PSA: Do Not Send Cut Flowers to Grieving People

It’s been almost 2.5 years since the sudden death of my husband – not exactly a recent trauma – and yet I still can’t stand the sight of cut flowers.

As you’d imagine, when he died, family, friends and colleagues wanted to express their sympathy. What’s the most common and accepted way to express sympathy? With flowers, of course. Gorgeous vases full of cut flowers and wreaths made of cut flowers filled the funeral home for his wake. Everywhere, there were flowers. The notes included with the arrangements warmed my shattered heart. They came from a broad spectrum of people, many of whom I hadn’t heard from in years. All of their hearts were in the right place. But, they just didn’t know. They didn’t get it.

After the wake, one of my stepdaughters surveyed the funeral parlor room full of flowers and quite rightly decided that it would be a shame to let all of those flowers go to waste – so, she and others loaded up all of those flowers into several cars and brought them back to our house. If you’ve ever been at a wake, you know that funeral flowers look very different than birthday flowers or Valentine’s Day flowers. Funeral flowers are formal, stiff, sad, and pungent. And now our home was filled with all of that sad, smelly energy.

And do you know what happens when cut flowers sit around for a few days? They die. Please let me say that again: THEY DIE. So, now, because you gave cut flowers to me, I had watch them wilt and die. And then, I had to empty the vases of all of that stinky dead flower water (who doesn’t know the smell of dead flower water?!), and throw all of those flowers in the garbage. Because they are dead. Because they are DEAD.

What’s the moral of this story? Please, please, please send a plant instead. Send a plant! The best gift that I received when my husband died was a plant in a pretty wicker basket. It was beautiful. And it took a full two years before I killed it. Whoops.

Never Alone in Buffalo

buffalo-ny-a-city-of-no-illusions_t20_JVyBWo

This past weekend was the second anniversary of my husband’s death. It was important to me to be together with as many of my kids and stepkids as possible, so I drove with my three-year old daughter for 10 hours from Long Island up to Buffalo, NY, where two of my stepkids go to college. On the drive up, my throat started to really hurt, and, by the time we arrived in Buffalo, it was hard for me to swallow or talk. So, early the next morning, I left my daughter with my stepdaughter at the hotel, and I found an urgent care clinic. The doctor there basically dismissed my sore throat as being nothing more than a viral cold symptom, prescribed a steroid to reduce the swelling, and sent me on my way.

Well, my throat didn’t get better. It got a helluva lot worse. By Saturday night, my two stepkids had gone back to college, and my daughter and I were having dinner with an old friend of mine who hails from Buffalo. She could tell that I was really struggling through dinner, because I was barely able to talk or eat. We called it an early night and my toddler and I went back to our hotel.

The next morning, my daughter and I were supposed to be making the 10 hour drive home to Long Island – but, two problems: there was an ice storm happening outside, and my throat was incredibly swollen and painful. I was reluctant to re-visit the urgent care facility that had obviously misdiagnosed me two days earlier, and I was tempted to drive through the ice storm and see a real doctor back home. But, common sense got the better of me and I returned to the urgent care. This time, having nobody to leave my toddler with, I had no choice but to bring her with me.

The doctor looked at my throat and immediately identified that I had developed a “peritonsillar abscess” – more commonly and disgustingly known as a big pus-filled pocket that formed near one of my tonsils. It was causing the nearly unbearable pain, pressure and swelling on the left side of my throat. The doctor said that, if I decided to drive home without having the abscess treated, my throat could close, I would stop breathing and I would die. Oh, okay, so driving home is not an option. Instead, he said that I had to have an IV of antibiotics and steroids, and then he said I should immediately go to the ER for an emergency procedure to drain the abscess.

Wait, what? What?! I’m alone in Buffalo with a three-year old and you want me to go to the emergency room. Holy hell. HOLY HELL.  It’s hard to fully describe the sheer panic and anxiety that I experienced at that moment. I was sitting there in a room with a doctor, a nurse and my daughter – with my two stepkids relatively nearby and one of my best friends living down the road – but, at that very moment when I was told that I had to go to the ER with my toddler in tow, I have never felt so alone in my life. So. Alone. Cursing my husband because he should have been there with me. Cursing my life because it’s not supposed to be like this. But then.

I called the friend we had seen the night before. We have known each other for more than twenty years, since we were roommates together during a study abroad program in London. Barely able to speak, I told her I was in urgent care, had to go to the ER, and asked if she could come get my daughter. Without even a second of hesitation, she said, “We’re on our way.” She meant that she and her husband were on their way. She brought my daughter back to her house for pancakes and to play with her cat, and her husband drove me to the ER and stayed with me while I had the abscess drained. Then, he took me back to the house where my daughter was happily playing. They took us in for the night and took care of both of us, and, in the morning, I finally made that 10-hour drive back home.

Every time that I replay the events of that day in my mind, I cry. I cry thinking about how alone I felt – if only for those few minutes. I cry thinking about how I could have died if I had tried to drive back home without getting medical attention. But, more than anything, I cry thinking about how grateful I am to have such good friends, who were willing to drop everything to come to my rescue. You see, I was never REALLY alone in Buffalo.

“Time Heals All Wounds”: I Call BULLSHIT!

(Photo credit: Clare Cusack)

Who is the big fucking liar who coined the phrase “time heals all wounds”? That’s just not true. I would go so far as to argue that, when it comes to the loss of a spouse, the exact opposite might actually be true: time worsens and infects all wounds. In fact, Time takes a sharp steak knife and stabs those old wounds over and over until they’re bleeding again. Why? Because we widows, badass or otherwise, can’t help but mark time with birthdays of our deceased spouses, death anniversaries, and other incredibly depressing date markers. It’s not the actual dates that hurt so much – it’s the buildup and anxiety about the impending dates that’s almost unbearable.

As the second anniversary of my husband’s death is quickly and stealth-fully approaching, I can’t stop thinking about how the passage of time has not made me feel even one tiny bit better about losing him. The passage of time has not given me any greater sense of understanding as to why such a hardworking, good, loving man should be instantaneously ripped from this world, leaving behind four children and me. The passage of time doesn’t begin to make me miss him less. In fact, I’d say the second year without him has actually been a whole hell of a lot harder than the first year.

I spent most of the first year in a fog, first taking one breath at a time, then one step at a time, then one hour at a time. After a while, I was able to take one day at a time. But it was surreal. This couldn’t be my life. In MY life, my husband does not die young. He could not die. But then came Year Two when I was repeatedly smacked in the face with the realization and reality that I’m stuck on this earthly plane without him.

So, to whomever coined that stupid phrase “time heals all wounds,” shame on you for making some of us feel like we’re not doing a good enough job in our healing processes. And, to those of you out there who are moving forward with strength and courage despite the unhealable wounds, you are a hero. You are loved. Keep bringing it. Every. Single. Day.

Grief is a Hipster in a Black Hoodie

Grief was out of the house all day long, until my three year-old daughter saw a framed wedding photo on the wall and happily said the word “Daddy.” In the same instant that word came out of my daughter’s mouth, Grief came flying into the room, her arms flailing about, running toward me like a lunatic, and she sucker punched me in the chest. Then she punched me again – in the gut. And again, on my right forearm. Three times. Her punches startled me so much that I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe. I could not breathe.

Then, just as quickly, all I could do was heave and cry. But I couldn’t let my daughter see me cry – and I certainly couldn’t let Grief see me cry – so, turning my head from them, I silently and quite forcefully screamed with every bit of breath in my lungs. Then, I somehow composed myself and went back to playing with my toddler and her baby dolls.

Grief looked disappointed, as if she was eager to hear my screams and see my pain. She didn’t win this time because my daughter is more important to me than Grief. She did not win – this time.

Apparently feeling defeated, Grief wandered over to the bean bag chair on the living room rug and plopped down on it. She kicked off her black Converse sneakers, and she pulled the strings tight on her black hoodie, making her face mostly invisible, but allowing several strands of her mermaid green hair to show through. She pulled her phone out of the front pocket of her ripped jeans, and she started mindlessly looking at Instagram. She was waiting, patiently, to take her next punch.

How Did the Spiritual Medium Know We Buried My Husband in Crazy Boxer Shorts?

twenty20_d2ea9191-58cb-4288-8e42-e4d2ed1b28cb

In my last post, I told you a little bit about how a well-known spiritual medium came to my home for a group reading about a month and a half after my husband died from a heart attack. There’s more to that story. So. Much. More.

I know many people are skeptics or otherwise opposed to mediums, but this experience was truly life-altering and awe-inspiring for me.

Before the group reading, there were two things that I asked my deceased husband Jimmy to have the medium mention during the reading to validate that it was actually his spirit communicating with us through her. In other words, I spoke out loud to the air, to the universe, to my dead husband, and I said, if this lady is for real, have her tell me these two things. As I’ll explain, the medium communicated BOTH of those things to me, and even communicated two other things to me that I didn’t have on my list.

The things on my list were signs that I believed our daughter Ruby and I had received from Jimmy since his passing, and I was asking for validation that those things were actually signs, rather than figments of my imagination. (Because it’s very easy to believe you’re losing your mind in the immediate aftermath of a trauma such as this one.) The first sign was when Ruby said out loud to me on at least three different occasions that she was seeing butterflies when we were inside rooms with no butterflies that I could see. Each time, we were on a road trip – trips he should have been taking with us and would have been driving if he hadn’t died. My daughter seeing those butterflies seemed to me that it was my husband’s way of letting me know that he was still with us and watching over us on those trips. He was a NYPD detective, so I can’t really imagine a better guardian angel.

The second thing on my list for the medium involved a dream that I had (although it felt more real than a dream, so I’d call it a visitation) during which I felt the sensation of Jimmy giving me a big hug. Let me say that again, I felt HIM giving me a hug. It wasn’t a hug from my mother or a friend; it was distinctively his hug.

The medium began the group reading by looking at me and asking how I connect with butterflies. Mic drop. I mean, really? How did she know? She said Jimmy’s soul was getting Ruby to recognize the butterflies. The butterfly symbolizes new life, and his soul does have a new life in heaven.

Next, she said, without prompting, that he was acknowledging that I had a dream that he came to me to let me know that he was okay. Both things. He communicated both things through the medium.

Another experience that happened to me after Jimmy’s passing, one which I literally did not mention to a single person, was when I felt him touch my shoulder while I was sitting on the couch after he died. When it happened, I dismissed it, thinking it must have been a spider or a bug crawling on me, and I didn’t say anything about it to anyone. The medium communicated that Jimmy acknowledged that I felt him tap me on the shoulder – and he said to her, “Ha! See, my wife didn’t even have that one on her list!” The medium said his soul has not left me, and I will feel him forever.

After validating that Jimmy’s spirit was actually with us by telling all of us things that only he could know, the medium said Jimmy is still with us, his soul is at peace, the things going on around us are real, and there truly is more to life than what’s going on in the physical world. Every breath that we take and every milestone we achieve, Jimmy is here with us in spirit. For instance, she said that Jimmy would be there in spirit for his son’s high school graduation, and that he is proud of the young man that his son is growing up to be. He doesn’t want any of his kids to change their goals and dreams just because he has died.

The medium said she could feel something tragic happened to the four of us. She said we would receive messages during the reading that would help us release our burdens, messages that we needed to hear.

Twice, the medium said Jimmy wanted to thank me. He thanked me for giving all of us a new life together as a family when he met me, he thanked me for keeping the family together, he thanked me for doing all of the things that I do for his children which I don’t need to do, he thanked me for accepting his children like they are my own children, and he thanked me for respecting their mother. He wants to support me in all of my choices and decisions.

Jimmy also said that he knows the hardest thing that I had to do was figure out what to say to Ruby about his passing and that I’m doing the right thing with Ruby for right now – and, one day, she will be ready to better understand what happened.

She said Jimmy passed unexpectedly, and he wants us to know he’s sorry that we feel we didn’t get to say goodbye.

She also said that, when we made the decision to bury Jimmy in a suit instead of his police uniform, Jimmy supported that decision, which is something that I worried about very much in the days after his passing.

The medium also asked if we buried him in “crazy boxer shorts” because she said that he was holding up a pair of boxer shorts and excitedly showing them to her. There’s no way she could have known that we buried Jimmy in his favorite pair of boxer shorts which were soft blue flannel with pictures of Corona beer bottles all over them!

She said Jimmy wants us to remember him as the happiest guy, the life of the party. He’s so happy, always smiling.

She said the purpose of receiving these messages was so that we would know that the bond between us and our loved one can never be broken. The only thing that was broken the day he died was that physical connection.

She said that Jimmy hears me say to him that one day we shall meet again, which is something that I’ve recently allowed myself to fully believe to give myself comfort.

You can believe it or not. But this experience gave me no choice but to believe. 😈

The Daddy Voice

twenty20_e5c627ee-8155-400d-a6dd-8b31b3d47924

Very shortly after my husband died, I arranged for a well-known spiritual medium to perform a group reading in my home for my stepchildren, some friends and me. The morning of the day on which the medium was coming, I sat at my kitchen table, finally being brave enough to open some of the videos from my cell phone and from my husband’s cell phone, hoping to get a reminder of what his voice sounded like. All of the videos were of our two year-old daughter, and his voice in those videos was his “Daddy” voice, the higher pitched voice that he always used when speaking to her. I couldn’t find a video that had his normal voice the way I remembered it, and I sat there that morning and cried about it at the table.

One of several poignant ways that the medium convinced me that she was actually channeling my husband’s spirit was when, during the reading, she asked, “did your husband have a different voice?” Then she said her voice was changing, she tried to clear her throat four times, but her voice all of a sudden became higher pitched and quieter than usual while speaking to our group. She said she’s never had that happen to her voice before. She said she was validating for me that, even though I try to hear his voice in a regular voice, a soul doesn’t really have a voice anymore, and, instead, I was going to FEEL my husband. And then, all of a sudden, her voice changed back to normal, and she said that was my husband’s soul moving through her to say to me that his soul will always be with me.

I’ve never before been a believer in the afterlife, but my husband’s death has made me a true believer. I can’t smell him. A soul doesn’t have a scent. I can’t hear him. A soul doesn’t have a voice anymore. But I sure as hell can feel him. In fact, I’ve felt the unmistakable sensation of his bear hug, and he once tapped me on my right shoulder while I was sitting on the living room couch in the middle of the day. His spirit resides in this home he built with his own two hands, and it gives me peace to believe and know that his spirit will always be with us.

Grief Made Me A Dirty Bitch

img_2961

Since my husband died, I’ve become a total bitch. No, really. And, the thing is, I’m pretty proud of it.

On the day of my husband’s funeral, we had a gathering afterward for family and friends at our favorite local bar. I noticed my 20 year-old stepdaughter sitting at the bar, looking not only grief-stricken but also angry and upset. I asked her what happened, and she told me she overheard the young female bartender gossiping about her father’s death. As an enraged Mama Bear, I walked over and tapped the bartender on the shoulder. When she turned to look at me, I said quietly yet very sharply, “It was my husband who died. And that’s his daughter sitting over there at the bar. The first thing she heard when she walked in here after her father’s funeral was you gossiping with some customers about how ‘some NYPD detective dropped dead.’ You should be more careful about what you say.” Bam. Take that life lesson and chew on it, Little Miss Bartender. Oh, and “please bring me a shot of Jameson’s. Neat.” I didn’t pay for it.

That was just the beginning.

A few months after my husband died, I traded in my car for a vehicle more well-suited to the warrior who I had become: a Ford F-150 in Blue Jean Blue. Early one morning, during the rush hour commute, I was driving my pickup truck along a crowded highway on Long Island with my daughter in her carseat in the back. I had to drop her off at school before making my way into my office in the city. We were inching along the highway in stop and go traffic – when I noticed a woman in a car in the lane next to us applying a full face of makeup and not watching where she was going. I pulled up alongside her, and I sweetly smiled at her as I motioned for her to please roll down her window. When she did, I said to her: “I have a two year-old daughter in the backseat. You’re jeopardizing her life and the lives of everyone else on this road by putting on your makeup and not watching the road. I’d appreciate if you’d please think about not doing that anymore.” She was stunned and simply said: “I will. I’m sorry.”

Then yesterday, I took my toddler to a new playground. It was a bright sunny day, and the park was very crowded. My daughter was climbing through a tunnel when an older boy climbed in front of her and wanted to pass her going the opposite direction. She was scared by him and she froze inside the tunnel. His grandmother said to my daughter in a condescending, singsong tone of voice, “we’re all waiting very patiently for you to come out.” I snapped back at her: “Really? How patiently are you waiting?! She is two!” New Me just yelled at Grandma. And, you know what? She deserved it.

New Me is fearless and powerful in her grief. Nothing can hurt me now. I’ve walked slowly through the fires of hell, and I’ve lived to tell about it. So watch out. Stand back. I’m getting my bitch on.

Postscript: I wrote the original version of this post for an online grief writing workshop about two years ago, which was only several months after my husband died. My daughter is almost four now. I can say that the ferocity of my bitchiness has subsided since then, in the same way that the hot fire of my grief has cooled a bit. But, New Me hasn’t gone anywhere. She’s still a total bitch, when need be. And she is still quite fearless and powerful in her grief. Becoming New Me has been a gradual process of harnessing the intense power of that dirty bitch called Grief – and I’m winning. #Winning #DirtyBitch