My husband died a month and seven days ago. The New Year is unavoidable, and I’ll never see him again from 2013 onward. It’s the sad realization of life continues to push forward whether I want it to or not.

My high school friend invited me over to her apartment to ring in the New Year. She was dealing with a plethora of life changes as well. She was reeling from her mother’s death and finalizing her divorce. If there were a neon sign outside on her lawn like the ones announcing ‘nude girls’ outside of a strip club, hers would be radiating with “Saddest Girls in Connecticut.”

We counted down the minutes to when our Chinese food arrived, not for the New Year. I wanted 2013 to rewind whereas she was looking forward to new beginnings in 2014. But we met in the middle with cheap egg rolls and greasy fried rice on her couch watching Netflix and reminiscing about awkward and carefree days of 12 years prior when we were barely able to drive cars.

I wanted to be happy again. But instead, the numbness of grief imprisoned me because what I thought I knew, what I thought my future would include was like the California fires; engulfed in flames. But instead of throwing water, I felt as though I was a madman twirling and howling splashing gasoline.

Everything I touched would incinerate.

No regard for myself, for my safety, for those around me, because my entire life vanished.

But, there I was, shoveling Chinese food down my gullet, and remembering a time where my husband didn’t exist. I don’t know why I didn’t put it together that I could be happy again without him. But the possibility of happiness was so elusive to me, and reveling in sorrow and disgust for what I was becoming was so delicious.

I didn’t have a care in the world, and I started my path toward self-destruction in 2014. And it all began with overcoming my fear of the New Year and raging to an existence without my beloved husband.

In 2014, I made a vow to start saying yes to things I didn’t want to do. Why? Because I would be miserable and at the time being miserable was my natural habitat. I could be wretched at home or pained while with company. Misery loves company is a platitude for a reason.

It was the morning of January 26, 2014, and I was swamped that day with playing on my iPad and cursing the world. One of my husband’s friends texted me asking me what I was doing and then invited me to go polar bear diving at Coney Island. I’ve thought about polar bear diving until I realized it sounds insane to swim in 30-degree water. However, the thought of hypothermia was appealing, and my life was a disaster already, so I agreed.

I grabbed my bathing suit on and packed a bunch of warm clothes and ran out of the apartment to catch the Train to NYC.

We met up at W4th Street and took the subway to Coney Island and arrived at about 1 pm. The experienced polar bears de-robed quickly and like a stampede of seals they rushed into the water.

My heart was beating quickly, and I felt the thuds creeping up my throat. I pulled my pants off and at a snail pace pulled my arms out of my protective armor of my winter jacket. It was 34 degrees outside, and I was standing on the beach—in my bathing suit.

He grabbed my hand, looked me in the eyes and for the first time my numbness sparked. Hand in hand we bounded toward the water laughing and screaming. High stepping into the lapping shoreline, the freezing water surged through my toes up my legs and into my core. It felt as if a million needles were penetrating my skin while simultaneously someone took a bat to my stomach and karate chopped me in the throat. The intensity made my body cramp, but my mind and spirit were free.

I was happy.

Polar Bear WidowI felt my husband shoving me into the water as if he was whispering “Go on Julia, It’s time for you to start living again, I need you to smile for me.”

So I did. In 2014, every Sunday I ventured to Coney Island to run with the lunatics into the freezing water.

And I said yes to the opportunities offered to me. My fear led me toward a path of rediscovering what made me happy. Following the path toward happiness also led me to Montgomery, Alabama. Going from New York City to Montgomery is even crazier than running into the ocean in the dead of winter. But, I found love again by taking a risk and saying yes.

When I think back to the turn of the New Year in 2013 to 2014, I never could have imagined a future like the one I’m living now. I honor my husband by living well.

About 

Julia lost her husband in 2013 to a rare liver cancer when she was 28 years old. In the months and years afterwards, Julia continues to use her grief into a positive lifestyle change. She has been involved in NCAA Athletics for 14 years, and has continued to document her fitness, athletic and grief journey in her heartbreaking and honest blog The Unwanted W. Julia's journey has been featured in US Lacrosse Magazine, SoulCycle, and The Guardian. She currently writes for an online fitness and nutrition journal and works as a professional fitness instructor in Montgomery, AL. To contact Julia, please visit her website www.lacrossewidow.com or visit her Instagram for health tips at @flippingsteier or @uglygirl.fitness