Monster belowGrowing up, I’d sleep with the hallway light on to be safe from the monsters of darkness.When I was four, five or six years old if I heard a stir, real or not, I’d climb out of bed and pitter-patter to my sister’s room and creek the door open.

“I had a nightmare.”

She would shift over and make room for me on her twin bed, and I’d snuggle up against her, and she would be there to keep the monsters away.

My sister was with me too the night before my husband died. She flew from Germany to New Jersey to lay by my side. But curled next to her with the haunting hums of oxygen ventilator assisting him toward the inevitable, nothing was going to make this monster go away. As much as she held me, brushed my hair and allowed me to stick my hands underneath his body so I could grab the last moments of his warmth to remember, and love from her or anyone else wasn’t going to fix this.

This monster is locked inside of me. And the scars are out of plain view. You’d never know it existed, but every day I wake up with it scratching and shredding my insides like ribbons wanting to escape. And some days when I feel empty and cold it does, then others it fades into a quiet slumber until the ratchet noises from the outside trigger the beast to rise.

How do you fight something no one else can see, but you feel it all the time?

“Time heals all wounds,” is the common platitude. “Grief evolves,” others will spew out. But what happens when in one miscalculated thought, it rattles the monster’s cage? How do you calm the pulsating hum from becoming a roar?

“I hate myself,” I tapped on my phone in a blog post in April 2014. That evening, I was blasted out of my mind on a train back to my apartment in New Jersey.  I shouldn’t have been alone on the train, but I was, and the monster had a platform to express. All self-control vanished.

I felt abandoned by my friends, and the emotions were unreasonable, the anger entirely unjustified. But somehow I managed to string together sentences and words that made sense to nobody. The subtext was to inflict pain on people I cared about. I kept every word the monster wrote as a reminder, and I need to be better. This monster will never incapacitate me again to hurt people who are trying their best to help me go through the labyrinth of widowhood. They also have no idea what the fuck to do with me as much as I don’t know what the fuck to do with me.

I learned two valuable lessons from that April train ride:

1.) Do not tie the noose around the neck of your friends, when you are dangling from the gallows.

2.) It was time to find an efficient way to grieve.

When the monster didn’t let me sleep, I’d grab my running shoes, strap the mental baggage close to me as I shut the door behind me to hit the trails. The moments when the beast inside me was too much to handle, I stumbled, hit the ground, crawled, even begged. But I got back up fitter and stronger for the next battle.

My way of grieving might not be for everyone, but finding an effective way to manage the unpredictability of life after loss changed me as a person. I don’t want to hate myself. I can hate what happened. But self-abandonment is unacceptable and compromising who I am as a person isn’t who my husband fell in love with. His warmth is what I want to remember. I held on to it so his light continues to shine the hallways so I can live well.

[image credit:]


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 Navarre, FL.

To contact Julia, please visit her website or visit her Instagram for health tips at @juliasteiercoaching