“I’m going to eat my body weight in chocolate.” “I’ll just be on the couch, watching horror movies like I used to with my husband.” “I won’t be getting out of bed today.”
My online widow groups are blowing up on this day of hearts. Valentine’s Day can be less than fun for those without a significant other with whom to spend it, but it can be downright painful when you’re spending the day alone because your spouse has passed away. Sometimes, you have to think of coping mechanisms. Or buy a lot of chocolate.
To be honest, I don’t even remember what I did the first Valentine’s Day without my husband. I think I just did my best to ignore the holiday. The second year, I asked my friends to share with me their stories and thoughts about love, and I celebrated that, and it was beautiful. This year, I am not armed with any particular plan, but I have been giving and receiving extra love from my widow friends (I even got a card in the mail!), and one in particular has been giving me the gift of humor.
Her name is Kelley Lynn, and she’s a writer, comedian, speaker, and all-around spreader of humor and joy. She’s got an upcoming TEDx talk and is working on a book about her husband, Don, and her experiences after she lost him suddenly to a heart attack. One of the things that I admire about Kelley is that she unapologetically has shouldered the task of teaching everyone about the realities of grief and widowhood. She’s noted that we have a tendency to shy away from speaking about death, acknowledging death and grief, and that kind of cultural denial makes it all the harder for those of us who have no choice but to deal with it. It makes us feel isolated. It makes us afraid to talk, just when we need to more than anything. And Kelley aims to change all that, and she does it with a smile. With a punch line. With an honesty and sense of humor that is uniquely, touchingly, hilariously Kelley.
On her second Valentine’s Day husbandless, Kelley decided to do something different. Something crazy. Something that, had I decided to try on the streets of Winona would likely have gotten me a free ride to the hospital. But on the streets of New York City, standing with a huge sign around your neck that reads “Sad Widow, Please buy me some Valentine flowers” while bellowing rather frank requests at the hoards of people walking by might not seem all that unusual.
Kelley stood outside of a NYC shop wearing her sign while a friend shot video. “Please buy me some flowers,” she started, randomly selecting people as they barreled past. “Flowers for the widow!” At one point, she burst out in song, following those who tried to ignore her. “All by myyyyyseelllf, don’t wanna be, alll by myyyyyseelllf!” and “Everybody hurts” were among the selections. After barely getting anyone to acknowledge her for the first portion of the video, she started feeling a little depressed. “People are soulless!” she decried. “Life is fleeting people!” “Very pretty umbrella, shielding you from a world of pain and hurt,” she observed of a woman trying her best to use her bright yellow umbrella as a shield against the crazy woman begging for flowers on the street corner. “I’ll take stale Russel Stover’s! Anything! One of those little bears on a stick!” And nothing.
But then something happened. A man brought her a single rose. Another guy gave her a hug and another flower. A little girl brought her an entire bouquet of red roses, rewarded with a bear hug for her and her mother. And another flower, and another and another. Until Kelley Lynn was clutching a huge armful of roses, spinning in a joyful circle, oblivious to the crazy looks, on some busy street in New York City.
I bet every single person who bought that crazy woman on the corner a rose that day walked away feeling like a million bucks. It probably gave them something to think about, and it certainly gave them reasons to feel thankful for the love in their own lives. Even those who brushed by her, even the woman with the yellow umbrella probably earned themselves some food for thought. And it’s because Kelley has the courage to talk about her love, her loss, and spread awareness at every chance, because she knows that grief doesn’t distinguish. It’s something we’ll all have to live through one day. Hopefully, life will give us all our own Kelley, so that when our day comes, we know it’s OK to be sad, or to be happy, or to laugh. Or to stand on a street corner with a sign, hollering at strangers!