Last month was the 5 year mark since my husband’s sudden death. About 11 months after he died, I started going to see my grief counselor/therapist. I found her through a series of other therapists that were either not a match for me, didn’t get it at all, or were way too expensive. (and for me, way too expensive = any money at all, since Im broke.) Then, through some sort of miracle, or what I believe to be a gift to me from Don, I found Caitlin. She is amazing in so many ways. She understands grief, trauma, and she truly understands me . For years, I saw her weekly, every Monday. These days, I dont need to do that anymore, which I guess is a good thing. But I will always need her, and I will always see her on an “as needed basis.” On Wednesday, I had a session with her for the first time since before Christmas! Sometimes, the things she says are so universal and so smart, that I share pieces of our dialogue on social media, in case something resonates with someone else who might be going through something similar. Below is a fragment of our session from this week. I hope that it means something to somebody out there. Four years ago, this incredible woman offered me free therapy (she has never charged me for sessions.) And so, I pass this free wisdom on to you ……..
Me: It’s been 5 years since he died, and this whole year I have felt so restless and so direction-less. I feel like I’m right back where I started. Like Im right back in that place just a month or two or six after his death, and like I am back to having nothing to show for anything. Even though I KNOW that isn’t totally true, and that Ive accomplished a lot, it all feels pointless. It feels like none of it means anything.
Her: Nothing is EVER pointless, Kelley. Everything you do means something, to someone, whether you directly feel that or not. Everything you have done and written and accomplished has shifted you into new places in your process, and has also helped others shift too.
Me: But Im right back where I started. Five years, and even after ALL the sacrifices Ive had to make since his death – moving out of our home/apartment, getting rid of everything, leaving that life behind, selling his car, selling the car my brother got for me, moving in with a roommate at age 40, then another roommate when that one turned out to be a complete jack-ass – working 2 and 3 jobs at the same time, coming home late at night on buses and trains and working my ass off. Five years of that, and Im STILL struggling every day to get by. I feel like such a loser.
Her: You feel that way because you’ve been through hell and back, and then back again. But you know this yourself because you wrote it in one of your blog posts – you are NOT what you feel. You FEEL like a loser because you just lost your summer teaching job and you feel like life keeps kicking you in the face. But look at ALL youve done to keep fighting for that life. You are the furthest thing from a loser. You never take the easy road. Someone with less strength and less passion would have moved out of NY altogether right after their husband died – moved back in with mom and dad, because thats a hell of a lot easier. And there would be absolutely nothing wrong with doing that. But thats not what you did. You could have. Their home was open to you. But you didnt. You said “No. My life is here. Im going to create something with it.” And then you did just that. You wrote a one-act play about his death and performed it. You have now given your comedic presentation, TEN times, in 3 different cities, for 3 years, to hundreds of widowed people. You are writing a book. I could go on and on. You have taken this loss and created something healing, over and over and over.
Me: But Im drowning. Im broke everyday. I wake up feeling stressed and defeated, and go to sleep exhausted. And I feel like I have failed what Don wanted for us, for me, for him … he moved his entire life up here from Florida so I could pursue my dreams. And all this time, I havent gotten anywhere. Im failing.
Her: You are having selective memory right now because you feel frustrated and defeated. All those viral videos you did? All seven of them? They were ALL filmed AFTER his death, except the first one. You flew to LA this year to shoot a film. You havent failed anyone, especially not Don. He knows how impossible it is to survive here on one income – thats why he moved here! So he could be your teammate in life and help you! Support you in all the ways a good husband does. You dont have that now. He would be amazed and in awe of all you have done without him, are you kidding me?
Me: But I feel like everything in my life is up in the air right now, and I dont know which way to go with any of it. I feel like I don’t know what I want anymore, or where I belong, or what to do next in life. This life without him in it. Its all so confusing. And relationships, where theyre going, what I feel, what I want … my head is all over the place.
Her: Trust your gut.
Me: But I feel like I cant trust my gut right now, because I don’t know what it’s saying or if it’s pointing me the right way.
Her: Yes you do. If you sit in the silence of everything, your gut will tell you what you actually should do. Even if it feels like your instincts are off right now, even if it feels like you cant trust your instincts right now – trust them anyway. That feeling you get when its just you and no noise. No outside opinions. That ping in your soul that tells you when something is “off” with someone or something, or that tells you that this isn’t really where you want to be. Trust that. Listen to that. Don’t ignore it. Never in my life have I ever regretted trusting that inner-voice. But there have been plenty of times I looked back and said; ‘Dammit. I knew better. My instincts were telling me to NOT do that thing, but I ignored it.’ You will never regret trusting your instincts. Youll figure all of this out. Give yourself some time, some silence, and some patience. And trust that little voice inside. It will take you where you need to go.
Me: But what If I screw something up or make the wrong decision about what comes next?
Her: You won’t. Theres no such thing. You make decisions based on what you feel is right at that time. There are no “wrong” ones, just ones that are meant to bring you somewhere else, somewhere you didnt expect or see coming. Keep following the path that feels right to your soul. Everything else will fall into place. And when something doesnt feel right anymore, you change direction again. Everything leads to something else. Nothing is ever pointless. I dont believe in being on the right path or the wrong path. Youre on the path you are meant to be on at that time. Something will come from it, or grow from it. When you feel yourself stop growing or things feel like an endless loop where youre not getting anywhere, change the path. There’s nothing wrong with you right now. The reason you feel direction-less is because you need a new direction. The reason you feel restless is because where you are is no longer feeding your soul. Change the path, and the path will become more clear.
Trust me. No, wait. Strike that.