What If I Forget …

What If I Forget ….

His smell. His funny lips and the way they turned up at the corner. His skin.
His dry skin that always needed chapstick, and his back that always needed to be scratched.

What If I forget …

Those piercing blue eyes that became someone else’s eyes when he donated them to the eye bank. The way they looked at me. Through me. Into me. The way they saw my soul.

What If I forget the way he held his guitar pick, or how he looked so focused and intense when playing a new chord – a new song. What if I forget how he would make me sit on the couch next to him and listen to the music he had just created, or how he used my knees and legs as imaginary drums – playing each beat on them with his fingers and thumbs. The way my voice sounded when I sang with his melody. The way we harmonized in song and in life. The way that our marriage was like a duet. What if I forget ….

I’m scared. I’m terrified of forgetting. Living in constant fear of not recalling the large and the tiny moments of our time together. The only thing I have now – moments. Moments that are gone. Past tense. They live in my memory, and what if my memory were to fade away like the wind, like some thin tissue paper disappearing into the wind …

What then? For what is a life except for what it leaves behind? We have no children. No legacy to live out his name. No son or daughter to be like their daddy. Just me. The wife. The widow. The responsibility – the honor – falls upon me to make sure he is remembered, to make sure that his spirit and his beautiful soul lives on, to make sure that his kindness and his humor and his epic love of animals is seen somehow, in the world and the universe around me. So what if I forget? I could never forgive myself. To forget anything about him – anything at all – would be like a betrayal to our love. To his life. The worst thing I could ever do would be to not recall a memory. A fraction of time. A molecule in the days and months and years that we had with one another. The worst thing would be to go blank.

Will the memories fade with time? With age? Will I always be able to see him when I close my eyes? Can I shut off the world and just imagine all those times that he would slowly cover me with a blanket, or hold my hand while humming to himself softly, or pout his bottom lip at me when he wanted something? Will I be able to pull up, from the file cards in my brain, the silly songs we made up and sang to each other? How many times will I have to keep singing them to our kitties, pretending that they are him? Trying like hell to keep it burned in my mind, for all eternity …

It’s been 2 years now, and his clothes no longer smell like his clothes. They are just clothes. His guitars remain sitting in silence, because the music is not music without him, and I don’t know how to play. He tried to teach me a bunch of times, but I didn’t have the patience. He told me stories a bunch of times too – about his childhood, his days in the Air Force, stuff that happened at work while being on the ambulance. I never paid enough attention. I should have listened more. I didn’t know that I needed to imprint it into my heart. I didn’t know that his heart would stop beating.

I carry with me the 7 years we spent dating long-distance, and the almost 5 years we spent together – here – happy and engaged – and then married. So joyously and wonderfully married. My favorite word was always husband. Nothing I loved more than calling him my husband. So now, I must carry the sacred pages of our marriage with me in the spaces of my heart – and treat them with the most fragile touch. For if they should break or tear or get lost in the cruel, cold wind – and I cannot get back the pieces – I will have to re-trace each chapter, bit by bit – until I am able to find the things that were once our life. Our beautiful, precious life.

And what if I forget?

I will not forget.

I cannot forget.

Because the second I forget, is the second that he truly, really dies.

Running

I never really liked running. Never really saw the point. For exercise? Sure, but I’d much rather play a sport or go swimming or do just about anything other than feel the pounding of my flattened and worn-out feet, screaming for mercy against the hot and unforgiving pavement. Or feel my knees hurting and buckling and cracking with each breath, showing their severe weakness and obvious disapproval of this evil form of torture.

People who run claim that it’s “freeing.” I don’t know about that. To me, it feels the opposite, like a never-ending prison sentence filled with sweat, horrible cramps, and nausea. The only thing freeing about running is maybe the part where the race or the dash or the charity sprint or whatever other forced form of hell has ended, and I am now free to go and grab a drink and a burger somewhere.

Me and Don – in the life I knew

Despite this, I have been running for just over 2 years now. It’s not the kind of running that requires good sneakers, or keeping hydrated, or carrying a stopwatch. No. That sort of thing is for amateurs. This is much different. It’s much bigger than all of that, and much more complex. This is the kind of running that takes over your life, and that is caused by death.

I began running at approximately 6:30am on July 13, 2011, when I received the series of phone calls that would jar me awake, give me the worst news of my life, and change me forever. My very first sprint was the one that took me from the inside of a taxicab, into the ER section of the hospital, just down the street from where we lived in West New York, New Jersey. My run from the door of that car to the doors of that E.R., I can honestly say, was the fastest I have ever moved in my life. I don’t know what all the rushing was about. He was already dead. Then again, I didn’t know that at the time. Until, of course, I did.

And since that time, that day, that hour – every piece of my existence has been about running. Running from pain. Running from hurt. From loss. From love. Running as far away from the memories as I can, because memories sting and they stab and they reinforce what is now gone. I am not ready for memories. Memories are for 5 years, maybe 10 years from now, when I can feel them without intense sorrow, when I can “cherish them”, which so many people who have not lost their husbands keep telling me to do. Running from pictures, and triggers, and trauma. Running from my heart. My soul. My “before.”

San Diego paradise…

Like the time I packed up everything I own and everything he owned, and finally made the decision to move out of the New Jersey apartment where we shared our entire engagement and marriage and life. The 7 years that we spent there began to eat away at my skin and engulf me – the walls were closing in on me after 8 months alone, facing the nothingness of a life that was now over, a time that would not come back.

So I ran away from the homemade birthday cakes at our kitchen table, the small dinner parties and hang-outs with our core group of friends that shattered into bits of glass, the friendly neighborhood store owners that all knew Don and looked at me with sad eyes each time I crossed their path, post-death. I ran from the hospital where he died, and the other hospital where he worked as an EMT, and the Pet-smart where he collapsed on that cold floor, alone, while working his second job to help support us. I ran from the familiar-looking ambulances with his hospital’s name on them, and the uniforms I would see around town, on other tall men resembling my husband. I ran from our special bench where we would sit at night, and stare at the city skyline, laughing and dreaming and being. I couldn’t get away fast enough from the local restaurants we used to eat at, the movie theatre we used to spend Sunday matinees at, the tennis courts he would play tennis at, just like he did one day before he suddenly died.

So after 8 months of sitting inside of it, tripping over the piles and the stuff that used to be our life, I ran. It was either that, or stay there and be further suffocated by things and objects and items – when the person that made them come to life, was no longer breathing air. And the person that I was now, a widowed woman with only one, small paycheck, could no longer afford to pay rent and live alone. So I left.

But it wasn’t enough. Running or walking or crawling or kicking and screaming away from all those things helped, but it wasn’t enough. The pain was still there. Lurking. Hiding. Approaching. Waiting …

So I ran some more, and started to add new things into my new life, thinking that new things would hurt less than old and familiar things, things that I did with my husband. I have added lots of things, big things and small things, important and mundane things. Like the new comedy class I now teach in NYC. Or the new writing gigs Ive picked up. Or my new apartment, and my new roommate (my 2nd new roommate, and 2nd apartment, since his death). Or my new membership with ZIpcar, instead of our car, which I was forced to sell and get another, safer car, which I was also forced to sell, due to my new “broke widow” title in life. Or performing stand-up at Camp Widow. Or eating and making new foods for myself that I dont associate with foods that he loved. Taking a new walk to a new place that he never saw or went to. Seeing a new film, hearing new songs, thinking new thoughts. Making new friends, breaking new ground, facing new fears.

Me with my “new” Network Comedy Class, outside Gotham Comedy Club, NYC.

But none of that was enough either. It helped, but it wasn’t enough to make the stabbing pains go away. It still wasn’t enough to take the hurt and the grief and the why away. So then I started replacing painful things, with better things, thinking that the good would eventually outweigh the bad. Like, if I felt a panic attack coming on while driving down a familiar road or seeing our exit on the Turnpike and instantly flashing back to that life – that death – I would pull over and try to breathe and think about something else. Or drive a new route next time. When the nonstop image of my dead husband’s body in that casket would appear in my heart out of nowhere, I would try and get rid of it by posting pictures of us together on Facebook, or in my blog. Happy pictures. Pictures of him alive and smiling and being. Or when I couldnt sleep at night or kept waking up with the  sweats and the panic and the anxiety, flashing back to that morning or the night before or the days after – I would get up and make myself some tea, and watch something silly on TV, like Three’s Company, to make the bad thoughts go away.

But that didn’t always work either. Well, it worked momentarily, for a short time. For now. But the panic and the stress and the thoughts of death and the cruel images would always, always return. They are burned into my brain and stamped into my skin, like a tattoo that I can never remove, and that I don’t remember asking for.

moving (running) out of our apartment …

So then I have thought to myself – I need to think bigger. I need to run away. What If I just left New York? Left my life altogether? Left my teaching job of 11 years, left my familiar, left my problems and my clutter and my stuff – and went somewhere new? What if I went somewhere else, where I wasn’t the widowed girl? I could run away to California or Colorado or The Moon, and just start the fuck over, right? What do I have to lose, when I have already lost it all? And really, anytime that I go anywhere, I instantly feel somewhat better. Lighter. Happier. The sadness still lives inside me, but there is more room for the joy whenever I go somewhere else. My week in San Diego at Camp Widow was so relaxing, so freeing, so healing. And I felt so close to my husband there, closer than I have felt to him in a long time. I slept through the nights, and I felt a sense of peace and comfort around me. New and beautiful surroundings created new and beautiful things.

But that’s the problem. If I am visiting San Diego, or anywhere else, they are new surroundings. It is a vacation. It is temporary. If I lived there, then the new surroundings are eventually no longer new – they are simply the background to where I live. And although moving away sounds nice, it only sounds that way because whenever I go anywhere for a short period of time, it is time away from what is the norm. It feels exotic. It suggests “better.” But it’s not. It only feels that way, because I don’t live there. If I moved somewhere else, my New York issues would just turn into San Diego issues or Moon issues or wherever I ended up issues. I would have their bills and their traffic and their stresses and their problems, instead of the ones I have now. On top of that, I would be losing the very things that help to keep me sane in my new and unwanted life – my old and lifelong friends, my NY connections, my comedy buddies and clubs, my job that is secure and mostly rewarding, my counseling sessions that fuel me with coping skills and hope, my family that is 4 hours away instead of much, much further if I were to move out West. I would be trading in problems for different problems, and Im just too exhausted to deal with that much uncertainty right now.

me, with one of my many new friends in the widowed community, Beth – San Diego

Like I said in my first sentence, I never really liked running. Never really saw the point.

There is no purpose to running in circles. No reason to marathon and finish where you began. No meaning to a race that cannot end.

I cannot run from the truth. I can’t run from the pain, or the hurt, or the grief. Whether I go to San Diego or Hawaii or stay right here in my new apartment, all that shit comes with me. It is inside of me, the same way that my lungs and my veins and my breath is inside of me. It is an unwanted presence, a giant scar across my face. I can keep washing it off my face, and it may appear to have gone away for awhile, but it never truly leaves. I can’t run from it. I can’t fight it. I have to live with it and through it and sit near it side by side, and learn to look myself in the mirror and not hate that ugly scar.

There is some good news though. The ugly scar and the pain and hurt and trauma and fear are inside me, yes. They go with me. They are me. But if they are a part of me, then so is the hope. So is the love. The laughter. The joy. The birthday cakes and the Christmas mornings and the walks along the Hudson.The music he played. The chords he strummed. The pets he loved and the people he touched. The lives that he altered. My life. The beautiful, epic soul that is my husband, that is now me. It is all inside me. All of it. Every single cell of it. Until the end of time, and then miles and miles beyond that  …

I just need to stop running.

 

(p.s. Been meaning to say this for awhile to my regular readers and anyone reading this now – I . LOVE. COMMENTS. If you read this blogpiece or any of my posts, please leave a comment if you can! Each comment is like a little Christmas present to me, and I love getting them. Lately, when my email informs me I have new comments, they end up being 90% spam that I have to filter through and delete. I love getting real comments from people. It lets me know that you are out there and reading and hearing me … and thank you for doing that. Thank you.)

 

 

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.