It took me a very long time and a lot of patience, before I finally found the perfect grief-counselor for me. At the time, about 8 months after my husband’s sudden death, I had already sifted through 4 counselors and therapists, one after another after another after another. Each one was either way too expensive, or they didnt “get me” at all, or they were too religious for me and told me that my husband collapsing and dying at age 46 was “God’s will.” You know what you can do with that? Fuck you. Okay, that makes no sense. But you get my point. I do not like being told that my husband having his life stolen and robbed from him, or that us having our present and our future ripped away – was part of some sort of pre-determined “plan.” First of all, it’s just rude to tell someone who is grieving – that it’s okay because, well, he was meant to die at 46. Second of all, it’s not true. It’s complete bullshit. Or at least I think it is. If you believe in God’s plan, well good for you, if that helps you. It doesn’t help me at all, and I believe that people die because, well, people die. Humans die. It’s just what happens. It’s fucking awful and I will never get used to it – some humans get to live to be 93 years old, others must suffer through illnesses and bad health and pain, and others get hit by a truck at age 24. How on earth can any of that be a “plan?” Nope. That’s just life.
Anyway, Im getting off-track. One of the counselors said that Don’s death was pretty much meant to be, and that my grieving him and being sad about it wasn’t “allowing him to be at peace” in Heaven or whatever. Well again, fuck you. My husband is dead and I hate to break it to you, but Im gonna be upset about it, probably forever. Don’t see a day where I will exit out of a room triumphantly, exclaiming happily: “Welp!!! All done!!! Not sad anymore!!!” That’s not how it works.
All of this is really just a long way to say that I had to go through a slew of really annoying or bad or just clueless therapists and counselors, before I found my person. The 4th or 5th counselor I saw, who was very good but way above what I could ever afford, (I couldn’t afford anything more than zero), told me that she didnt think she could help me, but that she knew someone who would be perfect for me.
Enter Caitlin. From the minute we started talking, I knew she was the one who would help me. She was the one I could sit in a room with and get angry and curse up a storm and cry and laugh like hell and get more pissed off at everyone and every thing, and that she would never judge me or make me go on meds or tell me to get over it – she would just give me a place to say whatever, and she would give her smart as hell perspective, or she would just listen. For almost 4 years, almost every single Monday afternoon, that woman listened to and took in my pain. And she never charged me a penny.
Sometime last year, during my 5th year out from this loss, I began switching from seeing her weekly, to seeing her once a month. And then, once every couple months. And then, just when I needed her. We started doing (and still do) “emergency calls” – where I leave her a voicemail saying: “Something just happened, Im not doing well, can you please call me?’ , and she would. Every. single. time. Also during this time, our relationship began to change. We went from client / counselor to colleagues / friends. She said to me one day out of the blue about 2 years ago: “You should be doing this. You should be helping people by talking to them, talking and listening them through it. You are perfect for this. It’s time.” So I slowly took steps to get into grief-coaching. Then, also a couple years ago, I asked her if she would write one of the two Forewords in my book. She was extremely honored, and said yes. In my book that I am writing, I feature a lot of our session dialogue in it, so I thought it would be perfect for her to talk some about our time together, and what it was like from her perspective. Over time, we have become more friendly, met each other for coffee or attended a play together, and she even attended my one-act show about the death of my husband. She also walked with me and stood with me at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree 3 years ago on December 18th, where my husband proposed to me, back in 2005. She let me talk about him and tell his story to her, over and over and over again, for as long as I needed to.
For awhile now, her schedule has been insanely busy, as was mine. But because I was moving out of NYC on December 21st, I absolutely needed to see her in person, so I could buy her a couple glasses of Pinot (her favorite), and tell her just how much she means to me. So on December 18th, the anniversary of the day that Don proposed to me, we met at this really nice little bar in midtown Manhattan. She drank her Pinot and I drank my Presecco, and we talked about our lives and our fears with this new administration coming in, and we talked about so many things. And then, at one point, when she looked like she was getting ready to get up and head out, I said: “No. You need to sit down and stay a few more minutes, because you cannot leave before I say this to you.” She knew I was serious, and she sat back down. It felt like one of those big and important moments – one of those moments that is vital to someone like me, who lost their husband in a split second and who NEVER got a chance to tell him how much he changed my life and how absolutely amazing he was and how his love was and always will be the best thing that has ever happened to me. It felt big.
So she sat back down, and I spun my body around on my bar stool to face her directly, and I took her hands in mine, and I looked her straight in the eye, and while crying through every single word (3 glasses of wine makes me verrry emotional), I told her these words: “I love you. You just can’t leave here without knowing how much I love you. And without me saying THANK YOU. I dont know where I would be today without you. I dont know what I would have done if you hadnt of taken me in, at NO charge, and sat with me inside my hell. Nobody else would do it. You were the only one. I know that you were a gift from Don, one of many that he has sent my way. I just know it. You are so special. Not everybody is like you. People dont have the kind of empathy and the kind of intelligence you have. I was so lost, for so long, and you made damn sure that I wouldnt stay that way forever. You never left me abandoned. Thank you so, so much. I owe you my life today. ” She was crying too, and through her tears, she told me that she loved me too, and that I owe her nothing, except living a life filled with love. Then, as she was laughing, but serious, she said: “I have never been more proud of anyone. You are my masterpiece.” We both found that overly-dramatic, and therefore hilarious, and we laughed our way into the NYC freezing cold streets. There were lots of hugs, loads of tears, and endless supplies of thank you’s. We would be in touch, of course, and continue talking via phone, but since I was moving away in just 3 days, it would be who knows how long until I would see her again. It felt significant. It felt heavy. It felt like Goodbye.
A few days ago, I received an email from her. It said: “Dear Kelley, I just wanted to keep you in the loop about what has been going on with me. On December 21st, I was walking home to my apartment, and I was hit by a taxi-cab. I have a fractured pelvis, major spinal injuries, head injuries, and undetermined other issues. My head feels like an axe went through it. My husband will be helping with my care, and I will be in recovery and out of work for at least 8 weeks. Take care, love.”
So, she didn’t die. She isn’t dead.
But she could have been.
She could have been.
And because I am the widow of sudden death, that happened out of absolutely nowhere, something inside me told me to TELL HER what she means to me on that night. Because if she had died that next day, she would have died knowing that is how I feel, and she would have died knowing how much her life’s work mattered, and how much her heart affected someone else’s life in the very best of ways. And so now, every single day of my life since my husband died, but especially this past year or so – I make damn sure that I ALWAYS say what is in my heart, at the moment I feel it, when I feel it. I no longer worry about how the other person might receive it, or if it might be too much for them right now, or if it might scare them away. I would rather that they know how I feel – that they know what they mean to me and how much I love them and their soul and their existence in my life – then to walk around this earth for one more second, without them knowing it.
I might die, they might die. That is how I see it. And it’s not in a morbid or depressing way – it’s just the truth. Humans die. We never know when, we don’t know why. But they die. So you better make damn sure that if there’s someone out there, who you really care about intensely, or who does something for you in your life or just makes you feel good or makes you feel like something in this world makes sense – make damn sure that they KNOW that you feel that way. Because if they die, they will have died with the knowing that someone loves them deeply, and that they are deeply loved. And if YOU should be the one who dies, well then, you died loving that person. I never got to say these things to my husband. I never got to say one damn thing. I have to hope beyond hope, that he somehow knew. But still, every single day, I regret that I didnt get to sit him down, look him straight in the eye, and make him look at me as I told him: “You changed my life. Your love was everything, and it will be everything forever. I will live for you. I will live FOR you. Because your life will end sooner than mine, and you won’t have that option. I love you, baby. My beautiful, sweet husband. I love you.”
Say the words you long to say.
When it feels like goodbye, assume that it may be.
Say it all.
Love out loud.
I wish like hell that I did the first time.
I won’t let that happen again.
I love you, Boo.
And Im going to make sure,
that the person I feel love for now,
always knows it.
Even if its a big risk, to say it.
The bigger risk,
is that you stay silent,
and so they never know.
And now they are gone.
Or you are.
Love feels best, when shared forward.
Trust me on that.