One day earlier this month, I snuck out to Montauk, the very end of Long Island, to be all by myself, by the ocean. I had a cathartic “good cry” (several of them, actually), and reflected upon how today, October 23, 2020, would have been my 10th wedding anniversary – except that my husband Jimmy suddenly died from a heart attack 4 1/2 years ago.
As I headed home from Montauk, the oceanside fishing and drinking town where we got married, my car slowly meandered up and down the windy hills of Old Montauk Highway – or the “Rollercoaster Road,” as my 6 year-old daughter and I call our favorite drive. On that drive out of town, the following three songs played, one after the other, while my iPhone was randomly shuffling through hundreds of songs stored on it: “True Companion,” “Hey, Soul Sister,” and “Into the Mystic.” That selection of songs couldn’t possibly have been a coincidence, and I’ll tell you why.
The first one, “True Companion,” was our wedding song. Wha?? Full stop. I can’t remember the last time that song played on my iPhone, and it just happened to play while I was driving out of Montauk, only days away from my 10th wedding anniversary?! That “coincidence” would be a mic drop right there – except I can’t help myself from telling you the rest of this story.
“True Companion” is one of those totally sappy, “till death do us part” love songs, ending with these lyrics:
“When I look in your eyes
I’ll still see that spark
Until the shadows fall
Until the room grows dark
Then when I leave this Earth
I’ll be with the angels standin’
I’ll be out there waiting for my true companion
Just for my true companion
When we picked that wedding song, I knew in my heart that Jimmy was perfect for me (not perfect, but perfect for me). I thought about what a great team we would make to conquer life’s challenges together. Little did I know 10 years ago that, before Jimmy would die, our home would be completely destroyed by Hurricane Irene and we’d spend almost three years building a new home; our beloved 3 year-old Yellow Lab would die from kidney failure caused by a veterinarian’s malpractice; and we’d figure out together how to keep our newborn baby girl alive and well – which was by far the hardest challenge of them all!
Jimmy was an incredible teammate through all of those challenges, and through all of the great times, too. If I close my eyes, I can still hear him belly laughing, and I can still see in my mind’s eye exactly what he looked like (especially his thick fingers and hairy knuckles – lol!). He had to leave this Earth far too soon – for reasons that I will never understand – but, as he’s standing with the angels, I know he will always be looking out for me, our daughter, and his two daughters and one son from his prior marriage. The five of us will always be guided and protected by him. Always.
The second song that I heard in my car on my drive out of Montauk was “Hey, Soul Sister” – the song to which my 19 bridesmaids (friends from birth all the way through adulthood) danced down the aisle at my wedding. That song is, of course, a love song (“I knew I wouldn’t forget you, and so I let you go and blow my mind. Your sweet moonbeam, the smell of you in every single dream I dream, I knew when we collided, you’re the one I have decided who’s one of my kind…”). But, for me, the meaning of that song at my wedding had a lot more to do with my love and gratitude for my soul sisters, the women who have supported me through the most unimaginably good and the most unimaginably horrible times of my life. Each one of them is still a part of my life, ten years later, and my love for them is boundless. It’s a “take a bullet” kind of sisterhood.
And the final song that I heard while driving along the ocean on my way out of Montauk was one of Jimmy’s all-time favorite songs, “Into the Mystic,” part of which goes like this:
“Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.”
It’s now ten years after marrying Jimmy, and four and a half years after his spirit flew into the mystic. So, where am I now? I am strong again. I am definitely not the same person who I was while he was alive, and I have many scars of grief which will be timeless reminders of my love for him. That said, these days, my life is happy again, and it’s full of light and love. Here’s why:
First and foremost, I am forever grateful for my four amazing children (the daughter who Jimmy and I had together, and the three kids from Jimmy’s previous marriage), all of whom literally became my reason for living after he died. Of course I know that his three kids are not literally my children – and they have their own wonderful, loving mother – but I will always think of them as my kids and treat them as my kids, just like my daughter thinks of them as her sisters and brother. There’s nothing “step” or “half” about any of those relationships, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I believe a higher power in the Universe brought the three kids into my life (because we needed each other), and I believe that same higher power brought my daughter into the world to create an unbreakable bond amongst the five of us, together as a family and linked by DNA, even after Jimmy was no longer there to bind us together. We all suffered through the soul-shattering trauma of losing our father/husband, and, if you ask me, our relationships are stronger for it, and we appreciate each other more now.
The next reason why my life is happy again and full of light and love is that I continue to be ever grateful for my soul sisters, who helped me survive the most unimaginably difficult time of my life when Jimmy died. They’d see my grief waves coming, and they’d throw me a life preserver, every damn time. And talking with any one of them makes me immediately feel grounded, like everything in the world is okay again, and our talks usually results in belly laughs that feel the next day like I did 100 sit-ups!
And, last by not least, almost exactly two years ago, I met a man who I’ll call Bud (because his name is actually Bud), who added even more love into my life. There’s no way or reason to compare Bud with Jimmy – I mean, they have some important similarities (character traits that are obviously requirements for me in a relationship), but they are two very different people. Nevertheless, I often think about how Jimmy would enjoy raising a glass with Bud, and how Jimmy would approve of the way Bud’s three sons have always been his first priority. Bud is raising three boys who have all become kind, compassionate, smart, well-behaved and funny young men – and, in Bud’s own unassuming and well-thought out way, he is helping me raise my daughter to share those same enviable qualities (which ain’t an easy task with a 6 year-old girl!). Jimmy would also approve of how well Bud treats me, and how he challenges me to be the best person who I can be. Bud is always looking out for my daughter and me (another “take a bullet” kind of love), and he understands my career and helps me advance in it. Oh, and, Jimmy would be super psyched that Bud and his middle son are great cooks, just like Jimmy was. (Good thing, because somebody better get some use of that fancy stove in my kitchen because it sure as hell ain’t gonna be me!)
It’s calming and reassuring to know in my heart that Jimmy would approve of the new love of my life and his three sons. He’d be glad but not surprised to know that my soul sisters are still standing by my side, supporting me every step of the way. And he’d be so happy and proud to see our daughter thriving and his other three children becoming successful, professional young adults who are and will always be so important in my life.
Because I know Jimmy would be proud of my decisions, and because I have cultivated such gratitude for all of the love and goodness in my life, I am happy again. That’s right – I’m fucking happy again, damnit. I’m not afraid to say it out loud, and my current happiness does not diminish my love for Jimmy in any way.
But don’t get me wrong – being happy sure ain’t easy. It’s a daily challenge. Change is scary and hard. It was scary and hard in the beginning when my loss of Jimmy was so raw. And it’s scary and hard again now as I’m doing my best to slowly try to integrate my family with Bud’s family. That’s hard for me – and it’s hard for each of them, too, each in their own ways and for their own reasons. But change is necessary for growth, and, as long as I know I have my incredible non-nuclear family as my strong roots, I feel secure knowing that growth will be healthy and good, for all of us.
We will see Jimmy again one day. I am totally confident that’s true. And, in the meantime, I plan to continue to fiercely love all of the members of my new, quirky, non-traditional family, the ones on Earth and the one who’s standing with the angels, watching over us from afar.
I know firsthand that it’s impossibly hard to believe in the beginning stages of traumatic loss that you could possibly lead a happy life again, when you’re at the bottom of a deep dark hole with seemingly no way to climb out. But, as corny as it sounds, I’m living proof that, if you cultivate gratitude, life can be great again, full of love and light. Believe. And hold on tight. Because it’s gonna be a Rollercoaster Road!
P.S. Who knows what what inspiration may befall me in the future, but my gut tells me that this post is probably the last one I’m gonna write as the Badass Widow – because I’ve outgrown her, and it’s time to say goodbye to her. Thank you for following along on my grief journey, and, if you’re reading because you’ve experienced traumatic loss yourself, and you are looking for a beacon of hope, nothing would make me feel better than to think that I may have provided you with some of that hope. Keep going. Namaste, badasses.