Pee-wee’s Wise Words

Wow, what a sudden change – things had been going along pretty well. I’ve been feeling like I’m “back,” present in the present, so to speak. I feel sadness now and then, and there are some times when I miss Rick more than others, but no doubt that will probably last the rest of my life. In general, I’ve been feeling like I’ve made it through the worst and I’m “normal” again. I’m ready to take on my future now. I’m starting to feel happiness and anticipation and all those other hopeful feelings that were gone for so long.

And then I came down with the flu and it all went to hell.

When my son Brandon was little, we used to watch Pee-wee’s Playhouse. In one episode, ol’ Pee-wee said some wise words that stuck with me for life. One of the characters was upset and emotional, and then right after that, he came down with the flu. Pee-wee explained that when we’re ill, our emotions rise to the surface. And I remember thinking, hmmm… that seems about right.

For years afterwards, whenever one of us got sick, I quoted this nugget of wisdom from Pee-wee.

“You know,” I’d tell Rick as he sat sniffling with a cold, “When you’re sick, your emotions rise to the surface – at least that’s what Pee-wee always says.” This usually making Rick laugh, but I believed it was true, and I witnessed it many times throughout my lifetime. I’d get sad or depressed and then the next day, I’d come down with something and think, Oh yes! Just as Pee-wee said! My emotions were rising to the surface!

Yesterday, they rose up and hit me hard! I left work early the afternoon before because I wasn’t feeling especially well. I went home, laid around, did some website work, and went to bed relatively early (early for me). Yesterday morning when I woke up, I didn’t feel much better. I had a headache and my stomach felt off. I called in sick and went back to bed. And there I lay, feeling lousy, feeling sorry for myself, getting sadder and sadder and sadder, and feeling lonely and missing Rick terribly. I lay there hearing Rick’s voice saying things like, “How do you feel now, honey? Do you want me to get you anything?”

But the voice was only in my head. I live alone now, and the silence was deafening. Then I found myself looking over to his side of the bed, to where he was supposed to be. I vividly pictured cuddling with him, and him stroking my head. I MISS HIM. I miss being loved like that. I miss his thoughtfulness. I miss hearing his voice. I miss touching him.

So, I knew I was in deep trouble by now, and as long as I lay there thinking and remembering and ruminating, this wasn’t going to get any better. I had to distract myself. I started reading things on my phone. I played some music. I got up and let the cat out, then fed her. Whew! Okay. It’s okay. I’m used to him not being here anymore. Just focus on something else, I told myself.

But it just kept happening. All day long, I’d nap or I’d read, or I’d watch some TV, but I kept picturing him here. The triggers were back and they were everywhere I looked. Then I started thinking, if he were here, he’d be getting me something to drink. He’d be getting me a blanket. It’s a beautiful day, he’d be going for a bicycle ride. I pictured him sitting in the kitchen. I pictured him in his chair next to me in the living room, and heard the comments I knew he’d be making in response to whatever was on TV. I missed everything about him, from seeing him, to touching him, to hearing him, to discussing things with him – millions of things we shared and snippets of our life together ran through my mind. I started feeling that gut-wrenching emptiness. The emptiness I thought I’d already dealt with and put away.

I guess my emotions were rising to the surface, eh Pee-wee? They were rising to the surface, and I was barely treading water.

So, after a long day of weeping and lying around the house, I was talking to my bff Walter on the phone last night. I told him how tough the day had been, and how long it’s been since the grief has hit so hard. And guess what Walter said? He said, “Well, you know what Pee-wee says…” I guess I’ve quoted that quote to more people than I remembered.

By bedtime, I started to feel a little better, and less emotional at the same time. I was just a bit sad – no great heaving sobs, no thinking that I can’t bear going on without him. No wondering how I will ever be able to live without Rick by my side. This morning when I woke up, I was just me again, a woman who loved and lost, then got back on her feet and carried on.

But I think that other woman, the emotional basket case, will be inside me for a long time, just waiting to surface when I’m over-tired, or sick, or stressed. I’m sure those emotions I thought I’d overcome are just lying dormant until I’m in a weakened state, again. I guess that’s just how life is.

However, maybe next time I’ll be ready, and I’ll know what to expect. I’ll know that this too shall pass, and that if I’m just patient and ride out the storm, I’ll be back on an even keel again as soon as I’m feeling better. Next time, I’ll remember the wise words of a man called Pee-wee, and I’ll know that those emotions will rise to the surface, but after the storm passes, I’ll be okay, again.

About the author

Katherine Billings Palmer is a technical writer, poet, and essayist from Garden City, Michigan. She’s won several academic writing awards, including first place in the University of Michigan Dearborn Critical Essay Contest for her work about poet John Donne: “‘The Sun Rising’: A Lover’s Boast.”

In 2017, Katherine’s husband, Rick, died of complications from small cell lung cancer. She wrote a series of poems and essays about her struggles to cope with her grief. I Wanted to Grow Old With You is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Her latest book, A Widow’s Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry – The First Year was published in January 2019 and is also available on

Katherine is a guest blogger for the Hope for Widows Foundation and writes about her grief journey at


  1. What perfect description of a day in ” Widowland ” , all those emotions , the triggers’ and that list of – MISSING – him’ his voice’ his touch’ his gaze’ his love’ his smile’ his laughter’ our daily harmonious loving interaction’
    Indeed “gut wrenching emptiness” deep within’ even while with family or friends and relatives’ specially when they expect me to accept already the death of my husband ‘ after only six months’ and continue with my days’ like they’ve so easily done’ and have so easily adjusted to the absence of my husband in their lives’ their brother’ cousin’ uncle ‘ friend’
    Anywayyyy…Thank You Writing Widow’ for my therapy of the day’


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