I haven’t been able to write. My whole life is so different, and one of the many ways it’s different is that words just don’t seem to work anymore. I type words, read them, and delete them; this goes on and on because words don’t mean what they used to.

I’ll sit down to write about missing Ken, but then I’ll think about how the word missing is so different for me now.

When Ken would travel for work, I missed him. Still, I’d talk to him several times a day and every night before I’d fall asleep. I miss Ken now, but it’s not at all the same as when he’d just travel. The missing now is nothing like that other missing. The other missing was a kind of romantic longing. This missing isn’t the old kind of missing; it’s painful and it’s lasting.

It’s the same word, but it’s not the same thing at all. It seems impossible to use the same word. How can it mean what I need it to mean?

There are other times, too, times people use words and the words they use feel so wrong that I want to correct them. Or smack them. Or scream that they’re not, for example, devastated. No. They are something else, but not devastated. Disappointed, maybe, frustrated, surely, but not devastated. I know what it feels like to feel, as Merriam-Webster puts it, “emotionally shattered or distraught.” But we’re not supposed to correct people when they tell us how they’re feeling, right? If I’m honest, I think my desire to scream at them is mostly a symptom of the jealousy I feel. I want to go back to a time when I, too, didn’t know what it meant to feel devastated.

A few weeks after my world shattered, I had a friend share on Facebook that she was devastated that due to COVID travel restrictions she and her husband couldn’t go on their vacation.

Ken and I had a vacation planned that same April. We were going to go to Cabo San Lucas for ten days. Cabo surely would have been amazing, not necessarily because it was Cabo, but because it would have been Cabo with Ken. Based on our history together, I’m confident that we wouldn’t have been devastated. We would have stayed home, opened a bottle of wine, lit some candles, put on some music, played Scrabble, and then . . . well, you know.

I wanted to tell my friend not to be devastated; I wanted to tell her that she could take another vacation with her husband when COVID was under control. But I didn’t want to seem as if we were in some kind of grief Olympics. There are no winners in those games.

Then, at my new job, I had a customer complain that she was devastated that the item she’d ordered hadn’t shipped yet. Devastated? We can’t possibly be using the same language. I wanted to hate her, but I was mostly happy for her because if that’s her idea of being devastated, that’s good, I guess. Her life is good.

Another word that doesn’t mean what it used to mean is the word fine.

I’m fine.

I’ve said those words a million times. I’ve heard them a million times. The word fine used to mean fine—I’m doing well; things are dandy.

Now, people ask how I’m doing. And I say, I’m fine. The words coming out of my mouth are the same, but they don’t mean the same thing at all. It would probably be too much to reply, I feel like I’m wearing a weighted vest and treading water frantically, and I’m exhausted from the inside out, and nothing is the same, and I just want Ken back.

I believe words have meaning and value, but also, sometimes they don’t.

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