suddenly widowed at age 27. She lives in Nepal – but hell, I’ll fly to Nepal for a friend like her. I talk to her literally every day. She is the only one that checks up on me… every single day. We share our stories – we let each other know how we are feeling. She wants to hear about Jacob and his adult life, and our life – and I want to hear her stories. No one is more closely connected to you or more intimately connected to you than your spouse, and the stories we have feel locked inside sometimes. We don’t try to cheer each other up, either. Sometimes it is nice to say, “I feel like the walking dead. This life is cruel. I want to die.” and the other person knows EXACTLY how you feel. Why is it nice? Because it is validating.
She, like I, spent about 14 months in bed after her spouse passed away. We just have so much in common and we would have never come together if it hadn’t been for this organization. There are groups and forums for widows like “Born in the 90s” (which has only 7 members of, go figure), “Suddenly Widowed”, “Widowed without children”, you name it – there is a group. And these widows are incredibly supportive people. They want to be your friend. The motto of the organization is “For Widows, By Widows. We Get You.” Including my wonderful Penpal, I have found two others around my age. This program hosts a “Camp Widow” three times a year to bring together widows for a weekend of healing and support (and yes, I am going to two out of three of them). To have this network – this alone makes me feel less alone – like someone my age is dealing with such misery. There is a Ted Talk called “When Someone You Love Dies, There Is No Such Thing as Moving On.” She talks about this organization, Soaring Spirits International – and if you are recently widowed or in mourning, you might want to watch it. But I know for me, I couldn’t watch something like that during my first six months – or even 8 months. I am only just now (after one year) coming around to the grief books. Like I said, everyone is different. Some people want a solution really quickly – for me I am still mourning and unable to accept the life I lost. I still wake up thinking “this is my fucking life?” In the words of another young widow blogger, Olivia Arnold,
“I wish I had an answer but I don’t. I wish that it would stop but it doesn’t. I wish I was better at this “widow thing” but I’m not. I’m tired. I’m grieving. I’m sad. I’m still a mix of all of it including the blurred lines in-between.”
This post feels so naked without mentioning a Jacob story. The whole reason behind this blog is him – to share him with the world – I want his memory to stay alive and reach as many people as it can – this isn’t a “healing journey” because… there is no true healing from grief in my opinion. Maybe moments of healing here and there, sure. My therapist says, “you just have to learn how to live in parallel with the grief, and I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news – but your grief is never going away. Ever. It might change form, but it will always be there.” And your grief is as big as your love was – and I loved Jacob so deeply and so unconditionally my grief covers the sun.
One day, while living in Cambridge, MA Jacob saw a homeless man on the street corner. Jacob had just bought a burrito at a place in Harvard Square that was really cheap – which is an oxymoron in Harvard Square. He saw the homeless man, and immediately went back inside, and bought another burrito. He gave it to him. Then, he sat and talked with the man. This man started to weep – no one had given him the dignity of talking to him in years – “all I have gotten is dirty looks, money thrown to me, food – but no one ever wants to talk to me.” This is a story that is very indicative of Jacob’s personhood – he felt the pains of the whole world. He didn’t proclaim that to anyone else either – he didn’t go tell a bunch of people what he did for this man- he didn’t have to- it was just a character trait that he had. I remember one day, he saw a balloon floating in the sky and he started to get sad because he said, “oh man I hope a little kid at a birthday party or some shit didn’t lose their balloon.” You see what I mean? So sensitive inside, while having this very outwardly gregarious and quick-witted personality. I feel so lucky to have seen all sides of him, so intimately – that no one else saw.
The walk from our apartment to Harvard Square was 20 minutes – Jacob and I would do it together all the time and it was beautiful, we would pass all these quaint, flower-laden New England homes. It was quiet and we would talk about everything on these walks – from religion to making up bad poetry on the spot. He loved walking down to Harvard Square and going to the Brattle Theatre – it was a single room movie house and only showed very eclectic films. One week – it was “David Lynch week” at this movie house, who Jacob LOVED (Twin Peaks, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, etc.) “How fucking cool is this place for having a David Lynch week?” He was so happy as he looked at the movie schedule and hugged me from behind. He used to tell me “Don’t expect a conclusion- type ending with any Lynch films – you will never get that, that’s part of why they are so good.” The last night we would ever spend together we watched the season finale of the new Twin Peaks. He got our bedroom all set up with snacks and soda and he just – he never lost that child-like way about him… when I would say “Do you want to have a movie night”? he would get so happy and say “Really?? YES! Baby – that’s what I have been wanting all week.” I wish you could hear the inflection he had when he said baby – it was a huge emphasis on the baby. I wish I could hear it in the physical form, just one last time. That last night we spent together, I remember Jacob saying “Man, I really hope we get a couple more good years out of David Lynch – you know he’s a smoker… I want him to keep creating art.” Then the next day, Jacob would be gone. How could this life get any crueler? That memory pierces my skull. I cry as I write this because I can picture it like it was yesterday- where he was standing, how he scratched his left knee after he finished a long sentence, the sweater he was wearing, the cadence in his voice- and I just want to jump back into that life – I want to rewind – I don’t want to push forward or restart.
The only person that would be able to soothe me, say all the right words, be there for me in all the right ways – is Jacob – and he is gone. I wake up in a room full of all our possessions that once adorned our houses and apartments and want to go back to sleep. I have no answers, and no one else does. Even “stay strong” or “he would want you to be happy” land so flat because they are empty, they are coming from a place of no understanding of our life. My therapist says, “”You are so strong” is one of the most offensive things my clients in grief tell me they hear- because in this season of your life, where you feel so incredibly weak, which is okay to feel – and perfectly normal to feel – you are just being told you are strong – I mean, how is that supposed to help you out of grief? Or make you feel any better? There is nothing comforting about “you are strong” when you feel so broken.” My therapist does think I am strong – and points at all the ways even during this terrible time I have shown signs of strength – but she understands why I don’t like hearing it. All I can do is say I am sorry. What a horrible life this is that we are living… I know. The nights are restless, the enthusiasm people have for life is unfathomable – and for those of you with trauma, like me – the isolation takes over you. But even though I have no answers, I can listen to your story, as I thank you for continuing to read about ours.
*I wanted to add a quick thank you to those that have reached out since I publicly shared Jacob’s passing on social media and so far, not only have I heard incredible and new stories of Jacob but you have connected me with THREE young widows my age, very similar stories who have checked in on me weekly and one in particular almost daily…*