F**k You, IKEA!

This past Monday, just two days ago, was exactly 22 months since Don’s sudden death. For most of this time, I have coped with my all-over-the-place emotions and often dark feelings by writing, writing, writing. Whatever I feel, I write. It’s a release. A grief purge. It helps. It hurts like hell to write sometimes, but it also helps. Except that recently, I havent been able to write. The last time I wrote in here was when I returned from Camp Widow. I felt so hopeful and filled with optimism. I felt so loved and understood, after spending a few glorious days surrounded by others who were exactly like me – where I never had to explain. The problem with Camp Widow, though, is that eventually, you have to come back home.

Lately, something strange has happened inside of me. A shift of sorts. All of the pain and all of the hurt and all of the grief and the loss and the heavy, weighted, intense emotion – has disappeared. Kind of the way that my husband disappeared from my life on that horrible, awful day. Except this is much different. My husband is never coming back. These feelings will be back. The sadness and emptyness and the fear will all be back, and I feel them right around the corner. Lurking. Scaring me. But for now – right now – they wait.

The only way I can think of to explain what is happening is that my heart is overwhelmed from too much hurt. 22 months of hurting is incredibly tiring, and, to put it quite bluntly, I just need a break from feeling all this pain. I’d like a month or two paid vacation from being a widow. Can somebody make that happen? About 6 months ago, one of my other widowed friends that I met in the small support group my grief counselor put together, told me that she tries not to think about her fiance – that she just keeps as busy as possible and doesnt like to talk about him or dwell on him too much or for too long. When I asked her why, she said “because it hurts too much.” At the time, I was shocked that anyone would feel that way. I couldn’t imagine not wanting to talk about my loss or my husband or our amazing, short life together. Not talking about him or honoring him felt like a betrayal, like I was pretending he never existed, like society seems to sometimes want for me to do.

 But now – now – I get it. Now, that same favorite wedding picture of us that I keep on my nightstand; the one where he is looking at me with such pride and love; the same picture that used to make me feel a sense of calm whenever I walked by it – now, I find myself ignoring it or flipping it over sometimes so I dont have to look at it. Sometimes I try and pretend that Im someone else, and that I never had a husband that I was so in love with, and that I lost forever. Sometimes it’s easier to act as if what I had never really happened. That maybe I imagined it all, and I can just put it away into a box and close the lid forever. Sometimes I cant look at our life together, because it did happen, and now it’s gone, and it will never happen again – and sometimes I need to shut down from having feelings about my wonderful husband, the love of my life – because it hurts too much to remember.

Mom and me at “The Sharing Network” Organ Donor Reception

So that is where I’m at right now, and when you are a writer by nature, like me, it is very foreign to not want to express everything that is inside of you by typing it out furiously for all to read. It feels so odd and so wrong that I no longer want to marinate inside of the hurt and sit with it. Im sick of sitting with it. I want it to go the fuck away. These past few weeks since returning from Camp, I would sit down to write, and nothing would come out. I never think about what Im going to write ahead of time. It just flows out of me, like water from a stream. But now, my mind and my heart and my brain are packed with too many things, and I have no focus. There is too much that has happened. Should I write about what it feels like to be told by your roommate, just 6 months after I moved in, that “we are not a good match”, and that I need to be out in 3 months? Write about how awkward it is to continue to exist in the same space as the person who basically said “you aren’t wanted here anymore” for 2.5 months? The sheer relief and exhaustion and fear of finding a new place and a new roommate and moving out of there with practically nothing of your own, no savings, no furniture, no security? The feelings of rejection and self-doubt that come from someone treating you like you’re not good enough? Maybe I should write about the “crash” feeling of living my reality after returning home from comfortable, safe camp. Or what it was like to attend a reception where Don was honored along with other organ and tissue donors for his gift of life. How my mom and I cried when we heard his name read or saw it printed along “The Wall of Life.” To know that a piece of him lives on, and his name will be there forever on that wall, yet I will never hold him again. There were too many things to write about, and whenever I get overwhelmed, my response is to do nothing. So I did nothing. I didnt write at all. Until now.

Wall of Life. His name is 4th from bottom.

My new roommate and I took a trip to IKEA last weekend so that we could begin the process of furnishing our new apartment. For me, specifically, I was in desperate need of a small computer desk, because up until now, I had been typing with my keyboard and monitor sitting on top of boxes and things. Now, my only memories of the hell that is IKEA, are from the apartment that my best friend Sarah and I shared together in Forest Hills about 14 years ago. I remember we bought, among other things, a tiny end table called “LACK”, and it lived up to it’s name in every sense of the word. We also purchased a small dresser for Sarah’s bedroom, which she was hoping to use to put her clothing and undergarments into. Well, since IKEA specializies in crushing people’s hopes and dreams, the dresser turned out to be about as large as a Weeble Tree House, and I think Sarah was able to fit her nailfile and one sock into the microscopic, horribly designed drawers.

For any of you who have not had the honor of shopping or buying from IKEA – you should know that almost everything you buy there has a sign that reads “some assembly required.” Anotherwords; what you are sent home with is a large cardboard box filled with endless screws, european pieces with names that you’ve never heard uttered or printed anywhere ever in your lifetime (it’s a Swedish company), instructions that have NO WORDS IN THEM but only pictures that involve lots of circles and big X marks drawn through things, stick figures of people with question marks above their heads, and endless arrows that lead to absolutely nowhere. It is a cardboard box filled with confusion and mind-games, that leaves you a baffled, frustrated, manic-depressive mess on your floor, screaming at the universe to please let lightning strike you now, so that you dont have to put this goddamn desk together. It taunts you and it laughs at you and it mocks you with it’s Swedish pieces with names like “divet”, that are supposed to somehow fit into other pieces that they never actually fit into at all.

An actual page from the IKEA “instructions”

So there I was – in my new bedroom – my new roommate away at work for the day – the pieces of my new, tiny corner desk and all it’s assembly parts scattered across my bed – trying to decifer and make sense of these directions. I think it was somewhere around the time that I saw the big square with the X through it, next to the other big circle with the square with an arrow through it, next to the smiling stick figure guy with a cartoonish-looking hammer in his puffy hand – that it really started to hit me. My husband, who was soooooo good at this kind of stuff, will never again be able to do this for me. He will never again take care of the stupid instructions that don’t make sense, or change the oil in my car, or check to see what that noise is in the other room, or find the mouse and get rid of it, or kill the cockroach without pause, or take out the smelly trash, or open the door for me, or hold his umbrella over me or give me his coat to wear when its cold, or make sure Im safe and lock all the doors at night, or send me a text to let me know he arrived at work safely, or hold my hair when Im puking and sick from a reaction to percacet. He would never do any of those things, and so many other things, ever again.

My IKEA desk, in pieces, waiting to be created. Cat not included. (although if he were, youd have to assemble him yourself.)

 Of course, I already knew this. I already knew that he wasnt ever coming back. But somehow – sitting there attempting to put together this stupid desk in this stupid new life that was forced upon me because of his stupid death – I really felt it. And suddenly, without warning, the emotional breakdown came. It wasnt the organ donation reception or the moving or the rejection from my ex-roommate or the sheer stress from the past few months of my life that brought me down. No. It was IKEA. It was those damn Swedes and their “do it yourself” furniture that finally did me in.

7 hours later, and with the help of a fellow widowed friend who very sweetly walked me through each step of the idiotic instructions on the phone, my task was complete. I now had a desk. And if anyone reads this and says some shit about how I should feel empowered because I did that all by myself and “Wow! Look at what you can accomplish all alone!” or any of that type of bullshit, please stop yourself right now. Because you just don’t get it. I was 28 when I met Don. I was 35 when I married him, and I was 39 when he died. For all of those years before meeting him, I did everything by myself. I moved out of my parents house when I was 18 years old, and came to NYC to become an actor/performer. So, I have had decades worth of “empowerment”, and by the time Don and I moved in together, I was so grateful and so ready to have this partner, this teammate in life, and to no longer have to do every goddamn thing by myself. Now I had help. Now there were two of us struggling through this mess called life instead of just one. Two of us to pay bills, get groceries, figure out the logistics. And then it was ripped away – just like that – and suddenly, I was back to doing every goddamn thing alone again. Im sorry, but when you have the right person, two is sooooo much better than one. It just is. There are just so many things in life that are so much harder to do alone, and so much easier to do with two of you.

 

The piece of crap desk that took 7 hours to put together and caused me to have a mental breakdown. Empowered my ass.

 

Parallel parking. Changing the litter in the litter box. Carrying a large box or other large items up the stairs. Having someone to shut the light off. Sit in the car when you have to double park it in a city or busy neighborhood. Brush the kitties teeth like the vet instructed. Clip their nails. Locate a foreign “thing” that appears on your body in a place where you cant see it. Scratch an itch on your back. Say your vows. Then repeat. It takes two people to look into each other’s eyes and feel love. Two people to make love. Two to dance a foxtrot at your wedding.

And it takes two people to figure out how the fuck to put together a crappy computer desk from IKEA. One to hold up the piece of wood, and one to screw in the weird-plastic-looking-screwy thing. One to decifer the picture instructions, and one to put them into action. One to light the match to set the whole damn thing ablaze when you finally lose your mind, and one to call the police and make it look like arson.

Congratulations IKEA. Because of your unbelievable incompetence and inability to create items or directions that humans with brains can follow, you have forced me to start feeling my feelings again. You have shoved the grief back into my life, much like you shove those divets into the holes that are way too small to fit them. Are you happy now, IKEA? Have you had your little fun with the widow? Good. Glad to hear it. You should know that your desk sucks and it’s a bit wobbly and thats not my fault. It’s your fault, cuz your furniture is questionable and shady on it’s best day. Fuck you. 

At least I finally have something to write about.

Quarters, Dreams, and Chapstick

Here’s a Riddle: What are you left with when your husband drops dead; and there is no warning, no will, no money, nothing you owned, no children, no “estate”, and nothing of monetary value in the crappy little New Jersey apartment you rented together for 7 years?

Answer: A bottle of guitar polish, some old chapstick, and a book of dumb State Quarters.

I said it was a riddle. I never said it was funny.

Exactly one month from today, I am moving. Leaving New Jersey and going back to New York. Forest Hills, Queens, to be exact. For weeks now,  I have been putting the life that Don and I shared, into boxes. Bags. Suitcases. Piles. This box goes to mom and dad’s place for storage. That one goes with me to my new apartment. This bag gets thrown away. That one gets donated to The Salvation Army. This one I might sell. On and on and on, making emotional decisions at lightning speed, as the days count down to when I must be gone from this room, this neighborhood, these walls. Time will not wait for my grief. Life will not be patient while I consider yet again whether or not to keep his favorite chair.

When you’re grieving and dealing with your spouse’s “stuff”, everyone is an expert. People attack you with their opinions. Everyone knows what you should do. “Only keep 10 items,” they say. “Anything you haven’t used in the last 6 months gets thrown away!”, they bellow. “Be brutal! Get rid of everything!”, they order, before returning home to their husbands and wives, who are still alive and well. People love to tell you how you need to do things, what is best for you. Do this. Do that. Keep this. Throw that out. Move on. Cleanse your soul. Get over this. Make space for new things in your life. You can’t grow with all this junk surrounding you.

And that is where it gets messy. When your spouse is alive and breathing, his dental floss or his nail file or his ratty old t-shirt might very well be junk. But when he is dead? It is everything. It is the only thing I have. There is nothing else. Just stuff. Each item becomes a tiny piece of them, something that is still somehow alive. Something I can keep. I study the dental floss like a CSI-investigator, pulling at the long string and trying to place my fingertips in the same place where he placed his the last time he used it. I unzip the old duffle bag that is sitting in the corner, wipe off the dust, and unveil the old ratty t-shirt that is inside. He played tennis wearing that ugly thing. Two days before his heart stopped, he was running around a tennis court in 92 degree heat. I sniff the shirt like it’s a fine wine, searching for his scent somewhere. Could it still be there after one year? Am I imagining that I smell him faintly? The plastic water bottle he drank from rolls out of the bag and onto the hardwood floor, taunting me. I pick it up. I fill it up with fresh water. I do not wash it first. I want to put my lips where he put his. I want to feel him through my thirst. I feel crazy as I take the first sip. It doesn’t make me feel close to him. I feel so far away.

What seems like lunatic behavior to one person, is someone else’s lifeline. What you see as nuts, I can’t be without. Those people on the show Hoarders? I understand them now. I get it. They have been through something traumatic. They lost someone that they loved, and they try to compensate by surrounding themselves with all of that person’s “stuff.” Time doesn’t give a shit about your grief, and so it marches on in that cruel way, and suddenly days become months, and months become years, until you are living in a pile of filth and trash and things. And all of that junk envelops you. It takes you over. It makes your world small, until you no longer really exist. You get lost inside the junk that isn’t them. It will never, ever be them. You know this, but you still feel paralyzed. You still feel guilt and gut-wrenching pains for every single item of them that you throw away. How can I simply discard of his things? It was his. He loved this stupid thing. It feels like I am throwing him away. It feels like he is dying again. How the fuck do people do this??? I have to stop now. It’s too much. Tomorrow. I will do this then. Seperating our life into boxes and bags is too exhausting for words. I need to quit my job so I can stare at this swiss army knife or that silly uniform pin that says ‘EMS” and decide what to do with it. These are awful choices, and I have to make them. I want to just leave everything here and run away forever. I also want to take everything with me and hold onto it for dear life. But I can’t. There are deadlines. There is rent to pay. There is reality.

The Entertainment Center in our living room. There is a little box sitting on top of it, which has a bunch of random items inside. I open it, with trashbag at the ready, feeling simultaneously victorious and like a murderer each time I throw another item away. Old pens. A piece of paper with a couple of music notes written on it. The startings of a song he was writing? Something he was learning? Seeing his handwriting gives me the chills. For a second, he is here and I am home again. There is a tiny bottle of guitar polish. He was always cleaning and taking care of his many guitars. I mocked him incessantly for treating his instruments as if they were people. The polish is old and probably expired. But he took such good care of his things. How can I just carelessly toss it away, like he was never here? Like he never even existed. I will come back to it. I can’t decide now.

The Book of Quarters. It has been sitting here, messing with me for weeks. Don collected State Quarters. He put them in this official looking book called: “State Series Quarters: Complete 100 Coin Set.” It took him years to build up the collection. He was almost finished with it. He still needed 6 states. I remember him taking me into 2 or 3 different places in the town of Falmouth, Massachusetts while we were on our Cape Cod honeymoon. He was anxious to see if they had the missing states he desired to complete his book. I laughed at him and his silly hobby. I found it lame. We had a conversation during our honeymoon that went like this:

Me: I dont understand why you collect quarters.

Him: (mock-pouts at me while folding his arms and pouting his bottom lip) Boo doesn’t like my hobby. It’s fun. It’s just something I do.

Me: But what’s the point? They just sit inside this book that you never even look at or acknowledge. It just sits on a shelf and serves no purpose.

Him: The purpose it serves is that I enjoy collecting the coins.

Me: But why? They arent even worth anything. I dont understand how that is fun.

Him: Well, Boo, you dont have to understand everything I do. It’s really not all that deep. I just like it, that’s all. It’s really no big mystery.

Me: Oh. Well that’s dumb.

Him: Yes, Boo. (laughing at me) I’m sorry my hobby is dumb to you and that it annoys you so much. Actually, Im not sorry. Annoying you is fun. Let’s go into this store. I still need the Montana Quarter. Come on Boo … (grabs my hand and walks me into store enthusiasticly) You know you want to look at coins with me. Isnt this fun?

Me: No. It’s dumb. (mock-pouting back at him)

 

Now, sitting here with this stupid book of coins, I feel guilt and sadness and pain. The logical part of my brain wants to take all the quarters out of the book, and put them into my giant change Jar, the one Don and I always threw change into over time, and then used it for laundry or tolls or saved it up and changed it in for actual dollars when we needed to. What the hell am I going to do with this Quarter Collection? I don’t collect coins. I will never collect coins. I have zero desire to collect fucking coins. But for some damn reason, I cant seem to make myself toss these dumb quarters into the Jar and be done with it. For some reason, it feels like stealing. Like Im stealing his hobby. Like Im mocking him while he’s dead. It seems really unfair. Then again, they are just coins. Why is this so hard? Why am I making it so hard? I wrestle with it for hours. I still cant decide. I need to do laundry and I have no change. The guilt creeps back as I steal from my dead husband and his harmless little hobby. I post my dilemma on Facebook, knowing how humorous it is, and knowing I will get many responses. Immediately, people start in with their opinions. People are getting emotional. Other widowed people who have their own individual issues with their loved one’s items, are becoming affected by what I decide to do with these quarters. Now it weighs on my mind, and the minds of people in cyberspace. The world is on the edge of it’s seat. Never was a book of quarters so damn entertaining. What will happen??? Will the widow make the right choice? Will she do right by her husband? There were too many people screaming and typing in my ear. I couldnt think straight, and I just wanted to be done with feeling. I took the few quarters I needed to do my laundry out of the book, did it, and decided to deal with the rest in the morning. I felt unsure about what to do, and honestly, only one person could tell me the right thing .. and that was Don.

Last night I went to bed. Last night I had a dream. It was the first time that my husband “came to me” in a dream, since months and months ago. There were two dreams where I “felt” his presence there, where It felt like more than just a dream. Both of them happened two or three months after he died. Last night it happened again. In the dream, I was lying in bed on my side like I always do. I felt his arms around me. He was spooning me, and my hand grabbed his as it reached around my waist. He was here.

“Your hands are dry, Boo. You should use some of my Chapstick on them. I still have some left. It’s in that little box on the entertainment center. Just rub it on your palms. It will help. You never used to have dry skin. I had dry skin.” His voice was calm and reassuring. I was safe again. All was well.

“Why are you wasting time talking about dry skin and chapstick? There are so many other things to talk about. I can’t believe you’re here.” My voice is shaky and scared. I’m crying.

“I’m always here for you, Boo. We don’t have to talk at all. I just want to lie here with you. I think that’s what you need right now.” He sighs into the back of my neck. I never see his face in this dream. He is behind me, and I feel him. His hands. His touch. His warmth. I feel him.

“I dont want to move, Boo. I don’t wanna move from this bed. This apartment. This room. If I leave here, and I go somewhere new, it will be somewhere that you never were. I don’t want to be anywhere that you never were. We were supposed to leave here together. I’m scared.” Now Im sobbing loudly, and his hand wipes away my tears. He rubs my back.

“I know you’re scared. I’m not going anywhere, Boo. And neither are you. You aren’t leaving me. You’re leaving this shitty, stupid, messed up state and going back to New York where you belong. Just remember – wherever you are, that is where I’ll be too. I know it’s not the same as what we planned, but I’m here. You need to know that.” He sounds like an Angel.

“I wish I could believe that. I wish these dreams would happen everyday. I wish I would stay with you forever and never, ever wake up.” My voice sounds like an alien.

We lay there in silence for awhile, until I stop crying. The whole time, I feel his arms around me. He doesn’t let go. Finally, I ask. “Are you mad at me?”

There is no hesitation in his response. “Of course not. Why would I be mad at you?” He seems hurt that I would even think such a thing.

“Because I threw away your stuff. And because of the quarters. You loved those stupid quarters.” I’m sobbing again. Ridiculously hard. These fucking quarters have made me lose my goddamn mind.

“Remember what you said on our honeymoon? They are dumb. They are just dumb quarters. What are you supposed to do with a book of quarters, Boo? They were my hobby. Not yours. Use them for laundry. Throw them in the jar. Like I told you years ago, it’s just a hobby. It’s not that deep. You do what you need to do honey. With everything. What’s mine is ours. It’s yours now. I’m dead. I don’t need a book of quarters. And you’re alive. And laundry needs quarters. Use them. They aren’t important. You’re important. I love you.” He starts to disappear now. His fingers unlock from mine.

“I hate when you leave. I hate waking up. Please please don’t go. I love you so much.” My pillow is drenched with my reality. My pain. My life. There is no response. He is gone. I’m awake. Just like that. I lay there for minutes and try like hell to get it back. But it’s gone.

After awhile, I walk into the living room, feeling as if a train just ran me over. I pick up the small box I had looked at yesterday, the one with all the random items inside it. I look at it and shake it, and it appears to be emptied. Everything was removed by me before. I sit in his favorite chair, exhausted and spent. Some time passes. Then, out of nowhere, Sammy meows. He meows again. He looks at me and keeps making noise. He is like Lassie with an important message. Something tells me to get up. Look again. I pick up the box, just for kicks. This time, the bottom of the box is not the bottom of the box. There is more. Another layer; like one of those boxes of chocolates with the paper in between. The corner is sticking up, so I pull it. Underneath lies some junk, or the greatest thing on earth, depending on who you are.

Chapstick. His chapstick that he used every single day for his really dry skin and lips that never quite got used to the air up here. I take off the cap, and twist the gooey, waxy substance into a ball, so it’s floating just above the top. Putting out the palm of my hand, I gently rub the chapstick back and forth across it, in a calming and slow rhythm, erasing my dry skin and my fears and my guilt with each stroke. Finally, I put it to my lips, and feel the texture go over my mouth, knowing that once, long ago, it was on his mouth. Knowing that I felt him in that dream, and that it wasn’t just a dream. Knowing that I can be at peace with my choices about his stuff, that isn’t just junk. Knowing that with every State Quarter I put into that washing machine, I have his permission, and that wherever I chose to go in my life, from now on, he would follow me. He will follow me. This I know, and this I choose to believe.

Turning Horror Into Hope: Pay It Forward for Don Shepherd Day

Recently, I had the very unfortunate reality of facing the one-year mark of my dear husband’s sudden death. July 13, 2011. It will forever be the worst day of my life; the day that changed me into someone else; the day he never again came home. As with everything in life, on that anniversary day last week, I had a choice. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like we have a choice, but we usually have a choice. Would I drown myself in the horror and hopelessness of that day? Would I isolate myself and convince myself that nothing will ever get better until the end of time? Or would I do something else? What if instead of making his death the focus of my heart, I used my heart to put focus on life? What if I could use who he was as a person, to inspire others into acts of kindness? What would happen? How far could I take this? And who would even care? The answers will astound you.

So I made my decision. July 13, this year and every year, would be a new holiday. “Pay It Forward for Don Shepherd Day.” The premise was simple. Do an act of kindness. Anything. For anyone. Then write to me and tell me about what you did. To me, this was the perfect way I could think of to honor my husband, because Don was the type of person who paid it forward every single day. He really did. Except he didn’t even think about it, and he didn’t wait until some tragedy came along to make him realize that Gee, we should really all be nice to one another. Nope. He just knew. And now that he is gone from this Earth, he is with me forever, and he is part of me. I am more compassionate, more kind, because I knew him. If I could use this horrible day and turn it around to help others – well – it is the very least I can do for Don; who made me want to be better. Pay it Forward for Don. Pay it Forward for Love. Pay Forward Life.

I sent out my idea to everyone I know. I used Facebook, email, texts, bullhorn, rotary phone, stork … whatever worked. Then I waited. On July 13th, I woke up feeling awful, like I was destined to re-live every moment of that day just one year ago. I was so heartbroken and sad. Then I started reading the messages. The emails. The texts. They came pouring in at lightning speed, and they lifted my heart to a place it hadn’t been to in ages. As the day went on, I found myself going to the computer excitedly, awaiting the next “Pay it Forward” story to read. It was like Christmas morning, and each story was a present that when unwrapped, demonstrated the love that people had for my husband. I still felt my heart drop on that day, and I was still so very sad. I think I always will be when it rolls around. But this gave hope to something horrible. It put light where there was only darkness. My friend and colleague Maggie Lally said it perfectly: “You changed the entire energy of the day.” She was right. And because I changed the energy, so did you. You floored me.

There are not many things that I know in life; but I now know this: Love is contagious. Kindness is contagious. Evil is always followed by hope. At their core, most people are good, and want to give. When you are good to others, they remember. And they pay it forward. What follows below are ALL of the stories and deeds of kindness that people wrote to me. Everything is written in their words. Some are from friends. Some are from family. Many are from strangers. Some of the acts are small things, some are very big, and some are off-the-charts creative. They are all, in their own way, truly amazing. Before you continue reading, you should get some kleenex, and you should have some time. A lot of people participated. More than I could have ever imagined. If you read this and it doesn’t move you, you may want to get checked out, because it means you have no heart. The stories below are in no particular order. Everytime I read them, I change my mind on which one is my favorite. In the end, I cannot decide. They are all little miracles, brought on by the most powerful thing in the world – love.

 

As we travel cross-country, we continue to do lots of little things to pay it forward for Don. So far we helped a man with his car, opened doors for loads of people, and donated money to the Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Park in his honor. We will do as much as we can while driving, and we will keep telling people about you and Don. Sending you love from the Motel 6 in Wells, Nevada. High class all the way, Baby! – Holly Lash, California.

 

We made a donation to our local animal shelter. I knew from your posts that Don loved animals, and so do we. – Phyllis Norris Groover, Alabama. 

 

I am an artist. On July 13th, I had some artwork printed out. I agreed to donate a piece toward an auction that would be raising money for a young girl who is fighting luekemia and had lost her leg. In addition to the piece I said I would provide, I also had more work printed out to try and earn more money, plus a print for the young woman to keep for herself. I am not accepting any money to cover any of the costs for shipping or printing. (and they dont know that either.) I am glad I got to do something extra to help someone else – and do it on the day to remember Don and pay it forward. – Kevenn T. Smith, Ohio.

 

 

While traveling on business this week, I had a couple hours layover between flights, and was having lunch at a bar in O’Hare. A soldier in uniform sat down at the next table, so I told the waitress to put his lunch on my check and tell him it’s from Don Shepherd. I ended up chatting with him, told him who Don was, and he was very touched by your story. He said that he would also do something to pay it forward for Don as well. – Sarah Forgey, Virginia.

 

I’m not sure if Don would have appreciated it, but my Don Day animal honoree mascot is this neighborhood Bear, who I will now call “Don.” – Leslee Koritzke, California

I cannot count the number of times I have stopped at my friend’s elderly mother in law’s house to pick up my nephew with a quick and impatient nod hello and goodbye. Friday the 13th I was feeling hot, annoyed, and hurried when I stepped through the door to see her sitting there looking very small and frail. I thought of you and Don and gave her a warm hello and sat down to visit. She told me stories about her new cat Penny, and we watched as her 4 yr old grandson tossed a ball up the stairs and the cat came bounding down after it. It was a small gesture, but one of the many moments Ive thought about you and Don and how fragile life is, and how easily those we love could be snatched from us without notice. Im grateful for each moment I stop and realize Im not in such a hurry anymore. Thank you for sharing your love, heart, and grief with us all. It is a gift. – Katherine Ragot, Massachusetts.

 

I offered to take my friend’s daughter to field hockey practice a few mornings a week. – Lisa Etkin, New Jersey

I thought of Don today and stopped off at a pet store in Key West and donated to the Xena Fund. You can check them out at www.thexenafund.com. They are unique because they help animals that need emergency surgery. It felt good to donate. Thinking of you. – Jarlyn Gonzalez Phillips, Connecticutt

 

In memory of Don, I made a donation to your site to help you get your book published. – Joe Hernandez, New York

 

Here is a picture of our beautiful new puppy that we adopted, Tovah, in honor of Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day, and in memory of our sweet Benny, who went back to God on 7/5/12. – Belinda Bishop, Alabama.

 

 I donated 10 cases of cat food to a no-kill shelter for cats. – Pamela Clark Rademacher Nall, Chicago.

 

My eldest daughter Chloe is an animal lover. I sat down with her today, bought her an ice-cream, and explained about the wonderful thing you were asking others to do today. She proudly announced to anyone within earshot that in honor of Don Day, she would collect donations for the SPCA. She collected towels, food, toys, and $22.75! We will deliver this to them and then double the donations she collected, as we promised her. I only wish I had met Don. You are leaving such a great legacy in his name. – Maria Stefanou Peters, New York

 

In honor of Don, I tried to anonymously pay for a tank of gas, but all the pumps had input credit cards, so I could not. However, a co-worker was having a super stressful day, so I bought her lunch and sat with her. – Misty Corrales, Alabama.

 

I took on a new guitar student today at no cost, an 11 year old boy with no hope of being able to afford lessons. I will be loaning him an acoustic guitar to play on until he gets the hang of it, and then, when it’s time, I will buy him a nice electric. – Norman Paulsen, Jamundi, Columbia. 

 

I took my handicapped neighbor to and from Temple tonight. – Sheila Slaw Muller, New York.

 

I sent my staff home early to thank them for all their hard work this week. – Susan Spencer Farinacci, New York.

 

My boss and I are donating money to a family that just lost their dad. The fundraiser is being held tonight. – Spreti Valente, California.

 

My husband and I donated needed supplies for the staff and kitties at Austin Pets Alive, a no-kill shelter here in Texas. I was so very blessed to have known Don, worked with him, and be his friend. I miss him everyday. By sharing your sorrow with so many, you have touched more lives than you really know. I’m honored to call you my friend, and I know why my friend Don fell so madly in love with you. – Maria Mantek, Texas.

 

I just made a donation to your website in honor of Don today. – Kathy Bernal, California.

 

I took SIX kids to the movies today. Does that count? – Darleen Manfre Fleming, New York.

 

I am donating a full crib, car seat, and 5 boxes of infant and children’s clothing and books to a local center for abused women and their children. – Stephanie Miller Morales, Texas.

 

My act of kindness went to help someone who is working so hard to have a chance to become a parent, to get a little bit closer to her goal. In part, this is also to honor our Lanny. Thanks for letting me be a part of this day, and for letting me share this in remembering Lanny. – Cyndi Harvey, Colorado.

 

In our little dul-de-sac of 4 homes, 2 of our neighbors are widows. They each received these flowers today in honor of you and Don.

For our second act of kindness today, we also donated some kitty food to our local shelter. As you asked, here is a photo. As you can tell, they were very touched. Thanks for inspiring others today. – Stacey Riggs, California.

I donated 6 bags of clothes, books, shoes, etc, to my local thrift store. I told a friend about today and he gave a stranger at the laundromat quarters to do her laundry. Celebrating Don’s life today, and every July 13th to come. – Sharon DiCostanzo, New York

 

Today I honor a very special man who left this world far too soon. I made a donation to the SPCA in Don’s name, and will be walking with my beloved beagle and cattledog in the local Mutt Strut in honor of Don and his unconditonal love for animals. – Amy Hoffman Engle, South Carolina.

 

For Pay it Forward Day, my husband Robert donated half of his dress shirts to the local shelter. He picked the best of the best to give. I was floored! As for me, I bought little mini-cupcakes and then sent an email explaining why everyone would be eating cupcakes. “Hello! There are cupcakes in the break room. They aren’t meant to make you fat. They are meant to make you happy. I bought them in honor of Don Shepherd, a man you never knew. He was awesome, and he would have bought you cupcakes if he could have been here today.” – Ginger Michele, Florida.

What a fun Friday! I offered to watch my neighbor’s child, who has a disability. We had a blast. I was nervous about how it would go because I have a newborn and toddler, but she was great with them! She loved helping me with the kids, and I was so glad I could help her mom, who took me up on the offer before I even finished the sentence! Thanks for the inspiration. I will definitely be doing it more often. – Trey Sullivan, California.

 

A late audition by a young musician gave me an opportunity to pay a little back in honor of Don today. Auditions are often rather routine, but this young man and his mother needed some special attention. By the time the almost 2-hour process was finished, I was glad to welcome him on as a music major. I spent as much time with his mom as I did with him. Her husband died when her son was younger; a number of years ago; and she had been raising him and his sibling alone ever since. She told me how much her son misses his dad these days, and how it has shaped his life.  He is a talented musician who just couldnt decide about auditioning for the Music Major. I talked to him, played for him, learned about his goals and dreams. When I told his mom Id be able to recommend a fairly high Scholarship for talent, she burst into tears. She is so hopeful that our University will give her son a chance to blossom as a person and musician. It made me realize that every dollar I could recommend was one dollar less she would have to earn or borrow. I thought of Don and all the qualities you have spoken of. I think he would have been pleased that I was a human being first, and a music administrator second. I hope that this young man will have a great experience as he continues to think of and honor his own Dad, taken too soon from him. – Asked to be Kept Anonymous.

 

Dylan and I left cookies, crackers, and candies for our mailman – with a note that said: “Pay it Forward for Don. Don passed away suddenly on July 13, 2011. To remember him and honor his life, today we are paying forward his kindness and generosity.” – Jesaida Zayas Snyder, King of Prussia, PA.

 

I helped my mom prepare her house for selling it. I thought of you and Don as I wore a bike helmet, crouched in a 4 foot, 100 degree sloped attic, amongst old trunks of linens and towels and assorted crap. Next year I’m doing gift cards. – Sheila Sayah, New Jersey.

 

 

I have been a volenteer with the Dunstable Summer Concerts for about 5 years now. Last year, we made a connection with someone that could get the RE/Max hot air balloon to come to one of our concerts. Their only request was that we donate all proceeds collected to a local cause, charity, or person in need. As the day got closer, I read about Pay it Forward, and suggested The Sharing Network Organ Donation as our cause. It was one of the largest turn-outs that we have ever had, with over 300 people descending on the Common. We had signs letting people know what their donations would be going towards, and from there, over $400 was “raised”. (That’s a hot air balloon joke.) – Laura Rothman, Massachusetts.

 

I made a donation to our local Richmond SPCA in Don’s name. The fact is, I love animals, as did Don, and its a great organization that I think he would appreciate being associated with. – Laura Jean Shelton, Virginia.

 

I paid it forward to a friend with a Psychic Reading. I wanted to help her anyway, so this was a good way to do both. – Jan Drake Bakke, Nevada.

 

I donated $50 to the Connecticutt Burn Care Foundation, for a child who was disfigured in a fire, so he could attend a children’s burn camp for kids with disfiguring burn scars. It was sent “In Memory of Don Shepherd.” – Jennifer Pierce, Massachusetts.

 

While walking home the other day I saw this homeless woman that Ive seen many times before. The heartbreaking thing is that she is with her baby as well. Instead of walking past her, this time I stopped and spoke with her. I didnt give her money because I didnt have any cash, but I asked her if she was aware of shelters nearby. She said something, but it was hard to understand her. So I walked away and called Jessica who told me to call the homeless hotline and outreach workers would come out and help her. So I called and let them know where I was. I dont know what happened after this, but I hope they were able to help. I havent seen her in the past few days. Between seeing a woman with a small baby, and thinking about my friend Don, I had to at least stop to see if she needed help. – John Joseph Cina, New York.

 

I took a down on her luck friend out for lunch, and I also paid for an old woman’s groceries in front of me, at Don’s all-time favorite grocery store – PUBLIX! Her grocery items, you’ll be happy to know, included Don’s favorite Publix Sub. – Gin Malvita, Florida.

I wanted to tell you that I produced a random act of kindness in your husband’s honor, even though I didn’t know him. I went to my local library, and in various books that I love, placed notes attached to $5 bills. The last line was: “random act of kindness and paying it forward.” Thanks for encouraging me to do something nice for others. – Anonymous.

 

We got a chance to pay for the lunch of the people behind us at Burger King. We told the clerk about Don’s Day and had him relay the message to the car behind ours. I hope he did! We have also set up a time to play/perform music at a local nursing home to honor his love of music. – Amy Martinson, Texas.

I went to the Post Office to mail a few things, and there was a young man and woman standing there with a sign saying he was just laid off and needed food and money for their baby. I didnt have much cash on me, but gave them all that I had, which was $14. Thinking of you always. – Tobi Raymond, California.

 

I donated money to your wonderful friend Elayne Boosler’s animal rescue organization, Tails of Joy, to honor my incredibly selfless son-in-law Don, and his love of animals. We love and miss you so much Don. You will always be our family. – Christine and David Niemi, Massachusetts.

Two acts of kindness on Don Day from me. Number One: Because I feel like I know Don personally through you, I paid a visit to New Jersey (the lame state), to visit a friend who was having a lonely day. She is a Lower East Side city girl who loves Manhattan more than anyone Ive ever met. When her baby was born, her husband decided the child needed to be reared just like him – in the suburbs of NJ, within spitting distance of his mother. (What could be better?) I took the NJ Transit to visit my friend, whom I love, and we did suburban things; mostly sat by the town pool for hours – BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING TO DO IN THE SUBURBS!!! I love my friend and spending time with her is always a joy, but I was mindful the entire day about Don and what a good, good man he was. His love for you transplanted him to NJ, as my love for my friend gets my ass on the train to spend a long day in the burbs. By the way; my friend, like Don, also thinks NJ is lame.

Number Two: I have a good friend in Los Angeles who is an animal lover, like Don. She rescues animals (literally goes out with a team when calls come in about abused or abandoned animals) and saves them. She also adopts those dogs and cats who are unadoptable because of age or illness. I made a donation to “Tails of Joy” for her and sent her a tote bag so that she can spread the word out there about www.tailsofjoy.net. She is a woman whose husband died when he was only 46, and she was just 40. Like you. She is a writer/comedian, like you Kelley, so I thought she would be the perfect person to include in my thoughts about Don on this wonderful, new holiday. – Caitlin Kelly, New York.

 

The Vietnam Veteran’s were given a futon bunk bed, a couple of mattresses, and a couple of huge bags of clothing in honor of Don. God Bless you both. What a beautiful way to honor your beloved husband. – Lynn Gaba Henkel Dilloo, Nevada.

 

My husband Joe and I stopped by our local EMS station with some fresh homemade treats (brownies, cookies) to thank them all for their hard work and sacrifice. We wanted to pay it forward in honor of Don and know that all EMT’s like him deserve a big thank you from all the people they protect and serve. – Jennifer Calkin Mastromarino, New York.

I went to Petsmart today, and, while there, donated some money to help homeless animals. – Brett Alyse, New York.

 

Sometimes the best laid plans get sidetracked and not necessarily by the planner. So instead of my original plan, I have donated to Elayne Boosler’s Tails of Joy. It’s sort of the same thing as what I had wanted to do anyway. – Karen Block Breen, New York.

 

My 15 year old daughter signed up to be a volenteer at Petco from 7am-9am daily to take care of the kitties that are in need of good homes. – Erika Lynch, Massachusetts.

 

I bought a homeless woman a sandwich. I have passed this woman everyday this week on the corner of 47th and 8th. Swept up in the 1001 things to do at once energy of NYC, in the sticky July heat and with the inherent general defense mechanism we all develop of blocking out those in need asking us for change, food, help, attention, kindness, love. But today I felt compelled to stop. Three major events in my life occured this week, all from seemingly different corners, yet all strikingly linked:

1. I began rehearsal for a project unlike anything I have ever been closely a part of. Somehow I have found myself producing REQUIEM FOR A LOST GIRL in the NY Musical Theatre Festival. It’s elements include: a 7 piece Chamber Orchestra, a 20 person choir of young NYC musical theatre actors, a dozen or so members of the homeless youth of NYC streets, a gaggle of Canadian composers, opera, rap, poetry, interpretive dance, a rocking chair and a friendly German conductor named Marcel. If it sounds like a mess, it is. But a gorgeous, heart-wrenching, inspiring, tragic, hopeful, life-changing mess. What brings all these elements together? Standing in the middle of that first rehearsal, it finally made sense. Hunger. Hungry to work, hungry to help.

2. Today is Pay it Forward for Don Day. One year ago today, a dear friend of many years lost her husband. Suddenly. He was working a second job and collapsed instantly from cardiac arrest. The irony is that his primary job was working as an EMT. In his spare time he volenteered countless hours at animal shelters. He is a veteran of the US military. And he LOVED our friend. He was one of the most generous, selfless and humble men you could ever meet. And it made no sense. Kelley has asked us to do something for Don. “Reach out to a stranger who needs you. Make a difference. Make a new friend. Go outside the box. Make someones life better. It can be big or small. What matters is that you do it, and you think of Don.”

3. Well, I cant talk about it yet. Not publicly. Lets just say its one of those things that happen suddenly, that sends one into panic, surprise and exposes how much we take for granted. Comfort. Home.

This got long. I think what I wanted to say is what I said in a Facebook Note one year ago tonight: “I am always weary of sounding preachy, especially in this format. But … hug your loved ones. Call your friends. Say thank you. And dont sweat the small stuff, life’s too fucking short.”

Oh, and …buy a homeless woman a sandwich. – Andrew Block, New York.

 

In honor of Don, I made a donation to the SPCA. Also, we went to the Italian Festival for dinner. We were lucky enough to snag a table, but there were 3 on duty cops that needed to eat quickly and go back to patrolling, so we gave them our table. – Heidi Miller, New York.

 

I paid it forward in the name of Don today by leaving the closest spot in the hospital parking lot open for someone who needed it more than me … or someone greedier / lazier than me. – Bianca Neff Diesel, Ohio.

 

Today I let two people go in front of me at the IRS. Nobody is ever nice at the IRS. Love the spirit of Don Shepherd Day. – Amy Cavanagh, Florida.

 

My show Friday (Blogtalk Radio: Living in the Psychic Realm) garnered more friends on Facebook needing guidance and advice. Once they are all in good places themselves, they will be able to turn from client to colleague, helping others. – Linda Irwin, Idaho.

 

I am donating a large amount of clothing and household items to Goodwill, as well as donating sets of collectors plates to a little rural Tennessee animal shelter for them to auction off and use the proceeds toward the care for their animals. – Vanessa Russell, Maine.

 

Neil and I made a donation through your website in honor of Pay it Forward for Don Day. We know you will decide where it can be used best. – Lauren Young, Massachusetts.

 

I treated my mom to her first ever Caramel Machiato. Glen has been installing closet supports in 2 bedrooms at my parents house, and cutting back a hugely overgrown fig tree in their backyard, even in the miserably humid weather. – Janelle Klepic, California.

 

Today, in honor of my friend Kelley Lynn creating Pay It Forward for Don Day, on the one year anniversary of the sudden loss of her dear husband, Tails of Joy helped pay for 22 dogs to be transferred out of a Miami, Florida pound, and into a rescue that will heal them and find them new homes. We did the same thing for cats yesterday. Here is the message I left on the Chip In Board: “Thank you for all that you do. xoxo Elayne Boosler, Tails of Joy (in honor of Don Shepherd Pay it Forward Day). – Elayne Boosler, California.

 

I am paying it forward by making a donation in honor and memory of Don and my Mom. They both loved animals, especially cats. I will be donating to Pets Alive in Middletown, NY. Pets Alive saved my Louise and then they placed her in my arms. She came home with us on the day before my Mom’s birthday less than two months after she had passed. – Lori Harvey Sternberg, New York.

 

You said Don loved animals. I believe he sent us one. We found this fledging Canadian Blue Jay on the road, about to be eaten by our cat. The kids named it Bob. He’s taken up residence in our backyard, closely guarded and fed by his parents, and has attracted the attention of every cat in the neighborhood. Every five minutes, we rush out to shoo away a feline so his parents will stop screaming and dive-bombing our deck. Google says this particular act of kindness could last up to 2 weeks until Bob can fly properly. Does this sound like something Don would approve of? You’ve worked your way into our hearts and helped me with my healing through your honesty and humour. In one month, I will be going through the 6th sadiversary from my Michael’s coronary, and Ill be thrown back into THE DAY yet again. I hope I can handle it with as much grace through the pain as you are. We will try to keep Don-Bob safe so he can come back next year and pester the entire neighborhood. – Jennifer Nunes, Edmonton, Alberta.

 

My mom, who will never pump her own gas, asked me to get gas for her car. So on my way home, I stopped at my moms, put gas in her car, and ended up having a glass of wine with her and my brother and chatting away. I know family meant a lot to Don. Also, my girlfriend and I are collecting signatures to help pass the Busters Law Bill. Right now NY has crappy animal abuse laws, but there are a bunch of lawmakers that want stiffer penalties for animal abuse. They just passed the bill to create an animal abuse registry; meaning anyone who has commited a crime to any animal are placed on a list, similar to that of the sex offender list. – Linda Knights Wilkie, New York.

 

As I reflect on this past year, I have learned more about Don each time I speak with Kelley. I knew how much he loved animals, with the pictures shown to me throughout the years. So it was only perfect for my Mom and me to help out some local cats that are up for adoption from a local rescue group for Don’s one year Angel Day. We donated money to the organization, and also spent time playing with them and feeding them treats, which they loved (as you can see in attached picture.) I feel a special connection to this rescue group because I adopted my cat Bella back in November there. After the loss of my cat Mittens in September, I wanted to help another animal in need, so this is something that Don and I have in common. This leads me back to the day of his funeral one year ago. My cat Mittens had been sick and I could not find her that day which was not her behavior to hide, so Mom looked for her all day, but she never came out. Later that afternoon, I saw Kelley  at the services for her husband, and talked for a short time as there are no words that can comfort someone in shock and grief of a loved one. I understand, as I lost my brother and my father within three months of each other, and this new grief journey we are on is forever. So I was concerned about my Mittens and that she was hurt, called my mom, and still nothing.

At the funeral home, I had learned even more about Don through talking with some of his friends, the beautiful pictures of his life with his family, with Kelley and with his cats. I knelt before him and said a prayer for him, for Kelley, and for my Mittens, asked Don if he could please find her and make sure she is safe. So I sat down quietly to reflect on this moment … then my phone rang, and it was Mom and she said Mittens just walked out and she was fine. So Don heard me that day and that was a very powerful moment. After that, Mittens was diagnosed with mouth cancer and she lived a few more months and then passed in my arms. I still think about that day, a day that changed Don’s loved ones forever. So I celebrate Don’s memory in the one connection I had with him, and that is our cats, and will continue to pay it forward everyday for the Love of our Cats. – Laura and Mary Ameruso, New York.

 

I didn’t really pay it forward in the extraordinary ways that I see some others have today. I am in awe of how many people paid it forward in memory of Don today, and I am also simultaneously very sad for the loss of my friend. I had plans for a few weeks to see a good friend who I hadnt seen in about 9 months, which is way too long to go without seeing her. She lives around the corner from my mom, and usually, when I visit this friend, I dont let my mom know because splitting time between them gets complicated. But thinking of Don today, I called my mom this morning and asked her if she wanted to go to the park this evening and take a walk after it gets cooler. I did this because I would like to stop taking for granted the time I have with people on this earth, especially my parents. I know it made mom’s day to spend time with me, her daughter who she can hardly get a hold of unless it’s obligatory – like a birthday or a holiday. I ended up going to her house. She had ordered some Chinese food for me and we sat on the couch looking at my art website on the internet, which was very funny for both of us since I have some pretty crazy stuff on there. I helped her with her computer skills a little, and we chatted awhile. We never did go to the park, but it was nice to slow my life down and spend time with people who I love. So – that is what I did in honor of Don. – Jessica Rowshandel, New York.

 

This isn’t much, but I helped an older lady who was struggling through the precinct. She was struggling to get into the paper shop as she had to climb a couple of steps, so I helped her to the bench opposite the shop, and went inside for her and bought her the newspaper. She was ever so grateful, and it really did put a smile on my face. – Polly Coaker, England.

 

There is this woman that I know that not everyone likes, and nobody wanted to take her to the viewing of my friend’s mom. I thought of you and Don when I drove her there and then back to work. It’s not anything huge, but you were the first one that popped into my brain. Thinking of you. – Asked to be Kept Anonymous.

 

I bought groceries and then took them over to my Uncle’s house. He had no idea I was going to do it. He is 86 years old, and he was very surprised and so grateful. I did this in memory of my own Uncle Donny and his kind nature. – Mark Exlos, Ohio.

 

Thank you so much for inspiring me to do “An Act of Kindness for Artie Day” – a spin on your “Pay it Forward for Don Day.” I wont say Im not sad and I dont desperately miss my husband, but thinking of others and taking the time to post and email the request, plus reading some of the stories, changed my whole day. Im going to do this every year, and every year I will mention you and Don as the reason. – Jan Warner, Arizona.

 

I made a donation to the NJ Organ Donor Sharing Network in honor of Don, and you were both on our minds all day today. – Norma Morrison, Massachusetts.

 

In honor of my beloved brother Don Shepherd, I donated $50 to the House Rabbit Rescue, and spent an hour there with the bunnies, loving them. Due to lots of “bunny hoarding” in our area, lots of rabbits are confiscated, and lots more end up here. They try to find homes for these guys, though many have been here for years. There is a group of folks and vets in the area that donate their time to give medical care, groom, feed, clean the facility, and provide donations to keep these cute little pets alive. Sharing these photos with you from the day, and sending love. – Cynthia Shepherd Poe, Alabama.

 

 

My 86 yr old grandmother is a special lady, and she is an inspiration to me. In honor of Don’s Day, I spent a few hours visiting with her in her living room, which was as much a gift to me as it was to her. In addition, I made a donation in Don’s honor to Tails of Joy. Long before I had a child, I had a dog, who I adopted from the Lowell Humane Society. That dog, Nikki, was the greatest dog and I miss her everyday since she passed away in 2004. Back then, I thought dogs and cats would be my only kids. At present, I have 4 furr-kids and 1 human. The pets have all come from rescue or the streets, and those are the best kind of pets you can have. Please keep writing. You have strong purpose and vision. Please keep asking us to remember Don, and know that your requests are not falling on deaf ears. – Kristi White, Massachusetts.

 

I made a donation on behalf of Don to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, in Clearwater, Florida. (where Don lived for many years) The Marine Aquarium is home to the Winter Dolphin, and they help protect hundreds of animals and situations throughout each year. Thinking of you, and sitting here emotional at my computer, just like on this day last year. – Dianne Bissonette, Virginia.

 

I had the BEST Friday the 13th – all because of Don Day! My first act of kindness was with my husband at Applebee’s. We decided to give two $20 gift cards to two tables. We picked a dad with a young daughter, and a dad with two young sons. I wrote a note about Don Day and signed them from “Friends of Don and Kelley.” The waitress was not supposed to tell, but she was so touched that she couldn’t help herself. The man with the two boys came to our table to thank us. He said his youngest son had been crying all day because he missed his mom after she moved to California for a new job. They still had two more weeks before joining her there. They had come to Applebee’s to try and cheer him up, and the dad said that our gift card accomplished that, so they were headed home to call the mom. The young son wanted to share the story of Don’s Day with her. We had a nice conversation and walked to our cars together. They were all three smiling when John and I said goodbye, and they thanked us so many times.

I wish we could have videotaped our second act of kindness. So many reactions! On the way back from Applebee’s, John and I stopped at the bank to get 50 one dollar bills. I typed up a short note that explained Don Day, and paperclipped to each dollar with the title: “Doling out Dollars at the Dollar Tree For Don’s Day.” My mom, dad, son Zane, and niece McKenna met me at the Dollar Tree to help me. I had 52 dollar bills and notes ready. We stood in front of the store and the kids gave the next 52 customers dollars, as I explained Don Day to each person. After several dollars, my son started sharing the story too. Many people were leary about what we were doing, even trying to avoid us. Many were teary-eyed and wanted to hear more. Some were just thrilled to have an extra dollar, especially the kids. Several people said they wanted someone else to have their dollars, and they would pray for Kelley and Don instead. One man yelled: “There should be cameras here! This is the kind of thing that should be on the news! What an amazing thing you are doing. Thank you!” Four different people said they used their dollar to buy school supplies for needy children – already paying it forward. (The Dollar Tree was collecting donations for a charity inside the store.) Some shared their own stories and thought Kelley’s idea was amazing and said they would tell others. When we passed out all of the money, we went inside to pick out some school supplies to donate in memory of Don. A little boy came running up to me to show me he had picked out a Thomas the Train puzzle. He was so thrilled, and his mom said he was telling everyone in the store what he was buying with his dollar. Who knew how much happiness a dollar could buy? I do know that we had a lot more than $52 worth of blessings, fun, conversation, smiles, and everything else, thanks to Kelley and Don. My son has decided that every July 13th we will be doling out Dollars for Don Day. This may be our best family tradition yet! – Kelli Renee Williamson Fockler, London United Kingdom.

 

Being a military family, we have faced struggles, but we were unprepared for what awaited us when we finally got a date to leave that life and return home to our civilian lifestyle. Our two dear adopted cats needed a temporary home as we looked for a place to live in our new state, and with our move date fast approaching, it wasnt looking good. The last thing I wanted to do was put them in a shelter. Then I received an email from my sister. My sister who was given up for adoption soon after she was born and whom I had a broken relationship with until only about a year ago. She already has a house full of pets and two children of her own, but in a desperate attempt to find someone who could help, I emailed her my plea. She called almost immediately and said that she would be happy to foster our kitties for us. My heart cried as she said she would never turn me away when I needed help. I just couldnt believe it. We only had ten more days to find them a home, and here she was, reaching out to help us. Despite our broken relationship. Someone had paid it forward for US and our kitties. Don was there to care for them when nobody else was able to. Thank you Don. We will never forget you and your generous heart and love for our kitties. – Jenny Billot, Texas.

 

I was nice to my husband for an entire 24 hours. If you knew our relationship, and how entertained Don was by it constantly, you would know what a huge sacrifice this really was for me. Thinking of you Kelley. – Nancy DiNinno, Massachusetts.

 

On July 13th, I had to work all day, and I work at Macy’s. So, I interact with people all day, we were in the midst of a Summer Hot List Sale, and people were on a shopping frenzy. 90% of these people were unaware that we were offering coupons, as most associates in the store will not offer customers coupons, unless they produce their own. So to help my costumers save money, I offered the coupons. 20% to every single person I checked out that day. People were pleased to know that at least one associate was on their side to help them save some money that day. One customer who was buying outfits for a new job, saved $190 on a $600 purchase. Another great thing happened that day too. An elderly man who only spoke Portugese, needed some assistance in calling a cab to pick him up from the store and back to his hotel, about 20 minutes away. Not only did I call the man’s hotel and explain to the front desk that he was here and doesnt speak much english and is in need of a cab, but I also walked him to the designated waiting area, and stood with him there until his cab arrived safely. Not many Sales Associates would take the time to do that, and I felt good that something that might seem small too many, was a very big deal to this one man’s day, on Don’s Day. – Cassandra Richardson, Georgia.

 

Kelley and I just met a month ago, when she told me she accepted my offer to be roommates. I never met Don, and I dont know Kelley’s family beyond a quick hello, but Kelley has a big heart, is deeply feeling and is very generous with her time, its clear, so I can only imagine Don must have been a true sweetheart. Plus, her parents like country music, which is always a good sign.

I resently took a trip to Boise, Idaho, to see my family. My mother died tragically 5 years ago, and Ive never been very close to my father. We have tried, but the whole gay thing and living out East for 20 years has made it difficult. I didnt want to go to Idaho. I didnt want to see my family. We are not a tight group. My mother was mentally-ill, and, while funny and kind, she was a trainwreck in the making. I decided to go on this trip to pay respects to my mother and work again at forgiving her for all she did. I also went because my father is 87. I have no idea how much longer he is going to live. After I had visited my mothers grave with my father, we went back to his house. He lives in a tiny trailor home on the outskirts of Boise. Its a quiet place he shares with his dog, Gracie, a dog Im not terribly fond of. I swear the dog is possessed with the spirit of my mother. She’s moody, thinks she’s a bit of a princess, and will pee all over the carpet if left alone for more than 20 minutes. My father is ancient now. His fingers are gnarled by arthritis and his feet always ache. I look at his feet and my hands and realize his fate is my fate. His body will be my body.

We stood in the bathroom together, Gracie roaming around, pushing her way into our private moment like my mother would have done. I told him I had come to tell him I love him. I said the only reason I endured an eight hour plane ride is to tell him Im proud of him and thank him for all he did. So that is what I did. I put my hands that look like his hands on the side of his face that looks like my face and I pulled his rigid, frightened and diseased body into mine and I watered into his ear: “I love you very much, Dad. You need to know that.” He let me hold him, but not for long. We pull out of the embrace and he kisses me on the lips, like he used to when I was a little boy. “Remember when I said to you, ‘Straight as a soldier?'” I nod. I do remember. I’d lay in bed at night, my hands at my side, and he’d come in smelling of car grease and faded Aftershave. Old Spice. He’d run his hands through my hair and then shove his hands under my body, slipping the sheet under me, keeping me safe and tight and warm. After he’d leave, having giving me a kiss on the lips and shutting out my light, I’d stay like that for hours, never wanting to move, wanting to remember the feeling of my father keeping me safe forever. My mother was crazy, a whirling mass of chaos; but he was constant. There. Present. Always counted on. That’s something.

“I love you so much.” “I love you too, son.” He surprised me by embracing me again. Later in the day, I pulled away in the car, on the way to the airport. He waved as I waved at him, I knew every moment dealing with anxious relatives and cranky siblings and pain and death and hurt was all worth it. He gave me life. He loved me unconditionally and still does. I am his only son and now, at the end of his life, I can give him my unending love and gratitude for everything he has given me.

I have a photo now above my computer at home. It’s a late summer day. I am two months old and my father is holding me in his arms. He sports a nifty crew cut and a white T-shirt. His eyes are small in profile and I cant see his face except a bit from the slanted side angle, but I look afraid. Scared. I had good reason. But even from a distance, with his face in profile and with the way he cradles me, I can tell I was loved. I was wanted. I was protected, for a time. For this I am grateful more than he will ever possibly know. I was wanted. He made me feel wanted. – Michael Bryan, New York.

 

I am really very happy that you found an amazing way to honor Don today; publicly, privately, alone for yourself, and together with all of us. We decided to honor Don by making a donation to our Zoo here in Basel, which is literally right at our doorstep. Its a small but very nice zoo and they make great efforts to provide natural habitats for the animals. Now what is special about our donation is that we did not just hand over money to the Zoo. Instead, we joined the adoption system of the zoo in Don’s name. From today, Don is the Godfather of a Long-Tailed Finch. He will get a plaque with his name on it, which they will put on a Wall in the Zoo with all the other donors and godparents for everyone to see. The long-tailed finch is a really beautiful little bird that comes originally from Australia. Love and Hugs, Annegret and Marc Eiermann, Basel, Switzerland.

 

So there you have it. A whole lot of people, from all over the place, gathering together, seperately, to honor a man that some of them never even knew. It is inspiring. It is hopeful. It is all kinds of amazing.

In writing this and putting it all together and going through several pictures of my husband to post in here, I cried more than once. I will keep crying tomorrow, and the next day, and for many days to come. I will keep feeling pain, and I will keep living inside of this tornado that has become my life. But to go through this with the new knowledge that people can be this good and this giving and this loving – it makes me want to live, so that I can see more and feel more and BE more. It makes me wonder what might happen tomorrow; because as I learned one year ago; anything can happen. It could be something horrible and incredibly sad. Or – it could be a miracle of epic proportions. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amnesia

If there is one thing I have learned as a student in this new life that was handed to me by force, it is this: I don’t know a damn thing. The Grief Monster is in charge here, and much like Charles In Charge, grief wants to rule “my days and my nights, my wrongs and my rights.” Except this isn’t a really bad TV sitcom starring Scott Baio and an awful laugh track – it is my very real life. Eventually, Charles In Charge was cancelled, because it sucked. This new life I have will never be cancelled, no matter how much it sucks. And it’s also the only show on television. It is on every single channel. I have a broken television that I can never ever turn off, and I simply have to learn to deal with it.

July 13th was the one-year Anniversary of Don’s death. Have I mentioned how much I loathe the phrase “anniversary” when talking about my husband’s death? It makes it sound as if it’s a great big party, or something to celebrate with balloons and cake and ice-cream, instead of the worst day of my entire life. (I’m guessing it wasn’t the best day for my husband either.) I chose to face that day by creating a holiday out of it, and calling it “Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day.” I asked friends and family and total strangers; pretty much everyone on earth; to do something kind that day for someone else, in honor of my husband’s generous nature and who he was as a person everyday. I also asked them to tell me the stories of what they did, so I could read them, and make “Pay it Forward for Don Day” an entire chapter in my book. My hope was that in creating this type of day, it would not only help others; but also remove the horror of having to sit with and deal with re-living the worst day of my life, one year later, and that I would instead have something hopeful to focus on. Did it work? Yes. And not at all. I still felt shaky and panicky all day on July 13th, and I woke up at 6:43am, the exact time that my phone kept ringing and ringing and eventually waking me up just one year before, informing me of my new, terrible life.

 As we gathered later that night with my mom, my dad, my Aunt Debbie and Uncle Richard, and our friends Cheryl, Thelma and Ron; celebrating Don’s life by eating his favorite homemade chicken parmesan, garlic bread, salad, brownie sundaes, and root beer; I was able to somehow get through the evening. The constant barrage of emails, private messages, texts, and a few phone calls saying: “Thinking of you today”, or telling me an incredible Pay it Forward story, kept my emotional breakdown at bay. But it was still there, just waiting to pounce. The Grief Monster never goes away – he just waits until that one second where you finally start to think: “Maybe Im going to be okay today” – and then he attacks violently and with no warning. He makes your stomach churn and gives you intense headaches that start at the center of your eyeball and pound against your temple nonstop. He gives you the shakes, and that feeling like there’s a brick in your chest, and everything you do is so heavy. Every breath is so thick. You want to explain to people and to earth and to your job that, yes, you are aware it’s been an entire year since your husband died, and yes, you are still grieving. You want to scream to the world that “NO!!! I’M NOT OKAY YET!”, or order them politely to please stop rushing you into the next phase of your feelings. “I’m not ready!”, you want to tell them. But they aren’t listening. They are eating brownie sundaes and laughing in the next room, as you anticipate The Grief Monster’s next  unpredictable move.

And, so, as it happened; my first breakdown this week came about two days later; on the morning of Sunday, July 15th, while still at my parents place. Why? No goddamn reason at all, except that Grief Monster wanted it that way. What happened that day to make me lose my mind and feel stuck on despair? Absolutely fucking nothing, that’s what. I woke up. And sometimes, waking up is more than enough to cause an emotional breakdown. In this case, the term “waking up” is being used rather loosely, since technically I had only slept about 40 minutes. Suddenly, I was sitting up in bed and staring blankly at the wall and the mirror in front of me, as tears slowly moved down my cheeks. I sat there for twenty minutes, or three hours. Silently crying, and not caring enough to do anything about it. I had to pee for a long time, but couldnt make myself get out of bed to do so. It just suddenly, at that stupid, nothing moment, hit me like a tornado. This thought is what floored me: My husband has been dead for one year. It has ONLY been one year. One year living without him. That was just ONE year in a series of MANY years that I will have to KEEP living without him. I have to live without my husband for many years, possibly decades. Forever. He will be dead forever.

That last sentence was like a loop inside my heart, playing over and over again. He will be dead forever. Here, everyone was acting like the one-year mark was some big revolution; like things would suddenly brighten and the skies would open up for me, and I would start to maybe feel a bit less hopeless. Yet, that is not what was happening at all. The one thing going through my mind sitting in that bed on that morning, was that the real hell was only just beginning. No longer in “shock mode”, and no more grief fog protecting me from myself; these feelings have never felt so harsh, so painful, so hurtful. My mom came into the room and tried to be a mom and help me. I should have let her. Instead, I looked right through her, because I couldn’t see. Her pain and my pain and her pain about my pain, and all the pain inside that room was just too much for me to look at. Everything was paralyzed. I couldn’t even cry anymore, at least not volentarily. The tears kept coming, but they were slow and accidental, like a leaky faucet in the middle of the night, just dripping out now and then off my face. I felt like I couldn’t move or didnt want to move. Why should I have to ever move off of this bed? What if I don’t like what’s waiting for me? A life without my husband? Always feeling alone in a room full of people? Dreading each and every holiday and special day on every calendar year? Watching 17 episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives in a row, in some crazy, Food Network haze so I don’t have to feel anything real and awful? Drowning my intense pain with mashed potatoes, or stuffing it down with chocolate cake? This is the life I have waiting for me? No thanks. Maybe I will just stay sitting in this bed until it’s time for me to die. Or until my mom informs me that I have to get out of the bed so I can go and babysit my niece and nephew at my brother’s house. Oh. Okay. In that case, I suppose I will keep living. Just for today though. Tomorrow – it’s back to sulking.

Today is Tuesday, July 17th. I woke up feeling physically ill, and that damn headache was back again. I woke up crying. I didn’t want to, or mean to. It was involentary. Stretched, yawned, and cried. Why am I feeling so lost this morning? I put on the news. 96 degrees today, with heat index of 110. Why does that sound like an echo to me? There is a certain smell in the air. It’s the smell of humidity. It’s the smell of something familiar and awful. It’s the same smell that was in the air just one year ago today; the day of my husband’s funeral.

Grief is a fucked-up thing. Everytime you think you are moving forward, it stops you cold. In the days and weeks leading up to the one-year mark of his death; my mind went reeling back to last year at this time. Not only did I re-live the actual day that he died and the horrors I went through on that day; but I also re-lived and questioned all the surrounding days and weeks around that day. When you lose your spouse in a sudden and tragic way; and it happens in a flash; you want to give significance to things that had no significance at the time. You didn’t know he was going to die, so how were you to know that every single thing you did would be the last time you would be doing it? Over the past few weeks, my heart and brain have been on overload, trying to figure out the pieces of the puzzle that made up his last few weeks and days on earth. When was our last kiss? When was the last meal we ate together? The last time we were intimate? The last time we hung out with friends? When did we laugh together? When was the last time he strummed his guitar for me? What was our last conversation about? What was the last thing I said to my husband? I honestly have no idea. The night before he died is like a vague cloud of nothingness. It was a typical evening in an ordinary married day. We were both exhausted. He was sitting at this very desk where I type this up now, and he was online and texting to a friend. I was talking to him. Smalltalk. I was watching something on TV. I dont recall what. We talked some more. Or didnt. I dont remember. And then, just like that, it was over. The memory fades. Either I fell asleep or he did or we both did. There was no goodnight kiss that night. There was no goodnight anything. The night just sort of came to an end, and he had to be up at 4:30am the next morning for work. He knew how much trouble I had sleeping, so when he left that early, he would never wake me. And so he left. And he went to work. And while I lay there asleep, he lay collapsed on a Petsmart floor. And then when I finally woke up, his life had already ended.

People ask me all the time how I got through the funeral, or how I wrote and delivered a Eulogy for my husband. Easy answer. I got through it, because I wasn’t really ever there. Physically, I was there. But I was in deep, deep shock at that point; just 4 days after he died. I stood in that room, with my husband in a casket behind me, and I pretended that none of it was happening. I was not able to comprehend the sheer horror of what had transpired, or what was to come. There was a cloud over my head during that funeral, and in the weeks and months afterward. Now – one year later – the cloud has lifted, and I am left with a very frightening reality. It hurts like hell now, and knowing that there is nothing I can do but just “walk through the fire”, as my grief counselor so perfectly put it, makes that pain even more unbearable. There is no running away. No escaping it. The only way out is through. The only way out is through.

So in my state of panic and terror and sadness, I made an emergency call to my grief counselor today. And we talked. And, like she always has a way of doing for me, she gave me a bit of hope. She doesn’t say anything magical , or even “fix” things for me. Because there is no such thing as fixing this. It cannot be fixed. But she tells me the truth, and she does it in a really smart and compassionate way, and that is so much more than a lot of other people do. I told her how for months, I couldn’t remember anything at all about the funeral. It was like a big blank space in my memory. It was the same for my first birthday without him, his birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, all of it. A big, gigantic mass of vague. That is how I got through all of those days – I was protected by the cloud. I told her that grieving feels a lot like being a patient who is recovering from Amnesia; and all of the painful details of important days and events in our life, like his services, are coming back to me now; in flashes. It doesn’t even feel like I am re-living the funeral. It feels as if I am there for the first time. If you asked me 6 months ago to tell you the details of Don’s services, I would have stared at you with fog in my eyes. Now? There are so many things that I clearly remember about the funeral. Things that I wish would go away, things I will never forget, things that a 39 year old woman at the beginning of her wonderful marriage should not have to think about. But here they are, stuck inside of me forever ….

I remember being in the backseat of my parent’s car while they drove us from Massachusetts to New Jersey, and texting back and forth with Opie. He sent me a private message that said: “You’re strong, and you’ll get through today. Lean on your family and friends.” I remember him sending out a tweet to all the fans of their radioshow on Twitter, that simply said: “Our friend Kelley Lynn is attending her husband’s funeral today. Please reach out to her if you can. She will need it.”

I remember shopping with my mom for an outfit to wear to my husband’s funeral, and how strange and terrible and weird that sounded to say out loud. The sales woman asked me: “Anything I can help you with todayyyy?”, in a way too bubbly voice, and I remember wanting to answer, in that same phony way: “Why YES! What goes better with my husband’s casket – red or blue?” I will never forget trying on that cranberry sleeveless blouse, liking it, and immediately thinking: “Don would love this on me.” Then realizing, of course, that Don would never love anything on me again.

I remember how disgustingly hot it was that day. High 90’s, just like today. It was sticky and humid and disastrous. I remember getting there early, and the funeral director asking me if I wanted Don’s wedding ring. He informed me that when my husband is cremated, “that ring isn’t going with him. It belongs with you.” He handed it to me and I kept touching it all day long, rolling it back and forth in the palm of my hand, as if doing so would make all of this go away. I remember the smell of death flowers and awkwardness and pain as I walked into the big main room where he lay there in his casket. The American Flag was draped over half of it, and my husband didn’t look like my husband. His face was puffy. His eyes looked weird. They were not his eyes. They looked swollen shut. His arms were thicker than normal. His hands were placed in an unnatural position that he would have never put them in. He seemed uncomfortable. He had this creepy look on his face. It was a combination of stillness and fear. I remember talking with friends in front of, to the side of, and all around that casket, never once acknowledging it. If I ignored it, then it wasn’t really happening. If I kept telling myself “that is not my husband”, then maybe it really wouldn’t be. I remember bits and pieces of conversations with people, as songs from Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic and the Beatles Abbey Road played in the background. They told me that during the “viewing” portion of the afternoon, I could have whatever music I wanted playing. And that is what Don wanted. Aerosmith.

I remember talking with one of Don’s EMS brothers, Matt, and how shaken up he was and crying. I kept thinking “Why am I comforting HIM? Im the wife and Im not even crying. What the hell is wrong with me?” I recall that when I mentioned how Don looked nothing at all like himself because the Organ Donation people “took so much – he isnt even recognizable”, he corrected me by saying: “Don’t word it that way. They didn’t take anything. Don gave.” Right. He gave. I gave. I gave away my husband, and now he looked like Frankenstein instead of my Sweet BooBear.

I remember everyone sweating, and constantly wiping their foreheads and fanning themselves with anything they could find. My dad asking the funeral director to please turn up the air-conditioning, and them telling us over and over: “It IS up!” I remember being in the bathroom with Don’s good friend Meg before the service, and telling her that I just got “friend” (my period), and how Don would be laughing at me, because he always said that it showed up on the most important days for me. And there it was. Right on time.

I remember so clearly, such small and unimportant details. My dad asking the pastor for directions to the nearest Dunkin Donuts so he could go and get his morning coffee, and how he tried to make me eat a muffin and I just couldn’t. The funeral director asking me which pictures I would like placed on the back of my husband’s casket. The guest book and fancy pen by the door that reminded me of weddings; people signing their names as if this was some happy occasion to remember down the road. The funeral cards we had made up days earlier; me, my mom, and Don’s EMS bosses and managers. We did one that was serious, and one that was silly and funny and that Don would have cracked up at. It said: “Hi. I’m Don. I was here. Now I’m gone.” We only gave that one out to special friends with a sick and twisted sense of humor. In that room, that ended up being a lot of people.

People. There were endless amounts of people. The heartbreak in my friend John’s eyes, the crack in Kevin’s voice, the knowing look from my boss and friend Laura; who had lost her own brother and father only 4 months apart, just 5 years ago. The comedian friends that showed up and made sick jokes and made me laugh inappropriately. Standing in the hallway with Jessica Kirson, Danny Cohen, and Jonathan Fursh; saying that one of us should get up there and “do a comedy set.” The woman who walked up to me and said: “You dont know me, but I know you from the comedy circuit and Facebook. I just had to come here today and honor the love that you and Don had, and the life you had together.” She was, at the time, a complete stranger to me. We hugged, and have been friends ever since. Watching Don’s sister Karen and her husband George walk into the room, after their long drive from Ohio, and thinking to myself: “Don, your sister is here! Come on out here and talk to your sister!” The faraway look in her eyes as she tried to convince me, and herself, that his death was quick and therefore, more peaceful. Seeing Don’s best friend in the world Rob, and his wife Mindy, after driving from Florida to attend the service. Watching as Rob came out in his EMS uniform to honor Don. Watching as all of his EMS brothers and sisters slowly filled up the room, all in uniform. In the back, a whole bunch of doctors and nurses, all coming directly from their shifts and in their scrubs. An entire group of employees and friends from his part-time job at Petsmart, where he collapsed just 4 days earlier. Watching as EMS and Air Force lined the walls and held flags up throughout the service. Feeling my face turn hot as the soldiers and Air Force members kept saluting me, acknowledging me, looking me directly in the eyes as they performed their procedural ceremonies.

I will always remember the beautiful and heartfelt words that were spoken about Don by so many people. His boss Joe, who offered Don a management position multiple times, only for Don to shrug his shoulders and say: “No thanks.” He didn’t want the stress. He wanted to come home to his wife each night and not think about work anymore. Our friend Kevin, whose words were touching and funny, and spoke of the true love Don had for me and my family. Mary, who runs the adoption for kitties center at the Petsmart where Don volenteered his time, telling endless stories of Don’s love for animals. Meg and Don became close friends when they were EMS partners on the ambulance, and her speech spoke of how amazing Don was as a paramedic, and how he made everyone else feel safer. Rob told some great stories about his days on the ambulance with Don, and how they would banter and purposely try to annoy the other. So many words of love spoken. Mine was last, of course, and I barely recall delivering it. The highlight was when one of the Air Force members took a spill and passed out right in the middle of my speech. Does anyone know if there’s an EMT in the house?

I will never forget sitting in that front row, and feeling outside of myself as the Air Force members folded up the American flag, played TAPS, and delivered their touching speech that before then, I had only seen in the movies. A young African-American pretty lady handed me the folded up flag, and she said: “On behalf of the President of the United States of America, we thank you for your service.” I remember my brother sitting next to me, and when I cried, he started rubbing my back. And then there was a line. A long, endless line of loved ones, friends, family, colleagues … all there to say we love you, and his life mattered. The line seemed to never end, and the people kept coming and coming. “We’re sorry for your loss”, as they bent down to my chair and hugged me, then Don’s sister and George, then my brother and Jen, my mom, and my dad. The words continued from many. “So sorry for your loss.” My cousins and their families; my Aunt Ginny; Nicky and his wife Julie; all coming from far away to support me. The faces I went to college with at Adelphi over 20 years ago, all back together in one, horrific place. Holly, Meghan, Kim, Debra, Matt, Vinnie, Rodney, Jay, Andrew … it was so surreal. I remember each time I turned around, there was a new person to hug, another face to look at, a different soul to hear.

 Once everyone had cleared out, they left us alone with Don. I will never forget my mom saying to him: “Thank you for being such a wonderful husband. We love you.” I remember what she said, and have no idea what I said. What do you say to someone that you know you will never see again, who doesn’t even look like themself and is lying there not breathing? There’s not much to say. As I walked out though, my only thought was: “How can we just leave him here all alone?” That simple thought crushed my insides.  When we left the funeral home, I was escorted out and led through men and women in uniform forming a canopy above me with their swords. A long line of Hackensack Medical Center ambulances led the way and formed the most beautiful processional I have ever seen. They took us down NJ streets which were closed off for Don, and we were brought to the nearby Vanguard Healthcare, where Don worked and where we all gathered for after-death refreshments.

At the food gathering, I recall talking to people and mingling as if it were a normal event. As if my husband would join us any minute at his place of work and make some comment about idiot New Jersey drivers making him late. As Sarah and Julio served up gourmet food from his restaurant, and people talked and laughed and drank coffee and soda and ate cookies around me, I really wasn’t getting this. It wasn’t sinking in. I was there. But I was not there. I understood, but I couldn’t possibly understand. I cried tears, but I didn’t feel raw pain. Not yet. And not for awhile. That happened last month, and last week, and today.

 Today – I attended my husband’s funeral for the first time, and finally looked at what was inside that casket. Today, I didn’t turn away. In some ways, today was the worst day of my life, because even though it happened a year ago; this time; I was there.

 

 

 

“What Did You Just Say To Me?” – Things You Should and Should NOT Say to a Widow

It has been almost a year now since I was pushed without a parachute into this new life; the life of a young widow. And in that time, a lot of people have said a lot of things to me in their attempts at sympathy or understanding. I am lucky enough to have a lot of people in my life. When you have a lot of people in your life, and you post on Social Media as frequently as I do, you tend to get a lot of people’s opinions. People’s opinions, when combined with the subjects of grief and death, can be a recipe for instant trainwreck.

So, although I do realize there are a lot of lists and articles already out there like this that point out things NOT to do/say to someone who has just lost their spouse, this is my list and it comes solely from actual things people have said to me, or things people have done. Please know that I am aware that most people are only trying to help when they say these  types of things. I get that. However; I think it’s important to show people how the things they say and do effect me and others like me who have lost their spouse; so that they might rethink saying it the next time to someone else. (even though that will most likely never happen, and people will continue to say dumb things until the end of time.) Also; to be fair and helpful; I am posting not only a list of “Please DON’T”, but also a list of “Please DO”, so that people understand that there ARE things they can do and say that actually make quite a difference, and that are forever appreciated. Also, when posting these lists, I’m using the word “Please”, which is pretty damn polite of me, so fuck you if you don’t like it. Now, I have 11 months worth of dumb-ass comments to get off my chest, so let’s get started. Here we go …

Please Don’t Say He Is In A Better Place:

This is just rude. How do you know it’s a better place? Are you dead? No? Then you don’t know. If it’s truly a better place, than why don’t we send your son or daughter, or the love of your life there, and I’ll take my husband back. Better yet; if this place is so damn great, why don’t YOU go there? I’d be more than happy to pack your suitcase and send you on that one-way flight to this wonderful place called “dead.” This phrase might be appropriate if the person who died was 90 years old, or very sick, or in pain. My husband was none of those things. His death was sudden and unexpected and came out of nowhere. There is absolutely nothing “better” about his life being cut short. The only place he wants to be and I want him to be is right here with me – his wife. For you to imply anything else is just hurtful and rude. Just please stop saying this to people unless you KNOW for a fact that they were suffering here on earth. Actually, you know what? Don’t say it then either. Just don’t say it. Ever.

 

Please Don’t Say It Was God’s Plan:

This is another gem of a comment I’ve received countless times from countless people, usually when I didn’t even ask for their opinion on the subject to begin with. Comments like this are very assumptive, as you are assuming I am religious (which I am not), and you are assuming that everyone on earth believes what you believe (which they do not.) If you had asked me what I believe about the subject (not that you did, because normally people who toss out religious-type death cliches don’t really care what you think – they just want you to conform to what they think), I would have told you that I don’t believe in any “plan.” It’s all random, and sometimes life sucks and you collapse on a Petsmart floor and die. If it wasn’t random and unfair, then rapists and murderers and pedophiles would be the ones struck down dead by drunk drivers, or get stricken with horrible cancers. I don’t believe in the type of “God” that would purposely make someone sick or end someone’s life because it’s all part of some big “plan.” That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Not that you asked.

Please Dont Say Time Heals All Wounds:

More meaningless dribble. Time doesn’t heal shit. Time just marches on and happens. Time doesn’t stop. The only thing that will heal me is me, and it’s a lifelong process that doesn’t really ever end. Grief does not ever go away, it only changes form. Time has nothing to do with it.

 

Please Dont Say He Wouldn’t Want You to Cry (or) Be Sad:

This makes me nuts for so many reasons. Please dont tell me what my husband would or wouldn’t want. You don’t know. I’m grieving. Grief is a necessary thing that I MUST go through and experience in order to eventually come out the other side. And you’re telling me I can’t cry? Well, I’m sorry, but I’m going to cry a LOT. I’m going to be sad too. Really really sad. These are called emotions, and I have them. I always will. You telling me not to cry or not to be sad, makes me feel like I’m a failure at grieving. This is the hardest thing in my life I have ever gone through and Im doing the best that I can, so when you tell me or imply that I’m not doing it correctly, that doesn’t feel so good. Guess what else? Just because I cry doesn’t mean I don’t also laugh. I am able to feel moments of joy, AND I’m also incredibly heartbroken. I am forever changed, and everything is darker and different now. I see things from an entirely new perspective. It is not possible to go back to who I was before this happened. My husband would want me to grieve for him in a healthy way, and to feel whatever it is I need to feel. And that includes crying.

 

Please Don’t Say Well … Life Goes On:

Does it? No shit! Thanks for pointing that out.

 

Please Don’t Say God Never Gives Us More than We Can Handle:

Oh really? Is that so? Well then – I’m sure you can handle it when my fist is coming straight at your face. Don’t blame me. It was part of God’s plan.

 

Please Don’t Say I Know Exactly How You Feel:

Actually, no, you don’t. You have absolutely no idea how I feel. Until you have lost your spouse right smack in the middle of your life and toward the beginning of your marriage, you haven’t got a clue how I feel. People say this for all sorts of reasons. A lot of people will claim to know how I feel because they just lost their grandmother, or their pet, or their cousin, or even their sister or a parent. These are all painful and huge losses, and I am in NO way diminishing that. But it’s not the same. It is simply not the same. Im guessing that you never planned on marrying your dog. I don’t think you ever planned a future or a life with your cousin, or wanted to have a family with your cousin, or slept with your cousin. (unless you’re from Kentucky or Arkansas, maybe.) A lot of people will try to compare their divorce to my husband’s death too. Again, getting divorced is one of the most painful things a person can go through, but it is NOT a death. The person is still breathing. If you have kids together, your children can still have a father or a mother that is alive. Divorce is a choice. This was not a choice. You don’t know how I feel, and I hope you never have to find out.

Please Don’t Say Be Grateful that You HAD Love Like That:

It really annoys me when people tell me to “be grateful” for things, because it implies that I am an ungrateful brat. Telling someone to be grateful also sounds like a lecture to me, and it doesn’t validate the very real pain the person is in. Truthfully, I wouldn’t be in this much pain if I didn’t love him so much, and if I wasn’t sooo aware and so “grateful” that we had the most amazing, wonderful, beautiful relationship. But that relationship is now gone. He’s dead. Excuse me if, at the moment, I’m not feeling very grateful. Why don’t you give me 5 or 10 years, when this isn’t so raw for me, and then I promise to get back to you on the whole “being grateful” crap, okay?

 

Please Don’t Say You’re Young. You’ll Find Someone Else:

Excuse me … um .. what??? First of all, Im not that young. Im 40. And how do you know Ill find someone else? You dont know that. And more importantly … someone else? Someone else? My husband, the person I was supposed to be with for the rest of my life, is no longer here with me. It is not because we got divorced or because he left me. It is because he was breathing one second, and then he wasn’t. I am still in love with him. I still feel like his wife. How can you possibly talk to me about someone else right now? That is the absolute last thing on my mind or in my heart. I am just beginning to put the pieces of what my life is back together again, and you want me to go out and search for a man? Maybe one day, in the distant future, in a land far far away, I will be ready to discuss the idea of “someone else.” Maybe. But its really none of your business, and right now is not the time. Not for me. He was not a puppy. I’m not going to go out and just get another one. He was my husband. I don’t want someone else. I want him.

 

Please Dont Say You Really Need to Move On (or) Get Over This:

About a month after Don died, a family friend said this to me in an email. His exact words were: “It is clear that you need to move on.” It was in response to me writing up a blog like this one, where I was expressing feelings and emotions in print. Apparently, saying how one feels is a terrible thing, and equals that I haven’t “moved on”, whatever the hell that even means. Seriously – what does that mean – move on? I dont even understand what the fuck these people are talking about when they say this. Am I supposed to act as if Don never existed? Is that moving on? Should I never speak of him again? Just put him away on a shelf forever and pretend that he was never a ginormous part of my life that helped make me who I am today? I honestly believe that anyone who would say something like this has probably never experienced real love before. If I was sitting in a corner doing crystal meth in my pajamas for the past year, then it would make sense to tell me I need to move on, if that’s what you mean by it. But that’s not the case. I get up everyday. I shower. I go to work. I see friends. I see family. I perform. I write. I do creative projects. I honor him. I am living my life, and I will continue to do so by moving forward. Don will always, always be a part of my life. He is a part of me now. Get over it? Move on? Never.

 

Please Don’t Say You Are Never Alone / You’re Not Alone:

I beg to differ. Good people of earth, you must understand that If I say “I FEEL ALONE” – I do, in fact, feel alone, and know what I’m talking about. Please take my word for it and believe me. Please don’t tell me that I’m NOT alone, or that I’m never alone. I understand that I have friends and family, and in that sense, I’m never alone. But MY family is gone. Yours isn’t. It’s easy for you to say I’m not alone and then go home to your spouse. Please trust me that when I’m here at 3am and I cant stop crying or cant sleep; and there is nobody lying next to me; I am, in fact, alone. Or when I have to do something by myself that Im used to doing for years and years with my husband; I am alone. Or when I have to pay all the bills that I used to split with my husband. Or when Im sick and feeling like crap and there is nobody here to make me soup or tea or get me a blanket. I have to get my own blanket. Or when the cats puke all over the floor for the hundredth time since Don died; and now its suddenly MY job to clean it all up. Or when Im afraid in the silence of the night; and Im thinking about how fleeting life is; and of all the things I will have to face in the many years of my life; alone; without my husband to get me through it. One day; hopefully in the very far away future; I will have to deal with losing my parents. I will not be able to turn to my husband and go through that with him. I will have to go through that alone, without the support of my husband. When you tell me I am not alone, it feels like you are not hearing me. It makes me feel like I am invisible to you. Please listen to me when I tell you that I feel very alone, because this is the loneliest time in my entire life; and I need to be heard.

 

Please Don’t Say So How Are You? (Unless You Really Want to Know):

This is well-intentioned poop. At least most of the time. Its one of those things that most people just ask, simply because they think this is what they SHOULD ask; but most of them do not really want to know. Most people, when asking this question, are expecting a short, general reply. They dont REALLY want to know how you REALLY are doing; and every little problem you are having. Well, when you are talking to someone who has just lost everything and who is feeling incredibly lonely on top of it because the one person that she used to tell EVERYTHING to is no longer around, you should expect a long-winded response. These days, if you ask me how I am, you’d better understand that the real answer to that question is complicated and might take awhile. Many times since my husband’s death, I’ve had people ask me “How are you doing?” – and right in the middle of my reply – I can already tell their eyes are glossing over with regret that they had asked. Unless you truly give a shit, please don’t bother asking. You are just wasting your own time, and mine.

 

Please Don’t Say God Must Have Needed Another Angel:

This one is just insane on many levels. Once again, it is really best to never say this kind of thing to someone, unless you are 100% certain of their religious beliefs, and even then, it’s still pretty stupid. I mean – come on. Is God THIS much of a selfish prick that he would take someone’s life because he’s running low on Angels? It’s Heaven! You’d think they’d have this inventory thing down by now. I refuse to believe in a God that would ever be that cruel. He “needs” another angel, so hey, let’s just grab this guy who is minding his own business and living a perfectly good life; doing good things here on earth. Let me steal him from his wife! What kind of asshole God would do that? And even if he was that cruel and mean, he’s GOD!!! Can’t he just make his OWN angel? Im sure with all his superpowers and everything, he could probably come up with something. They gotta have some oragami or some shit up there to make Angels with. Arts and crafts. People say this statement as if Im supposed to say “Ohhhhh! God needed an Angel? Well why didnt you just say so? It’s totally FINE that my husband is dead! God having another Angel is definitely more important than my happiness!” It is a moronic thing to say. Stop saying it.

Please Don’t Say You Should Move Out of that Apartment. You Should Get a Counselor. You Shouldnt Rely On Your Counselor So Much. You Shouldn’t Put all Your Feelings Out there. You Shouldn’t Post so Many Pictures of Him. You Should Get Rid of his Things. You Should …….

Annoying, huh? These are called “backseat grievers”, and they all want to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do. Please stop. Every person grieves differently, and you cannot possibly know what I am going through or what is best for me. Only I know that, and I’m doing what works for me.

 

Please Dont Say Everything Happens for a Reason:

Does it? Fuck you.

 

Please Don’t Say Are You Better (or) Back to Normal Yet?

Yes. There are actual people who have said this to me directly. Most of them are older folk who seem to think that grief is some sort of disease or flu that you should recover from within a week or two. This question is almost too stupid to react to. I will never be “better”, only changed. And normal? What is normal? I have no idea, but it’s not me.

 

Please Don’t Say You are Looking Much Better:

This one is usually said with a surprised or shocked look on the person’s face as they say it. Really? Im looking much better? Better than what? What the hell did I look like before? Now you have me all paranoid that I have been walking around with poop all over my face or something. I dont know what you mean by this, and you’re just confusing me.

 

Please Dont Say Did You Have a Nice Weekend?:

Why, no, actually. I did not. I spent it completely alone because weekends are for families and couples, and mine is gone. I ate dinner alone, lunch alone, and breakfast alone. (when I remembered or bothered to eat them at all, because cooking alone sucks the big one.) Then I went through some of my dead husband’s things and cried for a few hours. Tried to watch a movie but it reminded me too much of our relationship, so I turned it off. Heard a song that instantly put me back to our wedding day. Turned it off. Tried to sleep but got jarred awake by endless nightmares. Fielded phone calls from credit cards and hospital bills all asking for money from my dead husband. Did I have a nice weekend? What the hell do you think?

 

Please Keep Saying I’m So Sorry. I Don’t Know What to Say:

Yes, it does get annoying for us to hear this over and over and over again, because so many people say it to us, or some version of it. But – it’s not offensive in any way, and it’s true. One of the best things you can do is be you, the person we love. And remember that even though we are changed forever because of this loss, at our core, we are still the person you love. About two weeks after my husband’s funeral, my best friend Sarah and I went for lunch. Suddenly, she started to cry and she said: “I just dont even know what to say to you, or how to help you. This isn’t the dream I had for you when we were kids. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen.” When we feel like everything has fallen apart and we are confused by it all, it is so good and comforting to know that our friends feel that way for us too. Saying that you don’t know what to say is so much more honest and helpful than giving us some cliche meaningless platitude anyday.

Please Keep Saying You’re Doing Really Well:

There are other versions of this type of statement too, such as you’re amazing, you’re so strong, etc. Some widowed people are annoyed by these kinds of statements, so I can only speak for myself in saying that, for me, they are helpful. I’m trying, and that is all I can do, so it’s nice to hear from people on the outside looking in, that I’m actually doing okay. Most of the time I don’t feel strong at all, or I don’t want to be. Telling someone they HAVE to be strong is not good or helpful, but telling them that they ARE strong is. My good friend Bobby wrote me an email recently that said, among other things, this: “Everyday I look at you and wonder, how, in the midst of all the shit life has thrown at you, you keep going. You keep doing. I know great things will come to you. They just have to. You are incredible.” I gotta say that made me feel good, and it made me want to keep going until tomorrow.

 

Please Keep Saying He Would Be (or) Is So Proud of You:

This is just a nice thing to say, and a really nice thing to hear, because I always hope like hell that it’s true. He was always proud of me here on earth, and I want it to be true that he is somehow still proud of me now.

 

Please Keep Saying Here’s a Great Story About Your Husband:

I want to talk about Don. I want you to talk about Don. This is how we keep him alive – by telling his story. Not only is it okay when you tell me stories about my husband, but I love it. There is nothing I love more. Please don’t be afraid to talk about him whenever you want to. Please call me up out of the blue and tell me something you remembered about him that made you laugh or smile. Do not be scared that you will upset me by talking about him or mentioning him. It is not possible for you to “upset me.” I might cry when you talk about him. I might laugh. I might do both. I do both every single day. My favorite thing is when someone that knew my husband before I knew him tells me a story. I love when his nephew Mark talks about what he was like as un Uncle, or when his friend Carol tells me things about his rebellious and younger days in the Air Force. Or hearing about how kind and gentle he was with patients while on the ambulance from one of his EMS partners Maria. Please keep sharing your stories with me. And please let me talk about my husband around you without making me feel awkward. It’s okay. His life mattered. I want to talk about him.

Please Keep Reaching Out:

This one is hugely important. Grief is so isolating, and when you lose your spouse, in a sense, you lose your world. It feels even worse when all of our friends stop calling us or stop inviting us places. Please do not make assumptions about us based on nothing. Do not just assume I do not want to go somewhere. Let me decide. There are some days when being around people is incredibly painful, and there are other days when I absolutely need to be surrounded by others. Please keep our lines of communication open, and please understand if I dont get back to you right away. Keep trying. Keep calling. Keep reaching out. One of the most unhelpful things to say to a widow is: “You have my number. Call me anytime.” This is vague, non-commital, and puts the pressure on us. Be specific. Call me. Ask me if Id like to talk. Ask me to lunch. Offer something specific. “I’d love to take you to a movie and dinner on Tuesday” is much more helpful than “call me anytime.” Most importantly, keep me in your life and keep reaching out.

 

Please Keep Saying I Miss Him Too (or) I Miss Him So Much:

This is good. I like it when people say this. It lets me know that Im not the only person still thinking about him, and that everyone hasn’t forgotten about him. My friend John often sends me text messages that simply say: “I miss Don” or “I miss him”, and I just think: “Yeah. Me too.” It’s nice to miss someone and not feel completely alone in missing them.

 

Please Keep Your Word:

If you offer to do something, please follow through with it. Please do not say things just to say them. Vague things like “let’s talk sometime and we will go see a play” or “one of these days Ill help you go through some of your husband’s things” arent really helpful if you don’t follow up with them. All of the emotions associated with grieving do tend to make us a bit more sensitive to these kinds of things, so please keep your word if you say you will do something. I would much rather hear a simple and honest: “Im sorry I have been out of touch for awhile, but youve been on my mind a lot”, than a promise of something that is not fulfilled.

 

Please Keep Saying This Sucks!:

Sounds weird, but for some reason, this really helps. Also helpful are: This really sucks, I cant believe this happened to you, Fuck You Life!, this is so unfair, this really fucking sucks!

Please Keep Saying I Wish I Had Met Him (or) I Wish I Knew Him:

So many people that have never met my husband have said this to me, and it makes me feel really good. The fact that they recognize what a great person he was, just from me telling them that, is incredibly powerful and nice. I remember telling my friend Elayne Boosler how upset I was that my husband never got to meet her, because he respected her so much as a comedian and also for her work with animal rescue. She said: “I’m really upset that I never got to meet him. What an incredible soul he was.” Gave me a warm and comforting feeling. It was something I needed to hear.

 

Please Keep Saying I Love You (or) He Will Always Love You:

Hearing that you love me is wonderful. Hearing that my husband will always love me is even more wonderful. I remember early on, Don’s nephew Mark told me that until the end of time, Don’s heart will always belong to me, and only me. Something about the way he worded that – it really worked for me.

 

Please Keep Saying Absolutely Nothing:

One of the very best things you can do for me is to simply be there. Don’t disappear from my life. Be around. Be present. Cry with me. Laugh with me. Give me a hug. Banter with me and mock me like old times. Make me believe there will still be moments. Make me see there is still joy. Take me somewhere new. Show me something different. Sit with me in the quiet of a room. Hold my hand. Be my friend. Tell me you have no idea how I feel. Tell me your heart aches for me. Tell me again how much my husband adored me. Or just sit next to me and say nothing.

How’s Your Twat?

There is a famous saying that I’m sure you have heard many times: “Only in New York!” People always say this whenever something very unusual or shocking happens. Well, how about “Only in West New York .. New Jersey!” I know, I know. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. But it applies. Trust me.

In just over two months time, come September, I will finally be leaving the town of West New York and moving back to Forest Hills, Queens; where I lived in an apartment with my best friend Sarah over 13 years ago. This time, I will be living with what I can only describe as a “Gay Angel” named Michael who was sent to me by Don – but more on that later. With everything that has happened here, and the hospital Don died in being just blocks away, and having to hear ambulances every second of the day, and having every square foot of this dusty, old, Jersey apartment bringing me pain and hurt; it is best for my sanity that I find myself a healthier living environment. So I did. And even though I am 100% certain that moving is the right thing, and will help me continue to push forward in this life I didn’t ask for, it is going to be very hard and super emotional on the day I actually leave here. Packing up the past 12 years, 7 of those years being here with my husband, and figuring out what to do with them emotionally, is exhausting. It is a long process, and a sad one. Moving sucks on a normal, ordinary day. Moving under these circumstances is incredibly tiring and stressful. It can really wear you down.

There are a lot of things I will miss about this tiny West New York town. I will miss being an incredibly convenient 8-minute busride into NYC. I will miss the hints of suburbia just minutes away on River Road – Target, Barnes and Noble, Outback Steakhouse, Houlihans, Dunkin Donuts. I will really miss the unbelievable city skyline view that lines my street for miles on Boulevard East. There really is NO better view of the city than from right here, on this road. Don and I took so many walks along the Hudson River over the years, especially at night, because there is nothing quite like the city all lit up in the evenings. I could look at that view every single day for the rest of my life, and still never get tired of it. It is gorgeous. My dreams are in that view, hidden somewhere in between all those high-rises and buildings. There is hope in that view, and a world of endless possibilities. Once you see something like that, it’s hard to ever go back.

Of all the strange little quirks in West New York, perhaps the one thing I will miss most of all are the characters. I am speaking of all the fascinating, wonderful, colorful, animated, sometimes unbelievable people who come from all over the world; who work in, operate, and own all the stores and establishments in this town. Directly behind the building I live in, on a street called Park Avenue, there are endless little family-owned stores and bodegas, take-out restaurants and delis, laundromats and liquor stores. Inside each of these places, you will find some of the most memorable and odd people you will ever meet. If I were a better person like Don was, I would be able to tell you all of their names. But I can’t do that, because I don’t know most of their names. My husband paid attention to things like that. He knew their names, and he made small talk with them, and so now, most of these people look out for me since his death. They always ask me how I’m doing, or give me a hug, or throw in something for free with a knowing nod or wink. In a really bizarre way, it is like family. They expect to see me in their stores picking up milk or bread, and when they don’t, they ask why. “You no come here in months! Where you go?”, asked the lady at the local Chinese Food place down the block the first time I went in after Don had died. “My husband died”, I said. “Ohhhhh! Here. You take extra fortune cookie!” (She literally gave me one extra cookie, and then looked at me as if this act made her a smalltown hero.)

The ironic thing is that I lived in this neighborhood for 5 years alone, before Don moved here with me. But I never had the patience or care to really notice these wonderful people who all exist and live and breathe right in my own neighborhood. It took my husband and his gift for making people feel loved and special, for me to finally stop and give a real hello, or have a bit of conversation before running out of the store. His ability to pay attention to the small, everyday details was so amazing to me, and now I find myself wishing I had listened more; or cared enough to.

So who are the people in my neighborhood – as Mister Rogers would say. Well, there are many. There is the Spanish woman who runs the beauty salon down the street, who somehow blowdries my hair with one hand and holds her infant daughter with the other. There is the older, Italian man who works at Cella Luna take-out. When he found out about Don’s death, he said: “You need wine, my dear. I give you a bottle of our best wine, on the house. God Bless You.” Since then, everytime I order delivery service, he puts something extra in my order. One time he gave me an entire pizza, another time some cannoli. He is a sweetheart. There is the Indian man, Victor, who owns the bodega and used to talk to Don all the time in his store. Now his funeral card sits inside the store in the corner of the window. Breaks my heart every single time I see it sitting there, right next to the scratch-off tickets. There is the African-American man in the tiny post-office, who is always smiling and always wishing everyone a great day. He is the kind of guy who literally whistles while he works, and makes your day a little bit brighter just by running into him and having a small exchange of words. The way that he tells you to have a great day is so sincere and direct, that you can’t help but want to have a great day. “Now you go out there and have yourself a great day, okay, ma’am? You promise me you’ll try, okay?” Normally, these too-happy types drive me insane with their phony platitudes and generic glee, but he is very genuine, so I walk out smiling. There is the much older caucasian man with white hair who works in the Pharmacy, and who keeps a very loud and annoying parakeet in the store. Everytime you walk in, that thing screams it’s head off and starts yelling: “Helloooo! Helllooo! Helllloooo! Hellllo!!!” It is the most annoying goddamn thing in the world, because he never shuts up. He never stops talking. I am only in the store for maybe five minutes to pick up a prescription or birthday card here and there, and by the time I leave, I want to commit a homicide from the migraine that has developed. I cannot imagine living with that noise. There is also the sweet Cuban woman who works in the Brazilian take-out place, and always says: “You sit down here and wait for your order. You can watch whatever you like on the TV. Relax, relax. This is like your home for the next 10 minutes. You be comfortable.”

All of these people are true characters in every sense of the word, and part of me feels ashamed at not bothering to notice them before Don came along. However – in the world of interesting people of West New York – there is one woman who stands out amongst the rest. She is the Godfather of all Characters. I wish like hell I knew her name, but I do not. What I can tell you about her is that she is a refreshing dose of harshness. She says whatever she feels like saying, and thinks nothing of it. She is wonderfully chaotic and loud and outrageous and somehow sweet. She is an older woman, probably middle-aged or more, with dark, Latin skin and no makeup. She is usually in sandals, bare legs, and a sundress of some kind. She calls everybody “Mami”, and she works with and acts like one of the guys. She is the front desk receptionist at Ramirez and Sons Auto Shop. This is the shop that Don and I frequented all the time back when we had his old 1997 Pontiac that gave us so much trouble those last two years. The mechanics in this shop are great guys, and because Don used to be a car mechanic himself, he would hang out in the shop with them and just talk. He did this often. I never went into the place until after he died. I had no reason to. He always took care of everything having to do with the car, then he would make sure it was perfectly safe before I drove it anywhere. Now; I have my 2002 Bonneville, and, of course, I have to take care of this kind of stuff myself.

The other day, I was driving home from my normal, hellish commute from Long Island back to New Jersey after a day of teaching my summer Acting Course. I was on the Long Island Expressway, when all of a sudden I heard the loudest noise I had ever heard from inside my car. It sounded like someone had shot at me, or threw a giant boulder at my back window. Seconds later, the “Tire Pressure” light went on, and I was about to drive into the Midtown Tunnel. For anyone who knows this area, there is nowhere to pull over, and it was 98 degrees outside. All I could picture was having to wait in that heat for hours for AAA to come out and help me. Meantime, all of New York would loathe me for causing THEM to sit inside the tunnel for hours behind me. So instead, I continued to drive the car home, and to the mechanics. Minutes later; my brake light came on, and the brakes stopped working. Oh this is fun. Now I have no brakes and no tire, and I’m going 5 miles per hour through midtown Manhattan, through the Lincoln Tunnel, and finally to the mechanic. Miraculously, I somehow arrived at my destination without killing myself or harming others. They were able to repair the brakeline, which was leaking, and put on a new tire, since the old one was completely ruined by me driving on it like an asshole. They had to keep my car overnight in order to do all this, and so the next day was another hellish nightmare commute to Long Island as I braved the bus into the city, walked the 10 blocks down to Penn Station in another 98 degree day that felt like 250, get on the train, transfer to another, then walk to campus.

 On my way back to Jersey that afternoon, the bus I took home had no air-conditioning. It was apparently broken. We sat on the bus for almost 40 minutes, waiting for it to fill up. I could feel myself being overtaken by heat and dying inside. I’ve never been so hot in my entire life sitting on that non-moving bus. Then it got worse. The man that sat next to me had the most foul body odor of any human being ever in the existence of time. He smelled like he rolled himself in hippo fesces, drank a gallon of urine, then jumped into a tank filled with rotting fish, garbage, and sour milk. It was all I could do to not projectile vomit on him right then and there. I closed my eyes and had fantasies of my air-conditioned bedroom, and never leaving it until the end of time. When I finally arrived home and walked to the mechanics to pick up my car, the sweat was pouring into my eyeballs and down inside my lips. My hair was soaked with disgusting sweat, and I just wanted my car and my air-conditioner and my life back. I entered the front Office looking like I had just returned from being prisoner in a refugee camp. And in that moment, the woman behind that counter took my horrific, awful day – and turned it around completely with this bizarre, unbelievable, real, shocking exchange of conversation:

 

Me: Hey – Im here to pick up my car.

Her: (looking me over) How you doin Mami? You look tired, huh? Its hot as balls out there, no?

Me: Yup. Disgusting.

Her: Your car is ready, I’ll get Jose to come over and give you the keys. (pausing – looking at my jeans) I don’t know how you wear them pants like that, Mami.

Me: Huh? What do you mean?

Her: I mean, how’s your twat! Your twat must be suffocating up in there with them jeans, no?

Me: (stunned) Um … my whole body is sweaty as hell. Its gross outside.

Her: Yeah, but I no ask about your whole body. Im talkin’ bout below the waist, Mami. I’m talkin ’bout your TWAT. If I wear jeans like that, my TWAT just dies up in there. It’s just dead. (She makes a motion with her hands to signify a dead, flattened twat. Meanwhile, I silently pray that she will stop saying the word twat.) What about your boobs? You got pretty big boobs. They must sweat a lot underneath, no?

Me: Am I on a hidden camera show?

Her: (laughing) I make you uncomfortable. I’m sorry Mami. How you doin’ though, since your husband pass? You doin’ okay? You takin care of yourself?

Me: Im trying. Thanks for asking.

Her: It’s been almost a year now without Don, no? We like him here. He hang out with the mechanics and shoot the shit. He’s a good guy. Good guy. You take care of yourself. Get in the air conditioning. He wouldn’t want you walkin’ around with sweaty under-boobs and a dead twat!”

And in that one shining moment, my day went from annoying and awful; to hilarious and epic. I do not know this woman’s name, but I will now make it a priority to find out, because I will miss her when I leave this place. Sometimes all it takes to turn your day around and make you smile and laugh, is for someone to ask you about your twat. If only more people would ask: “How’s your twat?”, maybe the world would be a better, more unexpected place.

Only in West New York, Mami.

 

 

 

Schadenfreude – A Husband’s Revenge

After almost 11 months of not ever “feeling” my late husband’s presence or that he is “with me” in some way, I am finally beginning to see signs of him in small and big ways. It is not in the ways that most might expect, or that I have heard about from others who are widowed. He isn’t leaving me coins or butterflies or small tokens of love. There aren’t any feathers that fly by at unexpected times, or pretty birds landing near me when I feel most alone. There are no songs that come on the radio at the exact moment that I’m missing him intensely, and there is no special star in the sky I can look at and automatically think of him. No. Nothing like that has happened for me.

But recently, I have started to feel my husband in another way; in a way that is much more indicative of who he was and who he will always be. One of his favorite things to do in life was to laugh. More specifically, Don loved to laugh at me. He really enjoyed chuckling and pointing out to me that I tend to exagerrate everything, that I’m a “drama queen”, (one of his favorite things to say to me was: “Stop being so overdramatic, Boo.”), or his favorite thing; that I had gotten myself into a situation that would eventually turn into a trainwreck of epic proportions. If there was ever anyone that loved watching a good dose of schadenfraude, (the term for laughing and delighting in other’s small misfortunes), it was my husband. He was one of those “I told you so!” douchebags, but he always said it as he was laughing good-naturedly in my face. Yesterday; along with my friend Sheila and my mom; I participated in The NJ Sharing Network’s 5K Walk/Run for Families and Friends of Organ Donors and Receivers. It was something I wanted to do to honor Don, and in memory of him. And what did I get for my troubles? The entire day, I could literally hear my husband laughing gently … no, cackling … at me, and at the situation I had once again gotten myself into, and in his eyes, deserved. My husband came to me in the form of his laughter, and he was here to get Sweet Revenge. I’m sure of it. Let me explain ….

Somewhere around September or October of 2010, a friend of a friend was trying to put a team together of people who wanted to participate in a 5K “Walk for Hearing” – a charity that benefitted The Clarke School; a school for deaf children. This friend of a friend worked with these kids at this school, and was recruiting as many people as possible to join her team. Apparently, she did an amazing job in convincing a whole bunch of us to do this walk, because for some reason, our whole group of friends agreed to do it. I vaguely recall filling out some sort of application form online, registering for it, and saying: “Okay. That sounds fun.” I also sort of remember getting our friends John and Jessica involved in this event as well. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure I was drugged at the time. Whatever the case, one thing that I neglected to do was to inform my husband that we were doing this walk, until this conversation that happened maybe 2 days before said event: (dialogue is from memory, but I pretty much remember this like it was yesterday, so it’s extremely close to the actual conversation that occured.)

Him: Boo, I think Im gonna play some tennis on my day off Sunday, and then I was thinking of maybe heading down to the music store to check out some of the new lefty guitars that just came in. Then maybe we can get dinner or something.

Me: You can’t on Sunday. We have plans. I thought I told you, sorry. We are doing the Walk for Hearing for Missy’s school in the city.

Him: (with most perplexed expression of all time on face) We are doing the what for WHAT? and for who???

Me: Walk for Hearing. For Missy.

Him: Who the hell is Missy?

Me: Missy. Kevin and Michelle’s friend. You’ve met her before. You know who she is.

Him: No. If I knew who she was, I wouldn’t have just asked you who the hell she was. (still confused) When did I agree to do this thing? Was I on crack at the time, because this is not something I would agree to do – ever.

Me: No. You didnt agree to it. I signed us up for it. John and Jessica are doing it. Kevin and Michelle. All their friends. It’ll be fun.

Him: I don’t think you know what the word fun means. Getting up at 6am on a Sunday to go into the city and WALK for no reason on my only day off, in no way, sounds fun to me.

Me: Its not for no reason, Boo. It’s for kids who can’t hear.

Him: Uh-huh. Please explain how me walking in the cold and rain at an ungodly early hour against my will is going to magically make them hear again. Cant I just write them a check and stay home and sleep?

Me: No, cuz I already commited both of us to doing it. (laughing at him) It’s really not that big of a deal, hon. Lets just go and have a good time.

Him: Why do you hate me?

Me: (laughing) I dont hate you, Boo. This is just one of those things that married people do. It’s part of marriage.

Him: Oh really? Married people forcibly sign their spouses up for 5k Walks? Funny. I don’t recall that being in our vows.

Me: It was in the fine print, Boo. You’ll be fine.

Him: Did you read the fine print where it also said that if mean spouse enters you into a 5K Race against your will, that is acceptable grounds for divorce? Cuz I think that’s in there too.

The day of the Walk for Hearing was really raw, cold, and rainy. We had to get up super early to get into NYC for the early start time. Don was grumpy and exhausted and sort of pouting and whining the entire time into the city. My husband was not a whiner. He normally just went with the flow and would have a good time wherever we would go together. On this day, however, he was clearly annoyed; in a playful way; and wanted me to know it. When we got into the city, we started walking the wrong way for about 4 avenues, and then had to turn around and go back. I remember Don walking with me on our way there and saying: “Jesus, Boo. We just did a freakin’ 5k on the way to the 5k. This sucks. Im cold. Im tired. Can we go home yet?” He was purposely trying to irritate me, in order to give me payback for roping him into this. It didnt work. I just kept laughing at him and his silly whining. When we finally got there, Jessica was also extremely unhappy to be anywhere except in bed sleeping on a Sunday. Here is a picture of Jessica and my crankypants husband that morning:

During the walk, Don kept complaining about his sneakers. The trails and paths were very rocky and hilly in some spots, and he never got used to that up here. He always missed the flat roads and paths in Florida for walking, biking, everything. “Ah, my feet are killing me. I’m getting blisters. Can we leave yet? How about now? Now? Or now?”  I remember making fun of him for being such a baby. I believe I said: “Arent you an EMT? Werent you in the Air Force? You cant handle a little walking in a light sprinkle? Come on Boo, suck it up!” He looked at me with daggers in his eyes, and we kept moving. When it was finally time to go, hours later, we had to walk more blocks and avenues back to the bus to take us to NJ. The second we walked in the door, Don kicked off his sneakers harshly, fell into our bed face-down, and mumbled something under his breathe. “What did you say?”, I asked him. “Oh nothing, Boo. I just said that I’ll get you back for this misery you’ve caused me today. I will get my revenge when you’ve forgotten all about this. I will never forget, Boo. Goodnight. Wake me up when my feet stop throbbing or when you’ve completed making the delicious homemade meal you surely owe me for making me take part in this travesty you call fun.” Jesus. And he calls me overdramatic?


And that’s just how it happened. I never even saw it coming. When the Sharing Network called and asked me if Id like to participate in this year’s Walk for families of donors, I figured it would be a really nice way to honor him, and pay forward his kindness to others. So I said yes. And about 2 months ago, I started to let everybody know that I wanted to start a team, and that I wanted everybody to walk on my team. It would be great. We would be Team Shepherd. We would get t-shirts made up. We would cheer each other on during the walk. We would hold up signs and yell Don’s name and say things like: “GO TEAM SHEP!!” People from all over the land would come out to join my team for Don. And at first, that is exactly what it seemed like would happen. Family, friends, and even some acquaintances and connections seemed genuinely excited to be part of the Walk. “I’m so there!”, they chimed in on my Facebook posts. “I would love to walk on your team! Count me in!”, they bellowed. Before I knew it, I had a minimum of 15-20 people that really seemed as though they were going to do this with me. It was exciting.

And then, about a week before the walk, it suddenly became clear that of all the people who said they would like to walk with us, only 2 would actually be doing it; my friend Sheila, and my mom. Turns out my dad’s knees and legs have started to give him problems in the last few months and he cant walk long-distances, so he was out. The walk turned out to be on the same date that John and Jessica were on vacation in California. Lots of other friends had family obligations, weddings, graduations, you name it. Andrew and Rodney and Sheri wanted to come, but didnt realize how far into NJ it was, and had no real way to get out there. Very quickly our enthusiastic group of supporters started to dwindle into nothing. “Team Shepherd” was now 3 people, and a homemade Sign I made that listed everyone’s name that made a donation. And because we raised so much money and so many friends and family donated in Don’s memory ($1460 and counting), I now felt obligated to do the Walk, even though at this point it seemed a bit .. well … pointless. 3 of us? Really? That’s kind of lame. But all these people gave money, and they are going to want to see some pictures and know that we were there and we did this thing. The night before, I heard it was going to be ungodly hot and humid for the Sunday Walk, and I honestly just wanted to cancel and not even do it. But then I remembered all the people who supported me, and realized I was stuck doing it whether I wanted to or not. I didnt really have a choice in the matter. And that was the first time I heard Don laughing at me.

It started out as a light chuckle that evening, and then it began to progress the next morning and throughout the entire day of The Walk, as a loud, bellowing, “HA HA HA HA HA!!!! Have fun, honey!”, in your face kind of thing. I tried to ignore it at first, but then I just couldn’t. There were too many elements that pointed in the direction of this working out exactly the way that Don had planned it to. The weather was hot as hell. The high was 87 that day, and very humid. Every surrounding day before and after was in the low 70’s. And just as my husband and I had to walk a 5k before walking the 5k, my mom and I did too. The parking situation was atrocious, and we were led to a giant lot that was at least a mile … or four … from the Event itself. When we finally found the starting location, they made me stand in a “pre-registration” line to get a Number, even though I had already registered online in order to avoid standing in huge lines at the event!

The sun was blazing as I stood in this line for minimum 30 minutes to receive my number. Before we even began walking, I started to notice that my sneakers felt really tight. I don’t recall them being too small for me in the past, but my toes felt like they were being squished into my shoe. As I stood there with my tight shoes in the hot sun with my TWO teammates, I heard him laughing again. “Ha ha ha! You thought this would be FUN! You thought you’d get 15 people to do it with you! But they didn’t show up. They were SMART and did what I suggested in the first place. They stayed home and wrote a damn check! Ha ha ha!!! Oh, this is awesome! Go ahead and walk, Boo! Go on … it’s FUN!” I could literally hear him inside my head or my heart, or wherever evil, late husband spirits with a twisted sense of humor speak to you.

 And as me, mom, and Sheila walked along; the heat became unbearable, and my toes felt like they were on fire. I was sweating like Robin Williams, and I just wanted to lie down or take a 45 minute freezing cold shower. The water we were drinking to stay hydrated went from semi-cold to luke warm to sweaty-ass hot. I felt sticky and nasty and gross. When we crossed the finish line after what seemed like decades, the only emotion I was feeling was the intense pain coming from inside my shoes, where I knew I had developed blisters on my toes, just like Don. The walk was over, and then we had the second walk to our car. I was convinced that my feet would just burn right off of my body. I kept hearing Don and his sarcasm: “How exactly is you walking in the nasty heat going to get some poor soul a kidney any faster?” And he was right.

Was the event more than that? Yes. It was. There were close to 6,000 people walking and running. Families. Kids. Dogs. Strollers with babies in them. Teams of people all wearing homemade t-shirts to show their love for the person they were there representing. Lots and lots of stories. So many stories. One woman I met was part of a very large team of people, probably at least 30 people, all there in memory of their friend who was struck by a car and died. There was a man there whose brother had lost his life in a freak work accident, and his lungs ended up going to one of the man’s best friends at their job. I met a father who just lost his 21 year old daughter to a violent crime by commited by a college guy who was apparently obsessed with her. There were people there that had received organs, and were walking with the families of those that gave them life. Perhaps the most surreal moment for me was having people ask me why I was walking, who I was walking for; and then hearing myself say out loud that my husband was dead. I never quite get used to hearing my own voice say those words. It seems like someone else talking and not me.

So, in the end, just like everything else surrounding my husband’s death, nothing is the way that I pictured it would be. In my mind, I pictured this Walk being life-changing and motivating and inspiring and beautiful and so many other things like that. In some ways, it was those things. But it was subtle. I do think things like this are much more powerful when you can rope a whole bunch of your friends to experience it with you, like Missy did on that day that will always make me laugh. Maybe next year more people will be able to take part wtih me, and we can start to make it a yearly tradition. Or maybe I will take my husband’s advice of staying home and writing a check. Who knows. The only thing I do know is that I need to stop expecting that things will turn out a certain way. Things never turn out in the way you thought they would. Not even close. This is not a good or a bad thing – it’s just true.

But when I got home later that night and harshly kicked off my sneakers, I saw two big blisters, one on each pinky toe. I limped into the bedroom and I fell into our bed face-down, as I felt my husband’s laughter all around me. He was laughing at me, and he was enjoying himself.

 It was schadenfraude. It was marriage. It was the sweet revenge of a husband, who never forgot that day. Whatever it was, it was there, and it was real. It made me feel close to him the entire day as he found joy in my misery; and to me; that was all the reason I needed to do a 5K.

But maybe next time I’ll just send a goddamn check.

 

 

I Need to Be Touched. But Please Don’t Touch Me.

Can we talk about a very sensitive subject? Would that be okay with you? Because quite frankly; this topic makes me incredibly uncomfortable, and with all the many things I have shared with the world in these writing pieces, I still find myself stalling and putting off discussing this. But it’s time. So here we go.

Human touch. Sex. Intimacy. Hugs. The holding of hands. Making out. Hugs. Placing one’s head in the center of someone else’s chest and lightly humming almost subconsciously, because you are so happy lying there. Backrubs. Neckrubs. Hugs. A husband who looks directly into your eyes and says: “You look beautiful.” The stroking of one’s long hair. The washing of hair in the shower. Wrapping a towel or his jacket around me. Affection. Massages from someone who wants you to feel good. Feeling the love in the tips of his fingers, in his arms grabbing me gently from behind as I cook dinner, in his hand resting on my knee as he figures out a guitar chord. Hugs. Amazing, safe, wonderful hugs.

After almost 11 months into this “new life” that I didn’t ask for and that was handed to me without my permission, I can honestly say that most of this kind of stuff didn’t really cross my mind until recently. No. I was much too busy staring at the wall for 2 hours straight, or clicking refresh over and over on my husband’s Facebook profile picture of him sitting on the deck at our Cape Cod honeymoon suite, looking so content and peaceful. My mind was clogged with the fog of early grief, the chores that had to be done, the job I had to get to, the day I had to attempt to get through. There are also so many different ways to grieve your husband’s death. So many losses to consider. There is the loss of his life, which I found myself grieving for on his behalf, because he wasn’t here to do it himself. There is the loss of the past, our present, and our future. Our dreams together. The family we might have had, will not have. I was grieving the possibilities of what was to come. Growing old with each other. Having time. Decades of time. What does my life mean without him here? What comes next? What is the point of pursuing my dreams if I cannot share them with my husband? These are the things that have been in my heart lately, to name just a few. But somewhere hiding in there, was the extreme loneliness, and the need to be held. Lately, I’ve allowed my mind to start comprehending the idea that I will never again feel my husband’s touch, or be able to slow dance with him, or sigh in the warmth of his arms – and the reality of that horrifies me. Never mind everything else. Never mind for a second that I can’t have a life with my husband. What about the fact that I can’t have a hug?

When you lose the love of your life in an instant, you find yourself doing a lot of crazy things in a desperate attempt to try and connect to them again, to feel their presence. Everybody will keep telling you the person is “always with you”, and maybe he is – but here’s the thing: he isn’t HERE with me. It isn’t enough. I want more. Lately, the type of sadness and grief I’ve been feeling is different than before. Along with the intense crying has come a physical “reaching” for him. Sometimes I stand in our kitchen, say his name, and put my arms out as if I’m hugging him. Or I will hold our cat, Sammy, a tad too close, just to feel something against me. Or I will grab the tin that his leftover Ashes are in, sit in his favorite old chair, and just rock in the chair while trying to pull the ashes as close to my chest as possible, and pull me as close to his chair as possible. It sounds sick, I know. But all I can tell you is that it’s an urge, a need, and when it happens, I don’t fight it. About a month ago, I got in my car one night and drove out to a large park nearby that has a baseball field in the middle. I don’t know why I went to that specific place. My heart just brought me there, and suddenly, I was driving there. When I got there, I sat in the grass on my knees, and just sobbed. I called out his name. I screamed. I wailed. And I was silent. It helped, and it didn’t. None of these things ever help me to feel him again, to physically feel him. They don’t work. But they get me through a moment, and sometimes, that is my only goal.

To have the knowledge that you wont ever physically touch or be touched by your husband again, is a sad thing to be aware of. It’s heartbreaking, and after almost 11 months of nobody touching me or being affectionate with me, empty doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling inside me. Other people have tried to be affectionate with me. It effects me in strange ways. For some reason, whenever my parents hug me, I feel like I want to cry. I get extremely sad. Maybe because I know they are missing him too, they are in pain too, and that everything will be different forever. Friends and relatives try to hug me. Some people hug me like it’s their mission to make me better. They grab me and hold me for much too long, and they rub my back or say something like: “Awww it’s okay. Let it out.” They act like they are the Grief Whisperer, and their magic hugs will send me reeling into a mountain of tears and set me free. But that’s not how it works.

Here is where it gets complicated. I hate being touched by people. I mean – I hate being touched by people. Im not talking about friends or close family members hugging or kissing me, that’s fine. I am talking about everybody else on earth. Massages, manicures, pedicures, spa days … all of these things make me shiver with an awkward, creepy feeling. Most people find a nice pedicure or massage relaxing. Almost every female I’ve ever spoken to enjoys this sort of thing. These things were offered to me by many as a stress-reduction after Don’s death. I can’t think of anything more awful or uncomfortable than some random stranger touching my feet while I have to sit perfectly still; in a tiny cramped room, surrounded by other people’s nasty feet sitting in bowls filled with murky, gray water. Manicures? Yuck. Sitting there being forced into conversation with an old Russian lady who has a moustache and is painting my nails while telling me about her grandson’s chess match, is not my idea of a good time. The two times I was forced into getting a manicure, my instinct was to reach up with my freshly-painted hand and punch the manicurist in the face. Someone rubbing a green sandpaper-like mask on my face or wrapping me up in some weird-ass seaweed thing and making me sit there to clear out toxins and shit – no. That is not ever happening. Not in my world. Take your spa gift certificate and give it to someone who enjoys hanging out with 50 strangers in germ-infested rooms that smell like warm ass-crack. Give it to someone who doesn’t mind that 900 other people’s ballsacs and clammy vagina’s have sat on that very same bed of arugula treatment, or whatever the hell it is. Just get the hell away from me with your touching.

I am not a touchy-feely person. I have to know you really well to feel comfortable with you showing me affection. I have never been into casual sex, one-night stands, or anything like that. I cant be with someone unless I know that they care about me deeply. So I don’t want a hug from just anybody. I want a hug from Don. I cannot have that ever again, and I’m not quite sure how to be okay with that.

Eventually – in time – I will grow and heal and really start living again, one day. I will rebuild my dreams. I will figure out how to be happy, or a new version of happy. I will adjust to this new, bizarre life that was handed off to me. But human beings need affection. We need to be held. We need that physical connection to someone. How will I ever get past the concept that my husband will never hold me? What do I do with this insane paradox of strong feelings; where I need to be touched, but by the one person who cannot do it? It is perhaps the biggest oxymoron of all-time:

I really need to be touched. But for the Love of God, please don’t touch me.

 

 

 

Sadness Just Doesn’t Cut It Anymore

This morning, I woke up with a brand new emotion: Anger. Yes, I have been angry since my husband’s death. I have been pissed. But this was different. I literally woke up, sat up, and felt an instant wave of violent anger. And the same way that an infant cries on instinct after waking up wanting their bottle, I broke down sobbing and wanting my husband. The sobbing became louder, and then weirder, and then it turned into cries and half-screams. It just wouldn’t stop. I wanted to punch somebody, everybody. I wanted to take away someone else’s world so that they finally get what this feels like. I wanted to burn our bed down and write all over the walls and take a knife to my wedding dress that’s been hanging in his closet – taunting me. I wanted to senselessly shatter and murder and hurt things, because my life has been shattered and hurt and murdered. “It’s not FAIR!”, I screamed like a child, and then fell forward in our bed, stomping at the mattress with my fists.

The feeling has not gone away. It is now almost 2pm, and in just a couple hours, I have to put on the “professional” face, and go out there, be funny onstage, and then be a motivational leader for my 22 Adelphi students, who will be nervous as hell tonight and looking for my support. But where’s my support? Who do I get to lean on for strength? Tonight is my stand-up comedy student’s big Comedy Show at Gotham Comedy Club in NYC. We work on their sets all semester long, tirelessly, and it all leads up to this. Their first big professional show. This is the second group of students and the second show I’ve had to do without Don. The first one was back in December, and I woke up feeling the same way I do today. Mad as hell. Crying. Overwhelmed. Right before walking out the door that day, I checked my mailbox, and the autopsy report was there. I read it on the busride into the city, and didn’t stop sobbing until minutes before the show. I had waited months for that report to show up, and it came on that day.

I am so fucking angry. I’m pissed that I pulled back the shower curtain this morning, and lying in the tub was a ginormous dead cockroach that the cats must have killed. I can’t bring myself to pick it up with a napkin and throw it away. I am so goddamn terrified of bugs and rodents and things. There are 3 lightbulbs out in my apartment. Two in the kitchen, and one in the hallway. The ceilings are so high that I cant even reach them standing on a stepstool, and Im so annoyed that my husband’s 6 foot 3 frame isn’t here to just do this shit for me. I’m sick of all the creditors calling, the lawyers, the hospital bills … I’m sick of dealing with paperwork and red tape and afteraffects of death. I’m so tired of facing the daily piles of stuff inside our apartment, and not knowing what to do with it and not caring and feeling sad and feeling beaten down by things. I am so mad that I have to avoid my living room, and that nobody comes over here anymore. Nothing happy has happened in this apartment since he died, so I immediately picture the day of his death, sitting here with my mom and about 8 friends, letting the reality of our new hell marinate. My living room is now just a death room. Its the place we all gathered when he died. I can’t even go in there without shivering. I’m tired of staring at his Ashes in a fucking Christmas tin on top of the Entertainment Center. I’m sick of thinking about what to do with the remaining ashes, I’m so over trying to be meaningful and inspirational and motivational when I just want to die. I’m sick of my bathroom being a pharmacy, filled with pills to help me sleep, stop me from thinking, stop my headaches, get rid of the intense physical aches that are everywhere, and make me feel human again. Waking up groggy or driving to work on 2 hours of sleep for an entire 10 months is really getting on my nerves.

I’m really angry that something as huge as having a life-altering experience with a Medium that makes me feel a bit of hope that maybe there is more after life than just death – does absolutely nothing to help my day to day existence here on Earth. I’m still just as alone and just as lonely as ever. I still have to life out the rest of my days without my husband. I am so annoyed that I have nowhere to put my love for him. I am so over looking at pictures and watching video clips and recalling memories; all in an effort to feel his presence again, to feel his love. None of it works. It is all a lie. He might be with me in spirit, but what the fuck does that do for me right now, when I want his opinion on this show tonight? Or when I want to lay in bed with him on a Sunday afternoon and watch a baseball game. Or feel him kissing me again. Tomorrow will be ten months since I have felt him do anything, say anything, be anything. I am so angry that I have to write this, that my life is now about this, and that nobody will ever really understand. I want to hurt something, but I know it wont help to stop me from hurting. I want to look into my husband’s eyes again. I want to know what it’s like to be together forever. Why the fuck did this happen???

I am sick to death of death. I am tired of talking about it. I am sick of analyzing my own damn thoughts and my feelings and my pain. I am sick of online Widow Groups and horrible, sad stories of other people’s terrible pain. I am so fucking tired of feeling like shit every single day, and of pretending I dont feel like shit when I have to be “on.” I am sick of writing about this crap, sick of hearing my own story, sick of it playing out over and over in my heart, and sick of knowing that it can’t be any different. It takes over your life. Yes, you go forward and you don’t let the grief become you, but it literally effects every part of your life. I’m tired of being this person. I want to get on a plane and go somewhere far away where I’m not this person anymore, and where this is not my life. I’m so tired of being tired. I haven’t felt energetic since last summer. I havent been me since last July.

Do you know what it’s like to live in a world where everything you do is exactly the same as before, except your partner is just missing? I still live in our apartment. I sleep in our bed. With our pets. I still take the same drive to long Island and work at the same jobs. I’m still struggling just to get by. Living paycheck to paycheck as a couple is cute and romantic and even funny. Doing it alone is depressing and hopeless and terrifying. I still drink out of the cups he brought here, and listen to the XM radio he bought me for the car. I still do the same things I did when he was here, except now he is not here. It is a big, gaping hole that doesn’t make any goddamn sense. It is a weird, stupid, unfair universe that won’t stop spinning. I dont know how to live in this space, in this world, without my other half. None of it makes any sense to me.

Maybe tomorrow or the next day or in 7 hours, I will be making jokes again or trying to be “positive” or figuring out more ways to keep going forward and keep being who I am and keep fighting to make sure he never really dies; but right this very second; I want to put my head through a wall and then set the wall into burning, fiery flames. My husband is dead, and I’m really fucking pissed about it.

 

My Husband Finally Spoke To Me. He said: “Leave Bon Jovi.”

My husband and I were very similar. He believed in things that were logical. If it was reasonable, made sense, or could be proven; then it was true. He loved science, and he made me love it too whenever he would teach me something new. He was always teaching me something, because he loved to soak up information in books, by watching endless documentaries, or just by paying attention to people when they talked. We had many discussions about religion, faith, God. Fascinating topics, really. Don and I loved to talk about stuff like that while lying in bed together. We would ponder life, death, and everything in between. Neither of us really believed in the concept of Heaven or Hell, and we didn’t see The Bible as anything more than a collection of interesting and far-fetched fables written by man many, many years ago. But we both believed in the idea of “something more.” I remember during one of our bedtime talks, Don told me: “You know, if there is a God, I think our pets have the closest access. I think they have a completely different awareness than we do. I would bet anything that Autumn is talking to Isabelle and Ginger when she meows nonstop at the ceiling. Either that, or she’s clinically insane.” Isabelle was Don’s cat, his baby, that he had for years in Florida and then brought up here to live with us when he moved in. She died at 15 years old, weak and sick. Weeks later, we adopted Autumn and Ginger, two kitten sisters. We lost Ginger to an enlarged heart at only age 3. Ever since then, Autumn stares at the ceiling in our hallway for HOURS sometimes, meowing loudly like she is talking to someone. After Don died; her meowing intensified, and her ceiling chats have gotten more and more frequent. Now this is one of those things, where, if were to tell someone about my cat who sees dead people, they might want to have me institutionalized. But all I can tell you is that it’s real, and she really does this, and it’s freaky as hell. I don’t know what I believe about some things, but I know that there are often things that just can’t be explained. And after today, I’m thinking maybe Don was right. Maybe our pets do have better access to the other side. Or maybe I need to be institutionalized. It’s still up in the air.

 Going back to science, there is this: Energy. Energy does not die. This is a fact. Energy lives forever, and we are all made up of energy. So if energy never dies but stays alive forever, what happens to us when WE die? Where does that energy go? What form does it take? Are we all just pieces of the universe floating around out there? Do we become stars? Chickens? Salt shakers? Coconut-cream pies? The ocean? (Whoever became a salt-shaker in their 2nd life must have been a real douchebag.) I don’t know. None of us know. Except for the dead people, and maybe the animals. I’m not big on religion or following a bunch of rules or going to church or using “God” to tell people how to live their lives or judge others or ANY of that. I believe in Energy. I believe in a higher power of some kind. What you call that is up to you. Some people call it God. Mother Nature. Spirits. Afterlife. Angels. The Universe. It doesnt really matter. People should believe whatever it is that helps them get through the day.

What gets me through the day right now is a hell of a lot different than it was 10 months ago, when my husband was still alive and here on Earth. Ten months ago, If someone had said to me that they were going to see a Medium, I probably would have said: “Oh. That’s nice.” Then I would go home and think to myself how that person must have lost their mind, or question how the hell anyone can fall for that kind of garbage. Actually, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Just like I never gave a second thought to the fact that I could hold or hug my husband anytime I wanted to. I could eat dinner with him, see a movie with him, be intimate with him, feel loved by him. The instant all of that was stripped from me, everything changed. Forever. I changed. First his love changed me, and then his death changed me again. Ten months ago, I never would have considered a session with a Medium. I would have laughed at it, mocked it, and put my cynical spin on it. But it’s amazing what you will do when you are faced with the harsh reality that you your husband is never again coming home. One thing I will say about religious people and those who believe in God, is that they seem to have an easier time accepting death. Think about it. If you really believed that your loved ones go to “a better place” or that it was part of some Devine Plan, (neither of which I believe to be true at all), that’s a lot more comforting of a thought than what someone like me believes; which is that nothing at all happens after we die, and that there is no reason for anything except for the reasons WE make of things, what WE do with our lives here on Earth. To me, this is it. I am open to the idea that maybe there is some sort of “life” in another form after we die, but I don’t know exactly what that is or what it means. If we all become rocks or blades of grass, what the hell kind of future is that to look forward to? Am I supposed to be excited about that? If I see Don again one day, will we both be blades of grass? Will some drunk father kill us with his lawnmower wheel? What will become of us? Nobody knows.

After months of talking to other young widowed friends on Facebook, most of whom had “felt” their late spouses presence in many ways since their death, I started to feel really sad because I haven’t had any experiences at all where I felt like Don is “with me” still. A good friend of mine had gone to see this Medium / Psychic / Healer several times, and she swore by the woman’s accuracy and realness. So, after over-analyzing it to death and panicking, because that’s what I do best, I finally made an appointment, or a “session” with this woman. It was for today, and it was a phone session. I was told by people to talk to my husband out loud before the session, to let him know that I need for him to come through for me. I have never felt like such a jackass in my entire life, but I took out our wedding picture, put on his wedding ring over mine, and started talking to him as if he were right here. I asked him to please help me believe that he is somehow still here with me. No, that doesn’t make any of the pain go away or make me miss him any less intensely, but at least I would have some confirmation that maybe I can still have some sort of different type of connection with my husband, forever. That at the very least, I would always have that.

When I picked up the phone to call her, I couldn’t stop shaking. I had a similar feeling the very first time I met Don in person, after we had been talking online for over a year. I thought my heart would literally fall out, and then the instant I saw him, it was as if I had known him my whole life. Something similar happened on this call. I was so nervous and the feeling of not having a clue how this works or what to expect started to overwhelm me. Then she introduced herself, explained a bit about what she does and how she “reaches” over to the other side and talks to spirits, then asked me a few mundane questions about the weather and things, just to start picking up on the energy through my voice. What happened next I will type below, pretty much word for word, or as much as I can remember. It is a dialogue like nothing I have ever experienced before, and I’m still a bit in shock over the whole thing, still processing it. I will type out the actual dialogue that occured, and then underneath certain exchanges, I will put my inner-monologue reaction to what she was saying to me in bold. Let me also just make clear that this woman knew absolutely nothing about me when this phone call began. The only thing she knew was my first name to make the appointment. She didnt know that my husband died, how old I was, how old he was, none of it. Here we go …

Her: Okay Kelley. Several people are starting to come through that all want to talk to you or are here for a reason. Im getting a father or a fatherly figure. But your dad – he is still alive, correct?

Me: Yes, he is alive.

Her: Is it your father-in-law? He is an older man, like 70’s or 80’s, and he is standing on a golf-course or near a golf-course.

HOLY FUCKING SHIT! This was moment one where chills went up my spine. Don’s father lived on a golf-course, and had a heart-attack and died on a golf-course. How could she possibly know that?

Me: That must be my father in law then, but I never met him, and my husband and him were not close.

Her: That doesnt matter, that you’ve never met him. He is here to bring me to someone else who wants to talk to you. Sometimes when the loss is recent, the spirit doesnt know how to move in this world yet, so someone else “goes to get them” so they can speak with you and be reached.

Goes to GET THEM? How does that work exactly? “Don!!! Your wife’s on the phone from Earth! She wants to talk to you!” This is WILD!!!

Her: You lost someone recently, correct? Within the past year?

Me: Correct. Almost 10 months ago.

Her: It was sudden. It was traumatic. They died all of a sudden, very quickly. They werent sick or anything. Was it your husband?

Me: Yes.

Her: Okay. I have him here. His father is standing next to him. There is also a small woman, very fragile and frail looking, very tiny. She is also old and standing with him.

Me: That is his mother. She died a couple years ago.

Her: She is here with him. They are together.

Oh, he must LOOOVE that! She was a total pain in the ass his whole life and he ran away from her – now he is stuck with her for eternity!

Her: Okay there is someone else. It’s someone’s grandmother ..yours, correct? On your mom’s side of the family. Did she pass away?

Me: Yes. (I start crying. This is just so weird.)

Her: Its okay. She wants to tell you that she knows how hard this has been on you, losing him, and that she is sending you a big hug and food. She also says that she thought your husband was an amazing person and she really loved him.

Her: Okay there are some things your husband wants you to know. He says the reason you havent felt close to him is because he had a lot of trouble “crossing over” to the other side. His crossing over was peaceful, and it was quick, and there was no pain, but when he got here, he was confused, and he was just as shocked as you were that his life had ended. He felt lost on the other side. There were 3 angels that helped him, and one was his dad and mom. Im also getting a strong male figure, someone young, either a brother or a best friend maybe?

Me: He had a half-brother that died young. He didnt know him though.

Her: He knows him now. They were all Angels for him and helped him cross over. The sibling, the brother, also had a peaceful crossing. Your husband also wants you to know that he is so sorry there was no chance for you to say goodbye to each other, and he wants you to know how much he loved you and will always love you, and appreciated you, and was so grateful for you in his life. He is also saying that every single thing you did since his death , he approves of and he is happy with. He said he could not have ever done a better job himself. The way you have conducted yourself has been amazing. He is proud of you.

He is proud of me. He always used to tell me that. ALWAYS. To hear it again, even if its coming from a 3rd party, is just so beyond meaningful to me. Now I really cannot stop crying.

Her: You didnt have children together, but he says the reason for his death was heart related and it came from his dad’s side of the family, not his mom’s, and that his father’s father had it too, and if you had a son together, he would have also had it. He says it was just one of those things, and that you couldnt have done anything to save him. He wants you to stop blaming yourself. He said “cut it out. you gave me everything and I was happy. Im sorry if I didnt tell you that enough.” He really wants you to know how much he loved you. (pause) Now Im picking up on some pets around him too. Getting a very strong large cat vibe or small dog. Did you have pets together?

Me: Yes. A few. Two that died and two are here now with me.

Her: The ones there with you are sort of tiger-or-multi-colored right? A boy and a girl? And there are two girls here with him ….

Isabelle and Ginger. Sure, this woman could have googled me and then read my blog which pretty much tells the entire story in detail of Don and me and our life. Dont think I havent thought of that. I AM the greatest cynic alive. But the way she was saying all of this stuff, it really FELT like it was coming from a genuine place, and also felt like it was coming to her AS she was saying it. Plus, there were SO many tiny details that there is just no way she could have known. At this point in the conversation, Im a sobbing mess and just listening with wonder and in awe of this whole thing, quite frankly. It is a lot to process and take in. Some stranger is on the phone, whom I have NEVER met, and she is talking to my dead husband!!! WHAT???

Her: The female cat that is with you, she likes to sit in high places or meow or talk in high places? When she does that, he is near you. He hasnt been here long enough yet to know how to reach you and thats why you havent felt his presence a lot, but you will soon. But pay attention to your pets, because they have access we dont to the spirit world. (This is getting out of this world weird now. That is the EXACT same thing that Don said to me while lying in bed that night, about our pets having access to God and life beyond. AAAHHHH!!!!!!)Your other cat, the male one, he scratches some sort of case that belonged to your husband. An instrument or something. (WTF? How could anyone know this? This is SO random of a thing to know. Okay. This woman is clearly on a different plane and it’s scaring me. Everything that I thought I believed or didn’t believe is now being questioned with this one statement about a guitar case. And then my logical side kicks in, my inner-cynic, and I think: “Nah. There MUST be some explanation.”)

Me: Yes. He played guitar, and your’e talking about Sammy. I have one of Don’s guitars that I kept and it’s in the case against the wall in our bedroom. Sammy always goes up to it and tries to use it as a scratching post.

Her: He is doing that because he feels him nearby that case, cats are better at dogs at picking up energy forces. But your husband says to please make him stop doing that, he’s ruining the case. (Now Im laughing, because that is exactly something Don would say. He took SUCH good care of his things and was very particular about them being touched, moved, or fooled around with. This is INSANITY!)

Her: He is telling me that he feels badly that he couldnt leave you with anything when he died. He says that was just the way it was and that you didnt have much financially. The spirits can sense and see things that we cant, and he is telling me that you will not struggle for much longer, and you will be very successful. Are you a writer? Have you written plays?

Me: I wrote a short play after he died and performed it, and yes, Im a writer.

Her: He said that something you wrote or are writing will become a book, and that the book will be very successful for you. He also is saying something about you facilitating large groups of people. Something in your future that will be part of your success , it has to do with you either talking or lecturing or something in larger arenas, venues. Im seeing humor.

Me: Im a stand up comedian, is that what you’re seeing?

Her: It could be that, yes, but its going to be more than that. He is telling you to keep going, keep doing what you love, it is going to become something bigger. He sees lots of traveling and speaking or comedy engagements. He says you are just beginning to get recognized and that you will be known by many soon, and that these speaking engagements will be inspirational. Something inspirational and humorous. He is saying that he believes in you and he thinks you have amazing talent. He says you have the talent of a Gilda Radner or a Tina Fey. He said you are going to live to be an old lady and be known like Betty White. He said Betty White.

Trippy. Don loved Betty White like crazy, and I love Tina Fey like crazy, and he always compared me to Gilda or said I reminded him of her and her “unique” presence and talent that is like nobody else. It is so strange that she would choose those 3 people as examples when she really could have said just about anyone.

Her: Have you gained weight, or had weight issues? He is coming through saying to “please stop” with the hating yourself over your weight. He says you need to understand that you are so so beautiful inside and out, and stop beating yourself up. He says he knows you are so sad and you are grieving and will be for a long time, and he understands. He misses you too. But he wants you to keep doing what you love. He says he will do as much as he can to protect you and keep you safe. He is asking about the female in your life that has helped you. Is there a female recently that came to you or you came to her, who has helped you emotionally?

Me: I think you mean my grief counselor.

Her: She is either a friend or yes, a counselor or teacher. He brought you together. He wants you to know that he is taking care of you and still learning how to communicate with you, but he will always find ways to take care of you. He says this is why you trust her so much, because he brought her to you.

OH.MY.GOD. So it’s not my imagination that she seemed really “special” or like a gift in some way. That is also why I feel closer to him when I see her, because he chose her for me.

Her: Okay he is saying something about baseball and that he wants to watch the games. Put the games on, he says. He says for you to wear his shirt and go back to Yankee Stadium. He says for you to know that he is at peace and he is okay, and that you will be okay one day too. He says that you were the love of his life, and that he will never stop loving you or taking care of you. He also says he is glad you are leaving … Bon Jovi? Something about the band Bon Jovi and you finally leaving… does that mean anything to you?

Me: (laughing) Yes. He hated Bon Jovi, and he hated New Jersey, and hated everything New Jersey, which is where we lived and I live now. Bon Jovi is a private joke between us, because I would always call him and blast “Livin On a Prayer” whenever it came on, and he would say: “Are you done now?” and then hang up. I think he is saying he is happy Im finally leaving New Jersey and moving back to New York.

So that was my very first Medium experience. You might think I’m a lunatic or that I need to be put away for believing some of this stuff, but let me tell you, I didn’t believe ANY of it before today, or before my husband died. So please don’t judge me too harshly, for when you never get to see or talk to your husband ever again, you will do just about anything to be able to feel his presence, even for a half hour. I don’t know how to explain what happened today during that phone call. The things she said … the details … knowing nothing at all about my life and then being so accurate in that way. There was more to it, but I left some of it private, because a few things she said are too personal to share with the world. But after years of being so sure of myself in thinking that nothing at all happens after we die, I can tell you one thing I do know for sure, and that is this: I don’t know shit.