My husband passed away the Monday before Thanksgiving. It was also the week of my ten-year high school reunion. I wasn’t thankful for anything, and I wasn’t going to rekindle friendships with anyone. Instead, I found myself talking to the moon, wishing my husband could hear me begging him for help, for guidance, and not to abandon me.
Like any willful widow, I started rummaging through my junk mail to find any missing emails that could’ve slipped away, a long lost note of him professing his love for me before the toxins from his liver cancer stole his mind and eventually his life. There had to be something, anything to hold me tight as the grief held me down and kicked me in the gut over and over again. A message from the other side hidden in-between the Gap special deals, Bank specials, and Livestrong articles. But there wasn’t anything except one new email that wasn’t like the other junk: Do you want to go to the Super Bowl?
My phone blinked, and I fumbled it before I finally pick up.
“Did you get the Super Bowl email?” My assistant coach asked.
“Yeah. I just opened it.” I replied.
“Let’s do it.” I cut her off.
Widow brain made a knee-jerk decision. Widow brain stopped having rational thoughts because all practicality and plans incinerated the day I signed the cremation forms. Was it real? A computer virus would be peanuts compared to the—pardon my crassness— the category 5 shit hurricane the universe provided for me.
“All right I hope this isn’t spam or a porn link,” she said. “I wrote them back asking if they were for real and” she stopped her train of thought for a second and then resumed. “Oh shit, it’s real. Okay, I’m filling out the application now. Call you back in a few.”
Two weeks later, we received confirmation: Drew University Women’s Lacrosse was going to the Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey.
The first rehearsal was January 25th. Two months after my husband died.
Universe, you’re a real asshole.
News about the small liberal arts lacrosse team heading to the Super Bowl started to leak into the community. There was a buzz going around, and along with my misery. The young lacrosse coach rebounding after the tragedy, but these events, these things to look forward to offered me a lesson, and it became something I preach today to those going through unimaginable hardships: Your innate ability to find strength will be in the most unlikely places.
In this case, my junk mail. And one lacrosse team. And Bruno Mars.
Two months widowed and I was spending it inside a warehouse following a line of tape. The tape on the ground was to lead us to our rightful places, so on Super Bowl Sunday we aren’t completely lost in MetLife Stadium. We did a couple of trial runs of the introduction with Bruno Mars cranking on the loud speaker, and I couldn’t believe what was swirling around me. My players were giggling, laughing, and smiling along with my assistant coach. I’ve been widowed for two months, and I was enjoying myself with them by my side.
But my elation rested above an undercurrent of sadness and guilt. My husband died, and I shouldn’t be enjoying this. Right? Why am I smiling? I shouldn’t embrace this moment because he’s not here to enjoy it with me. But—but—but— I’m not dead.
A couple of days later, we were on the MetLife field for another rehearsal, and that’s when the enormity of this experience hit me. And when I got to see Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers for the first time my icy heart thumped. In an epiphany, I recognized the disastrous mornings of waking up alone were not so horrendous when there is something to look forward to.
Finally, it was Super Bowl Sunday. In the belly of MetLife, we were shoulder-to-shoulder waiting for the signal to go. We held our breath, and we got the green light, and like a cannonball, we shot out onto the field.
The cacophony from the crowd was deafening, and red dots flickered from the cameras. My players were shrieking and taking selfies. This was a once in a life time experience, and I got to share this with them; A group of young women who sent me messages and pictures days after my husband died. A team who didn’t understand the magnitude of my despair but held my hand, and silently reassured they’ll hold me up as I fall apart. And there we were, looking at the flashing bulbs like stars in the sky, and fireworks screaming the into the darkness to erupt in the most magnificent colorful glow.
I was alive. Breathing, thriving, enjoying, and then I wondering– Would this experience be here if my husband was?
I don’t know. I can exhaust myself wondering, but the reality is he’s not here. Racking my brain of would, could and should will never end well. But what I do know is because of him, and the desperate need to confirm my love wasn’t unrequited, I got this unbelievable experience. And meeting him, falling in love, getting married and experiencing the warmth of sharing a life with him, that too was an unbelievable experience. To love someone so much, that even after his death he continues to impact my life.
I am lucky.
I go through this pain and continue to search for him, and in my grief, I’ve found opportunities I never could have dreamed of.
And it led me to cross paths with Bruno Mars.