stuck in a moment

The New York Times was sitting outside my front door. I could’ve gotten lost in the Book Review or drawn mustaches on the wedding announcements in the Style section, but the envelope sitting on the floor of my bedroom closet throbbed loudly in the recesses of my mind. Instead, I started this past Sunday morning off by re-reading the autopsy report. I took it out and tried to absorb it again. Understand it.

Sundays are one big sleepwalk around here. I spend most of the day just wishing it would go away. I knew this Sunday would be particularly tough when even the lure of strawberries at the farmers’ market couldn’t get me out of bed.

After I read the report a few more times, I slumped back down into bed. And then the gutteral cries could no longer stay within the confines of the smile I wear for most people’s benefit. I buried my head into his pillow which still sits beside mine, trying my best to muffle the heartache into a wimper so I wouldn’t worry the girls.

It felt acceptable to cry in front of them when he first died. Now I fight back tears to be strong for them. Crying is also exhausting. Grief is a very lonely, full-time job, and being a single mother now, there are no sick days or swapping a shift with someone. It’s all on me.

The idea of what happens in an instant is one I can’t escape. And the idea of what lies ahead is filled with so much confusion. I used to be an event planner for a reason. I like control. This in-between phase is like waiting in the fog, squinting to try and see what lies ahead. Cooking is usually the thing I throw myself into because it’s the one variable I can control. Now I’m craving something more.

Today is nine months since Michael died. Nine months used to symbolize the thought of good things to come. Babies are conceived and born in that length of time. Bridal gowns are bought, vows written, wedding plans made. And then sometimes nine months is just the cruel, glacial passing of time.

Nine months used to signify beginnings, and while I know deep down that this is one too, I didn’t choose this book. It just landed on my doorstep one day, and the words suddenly appear on the pages as the events unfold. The story is writing itself with the dawn of each day, so there’s no peeking ahead for reassurance of a happy ending.

There’s one last thought I want to share this morning. It’s mainly for those of you who are going through the same loss as myself. Do not let anyone tell you “you’re doing it wrong”. Of course no one really says it in those words. They dispense what they think is helpful advice which could be a blog post in itself of what NOT to say to a grieving widow. And the advice usually comes from people who have never experienced the same type of loss. My nana died when I was 6. My father died when I was 24 years old. My uncle, who was like a father, died when I was 27.


If you’re coping with the death of your partner, husband, wife, soulmate, then it’s important to remember you’re also coping with the death of your dreams. This doesn’t mean you can’t build new ones. I gave myself a permanent reminder to do it every day. It just means you need to let yourself mourn the loss of the old dreams to make room for the new ones.

My advice to those nursing this same kind of broken heart is to embrace the sadness. Live it. Feel it. Do not run away from it. Avoiding it only gives it more power over you. Being happy is easy. Being sad is where the real work happens. It’s where you learn the most about your wants and needs. Just don’t linger in it. Don’t get stuck in a moment.

I emerged from bed yesterday, knowing the day was going to try and wield control over me. I got the girls dressed, we ran some errands, and stumbled upon a street fair a few blocks from our house. Isabella really wanted to go on the rides but my heart wasn’t in it. As we walked away from the fair, she asked why we couldn’t stay. Rather than tell her it’s because that’s the same fair I walked the day my nana died, or that it’s the same fair her father and I walked just before she was born, I just told her the real truth. I told her I just didn’t have it in me, and needed to be a little selfish to hold myself together. I apologized for not telling her what she wanted to hear, and told her I wasn’t perfect.

I was honest, and that is sometimes the hardest trait to display in grief. People ask how you’re doing, but the truth is usually hard to hear. When it comes to your kids, you want to set the best example, and often that gets confused with sheltering them. Part of my job as a parent is to show the cracks, the frailties, so when my daughters grow up they hopefully know how to sort through them on their own.

The day ended with the girls playing on the front stoop as I cooked dinner. Isabella did her own re-telling of Romeo and Juliet. She donned a pirate’s hat, a cape, shorts and a stick became a sword to protect her dear Juliet, played by none other than her sister. Peeking through the living room window, watching her laugh and getting lost in a game of pretend was proof that while day 272 started off rough it had glimmers of hope and happiness, and made me eager to see what day 273 had in store for us.


  • Chez Us

    I have a heavy heart after reading this post. I can only imagine what you are doing through. I know you have a million people near you who do the same, but, I wish I lived closer; I’d be happy to go on a walk with you, share a cup of coffee, sip a glass of wine together, or take the girls to the park (so you could breath). You strength is encouraging to all.

  • Guest

    I’m a first-time commenter. Just wanted you to know that I’m thinking about and praying for you.

  • nicole @ I am a Honey Bee

    I can’t even imagine your loss. That is why it is so hard for people to express simpathy and come up with those remarks about their grandparents and uncles. It’s lame but they are trying to help instead of just standing in front of you humming. It’s horribble for them but I think that loss you are dealing with is crushing. I admire you in your ability to present strong for your young girls when it hurts so much. You are a fantastic woman and mom.

  • SuburbanSous

    Your honesty and openness continues to touch, and also, break my heart. I cannot fathom what you are living with and through. But I am most awestruck by your strength and love. I was diagnosed 5 years ago with breast-cancer and ever since that day I have been looking over my shoulder, fearing that my family will one day have to live what you are living through. I cannot thank you enough for sharing your journey. I feel oddly karmically connected by your choice of photo as well, which happens to be a gum package that I wrote. Some days it’s my personal motto too. -Kelley

  • Selfish Mom

    Your writing is getting more and more beautiful with each post. I’m so sorry it has to be used for this.
    I was thinking about you yesterday. I’ll tell you why some other time. It involved being pissed at my husband and the unfairness of it all.
    I wish you would write a post about what not to say, I’m sure I’ve committed a few…

  • Josie

    Being brave enough to show your children that you are human, that you hurt, that sometimes you can’t be strong, teaches them an important lesson. Several, actually.
    They learn that their mom is a person, not just a concept, and they learn that long before I learned that about my mom.
    They also learn to be brave and honest themselves. They learn that they don’t have to keep everything inside and put up a strong front.

  • Joanna Paterson

    Your writing is so beautiful – you express the essence of love and loss with such eloquence, such honesty. I have been reading for a while, drawn into your story. It seems strange to read without saying – your story is touching me, moving me, and I am sending you the only kind of wishes to you and your daughters a stranger can, simply from the heart.

  • Realsarah

    You give your daughters such a gift with your honesty, and to show them that grieving is not an easy process, and when they are sad they can also let it through, too. Continuing to think of you often and keep you in prayer for comfort, strength, courage, and peace.

  • Glenda

    Thinking of you and the girls. When I read your posts it reminds me of my mom. Widowed at 47 – 2 young girls. Myself 13 and my younger sister 9.
    When I read your posts, it’s like I relive my childhood, the loss of my dad and unfortunately lost my mom in 2004. The sorrow. The tears shed with my mom for my dad and for my mom in 2004.
    It makes us stronger that’s for sure.
    Peace and strength to you and the girls.

  • Donna D.

    I’d like to thank you for your honesty and openness about your loss.
    I can appreciate your sentiment that its not the same to lose an uncle, grandparent etc… compared to losing a spouse, partner, etc… This past year I lost 3 loved ones but none of those losses come even close to the grief that I know someone feels at the loss of a spouse. All three of those people were grandparents…that leaves behind my Grandma, all alone and yet never actually alone. I see her suffering and grieving and its so hard to watch but as I read your words I understand in a small way how to, not help her per se, but to just accept that she will grieve no matter what anyone says or does. To accept that when she doesn’t want to get out of bed or go out and enjoy a beautiful day that its okay, she maybe can’t handle the beauty or the joyfullness of others right now. I’m not married so I feel totally unequipped to even comprehend what it feels like to lose a spouse, I’ve never loved that deeply in that way so how can I. I guess I don’t have to I just have to be there for her in whatever way I can be or whatever way she needs me to be.
    Again, thank you. My Grandma has never been one to express her feelings and even though I know everyone experiences loss in different ways, reading your words makes things a bit clearer for me.

  • Sarah

    I’m sorry to hear that you are being inundated with advice on how you should behave. I have not experienced what you are, but I watch my Mum go through it with a heavy heart, and it is watching, as I know that it affects her much much more on an everyday basis, and its been nearly 5 years, and nothing I do or say changes any of it.
    I hope you are feeling a little lighter after this post, take care. xxx

  • A person

    I don’t know if it helps to hear from strangers, but I have to say that I read your blog regularly, and you sound like a remarkably strong, smart, kind, generous, thoughtful person. Your children are remarkably lucky to have you and the rest of us are lucky that you are willing to share your thoughts with us. You are right that there is no right way to get through loses- any kind really. And I agree, I think the death of dreams are the hardest kind. I hope it gets easier for you.

  • Laura Kingston

    Hello Jennie,
    I appreciate your posts more than you know. Tomorrow marks the seven month anniversary of my husbands death; he died last October, age 38, four days before our 15 year wedding anniversary, leaving me and our two children: a son (7) and daugther (2). We married young- at 22-and in the last year had *just* begun to see all our hard work pay off and our dreams begin to come true. The daily new reality of life without a best friend and true partner is overwhelming at best. Your comment about rebooting rings true; I’m drafting a new me, trying to hold onto the dreams our family started while creating a new unchartered future for this newly defined family.
    I admire your strength, your hope, your tenacity, your honesty. I offer nothing other than an all too familiar genuine empathy.

  • Maria in NJ

    I have to disagree …it doesn’t make you stronger, I still cry every time I think of him and it has been 35 years since he is gone…every, stinkin, time…I miss him as much today as I did then. When you have a love like that it is burned in your heart…stronger no, I still fell weak, I loved him so much…
    I hope these are not your words some day Jenny, but for me sadly they are. People just don’t understand that kind of love…

  • Isabel Reid

    What a difficult road to walk…may you continue to have the strength for your two beautiful daughters and yourself…..amazing writing.

  • Tracey Alvernaz

    I can’t say Good Morning Jennie, Morning will have to suffice..
    See, you too have had the great ol’ advice given to you.It is good you said it aloud, although I know people dont’ know exactly what to say, at such a great loss in someones life. I find myself giving hugs to other widows, while I am working.(I am a grocery checker) I remember, after Tom died, going to work and just crying if front of someone. She said “you must need a hug: and I swear it was one of the nicest things someone has ever done for me!So when I send you “hugs” I really mean it. When I say come to San Diego, I really mean it! I know I have left that sadness behind, but it doesn’t mean I can’t pass some love along. I hope you are blessed with some happy and sunny days and that the bad ones don’t bring you down for too long.The world can stay shattered for only so long. So come to San Diego, the girls would love it!

  • Beth

    Your girls will realize one day how much you’ve sacrificed yourself. My dad killed himself when I was eight. Only now as an adult can I fully appreciate how strong my mother was to keep our family going. Don’t listen to anyone else’s advice regarding the amount of time you’re “supposed” to grieve. Be on your own schedule. Do it your way. You’re in my thoughts today.

  • Patsy Witchey

    Thank you for sharing your life with us Jennie. You’re never far from my thoughts. Be strong, make the best of your day. Your writing is so powerful. <3

  • Mary

    Thanks Jennie, you are a very strong person. I continue the journey with you, thanks for sharing. Mary in NY

  • Eschmidt57

    I recently found your blog and I am profoundly touched by your honest writing. Please know that by sharing your struggles, pain and heartbreak truly helps others. I hope you find some solice in the fact that you are an inspiration to everyone who has ever had a loss.

  • Tora

    You are an amazing woman! I visit frequently and have to say how much I admire your courage and honesty. Your last post about helping the young woman back home just broke my heart but made smile as well – you’re doing everything right – just right for you and your girls. God bless.

  • Robin

    You are strong, and right. Grief is individual. Your loss is a major one and I respect the way you are handling all your sorrows. Your children will only benefit from your strength. ]=
    And yes, strength comes in strange ways, including crying (although it is exhausting as you noted).
    Find what makes you sing, laugh, think, remember, cry, and live it.
    I wish you the best and hope your strength always is with you.

  • Miranda

    Thank you for your honesty and your glimmer of hope. Sharing our stories may help someone in a way we never expect.

  • Alicia (Weekly Greens)

    Thanks for continuing to share your story in such an open and honest way. I only comment here and there, but I read your posts regularly and think of you often. I continue to wish you strength. And love. Last weekend was EWR (I didn’t go this year) and I thought of meeting you after that Sunday panel. Glad to have met you then and to have been introduced to your beautiful work. Best, as always…

  • Sarah

    My husband died in January, 2010. 6 days after his 27th birthday, 6 months before mine. I can’t even tell you how many times I have read that damn autopsy report. And the police report. Figuring out why it happened, exactly how it happened. Needing to understand it fully. I follow your journey silently for the most part. Thank you for your openness and honesty. You have been an encouragement to me, and I know to many others as well. You are constantly in my thoughts and prayers.

  • mary pat

    I cry in the shower: the kids can’t hear and my sobbing feels cathartic under the pounding of the hot water! I agree, it’s the death of dreams and promises when a spouse or a child dies. Sometimes it’s enough to make just a plan for the day: I’m going to walk the dog all the way to the beach or make brownies.

  • Elizabeth

    Beautiful post — I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time — before and after the death of your dear husband, and while I haven’t the same loss to deal with every day, to grieve and feel sorrow over, I have another kind and your words ring true. Thank you.

  • Marisa

    Jennifer – thank you. Thank you for giving me your site to visit every once and a while to comfort me and let me know that i am NOT alone in this terrible journey. I am struggling with allowing myself to let go and experience the pain – i’m stuck in denial and trying to be that ‘strong’ mother to my girls, but i can’t. It’s becomming impossible. Thank you for the reminder to be honest and as real as i can be. It’s difficult enough having to grieve the loss of your soulmate and mother 3 small children, i need to just succumb to this pain. thank you again ­čÖé

  • Rocky Mountain Woman

    I read my son’s autopsy report every once in a while to try and comprehend that this thing actually did happen. I thought the loss of my husband was the worst thing that would ever happen to me. It wasn’t…
    I feel your pain all the way out here in the mountains. One day at a time is all we can do.

  • Megan

    My prayers are with you & your girls. As with everything in life, unless someone has suffered the same loss, it’s impossible to know the depth of heartache & sadness a spouse endures.

  • Sehaj

    Jenny, I don’t know what to say about the level of loss you’ve felt. Except that the kind of love you felt for Mike, I hope to find that. It’s terrifying to think how the loss of someone so intertwined with you can affect you, but is there anything greater we as human beings can hope for? I pray that the memories of Mike keep you strong, and the love from those around you and your readers give you comfort. So many people are thinking of you and sending their love. Me included. All the best to you and your beautiful girls.

  • Kim in MD

    You are such a beautiful writer, Jennie. You are right about grief. Everyone has a right to grieve in their own way.

  • Louise Heckl

    My daughter in London follows your blog and sent it me the link. I live in a remote part of the Karoo in South Africa and was so comforted by your writing. It is now 18 months and 555 days since my husband died and I agree with wholeheartedly with you. Thank you for writing!

  • amy

    I just passed eight months since my husband died. I have been trying to find more words about what it feels like. Yours are perfect. Early on, I thought I would have the energy to figure out new dreams. Now I’m just exhausted and fear that the days will just continue to pass. The yard will be mowed, the dishes will be done, the kiddo will get to all of her events. Maintenance but no new growth. I grew up feeling not much was possible. My husband made things seem possible. I’m fine. But I’m not fine. ­čÖé Thank you for your words.

  • Donna Pruitt

    Hello, I came across your blogs today for the first time through Pinterest and I must say you have a beautiful way with words. I send you my prayers and support. I truly will be following your journey.
    Life and its struggles change us into the people we are good or bad…
    Sorrow on the other hand defines us and unites us in the deepness of spirit and soul.
    Thank you for sharing your heart.

  • Paula O.

    Oh dear Jennie…you are so brave. You are entitled to crack a little you know. To face the world, to be strong for your children, I know each breath can hurt. But please try and find some comfort a bit at a time, in those around you & strength in whatever spiritual way you need to. Please remember that even without your beloved husband life can be rich & beauty still exists. I know it”s so hard but laughter is the sweetest creation. Take care.

  • Sandie

    My husbands pillow is also next to mine, his bathrobe hangs next to mine and his slippers are in the closet. He’ll be gone 6 years this June 16th. I hope and pray that you are able to go forward better than I have tried to do. We were married 34 years and I still think how many things we still needed to talk about. Questions I needed to ask. I wish you a Happy Mothers Day and wish you nothing but good thoughts and happiness. It’s just so damn hard.

  • Carly

    I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re going through. I want to say something heartfelt or caring but I know it won’t make a difference. Just know that I admire you so much for carrying on and trying to be strong for your girls.
    Sending you all the love and hope possible from London.
    C x

  • Christine Middlecamp

    Your writing is poignant and heartfelt, Jen. It also feels similar to my own experience after having lost my soulmate four years ago to brain cancer. Let it be true, you will get through this. I promise you that. Give yourself whatever it is you need, and your girls. And don’t care what anyone else thinks or tells you. No one can truthfully understand the depths and challenges you are being forced to undertake. And note, you’re never alone. There is a large community of widows that stand by your side and are available to support you if ever in need of a safe place to fall. I’d like to direct to you to a couple of places that saved me. First, Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation – by far some of the kindest, strongest people I know. Second, is I found the community a tremendous help to me. Last is a book I still keep on the coffee table, Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spirituals Guide to Coping With Loss (an all around practical, insightful read that gives a voice to the experience of loss, and life as we know it) by Sameet Kumar.
    Let the wounds be open, and be what they are. I wish no one had to experience the kind of intense pain that is widowhood. One day at a time…

  • Mel

    I hope day 273 held a miracle for you. I hope your heart felt lifted or you had a particularly cathartic crying spell. If none of those thing happened on # 273 or the following, then I truly hope that your strength increases and that the edges of this very sharp sadness get softer and allow you a peek at the joy life holds.
    Whatever the process of your grief, you don’t owe anyone a explanation, timeline or promise that you’ll get through it by a certain date or time. Sounds like you have a great deal to miss about the bright light your husband brought in your life and those he knew. My heart holds deep empathy for you.

  • Miranda

    Starting to worry about you, as it’s been a little while since you posted. No pressure! Just thinking of you.

  • Tracey Alvernaz

    I always hated, sorry for your loss. But I guess I use that term too. Maybe because I am sorry for your death sounds so final. But I know how you feel and wish you a ray of sunshine and of course, hugs.
    Come to S.D.
    Tracey (this is a P.S.)

  • Kelly

    It was three weeks ago today that my husband died in an instant. I have two boys, 13 and 9. I just found this post. We are at the very beginning, I still can’t believe it’s happening! This post touched my heart. Thank you.