There ain’t no colors in the sky
And I don’t feel much like singing
Can’t see what for
And there ain’t no comfort in this life
All that I can see that’s ahead of me seems like
Such a chore
Maybe something will happen to make it all better
Maybe something will come along and make me happy
There ain’t no fun in living anymore
And I don’t feel much like living
Can’t see what for
There ain’t no life left in me
I feel a bit funny
Like a ghost
With nowhere to go
My hope has gone and left me
A desperate man
There’s no spunk left in me
I feel so hollow in me
So empty, so empty
So empty, so empty
A big chunk of what I was has gone
And left me a desperate man
Now I’m a desperate man
I’m lonely, scared
Sad, sorry man
And I just can’t see no colors in the sky
There’s color there I’m sure, but it ain’t mine
And it’s made me blind
A desperate man
I’m a desperate man
– Daniel Johnston (listen to the song here) from one of Jacob’s favorite albums of all time, Hi, How Are You. Still on cassette and vinyl in the boxes of our belongings… I remember the day I gave him that album on vinyl and cassette. I said, “should I put it in a separate spot from the rest of our records?” He laughed, “Baby coo – everything around here is OURS – there will never be a day where my stuff and your stuff are separate.” That is when I knew he wanted to be with me forever…I was 19. I knew it for so long myself, but Jacob laughing at the idea of separating our books, vinyl, mugs, cassettes, or anything else – made me truly realize he wanted to be with me forever. I can’t even talk about the memory… just much too depressed this week to use my own words. This song describes the last 14 months almost perfectly, except the two sentences of idealism. I used to listen to this song with Jacob and we would talk about it at length (the sadness, the poetry of it, the desperation in the art)… but now I am living it.
I have just returned from a long weekend of Camp Widow where I met a true extension of Jacob’s soul and someone I feel like could be and is developing into one of my closest friends in life – Élise from Montréal – we have done voice memos/ videos/ or facetime calls nearly every day to talk about our soulmates who are very similar (we also have very similar stories of loss as well) and I am going to visit her in Montréal (she has the sweetest french accent, and is helping me keep my four years of French stay fresh in my brain). I want to visit Montréal and go to all the places Jacob wanted to visit there in Montréal – the places we talked about visiting together (Leonard Cohen’s first apartment, his museum, the park where he spent many hours as a child, wrote many poems and spent time writing his first novel, Beautiful Losers, which Jacob always said was the most underrated book of all time.) He loved that book, and when he gave it to me in Christmas of 2016 he wrote me the most beautiful inscription. I read it every day. And Jacob and I both really wanted to go together (and planned on it in winter of 2018 since we lived so close from Boston) especially after all the years of watching one of his all-time favorite documentaries… Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen (it is free on youtube, trust me – watch it.) Jacob watched it on loop junior year of college and it also changed my life- and I cannot think of anyone remotely close to Jacob on this earth EXCEPT Leonard Cohen, he is truly the only one that reminds me of Jacob. And Jacob agreed in a very humble way – that is why Jacob always turned to art and artists – to find himself reflected. We also wanted to visit Montréal in winter because the documentary was shot during winter. Jacob was so cute like that. Anyway, just the fact that this fellow young widow, who I now refer to as my dear, dear friend who I love with all my heart, Élise (my age, without kids, whose spouse was a writer) knew of Leonard Cohen is beyond belief (that reminds me of another Jacob story…) The fact that I could be in the same room with a friend drinking wine listening to Leonard Cohen blew my mind. Actually, it brought us both to tears. In addition to telling our horrible, painful and miserable stories of loss – but in the backdrop hearing Leonard Cohen – it was as if I was with Jacob. Why this is so important to me is I have never done that with anyone but Jacob in my entire life – because he was my best friend. My only friend. In addition to being my lover and soulmate. I never had a “girlfriend” that was ever even remotely close to a soul like Jacob… this is why I watch and read Leonard Cohen interviews and books all the time – to feel closer to him when Jacob’s words to me, photos of him and me, and videos to me and of us leave me wanting more and more (which is always…) But my darling friend Élise who I met this past weekend had a piece of Jacob’s soul in her – and so much of her is because of her spouse, just like so much of me is from Jacob… For instance, she said she wouldn’t have known about Leonard Cohen if it wasn’t for her darling soulmate Lukas, just as I wouldn’t know of him if it wasn’t for my Jacob. But more on that later (I promise, it deserves its own post – and it will when I visit her in Montréal and see all the places Jacob and I wanted to see, which will be painful but at least I can be with someone who understands, I can cry with and who can hold my hand in my suffering – we can hold each other’s hands in suffering. Jacob would love her and I can hear him saying, “Thank you for helping my baby coos” – I feel like Jacob brought us together in some cosmic way. I felt him while I was with her. A connection that was of course in no way like me and Jacob’s but it felt like Jacob was there if only for a few moments. How wonderful to feel that way no matter how fleeting – a way I never thought was possible.
So, I also started an intense procedure this week on my brain-super fun, right? No. Super fucking shitty. And painful. Feel free to ask me about it in the contact section of this blog. I’ll probably post about it when I finish. So, mentally, I am honestly not ready to talk about or even process all that happened in the last week and a half… but one thing I can offer you is something I heard this past weekend which was: tragedy + time = comedy. This is a phrase Jacob used to tell me a lot… so it was kind of a Déjà vu moment. In fact, I remember Jacob saying this is why the Jewish people are so goddamn funny – they have been through so much tragedy over time. It is a really hard concept for me to believe now, but I kept being reassured by other widows that will change. Like I said, hard to believe. I am really sick of “things will never get better, but different bullshit”. BUT – I am going to give you an excerpt from Kelley Lynn Shepherd’s book (who I met at Camp Widow in Toronto, and who also did the wonderful Ted Talk, “When Someone You Love Dies, There Is No Such Thing as Moving On” – she is very quick witted and makes you laugh at the RIDICULOUS SHIT people do/act/say/think/project while you are in grief. Jacob would find this story incredibly funny (and her incredibly funny) and I actually laughed out loud because I have gotten similar comments in the vein of “Be glad you have your health!” FUCK YOU. This story seriously made my day – week – month? And I could hear Jacob laughing – also, my mother-in-law was the first one to witness me laughing at it, I couldn’t even get the sentences out they were so funny and close to home. She hasn’t seen that since Jacob died. I didn’t think I could even laugh that hard anymore – not without Jacob with me every day. So, enjoy…yeah, I hate that word too.
Excerpt from the book, My Husband Is Not a Rainbow: The Brutally Awful, Hilarious Truth About Life, Love, Grief, and Loss by Kelley Lynn Shepherd (which by the way she is someone I completely relate to on so many levels of her personal grief story – robbed of children, a future, and growing old together without the only person she wanted those wonderful things with.) Quick aside: Jacob used to say, “I think you and I will be great at the whole becoming senile together thing – we are already so cynical already.” I always laughed when he said that and responded that, “We are 65-year-olds trapped in 25-year-old bodies Jakey.”
Okay here is the excerpt – I hope you find it as funny as I did. And validating for that matter…
“… Months ago, I posted on Facebook this: “Need to attempt this life thing again without Don. Not looking forward to it. Wish me luck!” A lot of people did wish me luck, told me to hang in there, and a bunch of other really nice things. And then there was this comment:
“Be glad you have your health, Kelley. Remember that some are living with diseases which make it difficult to just get out of bed. I’ve got rheumatoid arthritis, but some have it worse.” Well, alrighty then. What the hell is THAT supposed to mean? What does your rheumatoid arthritis got to do with my husband’s death or ANYTHING for that matter? Nothing. I don’t see the connection. Because there isn’t one. They are two completely different issues. It makes zero sense to bring up one when talking about the other. I suppose the purpose of saying something like that is to make me feel “grateful” for all the things I could be dealing with that I’m not dealing with. But honestly, I never saw the point to that argument. It’s like when you were a kid, and you didn’t want to eat your vegetables, and your mom would say, “Eat everything on your plate! There are starving children in Africa!” Okay. Whether or not I eat my green beans, they will still be starving. My eating or not eating my food has nothing to do with them being starving. Starvation will always be an epidemic, and the only way to combat it is to help them! Send donations. Put programs together to help solve the ongoing issues. And guess what? These beans are still disgusting, and I’m still not eatin’ em.
So if I tell you my husband just died and you say, “Well, at least you don’t have rheumatoid arthritis!” I’m going to look at you like you’re fucking nuts. Unless you leave it as a comment on Facebook. In that case, I will just THINK you are fucking nuts and say nothing and then write about it in my book later on. No, I don’t have arthritis. I also don’t have lupus, lyme disease, or a weak bladder. And hey, at least I am not headless! You know, some people are walking around earth without a HEAD! So be grateful you have a head! And legs. There are some people who have no legs. And if they grieved the loss of their legs, would you say to them, “Well, be grateful you have a torso! You know, some people don’t have a torso! Or eyes. At least you have eyes! I know a guy with no eyes, no torso, no legs, no arms, and no face. He’s just a foot. So be grateful. You could be just a foot.”
I mean, where does it end? Your problems are your problems, and my problems are my problems. The death of my husband is what I happen to be dealing with. He is gone forever, and my life is forever different, and every day, I’m stuck trying to get up and figure out another reason why I should stick around. I’m sorry if, at the moment, I’m not feeling very grateful for my lack of rheumatoid arthritis.
“I don’t understand the need that some people have to compare pain. If I tell you my wife died just 4 weeks after her diagnosis, and you come back at me with some story about someone you know who suffered longer with the same illness before dying- what am I supposed to say? “Okay – you win! That pain is worse than my pain.” There are no prizes when everyone is dead.” – Joe Harris.
That quote is how she ends the segment –
Jesus Christ, thank you, Kelley – I get this shit all the time- not only the “be grateful you have your health” but the “people have suffered much worse, and for much longer” or the “people have suffered much worse and how selfish can you be lying in a bed for 14 months doing nothing?” or “people have suffered much worse with much fewer resources and have gotten through it.” All from the same goddamn person.
I hope those of you in mourning found this excerpt somewhat funny and at least a slight distraction, validation, and connection to the author and fellow widow. She gets it. She has turned it into humor. And I can hear Jacob’s laugh.
As I have mentioned, Jacob was a wildly talented poet and writer – he left me love notes and love poems all the time – usually on his typewriter because once I got him that thing he just fell in love. In a genuine way of course – never pretentious. Even our cat Abe got excited when he would hear the “clack clack” of Jacob typing. He would come to lay on Jacob’s lap and try to play with the paper and tear it. I remember Jacob always saying after about two minutes “Abe – stop it! Coo, can you get Abe out of here? I love you buddy but you have to go with mama for a while.”
I would get most poems from his typewriter in the later years (2015-2017), but declarations of love and little messages filled with beautiful and silly phrases or inside jokes I would get usually in his handwriting. I have these in separate plastic bags to preserve them and read them often. I talk to him every day, I cry and read to his ashes- stories he loved, poems he loved, poems I have written about him and talk to him about our memories-every night. It isn’t an option for me – even while living together for 7 years we would talk on the phone 15-20 times a day (no joke.) Since he died, I have to talk to him, every day – many times a day. It is all I know.
We were so in love, it is beyond any words I can construct. I will always be in love with Jacob. And what I try to remember when I am in the darkest of places is that Jacob loved me so deeply, and of course, that is why this pain is so all-encompassing. Grief is as big as your love is. But no one can take away our love from me. Never. In my whole life – he is my soulmate. Forever. He used to tell me- “Baby, I don’t think you realize how lucky we are- no one has a love like ours, no one. You are extremely lovable but let me tell you – no one could ever love you as much as I do.”
I would always cry and tell him how I felt like the luckiest girl in the world that he chose me to spend his life with. So much of who I am and the only parts I like about myself are from Jacob. Because we were so young (7th grade) when it all began, all of my personhood was influenced so heavily by him. He would recommend books, films, music and I would print out our AIM instant messenger conversations and devour anything he suggested immediately. I remember one time, I was so obsessed with him in middle school I had an alert on his screen name (you remember those right? His at the time was johnsmassacre960 – his 8th grade band’s name and anewkindofarmy60) – so anytime he would “sign online” I would hear a loud cashier sound from my speakers from the other side of the house. Literally, I would wait around all weekend for him to sign on – even if it was only for ten minutes. I would call off plans with friends just to stay home on the weekends and wait to talk to him.
I remember he said when I was 13, “Is it alright if I call you babe?” and my heart was pounding. “I said, of course!” ( I printed out this immediately and hid it in my journal for years.) And so, from then on – even while he went onto 9th grade and I was still in 8th – he would leave me messages on AIM instant messenger that always started with “Hey babe- sorry I missed you, I will be back on in an hour can’t wait to talk to you.” I didn’t even have a cell phone at this time – I got my first one in 9th grade, and I remember once I did we would talk for hours and hours – I could listen to his voice forever. Jacob had the best voice – in his college speech class (>150 students) he was voted as the best sounding voice. But before high school, we would talk on each other’s home phones when we were in middle school (I still have Jacob’s childhood home phone memorized). It was very cute, he always told me “you are the coolest girl ever, you wear converse shoes to Catholic School and have a Warped Tour patch on your backpack.” That was his way of saying I love you at 13. I never knew anyone to be as genuine and unique as Jacob, and at that age, it completely changed my world. How lucky did we get? Seriously. Now I am remembering… In the early stages of our relationship (age 12), I would call his house and hang up – too nervous to say anything – I also had my older brother drive me by his house before I was ever invited or allowed to go in middle school – just so I could see it.
This is a part of why my grief is so piercing and hacking away at me – we had such a rare love. There was no “honeymoon stage”, every day was beautiful. Always. Literally, two days before Jacob died he opened our door and danced when he heard me walking up the stairs saying “My baby coos is home! I have a surprise for you, I made us dinner!” He often did a little dance
when I got home. This was our love, so unique and so unlike anything I had ever known (we had ever known) – even my dad told me shortly after Jacob died and often repeats this to me, “In my entire life there has never been a better couple, including your mother and I, than you and Jacob.” We always cry together when he says that. He means it with all his heart.
Jacob and I – well, our souls were and always will be connected with the intensity of a raging fire – little tidbits of information I know from him run in my head all day long (from Shawshank Redemption being originally a short story by Stephen King or Leadbelly getting released from jail because the guard
was so moved by the sound of his singing voice…) and I think of small jokes he would make while washing the dishes or folding laundry. All the intimate moments only I know. I record these memories all the time and some of them I share with my mom because she is always there to listen to me at any time and she wants to hear Jacob’s voice in my stories. She is grieving her son-in-law who she loved so deeply. But no one knows of your day to day life, except you and your partner. So she wants to learn – she is curious and always wants to hear a new story or memory of Jacob. My dad also hears Jacob and will often say in the mornings, “I hear his voice every day – his inflection, his laugh. Every day.”
Anytime I feel like someone is making my grief worse, bringing me down, saying hurtful things, suggesting I take up a new hobby, putting on a show like they are grieving more (ugh, fuck you.), acting like they knew Jacob more than me – his soulmate (I just laugh at that one), saying stupid shit, telling me I need to “snap out” of losing the love of my life, telling me it has been one year and it is time to “move on”, suggesting he loved me less than I thought (yes, someone said this to me- total liar and piece of shit, but still hurt like hell that anyone could be so cruel) -basically, anytime I feel like people are saying things that Jacob would detest anyone saying to me– things that just make me want to run away and cry into Jacob’s arms and have him protect me, I read his words. Because they are from him. They do not lie. I know the truth. He knew the truth. I have that in my heart, but I also have it through his beautiful words. I just re-read a card he gave me when we graduated college- he wrote me a long letter and I want to share a part of it that always reminds me just how much he loved me and how lucky we were to have found each other. “… In the end, I just want to say one thing: thank you for your love and support through these trying years. Without you, this experience would be meaningless. I love you with all my heart and soul. Because of you I can smile easily, and mean it every time. Thank you again for the best 4 years of my life. I’ll never forget them. With all my love, Jacob.”
I have included one of the last poems Jacob ever wrote to me. This is hard to share but too beautiful not to. I am going to get it tattooed on my arm, I am not a tattoo girl but I want this to always be with me. More like a memorial. A reminder every day of how much we loved and love each other. And that is never going anywhere.
The hardest part about this poem is that we were unable to share a lifetime together in physical form… which is all we wanted – marriage, family, growing old together, many cats… I couldn’t wait to see him become a famous writer (I always told him “I just know it. I feel it. I know you will be a famous writer – you just wait and see.”) He would then smile this cute smile that meant, “Really? She thinks so… maybe I can do it.” I remember all his different smiles. I truly felt like my purpose on this earth was to financially and emotionally support him so he could take the time to get a body of work, publish and become the amazing writer (I always knew he was) but for the world to see, recognize, and be utterly changed by his talent. He had the type of talent that could change lives. But the hard truth of the last poem he ever wrote me is that I will share my entire lifetime with Jacob, that will of course always be true, just not in the form I want. Which fucking sucks. Not in the form he wanted either. We both loved our life together. We both wanted children. We both wanted to grow old together. We both lost our life together as we knew it and our entire future…and I just want to go back in time.
“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…*
WARNING: this post is full of curse words, tangents, and ridiculous (but only because they are so unbelievably stupid) TRUE comments people have said to me in the last year… and I wish it would END. I also have bolded what my immediate emotional reactions were, so don’t take offense, just know what goes through a grieving widow’s mind when, well, you say stupid shit. And unfortunately, my list is identical to all other widow’s I have talked to on online forums. Jacob would want all these phrases to end because they bring me such pain, and I sure as hell do. Here we go. *Also, I know that these comments are not ill-intentioned but I’m over the whole “people are just trying their best.” Try a little harder, people!
“Jacob wouldn’t want you to be sad – he would want you to accomplish all your dreams and goals.” No. All my dreams and goals were around and with HIM! Don’t you get it?
“You should try volunteer work!” Are you kidding me? I can barely get the guts to get out of bed. I hate that the sun is shining and the world is continuing without Jacob. My mind is in chaos. But sure! Let me start volunteering immediately.
“At least you had him as long as you did.” WHAT THE HELL? I WAS 25, HE WAS 27.
“I have been thinking of you lately, I just didn’t feel like calling or texting.” Oh, nice.
“Maybe I just don’t feel empathetic towards you because I don’t know what you are going through” Yes. Good point (this was from a “friend”) Thanks for the support!
“You should start to think about your future as a single female.” I can barely think of my next breath? Are you kidding me? Jacob is my one and only – forever.
“They are in a better place now” Really? REALLY? Please explain this to me. The only place he should be is with me in OUR shared life. How easy for you to say when my life is shattered and my future is gone.
“God will never give you more than you can handle.” Well, guess what, he has.
“You know that he cannot get into heaven until you accept his death” Fuck off.
“I understand” or “I know how you feel” NO YOU DON’T – STOP SAYING THAT.
“You need to let him go, or he can’t be truly happy. You are causing him pain” Fuck off even more.
“You’re smart, strong and resourceful- you’ll get through this!” Are you kidding? I am lying in bed – I haven’t eaten in weeks, I am free floating from the sky with the only person, the love of my life now dust. Gone forever. YOU TRY GETTING THROUGH THIS. ASSHOLE.
“My dog passed away last month, I know how hard this is for you.” I have no words.
“My 87-year-old Great Grandmother died last year, I know exactly how you feel.” Jesus. At least your comparison is to a human – but you visited her once a year. I SPENT EVERY SINGLE DAY WITH JACOB.
Point is – none of these are COMFORTING. They make us feel hurt. They are insensitive. And… I just don’t understand it.
WARNING: TANGENT COMING
I bet you have dealt with this same thing, people minimizing your grief or acting like it is something like yours. In the wise words of Megan Devine “Grief comparison and shared grief does not bring you, the widower, any comfort. It can feel like your own loss has been eclipsed by the speaker’s need to tell their own story- no matter how long ago it happened, or how irrelevant it is to your loss. Talking about their own pain is a way the person moves the focus off supporting you and onto getting their own needs met.” And the competition of grief? Yikes. I have seen this with my own eyes and it is ugly. This is something Megan Devine also summarizes in her book on grief (It’s OK that you’re not OK – which I highly recommend- buy it here). It was as if the words she was saying came directly from my soul. She says we need to talk about the HIERARCHY OF GRIEF. Divorce is not the same as the death of a partner. There is a hierarchy. I am sick of this “every pain is the same but different” bullshit. TOTAL BULLSHIT. Some pains are worse than others and you all know it. We all know it. Death of a grandparent is not that same as the death of a spouse. Death of a cousin is not the same as the death of a child. “YOU CANNOT FLATTEN THE LANDSCAPE OF GRIEF AND SAY THAT EVERYTHING IS EQUAL. IT ISN’T.” Can I get a Hallelujah?
Of course, everyone might be in grief, but the thing is – we cannot assign equal weight to all levels of grief – because this does not support the griever (me) (you) and all the young widows out there. But the truth is – and this comes mostly from the book I referenced earlier – defending the uniqueness or intensity of your loss against the comparisons of others is not going to make you (me) feel better. Pointing out the various orders of magnitudes of loss is not going to help us feel better. So, what do I do when someone tries to link arms with me in grief when they HAVE NO IDEA THE DAMAGE THEY ARE INFLICTING OR WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT? I just nod (maybe offer a forced smile). Leave the room. Not answer phone calls. Turn off my phone completely. Sometimes punch a hole in the wall. Cry into a pillow. Watch videos of Jacob telling me he loves me more than anyone in the world. Look at photos of us together. Scream at the sky. Think about how I was the only one that knew his adult self – and how he was the only one that knew me. How lucky I was that he picked me to share his whole self with. Cry some more. It all depends on the person, and what they said. Here is the thing – I know many of these people are just trying to say what they can, what they only know how to- and a year and one month ago, I might have said one of those stupid comments – but I also know much of what their words are doing is turning the focus away from my pain. For many, it is inconvenient for me to be in more suffering. Any suffering. But haven’t I suffered enough without having to worry about if I am too much of a burden on others? Give me a fucking break, here.
Okay, more comments:
“This experience will make you stronger! Buck Up!” TOUGH LOVE? NEVER WORKS, NEVER WILL.
“You can always try again-get another partner, have a child” HE WAS MY SOULMATE. WE DIDN’T BREAK UP – HE DIED.
“You need to put this behind you.” HOW CAN I PUT MY WHOLE PAST AND FUTURE “BEHIND ME?”
“You are so strong.” NOPE. NOT NOW.
“You need to get out of bed and start living.” AGHHHH, GRIEF HAS NO TIMELINE. AND I DON’T WANT TO BE ALIVE – GET IT?
“You are lucky to only grieve for Jacob, I feel the pains of the world” LUCKY!?!?!??!?!?! Yes, a 25-year-old widow is lucky.
“You were apart sometimes, you did fine enough then” I don’t even have a response other than you are ignorant and stupid.
“You are so young, you have to find someone else, you need a companion.” UGH. WHEN WILL THIS END?
AND MY PERSONAL FAVORITE AND TITLE OF THIS POST:
“Everything Happens for a reason” NO IT DOES NOT! TELL ME THE REASON NOW, GO AHEAD AND TELL ME THE REASON JACOB HAD TO DIE.
Well let me tell you everything said above is not only TRUE but everyone who said those awful things needs a “crash course on when to shut the fuck up.” One of my widow friends said that, and man was she right on the money. And the worst part is, you are only seeing half the list of what people have said. Here is the thing: like I said before, I know the comments aren’t ill-intentioned, but it comes off like a dagger to the chest. We are already grieving so heavily, that these insensitive remarks act as another punch of grief in the gut. We find ourselves having to defend our grief. We find ourselves victims of grief shaming. People tell us stories of other people who have overcome “far harder situations with much fewer resources” – as if that is supposed to soothe the
pain? Why is it so difficult for people to sit down and say, “Tell me about Jacob”, “What was your favorite story- or one of your favorite stories?” “When did you know you were in love with him?” “What was something only you knew about his life that would surprise other people that knew him?” “Tell me about your day-to-day living?” “What were his favorite books? hobbies? restaurants?” THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO TELL YOU PEOPLE. But instead, you offer shit advice. SHIT WRAPPED IN GLITTER as my therapist would put it. You hand it to me, with some idea that you are giving me some novel wisdom but all the while it is just another shit comment.
I know I seem fired up, but it is only because a distant “friend” of mine recently compared losing her dog to me losing Jacob. I got so angry. I lost my childhood dog 10 months before Jacob died. Jacob and I cried over that dog – Precious was just as much his dog as mine. But since Jacob died? WHO GIVES A SHIT. How could anyone compare such a loss? This is someone I laughed with, I made love to, I watched movies with, I made meals with, I shared an entire life with. Someone I met in 4th grade. My crush since 7th grade (12 years!) I was just so angry when I got that message I thought- first, I will take some of the drugs my whole team of doctors has prescribed me to ease the anxiety and depression (which never really works), and then second – write a blog post about some of the most insensitive comments told to me this past year. After looking up some other widow’s experiences, I was horrified to see my list was the same as theirs. I am sure if you are a widow reading this, you have a whole host of your own. PLEASE IF YOU ARE READING THIS AND YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS A WIDOW OR ANYONE IN MOURNING, AND YOU HAVE SAID SOMETHING LIKE WHAT I MENTIONED ABOVE – YOU SHOULD BE AWARE, AND CONSIDER APOLOGIZING. But, if you are going to be passive and only offer comments in a card or a text here and there, this is what you can say – “thinking of you” “sending healing light” “I love you” That is about it. And I am not trying to make you feel bad, but people need to be told when their behavior is damaging – we do it in all other life situations – why not in miserable grief?
What I wish more than anything is that someone would just show up and want to talk about Jacob. Real adult Jacob. Who he was from age 18-27. But no one does that, they tip-toe around his name and memory like it is some disease. And because many have guilt that they didn’t know him as an adult? They don’t want to hear my stories. Jacob was much different at 12 than he was at 16 than he was at 20 (when we finally started living together, I was 18) than when he was 25. People just want to hold onto their stories, instead of lifting his life and his pure joy to new heights and dimensions by listening more and adding more complexity to the beautiful human he was. If Jacob were here, he would say to me “It’s okay, baby, because you know what? You know of our life – and that’s good enough for me.” When I just wrote that, I broke down and started crying because I could hear him say that so clearly.
Sometimes you just have to let your grief exist between you and your soulmate, even though he/she is gone. I know it is so hard. I know.
I had this realization about six months ago… I felt so much more connected to Jacob when I was alone than with anyone else- when I was time traveling in my mind to memories or when I was writing about the adventures we took alone. Because, the truth is – it was just me and him. It is just you and your partner. And I am very sorry we both have to walk this path.
Everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Some people get it worse than others – and life just does whatever it wants. I know friends and friends of friends who have a fraction of the love Jacob and I had and they get to get married, have children, and do everything we were planning on doing. NO, EVERYTHING DOES NOT HAPPEN FOR A REASON. People with no love, passion, or personality spend their long miserable lives together and we got robbed of all the joys of life with each other. Jacob talked about growing old with me almost every week, we loved each other so much it was almost unearthly. This was an awful tragedy. And instead of hearing that horrible expression “everything happens for a reason” what I would like for someone to say is “This really fucking sucks. How can I help you put the pieces of a broken life together”? or “This is an awful situation and all I can offer is to sit with you in your suffering.” These are the real questions and statements that everyone is afraid to ask or say – but unless they have experienced true suffering or life has brought them to their knees, they will continue to say… “Everything Happens for a Reason.”
I apologize for the angry post – but I really think people need to be aware of how damaging these comments can be… I promise next week won’t be as heated.
I am going to leave you with a new poem called “grief shame” (never before published).