(originally posted July 18th, 2011)
“Marriage is like a duet. When one sings, the other claps.” These powerful Words were in our ceremony, on our wedding day in NY, October 27, 2006. That was the best day of my life. I married the greatest person I have ever known. Wed, July 13th, 2011, was the worst day of my life, because that is the day that I instantly and unexpectedly lost him.Don Shepherd was the love of my life. He was my everything. I loved him, and love him, as much as a human being can possibly love another. And Don Shepherd loved me, and he loved me hard. And every single day and every single second of the almost 12 years that I knew him, he showed me just how much he loved me.
In the beginning, before he had even met me in person, he showed me that he loved me by sending me surprise cards with money in them, because he knew It was expensive to live out here -”what do I need it for?” he would say. “take it. Get some food for the week.” Later, after our online relationship turned into more, he showed me he loved me by flying out here to meet me, and to fall in love in NYC. Don showed me he loved me by putting every dime away until he had enough to move out here and be with me, so we could be together. It was never his dream to live in NJ, but it was where I lived, and he wanted more than anything for me to live MY dreams of being an actor … a comedian … and so my dreams became his dreams and he believed in me, and so he packed up his entire life into a moving truck, and drove from Florida to NJ with his beloved cat Isabelle on his lap the whole way.
When he got here, he kept showing me his love. He came to all my comedy shows, laughed at all my jokes, and then told me which of the other comics he thought sucked that night. He said his favorite part of seeing me perform onstage wasn’t the actual performance, but the part afterwards, where people would come up to me and say how much they laughed or enjoyed my show. He told me “I just love watching you succeed.” Don was my biggest supporter, and he would do anything for me. I used to love it when Id be onstage performing, and Id catch his eye, and see him beaming and smiling watching me. He was so proud of me. And I was so proud of him.
He showed me his love again when he got down on one knee on a freezing cold December day in 2005, underneath the Rockefeller Center Xmas Tree, and asked me to marry him. And we built a life together. We shared a life. And Don was very good at sharing. He was the most selfless person I have ever met. Anything he had … an umbrella, a jacket, a few dollars, a sandwich, his car, anything …he would always offer it to me. He always put my needs over his own. He put everyone’s needs over his own. He hated to see anyone else hurt or in pain, especially animals. He wanted to save every animal. Watching him with our pets was one of the most beautiful things Ive ever witnessed. He got his cat Isabelle after finding her inside his car in Florida, just a tiny little kitten. He nursed her and fed her using a baby bottle, and took care of her until the day she died at age 15. He was devastated. He told me “maybe one day when I go, Ill see my sweet Izzy again.” After Izzy died,we adopted two little sister kittens and named them Ginger and Autumn. Ginger was the sweetest cat, and she adored Don. She would climb his neck and hang out on his shoulder, followed him everywhere. One day her and Autumn were chasing each other around the apt, and suddenly Ginger started limping and whimpering for help. We put her in the car and drove as fast as we could to the nearest Pet ER in the middle of the night. The whole way he was talking to her, trying to comfort her “its okay baby … we’re gonna take good care of you honey.” She died in the ER an hour later. She had an enlarged heart. She was only 3yrs old. For months after we lost her, Don would say “Poor little thing. She was the sweetest cat ever. She got screwed.” Now, I find myself saying the same exact thing about Don. He was the sweetest, kindest, gentlest soul. He was absolutely amazing. He got screwed.
If you knew Don, which most of you did, you know exactly what I mean. He really cared. He affected so many people, in so many ways. People you’d never expect. Ill never forget about two weeks after he moved in to our apt, he kept mentioning casually someone named Victor. “I was talkin’ to Victor today…” So I said “who the hell is Victor?” and he said “Victor. You know, the guy that runs the convenience store behind us.” I said “you know his name?” “Well yeah, of course I know his name.” I went to that store for 5 years and never bothered to ask the guy his name. But Don did. That’s just the kind of person he was. He knew everyonels name. The guy at the post office, the bus driver on our street, the mechanics down the block. He knew and remembered them all.
One of the many reasons I fell in love with Don was his wicked sense of humor. Its another thing we shared. An appreciation for the sick and twisted. A great example of this is about two weeks ago, I went in for a big on camera audition for a new weight-loss reality talk show on ABC. Before the audition, I was filling out a huge application from them, asking all kinds of questions about my life, trying to find the best “tragic pull at your heartstrings back-story” for America to love on reality TV. One of the questions asked about any tragedy or challenges in my life, and Don said with all seriousness, “Tell them that I beat you up. No really. Tell them I hit you, that I abuse you. That’s a great story. Ill be the bad guy if it gets you on TV! They can hate me all they want, as long as it makes you famous.” He had a great sense of humor, and the thing we did most together was laugh.
The only time we would really talk about death is to make jokes about it. So that’s how I know this whole dying thing HAS to be a joke. I’m turning 40 this September. Don was never really a romantic guy. He did the important things, the things that mattered …he always checked the oil and made sure there was a full tank of gas before I took the car, when I was doing my end of semester grading for my Acting classes and our printer broke, he drove to Walmart at 3am and bought me a new one, he always carried all the groceries in and made sure I never had to lift anything heavy. But flowers and surprises? Not so much. I always bugged him to do something romantic for me,, and I made a huge deal about my 40th bday telling him “you better do something good! It better be epic!” He would always say “I don’t know what to do. Im not good at surprises.” I guess this was the only way he could get out of planning something. He had to go and die.
To be honest, Im having a really tough time figuring out the purpose behind his death. Someone as young as him. Someone as happy as him. Someone who loved his sisters, and his family, and my family that became his family, someone that called my mom and dad “mom and dad” right away, someone that spent their one day off taking care of cats at a volunteer job, someone who loved his guitars, and his tennis, and his naps with the cat cuddled up on him, someone who always left an impression on everyone that met them, someone who served their country in the Air Force and in Desert Storm, someone who literally saved peoples lives for a living … to have their life cut short, to have them taken away from us, from the world, from me. I don’t understand it. And I don’t know what to do next. Where to go from here. How to live. I don’t know how my life works without him in it.
What I do know is that he loved me, and that he wanted to see me succeed. So I’m going to do the only thing that would honor him …and that is to keep going, to pursue my dreams. And I just have to hope that I can feel him applauding for me. Feel him cheering me on. I just wish he knew that I would take back any chance of future success, and I would live in a shoe …. If it meant that I could have him back again.
I want everyone here to go home and hug your wife, kiss your husband, your brother, call your sister, reach out to your friends, say hello to your neighbor. Take that extra ten minutes to talk to them and tell them how much you love them. Laugh with them, cry with them, and never ever take one second that you have with them for granted. July 12th was an ordinary day. I never got to say I love you, I never got to have that last hug. I never got to say goodbye, or tell him what he meant to me, how monumental his love was in my life. How he changed me forever, and how he made me a better person. I didn’t know it was the last time he would walk out that door. And now I’m so grateful for every ordinary, wonderful moment I had the honor of spending with him. Today, I am heartbroken beyond words, but I am also happy. Because I knew Don Shepherd for 12 years, and I was his wife for almost 5 years. And that makes me the luckiest person in the world. I love you Boo. Like we said on our wedding day… from now, Until Forever.
Take good care of Ginger and Isabelle,and all the other animals up there, like I know you will. I will be applauding for you forever.