Well, you all know by now that ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be onstage, or maybe even part of a television series of some kind, making people laugh and think and doing my thing in the world of comedy and acting. I did community theater shows my whole childhood, then moved to NYC from small town Massachusetts to study acting. In 1994, I got my BFA in Performing Arts. After that, I spent the next 16 years teaching at Adelphi University (dramatics, stand up comedy, creative writing), directing and acting in shows, auditioning for roles, and doing stand-up comedy all over NYC. I lived the life of a typical struggling performer, and when I met Don, he moved his life in Florida to come to New Jersey and live that struggling life with me. He was a paramedic, I was an adjunct professor. We werent starving by any means, but we lived paycheck to paycheck. We had dreams. We wanted a family one day. Maybe a nice condo somewhere on our humble budget. Instead, just four years into our marriage, we got sudden death.
The next five years after Don’s sudden death are still sometimes a blur. I have no idea how I made it all that time staying in NY. I know I was faced with many impossibly hard decisions. Selling his car that he loved like a person. Moving out of our apartment, and looking for roommates on Craigslist. Taking our two cats with me to places unknown, when that first roommate kicked me out and I had to move yet again. Losing my feeling of security, safety, my knowing that everything would be okay. Instead, that was traded in for massive bouts of anxiety, and panic attacks while driving that were so bad I had to pull over and talk myself out of driving into the Hudson River, Going from fantastic health insurance to NO health insurance, two incomes to one, and double the bills, overnight. Holding down 2 jobs, 3 jobs, and accruing credit card debt just to buy basic things like groceries and fuel. All in an effort to do everything in my power to STAY IN NYC, because I was NOT going to have THAT taken away from me too! I felt like I was walking on a tightrope everyday, and with vertigo plus balance issues plus fear of heights – doing this walk was beyond terrifying. Which is why five years post-loss, I made the incredibly painful decision to leave NYC and that life and those dreams behind, and move back to my home state of Massachusetts.
I stayed with my parents for 3 years, I finished the book about my story and Don’s story that I had been off and on writing for years, and I tried like hell to begin to find myself again, or, more accurately, create myself and figure out this post-loss life. Mostly, being out of NYC and not having to pay another bill every time I turned around, I got a chance to really breathe for the first time since sudden death and widowhood shook and crumbled my world. My panic and sense of fear began to diminish some, and I was able to get a bit more grounded. After dating on the sites for a long while, off and on, I found love again. My then boyfriend Nick and I eventually got an apartment together, then we got married. And then we bought a cute ranch house. And now, here I am at age 51, beginning again, and finding my way. Those dreams I had to be onstage, make people laugh, play different roles – I still do all of that, just in very different ways. Not in NYC, but at a place called “Camp Widow” where laughter equals healing and relief and a chance to breathe because maybe you might be okay. I do speaking engagements and book events about grief and loss, and I still do stand-up comedy from time to time, when my schedule and life responsibilities allow.
Over these last few years being back in Massachusetts, Ive tried really hard to answer the question: “what do I want to do with my life”, or, “how can I make a living doing something Im passionate about – helping widowed people and others through life-altering loss and trauma?”
Yesterday that question was finally answered. My certification came in the mail. After completing the online four courses and four exams through The American Institute of Health Care Professionals, and after obtaining liability insurance for my new official career move, I became a Certified Grief Counselor. Really, Ive already been doing this work for years, in so many different ways, but now – I’m a professional. Im certified, AND I’m widowed, so when someone has just lost their everything and feels like they are walking on a tightrope and are afraid of heights, I can legitimately tell them that I get it, and I will balance on that tightrope with them until they feel like they can move again. I will help them process through all of the mud inside their broken heart and altered soul. And although at times Im sure I will feel helpless, I know that I will also have a very real sense that I can help them. I can meet them where they are currently sitting or climbing or cowering in a corner, and I can point them in the direction of light.
Nothing makes me feel more alive than walking people through living with the death of their loved one.