My newly widowed friend,
I write to you knowing how hollow words sound right about now.
I know “this” feels impossible. Whatever “this” is, does not feel survivable.
“This” feels like dying.
Contrary to what you may think, there are words for what you’re feeling, but they aren’t the right ones. They don’t fit. Language falls short of what “this” is.
You can try to put some sentences together, but don’t be surprised if they come out jagged. Truncated. Cut off at the knees. Disfigured.
Best you stick to simple words. Words like anguish. Shattered. Dissolved. Faded.
I know it feels like your brain has been dropped in acid. And the circuitry that once ran clearly is now smoldering. I know the air you’re breathing feels clotted. It doesn’t seem to carry sound. Or warmth. Or light.
I know that breathing feels like choking down glass.
And while your brain is dissolving into itself, people are asking you impossible questions. Questions like: what do you want to eat? Are you thirsty? Would you like to put a movie on? …Are you okay?
The questions are horrifying.
And I know that if you could figure out how to make your brain tell your mouth to open and then tell your lungs to breathe in and then contract while your vocal chords squeezed together…if you could figure out how to make your brain do that, you would start screaming. But you can’t.
So you sit there. And shrug. And nod.
You sit on a couch. Feral. And do what you’re going to be doing for a long time: you mimic a human.
People are coming to see you. They talk at you. You don’t understand how they can’t see that they’re talking to a husk.
You’re pretty sure this is how animals live:
Stimulus. Response. Stimulus. Response. Stimulus. Response. Sleep. Pain. Repeat.
People tell you that you, “sound great.” That you, “look better than expected.” And the air carries the sound their mouths are making. And your ears take the message to your brain. And your brain is maybe making your body do and say things which makes people think you’re, “doing well.” But you can’t really be sure.
But I know you’re starting to be sure of something…
You realize that the “spirit” is very real. And very different than the body.
I never believed in the “soul” until John died. But if you’re like me…you can now, somehow, feel your soul twisting inside you. Violently.
You can feel it hurling itself wildly against the cage of your pathetic, useless body. You sense your spirit retching inside of you. Convulsing. Squirming. Begging to be let out…to go…to be free.
You feel it clawing. And whimpering. You sense it trying to break through your bones and carve its way out of your flesh so that it can just…go. You want to help it by cracking the shell of your body open, just a little bit. Maybe you can just dig your fingers into the skin above your collar bones and rip off a bit of the casing your soul is stuck under.
But you don’t. Because your brain reminds you that humans don’t peel themselves. And right now…you’re mimicking a human.
My newly widowed friend, I know that you’re thinking all these things and you’re feeling these things, and that people are smiling at you and telling you that, “you’re being really strong.” And that they believe it.
This dumbfounds you.
The fact that people think that they’re talking to the real you astounds you. That people think the real you showed up to work…that the real you is smiling in pictures and telling stories at the funeral and going grocery shopping.
My newly widowed friend, I know the real you hasn’t done any of those things. I know the real you is stuck inside a body. A body that spends its time looking up things like the average life expectancy of a human… and then subtracting its age from the number… and then crying at the double digit number of years it statistically has left.
My newly widowed friend, I know the idea of living makes you sick.
And I know you’re probably reading these words from the floor of wherever your body lives. The floor of a bedroom or bathroom. The floor next to a bed you didn’t leave for four days; a bed that now smells a little like damp socks.
My newly widowed friend, I often wondered why I spent so much time sitting on floors right after John died…and now I think it was my body’s attempt to keep my spirit as grounded as possible. As close to the Earth’s density as it could.
We sit on floors. And we mimic being human. We make the sounds we’re supposed to. Our faces do human things. And we eat human food. And we mimic. This is what newly widowed people do.
I know you’re probably reading this while you’re hunched over. You’re probably alone now, so you don’t have to mimic as hard. You can sit crooked. Misaligned. Your breathing can go back to being labored.
It’s just you and me now. So I want to say some human words to you that I know you will not believe because you have no reason to.
But hear me out anyways, please:
My newly widowed friend, please know that right now, mimicking a human is your only choice. All you can do is mimic. And breathe. And feed your body. And drink water. All while your spirit hemorrhages inside you.
My newly widowed friend, please…sit on as many floors as you need to.
And say all the things people say you shouldn’t. And be angry at people who don’t deserve it. And let text messages go unanswered. And watch as people use your person’s coffin as their own personal soap box or stage. And let your spirit wail.
Please sit down as long as you need to, and mimic the human you used to be and keep breathing. Breathe those breaths.
Breathe glass. Breathe pain. Breathe unfairness. Fuck life. Fuck people. Fuck “this.” Fuck the world. Stimulus. Response. Pain. Repeat. Mimic. Human. Mimic. Fake. Pain. Pain. Pain. This. Pain. Just. Keeps. Coming. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe…
Just keep breathing until one day…you actually take the first real breath you’ve taken in a long long time.
And you’ll know it.
Because the air around you will thin out.
And you’ll feel the sun. And music will make you want to sing along. And you’ll realize you’re actually breathing. And you’ll smile.
Those days will come, and when they do (and you may not like this part) I need you to take the deepest breath of your new life, because I’m going to need you to get up. And start moving through your life.
And I need you to pick up your pain, and I need you to take an even deeper breath because I need you to start talking. Because you’ve got so many stories to tell.
You have to tell us stories about your person.
The world needs to know who they were.
How did you meet? Tell us about the time they made you so angry you almost left them. What’d their laugh sound like? Did they take forever in grocery stores?
Who. Was. Your. Person?
I need you to talk about them. I need you to take the deepest breaths of your life and tell their stories.
I need you to stand up and walk out the door and go out into the world because there is joy waiting to find you. Real joy. Real smiles. New memories that are clamoring to be made and people who need you in them. You need to tell bad jokes. You need to make people laugh. You need to be a part of so many other people’s stories.
There are people who need your voice to be a part of the soundtrack of their life, so once you’re breathing… start talking. And start feeling. And start connecting.
But to do that, you have to keep breathing those painful breaths. And it hurts. And it isn’t fair. And, my God, I know some people are so uninteresting, but, my God, others are sure worth meeting. And you need to meet them.
And I know you don’t feel like “you” anymore, and you don’t feel like you’re bringing much to the world around you, so I need you to hear this one thing above all else:
The good their love did for you cannot be undone by their death.
The world needed them, you needed them, but then they died. And it isn’t fair.
But, my widowed friend, we still have you, and you are what no one else on this entire planet is: The only end result the world has of their love. What did it mean to be truly, deeply, romantically loved by your person? Only you can tell us.
The world needs love stories. Stories about epic love. Tragic love. Steady love. Love-you-then-hate-you love. Love that was almost right. Love that was always right. The world needs stories.
So, my newly widowed friend who is sitting on the floor, reading this from a smart phone that has dozens of un-read messages on it that say, “let me know if you need to talk.” Please, when you’re ready, if ever that time comes: get up, take a deep breath, stop mimicking… and start talking.
And above all else, my friend, when you’re ready: struggle, fight, clamor, try…and try…and try…to live.