Three

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?

Different

In exactly one week, Friday, June 13th, it will be one month from the 3-year anniversary of my husband’s sudden death. It feels different somehow to me this year, even though the actual day or month is not here yet. First of all, on the first two death anniversaries, I spent them both staying at my parent’s house, with my family. We did a big dinner in his honor with all his favorite foods, and whoever could come to that came and it was nice. This year, I will be in San Diego, at Camp Widow, performing my comedic presentation for the 4th time. The day of his death just happens to fall on the Sunday that is the last day of camp. Although I’m not positive what it will be like to be there instead of with my family on that day, I’m guessing it will be a very good thing. After all, every single person there “gets it,” and what better place to be if I’m going to have an epic breakdown of 54,000 emotions? And really, even though I won’t technically be with my family on that day, I will be with my family. My other family. My widowed family.

Another difference in this year’s upcoming anniversary is the scale of my Pay it Forward campaign. In year one of my husband’s death, I decided to honor the one-year mark with a campaign I created called Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day. The basic idea was to get as many people as possible – strangers, family, friends, people online, whoever – to do something kind for someone else, in my husband’s name. I told them all to write to me about what they did and include a picture if possible, and then I took every single act of kindness and put them here, on my personal blogsite. I did the same thing last year as well. Both years, I received well over 100 stories and acts of kindness. This year, my Pay it Forward campaign will be even bigger, because this year, my book about Don and about us and our love story and my grief story – will finally be completed and self-published. (in November) For me, this book is my greatest gift to Don. It will tell the world why I love him so much, why he is my hero, why loving him and then losing him was and is the thing that impacts me more than anything else ever will. This year, I will choose my favorites of all the pay it forward acts, and create a chapter in the book highlighting them. I will also roll out my Indigogo book campaign starting next week, which will help me to raise the money needed to self-publish and promote the book. So, this year feels different. People in the widowed world often respond to the question of “Will it ever get better?, by saying: “No. Not better. But it gets different.” I feel like this is the start of things getting different …

I cant really explain why, and perhaps I shouldn’t even say this out loud or type it out loud because messing with grief seems like a dangerous thing to do, but ….

It feels as if this coming year, going into the beginning of what will be the 4th year living without my husband, will be filled with a lot of newness. New perspective, new changes, new emotions, new adventures and friends and memories. Perhaps a new way of coping and feeling and grieving, too. Not to say that the way I’m doing it now is wrong or incorrect; but each day that I am inside of this, I am learning something. I am learning what works and what doesn’t, and I’m learning that grief is entirely unpredictable and unforgiving. So maybe I’m just starting to face it with a slightly different approach, going into this new year for me.

Today I woke up with what feels like one of the worst summer colds I have ever had. Awful “head in a vice” feeling, runny nose, nonstop sneezing and coughing, achy all over, and a throat that’s dry as hell and on fire. Normally, when I have felt sick in my “after” days, my very first thought, even subconsciously, has always been to be unbelievably sad and angry and bitter that my husband isn’t here to take care of me and make me feel better, something that he did so well. He isn’t here to run up to the store and get me soup or meds, or put a blanket over me or sing me silly songs while playing his guitar to make me laugh. Usually just the thought of his absence when Im not feeling well, sends me over the edge into anger and depression. But not today.

It still sucks that he isn’t here when I’m not feeling well. It will always suck. But it wasn’t my very first thought, or even my second or third. I’m learning , slowly, to live inside of this new world where him being here is not an option. Not only am I learning to manage it and adapt to it, but Im starting to see that wherever his love and kindness used to be – the empty spaces are being filled up from other loving people in my life. And no, they are not my husband, and it isn’t the same, but it sure is nice to know and to feel that so many people really do care. Maybe it is my husband’s way of paying it forward to me, by showing me that his love will always be all around me – it just shows up in different ways.

But it still sucks that I have to get up and make my own damn tea.