I am just a couple short weeks away from the 3 year mark of my husband Don’s sudden death. I feel like I can’t even type that sentence without breathing differently. 3 years. Three. Years. I have no idea how it is even possible. I have no idea how those words could apply to me. I have no idea ….
July 13th will be the 3-year mark. On the first year death anniversary, I created “Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day”, in which I asked everyone on planet earth to do something kind for someone else, tell me about it in writing, and take pictures if possible. Last year, I did it again, and there was even more of a response. Over 130 stories each year, all of which helped me immensely in getting through that day. This year, and every year, I will continue that same tradition, but Im also in the middle of writing my book, which will hopefully come out later this year. In the book, I will take my favorites of all of the stories from the past 3 years, and create a Top 10 List out of them to publish as a chapter.
Year one and year two, on July 13th, I went home to be with my family and spend it with them. Both years, we made Don’s favorite foods, and we hung out and honored him and talked about him and made toasts to him. Both years, I woke up that morning sobbing, and both years, my mom hugged me as I cried – re-living those first few moments and hours of that day – where I woke up to that ringing phone that would tell me my husband would never return home from work.
This year, I will be in San Diego, at Camp Widow, giving my comedy presentation for the 4th time, and seeing lots of amazing friends in the widowed community. I will be surrounded by hundreds of people who “get it”, and who will totally understand and know how to deal with any weird or all over the place emotions I might have. I will be in a place of healing.
So why the hell do I feel so awful? Why am I so terrified right now? Why is it that I can barely breathe when even talking about “that day” that is coming up, or thinking about it? Why am I so scared to wake up in that hotel room on that morning, and break into sobs or panic or PTSD-crap, and not have the comfortable presence of mom and dad there? Why do I feel like nothing that I am planning to do in San Diego to “honor him” or recognize the day, is ever enough? Why am I picturing and worrying about having that awful reality, while there, of being in the middle of a crowd, and never feeling so alone? My widowed friends keep telling me and assuring me that the “leading up to the day” anxiety is always worse than the actual day, but this feels different somehow. This year feels different. I have actual nerves in my stomach about this, and I feel almost nausea just working it out inside my head. I am so terrified.
3 Years. Three. Years. How can this be? How can I no longer be “one of the newer widows” that we all have to keep an eye on and make sure she is okay? How is it that I have been writing about this and processing this for 3 YEARS, and I still have so much to say and process? How is it possible that I have been seeing my grief-counselor for all this time, and yet I still very much need the routine of it and the help that it seems to bring me? How is it that I have been missing him for 3 years, and how the hell am I supposed to keep on missing him and aching for him forever and ever and ever until always???
For some reason, this 3-year mark is really driving home the whole “he will be dead forever” thing in my heart. And it is also driving home all the “Where would we be now?” type questions. In 3 years time, life changes. If he were alive, where would we be now? Would we be out of our crappy Jersey apartment and into something nicer? Would he have a new job or a promotion? Would I have landed something as an actress or writer or comedian? Would we have our first child? Our second? Would we have adopted? Or maybe Id be pregnant. Maybe our little girl would be playing with and picking strawberries with my brother’s little girl and little boy. That is how it was supposed to be. Would we be in a new home or condo? Would we be in New York? These are the things I think about now – all the time. Everytime I see my own family or friends or other couples, doing what they do. Living life. In three years time, a lot of changes happen. My mind and heart goes to those changes, and constantly asks: What if?
This is not the same kind of grief I felt or had in year one or two. Im not quite sure what to do with these feelings. They hurt and they suck and they pound at my chest and make me feel terrified of my own future, and jealous and envious of everyone else’s. I am making a life for myself – a new life – because I have no other choice. But I haven’t figured out how to stop picturing or wanting or longing for the life I had, and would have had, with my beautiful, wonderful husband.
Three years, and I don’t know how to do that. How?