Talking to the Echo

There is a space where my husband’s voice once lived,
a big empty hole that sits in the center of my hours,
my days,
my years.
It mocks me by following me wherever I go,
And it feeds off of it’s own nothingness,
Sipping on the hollow void,
A cruel silence where there used to be sound.

It follows me everywhere,
But it is most cruel whenever I try to be my creative self.
I can write something,
Perform something,
Shape something,
And in that creative process,
I still look into the air, thin as a wafer,
And ask my husband,
“How does this sound?”,
Or
“What do you think of this, Boo?”
There is a pause that lasts ten thousand years,
And then nothing.

Where he used to help me write,
And add his humor to my scripts,
There is nothing.

Where he used to sit in the crowd,
And clap loudly,
His big and wonderful laugh,
Being heard above all the others,
There is nothing.

Where he met me after the show,
Outside of the club or the theater,
Sometimes with flowers or cards in his hand,
Wearing his pride for me in the pupils of his eye,
Saying, “I’m so proud of you, Boo”,
Twirling and hugging and holding my hand,
There is nothing.

I can fight the nothing
With the opinions of other caring people
In my life.
My parents, my friends, my counselor.
Sometimes that helps.
But most times,
Try as they do,
They do not respond in the way that I am searching for,
In the way that I long for and need,
Or they arent always there,
At the ready,
Waiting to be the response
to words
that I speak.
That is what a partner does.
Partners are there,
And they say the thing that you long to hear,
And they make your ideas shine,
And they put the period on the sentence,
Or they suggest that maybe it needed a comma,
Instead.

The nothingness where my husband used to be,
Causes me to feel so much jealousy,
When I am forced in a room with couples,
With marriage or long-term partnerships,
And when I hear the literal words
Of a wife saying to her husband,
“Honey, what do you think of this?”
It is like a slow stab,
And it pierces my insides,
Silently,
While nobody notices.
And it hurts.
Oh boy, does it hurt,
To witness the simple thing,
Of somebody saying words,
And somebody saying words back.

The nothingness where my husband used to be,
Makes me needy,
Much more needy,
than I ever thought I would be,
than I ever wanted to be.
When I write blog posts,
like this one,
I need to hear and read the comments,
Or I feel worthless,
Like I am talking to that thin air,
Or talking to myself
Again and again,
And again.
My constant status updates,
On Facebook,
are a helpless and desperate plea,
to seek out connection,
and fill the gaping wound,
that cries,
in that space,
where my husband used to be.

It is almost like,
I need to fill that space,
With 200 comments,
A thousand voices,
To make up for that one voice,
I can never hear again.
And since none of those voices,
Are his voice,
And none of those people,
Are him,
It does not fulfill,
What I need fulfilled.
It helps.
It helps in the same way,
That throwing a raisin into a manhole
Would help to fill the space
Of that manhole.

But it hurts.
Oh boy, does it hurt,
Because nobody is him,
Nobody ever will be him,
Not ever again.

And I try to remind myself,
Or ask myself,
In those moments,
“What would Don say?”,
Or I will attempt
To hear him
And listen for his voice,
There to complete my sentence.
But there is no sound.
No feeling.
No hint of his essence.
And with each new moment of silence,
The memory of what he might say,
Becomes less certain,
And it drifts away in a rowboat,
Leaving me at the shore.

There is a space,
Where my husband’s voice
Once lived.
I cannot stare at it,
Or find it,
Because it is all around me,
But I feel it.
I feel the nothingness,
And this is why,
I am terrified of finishing things,
Of things ending.
Like when this book is finally written,
Printed,
Published,
And a box of them is sent to my door,
And I open the box,
And it is filled with my dreams.
Books that I can look at,
And touch,
And know that the words inside are mine,
And the stories inside are mine,
And I will look into that thin air,
And say out loud
To the nothing,
“Arent you proud of me, Boo?”

And yes,
I know he is proud,
But that is not the same,
As hearing him say it,
And instead,
Hearing the loud roar of silence,
That comes just seconds,
After my own shallow voice,
In a room filled with people,
Or alone,
Always alone,
Talking to the Echo.

Lighthouse

I got an email today that made my heart do a little dance. It was from a fellow widow friend of mine, whom I’ve only met online, and who also happens to be a therapist. This was what her email said:

“I was on the phone with a client yesterday, and I asked her where she has found support online. She told me that most of the support sites were pretty useless, but then mentioned 2 sites that she liked, one of them being your blog. “Those are really the only two,”, she said. So, there you have it. Not only one of a woman’s Top 2. But one of her only 2. ”

Talk about powerful. Somebody out there, someone I have never even met, read my words on a page and found “support” in them. And someone else whom I’ve never met, decided to share that information with me, so that I would know it. And now I share it with you, so that you will know it too. Because if we don’t tell people that they have made a difference to us, affected us, shaped us – how on earth will they ever know? All it really takes for isolation to become connection is for someone to say the first word.

It got me to thinking, as my heart was doing pleas in the corner. I started thinking about all of the ways in which everyone is connected. Sometimes you can feel that connection, that bond, like a jolt of lightning that goes through your entire body. Other times, it’s more subtle, like someone reminding you of it in an email. Either way, it is there. That connection. It is always there.

We all inspire hope to someone. All of us. You might not even be aware of it, but it’s true. Right now, right this very minute, you might be striving to get to where someone else is on the path of life. Meanwhile, at the exact same moment, there is somebody else who wants to be exactly where you are right now. You are inspired by the ones who are a bit ahead of you, and others are inspired by you. If you look forward to the ones in front, you think: “I saw that person in total darkness, and now they are no longer in that darkness. If I just keep going, I can get to where they are too.” If you look behind you to the ones who are a bit in back, you think: “I remember what it was like to be there, where they are now. It was awful there. Maybe if I just keep going, they will be able to see my frame through the darkness, and they will know that they can get to where I am too.”

In the beginning, all you can see is pain. Nothing else can get in, because the pain is everywhere. In the beginning, most of us are not capable or do not have the energy or motivation or care to look outside of our pain and into someone else’s. Our own pain is much too overwhelming. Until it isn’t. Eventually, the pain begins to spread itself out, like the end of a morning fog, and it makes some room for more of the sky. In that sky, and in that fog, you can just barely make out the lighthouse that sits far away in the distance. The pain is still there – it is always there – but now you are able to shape it and mold it and turn it into something more than just pain. Like my friend Michele, who took her pain and with it, created a community for widowed people everywhere, by founding the Soaring Spirits Foundation, and Camp Widow. Or my friend Janine, who I met at Camp Widow last year, and have become close friends with ever since. She and her pain packed up their life in Texas, and started a new one in NYC, using her own courage as the building blocks to glue together her new world, after the sudden death of her husband Jim. And there are countless others, each of them a beacon of light, scratching and clawing and finding their way to the top of the lighthouse, always fully aware of the others behind them, still wandering through the fog.

It is the ones in front of us, who offer pieces of what our own future might look like, if we just keep going. It is the ones in back of us, who offer us perspective on how far we have come already, especially when we are feeling like giving up, or feeling judged or like nobody can see us.

Keep going. Keep walking. They see you, in the same way that you see them. They are looking at your every step in the hot, thick sand – and they are saying with their tired and hurt voices: “If he or she can get there, maybe I can too.” You are somebody’s lighthouse. And someone else is yours. And we are all silently helping each other, even when we don’t know it. Maybe, especially when we don’t know it.

Isn’t that cool?

Pictured: me w/ my friend Janine at Camp Widow. Lighthouse in Montauk, Long Island.

Crumb of Cake

Call me crazy, but I’m starting to feel like maybe I’m a little bit crazy.
Is that crazy?

Is it Nuts-ville Crazytown that I feel like I am more in love with my husband now, than ever before? That I would rather have one-way conversations with his spirit or soul, than put any real efforts into possibly finding a new partner who I could actually speak to, human to human? Is it insane that looking at his picture on my nightstand before going to sleep, and saying out loud, in a faint whisper: “Goodnight BooBear – I love you” seems to make more sense to me than saying nothing at all? Seriously – level with me, people – is it time for me to just go and get the straightjacket and try it on for size? Or is there a place that I can go to exist, where there isn’t all this pressure to “move on” or “get myself out there again”, and where having a continued relationship with my dead husband isn’t universally frowned upon?

I know, I know. It sounds crazy. But is it? Is it?

This is the man I chose to spend the rest of my life with. This one. Not another one that I have to go find all over again at age 42. Not someone new that I would have to date, get to know, figure out, play the stupid games, live the “single” life, read their mind, know their heart, and trust with everything. If I already trust everything with the person that I already chose, why should that have to change? How can it? How can I just not be deeply and powerfully in love with my person anymore? How do I train myself to fall out of love with him? How? And if the answer is that I don’t have to, and that I can still love him forever – then how do I go forward in my life having this all-encompassing love for a person who no longer walks the earth? My heart hurts with how much I love him, and with the reality that our time together here is gone. Four and a half years of marriage will just never be enough for me. Not ever.

Imagine being a baker, and spending 7 years of life creating the most delicious, incredible, perfect chocolate cake – that took you until you were 35 years old to get the recipe just right, and you were so proud of your cake and you just wanted to savor in it and taste it over and over and over until time ended – and one quarter of the way through your first, tiny bite of enjoying all your hard work and your creation, before your taste-buds could even react – a large and menacing hand snatches the cake away abruptly, and proceeds to smash it into tiny crumb bits, all over the floor. “But I only got one quarter of a bite!”, you scream in protest. It’s too late. Nobody cares. You only got a crumb of cake, and the rest was taken away for no reason at all. Time’s up. (Leave it to the fat widow to come up with a cake analogy.)


I don’t know how to do this. My heart is with my husband, and my husband is not here. And even though it is never fair or never enough, to have this new, other-wordly relationship with him – and it’s not even close to the same thing as actually having him here with me – this is what we have now. We have this. And there is a very large part of me, that would rather have this with my husband, than have something unknown with anybody else.

My whole life, nobody was ever in love with me. Nobody ever returned my feelings back. Nobody ever protected me or made me feel safe or truly, deeply loved. Nobody. Not until I met Don. Not in high school, not in college, not after college – nowhere. Nobody. I dated a lot of idiots over those young years. I had boyfriends. Some were nice, some were not. But none of them were deeply, madly in love with me. When I finally, FINALLY met my person – I was almost 29 years old. He was in Florida, I was in New Jersey. We bonded in a music chat room online, and became instant friends. And then more. He flew out to meet me, and then we were in love. I told him things about me that nobody else knew, or knows. I shared with him my soul and my fears and my heart. For 7 years, we dated long-distance, until he packed up his life and moved to New Jersey for me. Because he loved me deeply and madly. He supported me and cheered me on in my dreams. We were a team. Always a team.

Now he is gone. I know how to live without him. I’m learning, and it isn’t easy, but I know I can do it, and I know I will be okay. I know how to live without him. But how do I love without him?

If I’m being totally honest, and I always am in my writing, I will say that I am terrified. I am scared to death of growing old all alone, and dying all alone. Even more, I am frightened beyond words that he was my only person. That for the rest of my years, nobody will ever love me in that beautiful, amazing, trust-you-with-my-life sort of way, ever again. I live in terror that I will be granted a long, healthy life – never being allowed another bite of that cake.

Breathing New Life …

Being a writer, and being someone who has used writing each and every brutally honest emotion or thought as my way of coping and crawling through this muddy hell we call grief – I have often found it next to impossible to read other people’s pieces about death and loss. They never seem to sit right with me. They are either too religious, too preachy, too covered in the plastic-coating of what the outside world thinks and wants grief to be, or just too unrelatable. They are too much of the wrong things, and never enough of the right things. Or at least that is what I have experienced.

It is rare for me to find a book or a film or an article or much of anything – that truly speaks to me in that “Wow!” sort of way. So I don’t find myself reading a lot of other people’s work. I write. I write all of the things that I feel nobody else says. I write all the words that others tell me they are afraid to express. I write the pain and the fear and the questions and the panic and the fight and the terror and the loneliness and the confusion and the “what now?” on the trainwreck that is this life.

Sometimes, of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Sometimes, now and then, rarely – I will read something so powerful, so beautiful, so poetic, so true – that it is as if that writer had jumped inside of my heart and brain, stolen my words and my soul, and printed them there in front of me. But that isn’t what happened. Because when you feel the kind of intense, all-consuming pain that a widowed person feels, or that a person who has been through loss and death feels – there is no reason for stealing. The beauty inside of your words comes from that gut-wrenching pain – it comes from that hole inside of your soul that used to be your life – and if you are brave enough to put it out there, it can be everything.

Me in my “after” life – at Camp Widow East, Myrtle Beach.

Recently, I was introduced by my dear friend Sarah, to an exceptional man named Tom Zuba. Tom is a widower, who, in addition to losing his wife, also lost both his son, and his daughter. All seperately. At different times. When I type that out or even start to think about the massiveness of that statement, I almost cannot breathe. And so I have no idea how this man breathes through all of that pain, as it piles itself onto his heart, over and over and over ……

 I have never met this man, nor have I “met” Sarah. But in this new, weird, widowed life of mine – they are my “internet” friends. Sarah and I talk on the phone often – we trade tears and laughs and brutally honest dialogue about our dead loved ones that we lost in a few second’s time. Sarah is a writer and a very talented artist and someone I really admire, and so when she told me I have to check out this guy’s poetry and what he has to say about grief and loss, it took me about 14 seconds after hanging up the phone with her to look at his Facebook page and his website and his words. His insanely beautiful, haunting words.

 And after I did that, his words caused a hurricane of action within me. His words left me with that rare feeling of “Wow!”, where I felt as if just reading them was not enough, so I sent him a message telling him so. And he wrote back. And then I wrote back. And he wrote back again. And we talked about pain and love and comedy and baseball and life.

 And now we are friends. Internet friends. But friends. And I know that we will find a way to pool our pain and our passions together, and meet up somewhere in the future, to create something that becomes that rare “Wow!” moment for someone else. But until then, I’m going to post here the poem he wrote that brought me to tears. The poem that woke me up and made me start to breathe differently – with new life. The poem that I’m going to print out and frame, and put on the wall in my home office, so that I can read the words every single time I feel like giving up. Every single time I don’t want to get up and feel this pain. Every single time I tell myself that what Im doing doesn’t really matter, and nobody really cares or reads or listens.

Every. Single. Time.

“Grief is not the enemy.
Grief is the teacher.

But its lessons are not learned in the head.
With the mind.
Its lessons are heart lessons.
Love-centered.
Filtered through grace.

Over 
and over
and over
again
our mind will say
“But, this is not fair.”
“I don’t deserve this.”
“Why me?”
“I will never get over this.”
“The pain will always be there.”

Don’t get trapped
in the viscous
replaying
voices
of your mind.

Grief is not a head-thing.
Not if you want to heal.

Healing grief 
is a heart thing.

And when the heart speaks
to you
in silence
it says
I know darkness
deep, all-encompassing, endless
darkness
so I will be light
for the next person.

I know loneliness
even in (especially in)
a room full of people
so I will be friend
for the next person.

I know terror
Indescribable,
inexplicable
terror
so I will be comfort
for the next person.

And I know despair.
Paralyzing
can’t-get-out-of-bed
life is too dark
despair
so I will be hope
for the next person.

And in time
with grace
and heart
I realize that
I am more of who I was
not less.

I am more.
Not less.

We think that grief is the enemy
to be avoided at all costs.
It is not.
Grief is not the enemy.
Great is the great, life-giving teacher.

Not in spite of the fact that someone you love has died.
But because of that fact that someone you love has died.

Grief is the teacher.
The life-giving, heart-expanding teacher.
Because you have chosen to say yes
to life
to love
to your beloved, 
really,
over
and over
and over again.

Grief is not the enemy.”

 

You can find more of this truth and inspiration at www.tomzuba.com or https://www.facebook.com/tomzuba1. To check out my friend Sarah’s blog and her words of hope and love, go to www.our1000days.com

As always, your comments are deeply appreciated and MATTER! Thank you …

 

Loves Lives On Through 100 Acts of Kindness, in the 2nd Annual “Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day”

Actually, to be fair, it’s more like 114 acts of kindess, or 109, or something. But I stopped counting somewhere around 103. I was too overwhelmed, and getting a kindness-induced migraine.

On the first year mark of my husband’s sudden death, July 13th, my one and only goal was to simply not die. Just get through the day without dying. Breathe. Don’t panic. Try to control the anxiety and the massive sobbing fits. The flashbacks and the images from that morning. That day. Just try like hell to inhale and exhale without too much drama.

At my grief-counselor’s suggestion to “do something that day that honors his life and who he was”, I created “Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day.” The idea was to simply ask others to do something kind, anything at all, big or small, for someone else, in my husband’s memory and name. Why pay it forward? Because that is exactly who Don Shepherd was. He was kind. He was selfless. He knew all the names of every vendor and store owner and local in our neighborhood, and always said hello and good morning to each of them, when I was always in a hurry. He took those extra moments to help someone, to care, to listen. Don loved to rescue and save people. It was just in his nature.

When he was in the Air Force many years ago, before I even met him, he was a Flight Crew Chief, and he made sure all the planes were safe. He also used to fix cars as a mechanic at Cadillac. For over a decade and a half, he was an E.M.T., in two different states, saving and changing lives. He spent his days off volenteering for Petsmart Animal Adoption, where he also worked a second job stocking pet food. He loved to pet cats, play with dogs, strum his guitar, and sit at home with his wife and watch a Yankees game. He would have done anything in the world for me. Anything. We didnt have much, but everything he had, he would give to me. There were many days when he started his day by taking the last few dollars out of his wallet to give to me, leaving himself with nothing. “Take it, Boo. You need it more than me. I’ll sneak a free lunch in the hospital cafeteria or something”, he would say.

He saved me every single day of my life. He was always saving me. So for me, paying it forward with acts of kindness seemed like the most obvious thing to do – the thing that would best demonstrate who he was and who he is – and therefore, help him to never really die. Because when you live on inside someone else who loves you the way that I love Don, you never really die.

On the 2nd year anniversary of his death, once again, I posted and put the word out to everyone I know about paying it forward. It is what I will do every single year from now on, for as long as I am alive. The massive outpouring of love and kindness that erupted on July 13th this year, is simply stunning. People came out from every corner to tell their stories of kindness. Some came in the form of generous donations to charities and foundations that mean so much to me and my husband. Some came in the form of a simple, yet helpful act. Some were extremely creative, artistic, and wonderfully surprising. And during this 2nd round of paying it forward, something amazing happened. It became about more than simply helping others. A lot of people, as you will read, made giant steps in self-discovery, and used the exercise to help themselves in very meaningful ways. It was beautiful. It was revealing. It was an epic, chain-reaction of love. A volcano of kindness.

The following Pay it Forwards are written in your words. Some are short, others are long. Some will make you laugh, others might make you cry. Perhaps you will read these many, many tales – and have a favorite of your own. As for me, I try not to pick favorites, because it seems to defeat the purpose of what we are doing here. However, I will say that if Don had a say in which one is his favorite, it would most likely be the one involving his name shining in lights for all the world to see.

Curious? Of course you are. Get yourself a cup of coffee. You might need a whole pot, because there is a hell of a lot of kindness here for one sitting. Sometimes when I go back and read it, I feel as if my heart might explode. Each one of these people and each one of these pay it forwards, is like a tiny, gigantic miracle. If you read this whole thing and you don’t get at least a little bit emotional, check your pulse. You may be dead. And if you are dead, or when you are dead, I can only hope for you that people honor you in the beautiful and spectacular way that my husband has been honored here – by family, friends, strangers, and lots of my sisters and brothers in the widowed community that Ive met both in person, and online, during these past 2 years. Love never dies. It lives inside of your soul, and mine. Don’t ever let it die. Pay it forward. Read on ………

My family and I are paying it forward in Don’s honor by volenteering 30 hours at the 33rd Annual National Veteran Wheelchair Games. I am working with wheelchair-bound vets who are competing in various sporting events, much like the Paralympics. My family attended the opening ceremonies, where 600 veterans took part. It was a humbling experience. I know Don was in the Air Force, like myself, and I know he would be humbled by the courage, strength, and hope of these athletes, many of whom suffered injuries while in combat. So many heros who exemplify the true meaning of “never leave a comrade behind.” I am quite sure that Don would feel the same way.” – Alicia Gill Rossiter, FL.

“Recently, our minister suggested that we each think of a child at our church and meditate or pray for their well-being and safety, or just send them some positive energy. I have recently “adopted” twin boys for this purpose, and have been sending my thoughts, each time, in Don’s name, but especially will do so on the 13th. Please know that I love you.” – Aunt Debbie, MA.

“I gave some money to a friend of mine who is having a rough time lately with her children. Love you. What a beautiful concept. I hope you are okay my darling. See you soon.” – Mark Exlos, Ohio (Don’s nephew)

I hosted a party for a couple that I am friends with, that have been so helpful and supportive of me; they both turned 40 last week, and I wanted to show how much I appreciate their friendship. I think of Don often, and realize how much I need to appreciate what I have now in my life.” – Jennifer Parker, NH.

I had to think outside the box with money being tight, but I came up with a couple things that I felt really paid tribute to you and Don and your situation. First, the girl I share an office with just turned 26, and Thursday is the 2 yr anniversary of her mom dying at age 45, so I am going to get her flowers on Thursday. The second thing I did was super hard. I wrote a letter to my husband for him to read if I die. And now every July 13, I’m going to write another one, so there is always one less than a year old, and he (hopefully) will have a lot of them saved up over the years — lots of last words for him to remember.” – Liza Beam, WA.

My birthday was Friday and my grandparents gave me a check for $50. I thought the best way to use it would be to pay it forward and make a donation to Soaring Spirits in memory of Don.” – Claire Harmer

“I made a donation to 100 Cameras. Its a beautiful project where they help children in struggling, poverty stricken, or otherwise marginalized situations by providing them cameras and helping them gain confidence and raise funding for their own communities through telling their own visual stories. This is the photo I am purchasing… it is from their NYC project, from a boy named… can you believe the odds of this? … Andrew. (same name as my late fiance) He is 13 years old and lives on the Lower East Side. Here’s a link to his bio on the site.Thank you for doing this, I think its so beautiful and I definitely plan to do it next year for my man.” – Sarah Treanor, TX. http://www.100cameras.org/lower-east-side/purchase-andrews-prints/

“I wanted to tell you what John and I did for Don’s Day. Today I had to go to take Gus to my vet for a follow up visit, and I decided that what I would do is pay money towards another client’s vet bill, in Don’s name. There are always people who have pets with chronic illnesses, and that treatment can get very costly. So I made a donation of $50 to pay towards one of their client’s bills…whether it is someone who has a hard time with annual visits because of the basic cost, or someone who has a pet who is needing extra care, there are always clients for whom this is a very hard bill….one fraught with guilt. And they know their clients and their clients’ stories, and who would most benefit. The lady who took my donation in Don’s name was really happy to be able to do this, and will make sure it goes to someone who truly needs it.” – Misty Corrales, Alabama

“My pay it forward is that when we move, I am not taking any of my kitchen stuff with me. I am giving it to someone at our battered women’s shelter who is getting to move out on her own and start over. The ladies there normally go in the middle of the night and take nothing but the clothes they and their kids are wearing, so I know they don’t have things like pots and pans. Thinking of you today.” – Ashley Pugh

“So Sheri and I are on vacation. In Hawaii. And what the heck can I do for “pay it forward -Don rules” day (or whatever it’s called). Well,on our way to a beach I see a gaggle of 8-12 year olds having a car wash. And I think…. Maybe….so I pull over and ask the girls what they are raising money for? Well, they need money to travel to another island for the finals of a blahblahblah. It gets expensive to travel between islands here. Not like just renting a yellow school bus. So I pay for 6 car washes and wish the girls luck. Then I pull into a parking lot to turn around, and get stuck for 15 minutes between 2 senior citizens parking!! Somewhere, Don was making fun of me.” – Rodney Ladino, NY (but reporting from Hawaii)

“I adopted Winter at Clearwater (Florida) Aquarium to honor Don. Winter is the dolphin from the movie ‘Dolphin Tale’, and if you havent seen it, you must. It will make you feel sooo good. This is the same aquarium I donated to last year for Don, before I even knew that he lived there for a good portion of his life.” www.seewinter.com  – Dianne Bissonette, VA

“I’m not creative, nor did I have a lot of time to do much today, so all I ended up doing was tipping our waitress extra. It’s not much, but I hope it helps her somehow.” – Michelle McDowall

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do to pay it forward today, but then my little brother called me. He and his roommate were walking past a dumpster and heard meowing, so they climbed in and rescued a tiny kitten. The poor kitty had been wrapped in a plastic bag and dropped in the dumpster. They took him home and cleaned him up, but they’re broke college kids and didn’t have money to take him to the vet, so I told him about Don and sent him the money as my pay it forward. They had already named the kitten Charlie, but his middle name is now Don. I had a photo of him to share with you today, but it looks like it disappeared on me. He is a black and white kitty, very cute and sweet. The vet says he’s fine, he just had fleas. He’ll go back in to get fixed when he’s old enough.” – Sarah Forgey

“My pay it forward is being done while we are on vacation in Lake George. I will be taking my 2 nephews to the Big Apple Circus and paid for 2 extra tickets to be given out to a random family in the area!” – Amy Hoffman Engle

“So, a year ago I knew I had a problem.  I had decided then that I was going to write you a long letter and explain as part of Don’s pay it forward day I was going to get help.  I know it’s not quite the same as giving to others, but I really had reached a point where I didn’t know how to do anything anymore so I thought a lot about your situation.  I have and continue to find you a total inspiration in the way you manage to keep going and accomplish so much.  I know it’s been an indescribable struggle for you and there are times I’ve found it hard to read some of your posts, but you will follow those heartbreaking posts with something that will literally make me laugh out loud to the point where people in my office are asking me what happened.  I know you probably don’t see it, but how you continue to keep up your blog, with some truly brilliant writings, and do your online reviews and doing your one woman play and doing stand up and teaching stand up and dealing with not nice roommates and moving all over- It’s amazing.

I’ve avoided making copies of crap for my bankruptcy for 6 months because I would find it so overwhelming and instead would run out and do drugs and have anonymous sex with strangers and drink and do all manner of ridiculous self destructive things.  Just to avoid making some copies!  Obviously there was a lot of crap behind it – my break up, financial ruin, my dad doing so poorly and worrying about my mom having little or no help- but I wasn’t doing anything positive.  I thought- a year ago- I would dedicate my commitment to getting better and admitting I have a problem to Don’s memory and also to your courage throughout all of this.

Sadly, I wasn’t strong enough and things got worse.  The last time I saw you I told you about what was happening and said I was doing better.  I lied.  I continued to use drugs often and in destructive ways until I woke up a month ago and realized I was going to ruin my life completely or just outright kill myself.  I finally got the courage to go to a meeting and have been going almost every day since.  I found a referral service that placed me with an affordable therapist and I made those fucking copies for my bankruptcy.  I have a long road ahead and have to deal with some of the fall out of my behaviors, but I’m lucky to still have a job and health insurance and a place to live and have found a ridiculous, crazy, absolutely nuts group of people who though I barely know, have helped me through this first 30 days.

Anyway- I don’t have any money right now and I don’t have time to do anything other than go to work and go to meetings and the gym and try and get better.  But I thought I could, even if it’s a year later than I wanted, let you know that you and Don are the first people I think about when I think I want to do drugs, or get black out drunk.  Life really sucks and can be a huge disappointment but there are also some good moments still out there worth having.  Since I can’t do anything else right now other than take care of myself, I figured I could at least think of what I’m doing as a tribute to you and to Don’s memory.  I hate when people say “everything happens for a reason”.  It’s so gross and dismissive. But I do think when bad things happen we can choose to drown in them, or keep swimming and trying to create some good.  That’s what you’ve done over and over and that is such an incredible tribute to Don’s memory.  I want to do the same thing.” – Chosen to Remain Anonymous

“Hey, my friend. Just wanted to let you know that i am continuing my “pay-it-forward” for don this month and beyond. everytime i do something for someone else–something random and unplanned–i think of him, and of you, and do it in his honor. today i bought two big jugs of ice cold lemonade and gave them to the poor schmucks who were doing landscaping outside the target near my parents’ house. i told them about don–one of the guys’ brothers is an emt–and they were so happy. so there you go. i am so grateful that i have him to direct my good deeds–and so grateful for you continuing to talk out loud about your process. the world is better because of you, kelley.” – Holly Lash, CA

“I paid for coffee for some young Marines when I was in Starbucks on Saturday. I know it’s small, but I know Don would have appreciated it.” – Jennifer Calkin Mastromarino, NY

“I gave my umbrella to a woman in a wheelchair during a downpour. She and her daughter were so grateful. Also drove my handicapped neighbor to synagogue.” – Sheila-Slaw Muller, NY.

“On June 28, 2013, Camp Widow Day, where we were enjoying the festivities in San Diego, there was a terrible flood in Oneida, a town about 40 minutes away from Syracuse. A wonderful non-profit humane association and animal shelter called Wanderer’s Rest sprung into action and started rescuing stranded and endangered animals. They also started taking donations to buy needed pet food and supplies to pet owners in need after the flood. When I called to tell them I was coming today and why, a lovely volunteer told me she was sitting with a cat they named “Gulliver” who had been found swimming down the main street in the flood…what travels he has had to survive!! Sadly, his owner has not found him yet so they are keeping him safe. Today to Pay It Forward to Don, I drove to the shelter and made a $200 donation in Don’s honor. Here I am wearing my “Death Sucks” T-shirt holding sweet Gulliver and your beautiful wedding picture. I wrote July 13, 2013-Pay It Forward for Don Shepherd on the picture but it is hard to read. Today is also a bittersweet anniversary for me, I always mark the 13th of each month, Tim’s funeral was on Friday the 13th, November 2009…the last time I saw his handsome face…so I have his handsome face in the picture as well! We hope this brings you some joy in knowing Don and You and helping others in need while marking a solemn day of remembrance for your precious soulmate. I also did a pay it forward and sponsored a Camp Widow West 2014 registration for a camper in need. This is paying it forward for YOU, because you bring so much laughter to all of us. Much Love, Anne Marie, Lucca and Vivi (our fur babies) and Tim, Always in my Heart …”

 “A little late to the party, but my 6 year old gave me $1.32 (in coins 😉 ) and my 10 year old gave me $3 and I evened it out to make a donation to the American Heart Association, in Don’s name.” – Andrea Lee Pike

I made a donation to the American Heart Association. I tried sending it with Don’s name on it, but it was making me select a recipient. However, it was donated in his name even if I couldn’t put his name on it.” – Casey Wheeler

“Big HUGS to you on this sad anniversary day, Kelley. In honor of your love, Don, I made a donation to Elayne Boosler’s “Tails of Joy” because, like Don, I am a huge animal lover (& a huge Elayne Boosler fan). I also donated a Camp Registration to CWW in Don’s name and lastly because you moved me so much at your comedy show at CWW I made a donation to your book fund! I can’t wait to see it in print.I know your Don must be beaming with pride and joy at all the acts of kindness you have inspired on his behalf:) Just know that you are wrapped in love from all your fellow widow sisters. You’re an inspiration.” – Barbara Idzerda

Thinking of you today. Paid it forward for Don by spending the morning sorting, washing & folding clothes. It was mainly children’s clothing. Then took 4 very full bags to the Jeffco Action Center. They will be directly given to families in need. This certainly includes families who have lost a parent or partner.” – Cormac Dorsey, CO

“Today went to the Talcott Parade and will be making a donation on Wednesday. I sent a Balloon up with Dons name inside and lets see where it goes!” – Ellen Kammerer Ogurek

“One donation to ‘Tails of Joy’ in the memory of fellow animal lover Don Shepherd.” – Harry Grover

“we made a donation to the Greater Huntsville Humane Society (no-kill shelter in our community).” – Belinda Bishop

“I did a PIF today! Just paid for the coffee for the car behind me at Dunkin but as we were pulling away I saw they had a firefighter sticker on the windshield. I think Don would have approved.” – Lauren Young, MA

We, as a family, paid for another familys meal when we were out at lunch this weekend. They didnt know that we did it until after we left, and the kids thought it was super cool and heartwarming.” – Lyn Keinholz

“I did something this morning that I have been wanting to do for 5 months. I took donuts and coffee to my local fire station for the firefighters and EMT’s who worked so hard to try and save my husband on that February morning. We had a chance to exchange many hugs and tears. It was wonderful.” – Melody Henning McAuloy, TN

 I agonized over what I could do for Don Day this year. I’m short on cash, and had home chores and social commitments that day. I hoped that an opportunity would present itself. I guess it did.

I know Don’s relationship with his father was heartbreaking for him. My own relationship with my father is not a good or strong one at all. My father has hurt me perhaps more than anyone else in my life. It’s been a year or so now since I’ve had my last nightmare about fighting him or trying to get away from him. I moved away from home over a decade ago.

As I was mowing the lawn, I decided that it was time to start looking at him as a person, instead of as the arch super villain in my life. I remembered Don being constantly disappointed that his father didn’t want to really be a part of his life. I don’t know that’s what I want either, but I’m just going to try to forgive my father – with no expectations. I won’t build up any hopes that he’ll come around or change. I’m going to hope that it’ll change me and allow myself to open up my heart more to others and be able to live up to the ideals that I profess to believe in.

My father also sent a birthday card to my husband with a nice check in it. I called him up to thank him for that and tell him about Don Shepherd Day. Maybe he’ll pass it along as well.” – Kevenn T. Smith

 “This year, I donated to Soaring Spirits International. I am truly happy that you are able to go to Camp Widow and be with other people who have experienced what you have. I am glad that organization is there and is a good source of support for you.

Also, we have yet another woman in our neighborhood who was widowed. Last year I brought flowers to 2 other widows I know and it was a blessing for them. So this year I brought flowers to her and told her about you what you were doing in Don’s honor. She was really touched and said, “You know, you just have no idea, no idea at all what it’s like unless you’ve been there. Thank you so much for thinking of me today, that means a lot.” I told her about Camp Widow and she thought you were really brave to travel all that way to go. She said you must be a very strong woman.

Lastly, a few weeks ago I heard that some friends of ours have a neighbor whose 3 year old daughter was just diagnosed with leukemia. I don’t know them, but I heard that there were people that were going to be bringing them meals so that they would have one less thing to do as they bring their daughter to chemotherapy every week. I signed up to bring a meal as close to Pay It Forward for Don Day as I could. I’ll be bringing them dinner on Wednesday this week.’ – Stacey Riggs

“For Pay It Forward Don Shepherd Day July 13th, 2013, I am doing two things.  I just donated $100 for you to write and publish your book about your amazing husband, and I have written and attached an acrostic poem I wrote about Don Shepherd.  I read about him through your website, links, and stories.  I have tried to use the words that you used to describe him.  I hope you like this poem that I have written from my heart for this special day!” – Shirley Tam, NY.


I wasn’t certain what to do for Pay it Forward Day, but this seemed to be the most appropriate place to donate to that I could think of for your Don.” – Kevin Harris, MI. (www.michiganhumane.org is a private nonprofit that cares for over 100,000 animals each year, and works to end animal homelessness.)

I have been reading your blog ever since I saw my friend Janine post about it last year. Please know that although we have never met and I dont comment on your FB page often, I sit here silently cheering you on. Your blog has made me laugh, cry, and made me wish I had met Don. I am an animal lover, and I help friends with rescues, I have fostered pets, etc. So I called up one of our shelters and asked what they needed. They said blankets and sheets. Their cages are on concrete, with no comfort. So my husband and I went on a massive  cleanout mission, gathering a shit-ton of blankets, sheets, comforters, then drove them out to the SI ACC and donated them all in Dons name. Now those dogs and cats will have something comfortable to sleep on.” – Jaime Mimozzo Pilozzi

Finally, Kelley!! I’ve been fussing since Saturday that I hadn’t paid it forward for Don. I’ve been trapped in the mundane business of everyday life. And recent things have put a temporary lid on my contributions…..plus, I was hoping for a chance to do something with/for someone. Today I was able to. In the middle of another day in the office (actually moving from old office to new) I met with an alum and former singing student for two hours to help her learn this really difficult aria which she needs to prepare for auditions this fall in a grad program. When she asked me what she should pay me after the two hours, I almost quoted her my “student” rate, but said no, this double lesson was no charge. She works hard to earn every penny towards her education. So that’s it. Afterward, I thought about Don and figured he would approve of my giving my time for a former student, to make music and take little steps towards her future. I’m sure he appreciated all the musical advice he ever received from his friends…..it’s a little thing, but I know that my time was well spent today and it made a little difference to this hard-working student.” – Michael Hume, Director of Music, Adelphi University, NY.

Hi Kelley, I was inspired by your pay it forward for Don Day. My husband and I started our Chris Armas soccer camp this monday and we decided to sponser 3 kids who could not afford to come. We told them that it was in honor of a special man named Don Shepard. They were thrilled, I will try to get a picture of them today to show you. Although we don’t know you guys, I can tell he must have been an awesome person from how much you loved him.” – Justine Izzo Armas

My pay it forwards weren’t really that big- but I was not sure what I could do. So I tipped $10 on a $2.00 drink, I gave a parking space to an older gentleman, and I waved at kids who looked sad and then when they looked at me I made silly faces and they laughed.’ – Sara Schiffman, PA

I played! This morning I went to breakfast. After I ate I gave the manager fifty dollars and the attached note then told him to use it to pay for the next person with kids that came in but don’t tell them who did it. Felt great to both honor Your Don and make someone’s day better.” – Stephen Glasgow, IL

 “I made donation to the Pancreatic Cancer Network. Maybe that was a little self-serving because I donated it to Bruce’s tribute page! Here is the public comment with the donation – This donation is made to honor the spirit of Don Shepherd, who, like Bruce, was an amazing, good hearted man. 7/13/2013. I am thinking of you with love and ((hugs)) today, dear Kelley.” – Sue Redwine

I actually went to go visit a friend who was just diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer. I don’t see her that often because we live far apart. And while it wasn’t necessarily a “pay it forward” situation, I did think of how we need to stop taking for granted the time we have with our loved ones. I thought of Don throughout the day and how we are reminded how short life can be and how we need to take the time to let people know how important they are in our lives. It was nice to see her and it made me feel good that I took the time. So thank you Kelley, for reminding me of this, and thank you Don, too.” – Joanne Filan, NJ.

“So I spent the better part of this morning at the community run food shelter down the street. I had been told a man often came in with his dog and found food he could share with the dog, since they never had dog food. On my way in, I stopped and bought several bags of dog food for him. He came in and I asked him to please accept some dog food. He asked me why I went out of my way for him. I explained about today and how Don loved animals, and that it just felt like something I should do. He cried and thanked me, then he thanked Don for being a much missed inspiration. I always donate to that food shelter, but I’ll be volunteering there on weekends when I can now too, and I’ll make sure to donate pet food from now on.” – Kat Tamayo

“I work for a special ed school for children with behavioral disorders (Autism Spectrum, mainly, but also Emotionally Disturbed, Bipolar, ADD, ADHD, etc). I am a social coach as well as an in-class assistant. There is a student who is very dependent upon routine and the safety of knowing she has school every day helps her behavioral issues a lot, however, when we have a break from school it creates a lot of anxiety in her and it is very tough for her to handle. She is very close to me as her staff. Yesterday was the last day of summer school for her for as month and she was very anxious. Anyway, I am off work for this time as well and yesterday I reached out to her parents to let them know I would like to volunteer some “big sister” type time with this girl throughout the break, just to provide her with some structure and normalcy. Hope this will be good for her, and a great way to honor your beloved. (update couple days later)  I just got a call from the girl’s mother and we set up our first “Big Sis-Lil-Sis” date for next Monday. I talked to the girl and she said she was so excited that she was smiling for a half hour after her mom told her and that she can’t wait to hang out! I am feeling tip top right now. Thank you for making such beauty out of despair, can’t think of anything better!!!” – Meagan O’Connor

“To pay it forward in honor of Don : Clothing was purchased for a family with several school age children. Growing up my mom was a single mom and I am very sensitive to single mom issues.” – Teresa Smith Wardlow

” In Paying Forward to Don, yesterday I pre-ordered cupcakes and told them what this was for. They had tears in their eyes. The cupcakes were ready at 8:00 am this morning. Since Don’s favorite color was black – I ordered half chocolate buttercream and half chocolate fudge – the darkest that I could get it. I also wanted to put his initial on the cupcake which is the letter “D”. They couldn’t fit Don on it. Knowing that he donated his time to Animal Rescue – there was a fund raiser event today of all days – so I donated the cupcakes for your Don in his Honor and Memory. I am also going to post the photos that I took. My heart is thinking of you today.” – Judy Kaan

“Hi Kelley, I know this is late but I figured Don would forgive me! Today was the day, maybe fitting as it is my birthday and it feels so much better to give in Don’s honor than receive. I received an FB share from a dear friend asking for help for a friend of a friend who was needing assistance with burial expenses for his mother who had passed away on July 10. Here is what I said when I donated.

“I am paying it forward today in honor of a friend’s late husband Don Shepherd. I don’t know you or your family, but I know how it feels to have to bury a loved one. Worrying about not being able to take care of your mother respectfully after death is nothing that anyone should have to endure. I am so very sorry for your loss and hope that this helps in some way. ”
Much love to you and Don! – Jennifer Shaw Coombe

“I just made a donation to your site in honor of your husband. Although we only met once (in NYC following your show with your students) I have kept up with your blog and posts. That have made me laugh and cry. I love your pay it forward for don program! I am hoping you find some peace today and going forward.” – Amy Sturmer Margolis

“Hello Kelley – my way of paying it forward for Don: I have offered to help our VB friend Dono (Golfhead) to get his music recorded on CD. Dono does not have the technology at home to do this, so I am working on putting drum tracks down for as many of his songs as I can. Our friend from VB, Mike Demers, has agreed to assist. Once we get basic tracks recorded, Dono will be invited to go to Mike’s house in Ottawa to record vocals and guitar. We will then burn the songs on CD, produce some artwork, and hopefully find an outlet where Dono can offer his original song CD’s for sale. As you know, Dono includes mention of Don in his VB signature on the forums; I know he will agree to mention Don on the completed CD covers.” – Larry in Texas, from the guitar message boards at www.Vanderbilly.com where Don was a regular poster.

“On July 13, I was in uniform at McGuire, supporting my squadron during an inspection. Just doing my job. . . but my job is to make sure that my folks have the best medical training they can possibly get. And for the first time, I have people reporting to me, both officer and enlisted, and I am responsible for making sure they get what they need to progress in their careers.

Don is rarely far from my thoughts, especially when I am at the base. Even though we’re Air Mobility Command, and not fighter jocks like the guys he used to run with. I do my best to make him proud. And yes, I was treated to a block of Bon Jovi on the radio on Saturday, as I drove past the flight line from my skills lab back to my squadron. Pretty sure that was him saying hi.” – Margaret Chandler

 

 

ARE YOU STILL WITH US??? CONGRATULATIONS!!! YOU ARE AT THE HALFWAY POINT OF THIS EPIC BLOG OF KINDNESS!!! GET A SNACK! USE THE RESTROOM! GET THE KIDS AND READ TO THEM ABOUT ALL THIS GOODNESS! IF YOU DONT HAVE ANY KIDS – GET SOME AND THEN READ TO THEM ABOUT ALL THIS GOODNESS. BORROW A FEW KIDS FROM SOMEONE. THEY WONT MIND. ITS FOR A GOOD CAUSE. IF I CAN WRITE ALL THIS OUT, YOU CAN READ IT!!! CALL OUT SICK FROM WORK AND READ THIS INSTEAD! YOU CAN DO IT!!! KEEP GOING ………

 

“Zane and I will be “Doling Out Dollars for Don” next week. We are behind, but I know it will be just as wonderful as last year. However, once again I have been wracking my brain trying to think of something really special I could do to honor Don. Then today it just happened!  Random acts of kindness are amazing because they can make the giver feel just as good, if not even better, than the receiver!

I went to CVS to fill a prescription, but they did not have the meds I needed. The pharmacist told me to try another CVS, which I had never used for prescriptions. I decided to give it a try. After dropping off my prescriptions there, I was walking out behind a very beautiful and young 78 year old woman. She was pushing the buggy out the door, but the pole on the top stopped her. I told her I could put her buggy away for her, but she said that she needed it to help her walk to her car. I offered to help her, and she seemed very surprised. We walked slowly together and had time to have a nice chat. I told her my name was Kelli and she said that her granddaughter’s name was Kelli, and that she was coming to visit to celebrate their birthdays. She told me her name was Suzanne, and I told her that my sister’s middle name was Suzanne and that my niece who was visiting was named Kelli Suzanne. She was very excited and told me that her granddaughter’s name was also was Kelli Suzanne. Then she pointed up to the sky and said someone up above had planned for us to meet. At that moment I thought of Don, and I felt he must have had something to do with my random act of kindness. Suzanne was as sweet as she could be, and once I helped her into her car we continued our conversation about how I was in town to help my mom take care of my dad with Alzheimer’s. She talked about taking care of her husband for the last few years of his life. In the end we exchanged telephone numbers, and I offered to take her to lunch one day. She was so surprised, but said she would be thrilled to go. I will tell her about Don’s Day when we go to lunch, and I will write you and let you know how it goes. Bless you, Kelley, for inspiring me and so many others.” – Kelli Rene Williamson Fockler

“In honor of Don b/c he loves animals so much. We have a robin’s nest outside of Chapman Hall and the mother has been sitting on her eggs for about a week (I think the babies should break through very soon). My grandson, Ben (10 1/2) is a birder…b/c he has perfect pitch he can recognize each individual bird’s “song” and identify them. So this morning I emailed him a photo of the mama robin in her nest so that he’ll have a special day. Love you, Kelley! xo” – Susan Spencer Farinacci, NY

” I donated in Don’s name to a student at the university I went to. It’s an alumni scholarship, and the girl, Kat, will be able to finish her last year with a little help from all of us from the class of 2004. I made sure to note that it was done in Don’s name. More importantly, though, I wanted to share something with you. This evening, Johan and I went to church. They have the same readings on Saturday evening as they do on Sunday, and I’m really glad we went today, because these readings made me think all the more about Don and the kind of man you talk about. You’ve told us again and again what a kind and helpful person he was, and how much he cared very much about others.The gospel today was about the good Samaritan, the man who did not turn his back on the person in need, but rather helped him and made sure he was taken care of in his absence. I found this very fitting, as I imagine Don as a kind of good Samaritan. In a way, I feel that he has done the same with you. He took care of you while he could, and in his absence, he has asked us friends of yours to continue taking care of you. And we will, supporting you in whatever small or big ways we can. Please receive a very big hug all the way from France, and be sure that you and Don have been in my thoughts and prayers. He is part of you, and therefore, he is part of all of us who care about you. Lots of love … ” – Diana Montenegro Richard, Essex

“For this year’s pay it forward for Don, I was trying the whole week to be extra helpful and nice to friends and strangers, and doing it consciously and with an extra effort. Normally I do these things as well (but not that many in one week) but this time I thought of you and Don while doing it. What I am trying to say is: I made this less about doing something extra today or this week but tried to incorporate you and Don into my days – and thoughts. To give you a couple of examples: I baked a lot of goodies this week and gave them mainly away to friends and co-workers. That created some happy faces  I will also go and help friends clean their house tomorrow. They are moving and need extra hands. And I will read the master’s thesis of another friend to cross-check for any mistakes she might have made.” – Anne Eiermann

I donated my time at my local humane society.” – Angel Vigil, CA.

My week has been very challenging and I have been in immense pain but on Tuesday when waiting at the hospital I spied a new very nervous face on the chemo ward. This woman an American who spoke Hebrew but was really looking in shock at the surroundings. I maneuvered my chair near hers( we are in easy chairs and introduced myself, said I was there if she needed me. Five minutes later the nurse got me and I held her hand as they hooked her up for the first time, and walked her though a healing meditation. I stayed next to her the whole session, we got to know each other and by the end I had made a new friend . She said what can I do for you & I said pay it forward, help someone else through their first time. She said that she would. It wasnt much, but it was done in memory of your husband. May he continue to protect you from above.” – Chose to Remain Anonymous

“Kelley, Your life has changed completely in the last two years. As someone whose life has had to change in spite of my unwillingness to change with it, or at the very least my inability to accept the changes, I understand that change can really suck. I have had my share of heart ache and sadness and an ocean of unknown swirling around me. It challenges every part of who you think you are, and what you think you can handle.

I was trying to think of what I could do to be a part of your Don – Pay it Forward Day. I was really at a loss. Well, suddenly in the last week and a half I had two really great career possibilities. After 6 months of doubt filled unemployment I was both excited, and truthfully daunted, by the thought of new opportunities. I had very little faith in my ability to “do” anything. I had been fired after trying so hard to transition to some new … new anything. In the last 5 years my relationship fell apart, I had to leave my home, leave my job, move to a new city, and try to start over again as just me. “Just Me” I was not even sure what that was anymore. Who was I and what could I do? And who would care anyway? A little over a year ago I started seeing a therapist because I knew I was stuck. He has been a force for self awareness. Well, after getting two really positive new career possibilities I went to my therapy appointment ready to share some good news with him about my life. Sitting there on his couch talking about my new positive future, my chin began to quiver, my eyes filled up with tears and I became a puddle. All of the emotions I had bottled up and packed away came to the surface. Now I would need to finally break my final tie to my ex. A new job would take me to Las Vegas where I had bought a home and made a life. Now I could finally take care of my things in storage, and deal with my car, and all of the emotional baggage that I had avoided by moving to New York. I had run out of excuses to delay what I knew had to happen. No amount of good news came close to matching the embarrassment of sadness I felt at cutting the final ties to Z (not real name). It felt like a flash flood, or a plane crashing, or that the slow motion footage of our break up was suddenly playing at full speed. I had no ability to grab hold of my emotion and I sat there dripping tears. It was like that the rest of the day. I could not help but let it out. I left his office and went home to write to Z about finally settling things once and for all. Writing that e-mail proved incredibly difficult. But I did it. He responded a few hours later and thanked me for writing. He apologized for not getting in touch with me sooner. That alone made me feel better.

A couple of days later I still had this nagging feeling that I needed to see Z in person. I asked if we could meet. I did not know if he would, or wanted to see me at all. Honestly I knew nothing about his life anymore. I did not even know where he lives. A day later we met. We spent two and half hours together. He was more candid about his life than he had been in a long time, years maybe. I saw the person I was initially drawn to in the first place. I had no concept of the way he had been feeling. I did not know how he was dealing with our breakup. I realized for the first time that maybe I did matter to him. I know that may sound crazy but he really did make me believe that he was fine without me, that the breakup was little more than a speed bump to him, when to me it was devastating. I had a level of understanding I was not expecting to ever get. I am hopeful that things can be better in the future. The future is something I had a hard time looking forward to over the last few years. I hope that Z feels better too. My limited thinking had been holding me back from reaching out to him. That was making me feel all the more alone. It was holding me back from the good aspects of change. It was making my life harder.

You got me the job all those years ago, where we all worked together and connected, and its because of that job that Z and I met. My relationship with him has been one of the most important relationships in my life. If Z were Don, and you were me, I know you would do everything you possibly could to see him. That is why I thought this could be my Pay It Forward. I decided to listen to my inner voice and ask him to meet me.That was a huge unknown for me.  Because of your Pay it forward idea, I realized that it is not really ever over. I feel so much better for seeing him and clearing up some of my misconceptions and some of our misunderstandings. It has freed me up. I feel better, lighter, and more able to move forward. So my Pay it Forward was a bit for me, a bit for Z, and a bit for the Us we used to be. It has made a difference in opening up some communication. I am still bobbing around in that ocean of unknown just like everyone else, but now I feel like I am in life raft, and the horizon is not as distant as it seemed just a few days ago. Who knows, maybe I will even find some sunscreen in this life raft, because I tend to freckle.” – Shawn P. Mahoney, NY.

It brings me so much pleasure to contribute once again to Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day. Because I lost my Tom not long after Don passed away, I wanted Tom’s soul to be heard as part of the contribution. I know Don was an extremely kind and selfless person, so thinking about Tom and Don, I decided to honor Tom’s sister, Leisa Chester. Leisa is a wife and mom who works two jobs to make ends meet. But that’s not all she does. She consistenly volenteers her time to help families and animals in the community. She has and continues to be a wonderful support to me after Tom’s death. I actually dont know what I would do without her. Recently, she has started volenteering at Fox Vocal Arts Company in Ocean City, NJ. She has been offered a volentary position of escorting young people to Germany this August for Opera Fest International 2013. This is huge for her; she has never been to Europe and would normally never even think of traveling there. So for a woman with so much heart and humility, Im giving her $100 to use towards this trip. I will also make a seperate contribution to the company.” – Teri Gindi, NY.

“We put together an entire bedroom set from IKEA for an artist friend who just moved to NY and is having her own struggles. While this may seem lame, keep in mind there was no air-conditioning on the hottest day of the year, and you can imagine the annoyances of deciphering IKEA instructions for putting together an entire bed.” – Andrew Block and Thom Christensen, NY.

“I was struggling to think of some way to pay it forward. It had to be special. I know it sounds crazy, but for some reason, sending you flowers from Don just came into my brain suddenly, as if he was asking me to do so. I think Don’s spirit is really strong. I can’t explain sending flowers to someone I’ve never even met! I hope this brings you some comfort.” – ‘Cindy’ Shepherd (Don’s sister, whom neither of us have met in person. It’s a long story …. )

“We did lots of little pay it forwards in Don’s memory, as opposed to one big thing.  The kids all helped put together boxes of clothes, toys, books, and games to donate to families in need.  I don’t ever try to sell any of our things, I always like to donate them.  This time, we put together a big donation drop off and put in the name of Don Shepherd.

I bought several sandwiches and drinks at Subway and passed them out to some homeless individuals in our area. Although this was a few weeks ago, we anonymously bought an older lady’s dinner one night.  As we were waiting for our check at a restaurant, I looked over and saw an elderly woman eating by herself.  The restaurant was very noisy and crowded, and she was alone, reading a book.  I actually wondered if she was widowed, and I said to Paul “If I had seen her earlier, I would have invited her to join us.”  He thought I was crazy, because if you were enjoying a peaceful dinner (peaceful?  It was loud!), would you really want to join a loud party of 5 strangers?  He saw the situation differently than I did.  I saw a woman who may have been feeling lonely.  When our waiter brought our check over, I asked him to please bring hers as well, as we would like to buy her dinner.  Although I still wish I had seen her earlier so I could have invited her to join us, I’m happy to think she had a nice surprise, knowing someone noticed her and wanted to extend a gift, wanting nothing in return.  I hope it brought a smile to her face.

Also to pay it forward, my good friend Mindy and her 10-year old son have been helping their neighbor.  The neighbor is a wonderful woman who was my youngest daughter Megan’s preschool teacher two years ago.  She is divorced, lives alone, and is a breast cancer survivor.  She is an older woman, and none of her children or family lives nearby.  Mindy and her son take it upon themselves to mow her lawn and do light yard work.  They will not accept money.

We have also been on the receiving end of a random act of kindness.   Paul and our son Noah were out for a walk about a week ago.  They were on a treasure hunt in a nearby park.  A woman was walking around, handing out cold bottled waters “because it’s hot.”  When Paul offered to pay her back, she declined, just saying “I am just doing something nice, please pass it on and do the same for another person.”  It was a small bottle, but it made a big impact.”  – Stephanie Miller Morales, TX

“Thanking an EMT for the work he does with a basket of goodies. He loved the story of Kelley honoring Don with “Pay it Forward” and plans to share his treats with his ER coworkers!” —  Robin Mickelson Gefroh, at Flagstaff Medical Center Emergency Room.

“On this day: In honor of his work as an Emergency Medical Technician, a donation in Donald Shepherd’s name to Direct Relief, rated #1 among charitable organizations in all relevant categories including highest percentage of donations designated for relief and full financial transparency.  The donation specifically directs funds to Emergency Preparedness efforts.

In honor of his love for music, I’m actively organizing a donation of some of my personal effects in his name to a new music shop which opened in the neighborhood.

In an attempt to reach beyond the United States on this special day, I became involved in a book donation effort which reaches many schools in poverty-striken nations in the Eastern hemisphere.  Each member is gladly responsible for providing no less than one hundred books on subjects of math, science, and language.  My part was accomplished entirely in his name.

In honor of his love for Chicken Parmigiana, I visited a local Italian restaurant run by a husband and wife team who I’m come to know well over the last few years, where I ordered the same dish for lunch.  I then tipped the chef (husband, Brian) the same amount as the check and handed him/her a copy of a photo of Don [EMS Everyday Hero] with the printed caption: “This meal was held in honor of Donald Shepherd, who died on 13 July, 2011.  Don was an EMT and husband to Kelley Lynn; known for his kind heart, love for animals and music, and devotion to family and friends who now regard 13 July as: Don Shepherd Pay It Forward Day.”  He asked to post the printout and continue to pay forward.” – Chose to Remain Anonymous.

My pay it forward was actually to my husband’s brother and sister-in-law.  When Dan was hospitalized in September, they dropped everything to drive the two hours one way to see him every day.  When I had to call them with the horrible news that he had died unexpectedly, they drove in the early morning hours to get to me. My brother-in-law has health issues of his own and was rushed to the hospital on July 4th.  (Thankfully he is better and back home now)  Because his wife stayed at the hospital with him, they had to board their dog.  I know how much their dog means to them and how hard it was, both emotionally and financially, for them to put Sidney in the kennel, I gave them the money for the kennel. I also told them that I was doing this for them, in memory and honor of Don Shepherd.  They just stared at me and I told them that I would explain at another time. It wasn’t anything big, but it made me feel good that after all of the years in this family, I could do something to help them out! Tomorrow, when I see them again, I will tell them about Don and show them a Camp Widow video of you.  Sending you lots of hugs” – Susan Durocher.

“On the first Don Shepard Day, I decided to combine my admiration for Don and Kelley and my love of reusable bags (I purchased my first one in 1976 in LA at Mrs. Gooch’s Market and accumulated at least 100 over the years) and give some away to other people in line who didn’t have a bag. Sometimes I told them why and sometimes not but never got a rejection! My favorite to give is a Chico bag that has it’a own small bag attached and that u can clip to your purse or belt. I have fun demonstrating them at cashiers to people’s amazement! This year I paid for a retro portable tv for a young man, JC, in line at the Habitat for Humanity Restore. He took it home and with advice from my friend Erik turned it into a computer! Very Cool! Thank you Kelley for the inspiration! R.I.P. Don, your legacy carries on!” – Carol Rohr, PA.

Kelley, I have had my daughter and her fella here since last Wednesday. As a result, I have had little time to cogitate on the most appropriate way to pay it forward for Don. But this weekend, a popup from Petsmart reminded me that they have a foundation that works for four different aspects of animal rescue and adoption. So I took the easy way out and donated a tidy little sum to them. Then, having gotten started, I spent the next hour going through the stack of mail from charities that I support and I gave most of them something for Don. It ain’t original, but at least I did something good for man and beast. Love your idea; I’m just not very good at doing something unusual for it. I do try to live my life that way, so maybe that’s good too!” – Karen Block Breen

Don sweeping kitty adoption area at Petsmart

“A friend of mine here in FL lost his beloved cat. This was an indoor/outdoor cat that he adopted a few years ago. My friend is very emotional and has been thru a lot. He’s still very raw. he was so saddened when his cat didn’t come home in the morning like he usually did. He’s been looking for him for 2 weeks now. I decided to search in all shelters within a 20 mile radius. I went online, looked at pics of recently found pets at shelters and searched for his kitty, to no avail. But he was touched that I took ALL of that time to try to help him. I thought of Don and his never-ending love of cats and him giving his time and energy to Petco, and did this in his honor. Hope that helps, and I pray that my friend finds their cat.” – Chris Mangano Mirasola

Today I felt like sitting on my ass, but instead I went to an art / craft show that a friend was doing, to help support her. Then tonight, I am watching a friend’s child so they can go to the movies, something they rarely get to do. These are small gestures but sometimes they make all the difference in a person’s life.” – Sandra Sommeso

I made a donation in honor of Don to Melanie Davila, Jenny Billot’s cousin that lost her house.” – Jesaida Zayas Snyder

“Hi Kelley, got out of adopting a cat! Lol! We adopted a dog last year, so I convinced my son that was good enough. We did however bring lots of pet food to our local shelter. They are always looking for donations and were very grateful. It was a small gesture, but done with sincerity and felt great!” – Pam Gurecki Murphy

I didn’t get a chance to tell you over the weekend but I made a donation in Don’s name to Petsmart’s Emergency Relief Charity. I hope the donation can help save a little kitty or any animal in need like Don did for so many people and animals.” – Jenny Billot, TX.

Dear Kelley, thank you so much for your incredible tribute to your wonderful husband, by creating goodness, love and help for others in his memory. I can’t imagine a more loving way to remember someone. Thank you for suggesting my Tails of Joy as a good place to donate. Thank you to Verona Franzkeit, Harry Grover, Roseann Kurdilla, Barbara Idzerda, for your kind and generous donations in memory of Don. Knowing Don loved cats, we were able to help Stray Cat Alliance, and also buy food for a lot of hungry doggies at Kiss a Bully Rescue. Your love has helped save a lot of lives this week. Thank you Kelley. Much love and thanks to you. oxxoxoxoxo” – Elayne Boosler, comedian and founder of www.tailsofjoy.net

“As a pay it forward- our office accepted copays for GP instead of specialist, all day. The biggest one of the day was a $50.00 savings for a patient who has a $10 copay for general practice doctors, and $60.00 for specialist (which we are as orthopedics) The second biggest was a $20.00 copay instead of $50- which was most frequent today. All in all, we saved patients $380.00 at the end of the work day.” – Charles R Corozza, MD, Ridgewood, NJ.

My pay it forward was so not anything interesting because I’m so consumed w taking care of baby everyday but I did take 3 hefty bags filled w clothes to good will. I gave away stuff I normally would have hoarded or thrown out. I’m always here for you! You are an incredible woman! Xo” – Nicole Izzo McHugh

“So my Pay it Forward is not so much of a story, but more of why I did what I did plus a “thank you” to you. I made a donation on your blog page. I chose this because you are such a gifted, talented writer. You write with such brutal honesty and raw emotion. Sometimes it is truly heartbreaking, sometimes filled with anger, sometimes so funny I was hysterical laughing and forgot that you were writing about death. NEVER stop writing.

Most of all, writing about what you are feeling & what’s inside your head has helped me tremendously with my mom. We lost my stepdad almost 4 years ago, my mom’s husband, soulmate and my dad for 32 years. She always says she’s okay, but then there are times when I know she is not. You’ve given me so much insight into what she may be feeling and thinking, and I speak to her differently now on the not so great days. For that, my friend Kelley, I am so truly greatful. My mom has an amazing circle of friends, many who are also widows. I am taking them all out for a “girls lunch” as soon as I can pin them all down to a date! Wish I could have had the honor of knowing Don, too. He sounds like such a down-to-earth man, the kind of man people like instantly. With all that said, I hope I have in some small way honored Don’s memory in a way that he would be proud of!” – Ilene Perfetto

“Our local dog park is one of the few public spaces where dogs are allowed off leash. I bought a bunch of toys to leave there in the morning. Every dog deserves a toy to chase in the sun! [and I think Don would have appreciated that I went to Petsmart to get everything.]” – Leslee Koritzke

“I am a very big believer in yoga and it’s ability to help us heal as humans…both physically and emotionally. My small way of paying it forward is I’m taking a friend to yoga with me tomorrow morning, lending her a mat and paying her drop in fee. This might not sound like much but my friend’s house was affected very significantly in the crazy natural disaster flooding we had last month and she has lost a lot of possessions, but more importantly, she’s been under an intense amount of stress. So we are going to yoga to find an hour of peace and I will dedicate my practice to Don because he had such a giving soul.” – Robyn Ostlund

“Been looking for inspiration all week and it actually came from my own loss group. A member also had a spouse called Don and she told a story about how her neighbours paid for pink flamingos to pitch in her garden for a day and said it cheered her. Today would have been their 6th wedding anniversary, so it seemed like providence to me ! I took her a solar powered pink flamingo and explained about your Don, we laughed, we cried and we raised (rather more than ) a glass to your Don who made her smile today.” – Lyndsey Meek

“I couldn’t really decide on what to do today but then it occurred to me that my sister-in-law Nikole Strickland, is going to be a foster mom to a dog that some people no longer could take care of. I guess it was too much for them and they didn’t know what to do with their dog. So Nikole decided to give it a temporary home! She already has 3 dogs of her own and a baby in the house and yet she had the heart to foster a half husky half collie! So I thought to myself what a great thing to do on Don’s Pay it Forward day! She picked up the dog today (out of ALL days it was TODAY!) and is taking care of it until someone wants it and has the time to devote to a dog. I told her about Pay it Forward day and asked her if I can mention her good deed to you in honor of Don. She said sure! I also donated to the CT Humane Society in memory of Don Shepherd. I added a picture of my other sister-in-law Tricia who was over Nikole’s house today. Both her and the dog look very content. And here is the ecard I made.” – Jarlyn Gonzalez Phillips

“I am laid up right now because of my recent surgery but I will be donating pantry items to the Palm Beach County Florida food bank in the name of your Don. So many needy families in need in such an affluent area. I have it all ready just have to heal up and get there.” -Jeannette Measey

“We are donating a dog crate filled with pet food to our local Humane Society tomorrow in honour of Don.” – Celine LaBrument Bradshaw

“In honor of Don, I made a donation to the local SPCA today.” – Heidi Miller Jajkowski

“After much thought, and since my imagination is “on hiatus” with widow brain, I did what I could..Donated to www.sslf.org (Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation) in Don’s memory. I’m holding you in my heart today! Your “pay it forward for Don” will help and inspire so many. I love you!!!” – Diane Haines Fisler, NJ

“A generous donation has been made to help rescue and care for sick, injured and orphaned wild animals through Toronto Wildlife Centre. This coyote pup was one of a group of seven siblings treated at Toronto Wildlife Centre for sarcoptic mange (a skin parasite). Each pup responded very well to treatment, and spent several months playing, learning and growing together in a large outdoor enclosure. Once fully recovered, they were released together back into the wild.”  – Kit Thornton, Toronto, Canada.

“In honor of Don, I made a donation to support a family I work with. Sebastian is an almost 3 year old profoundly deaf boy I have been working with since last October. His father is running in the NYC Marathon to support my program. I made a donation to this family as my “pay it forward” on Don’s Angel Day. We’re thinking of you.” – Melissa Arnott Oliver
http://www.crowdrise.com/fernandogarza2/fundraiser/fernandogarza

“I did not know don, so I wasn’t sure what to do. My husband also died of a massive heart attack, so maybe at another time you and I can get together and do something for that.
My roommate in college has been here for me and she will be my laugh when I need her. A few weeks ago her daughter who now goes to college sent me a letter to help raise money for St. Jude Children hospital.. So I sent a donation in Dons name. From what I have read he was a caring man, so now he will also be helping to care for a sick child.
This is a beautiful thing you are doing for your loved one. Nothing helps on these days but I hope with all these gestures people are doing it brings a little peace.” – Lisa Wiener

“While eating out with my 17 YO daughter we noticed an elderly gentleman eating alone… My daughter got very sad and emotional and said she bet he was a widow…she knows the pain of loosing someone! I suggested we pay for his dinner… She got so excited! We walked out paying for his meal without him knowing. I told her we were paying it forward! She was smiling!” – Sarah Dehay Pomeroy

“So, Last year, Don sent us a baby robin, this year, a stray grey tabby showed up. I believe Don is sending animals to our doorstep to take care of, and I wonder what he will send us next year … ♥” – Jennifer Nunes

“So I thought long and hard about what to do. I wanted to do something tangible and not copy anything I’d heard someone else was doing. But, as I was having lunch today (on a patio, on this beautiful day), it occurred to me…that I was near a pet store! So when I was done eating I drove over there. It’s a Petsmart, by the way. I bought 3 gift cards and wandered around the store looking for people to give them to.

First one went to a woman shopping alone who at first said she couldn’t accept it. This was after I’d explained what it was for! Then she goes “It’s my birthday,” so I said “all the more reason! I’m giving it to you!” :)

Second one went to a mom and 2 boys–Jennifer, William, and Ben. They have a little challenge set up whereby Ben’s working toward “earning” all the elements toward an aquarium, in which to put a lizard. They said this will give them a “jump start” toward that. William said “I’m officially happy.” Their mom told them this gives them a responsibility to pay it forward too–in Don’s name!–and even put Don’s name into her phone. William promised he would.

Third one went to an employee, to randomly give to someone who needs it. He said they have many pet parents who struggle to do for their pets as much as they want to and that “we’ll definitely put this to good use.”

I walked out with a smile and a good feeling–knowing I’d brought smiles to other faces.
What a great thing you’ve started. ♥” – Connie Winch

I married my husband in high school and we had two children. We did everything not to become a ‘statistic.’ I loved my husband with all my heart, but he began to change. Looking back now I can see how his mental illness creeped into our lives. He became more physically violent with both me and our children, fracturing our son’s arm and knocking out half our daughter’s front tooth. It was always my fault. I was turning them into ‘pussies’ because they couldnt handle his ‘roughhousing.’  Fast-forward many complexities and many years later, I felt like I had no choice but to proceed with the divorce and filed in June last year. Just before Halloween last year he threw a cinderblock though my sliding glass doors in a fit of rage. He told me he was done playing nice, that it was “GAME ON”. He was arrested again and his brother bailed him out. He had been off his meds at that point for two weeks. He left a suicide note at this parent’s home and called me – he said he NEEDED all three kids, he kept texting me over and over again. He was acting very strange. I notified the police and they were waiting for him just off the freeway, they pulled him over- trying to take him in for a 72 hr mental evaluation. I spoke with him on the phone repeatedly that night – he told me it was better this way, that it was just going to be him and not all of us. I begged him to throw the gun out the window we could just work it out. He told me he had just done too many bad things and he couldn’t live with it. After a 2 hour standoff with police, he shot himself.  So, here is my Pay It Forward. My husband and I attended Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University a few years ago. As part of FPU, Dave Ramsey recommends that we purchase a private life insurance policy – outside of any work policy, because jobs change. He and I had followed these baby steps – and its suicide clause just ended 4 months before he died. After 4 months, in February of this year, it was finally paid out. Our private policy was, obliviously, larger than my in-laws and I quickly moved it into a family Trust Fund for the children. I did put one provision on it – that every year a donation is made to the Women’s Shelter that helped me. If I wouldn’t have gone to the shelter and if Kathy did not set things in motion like she did, I’m sure my custody paperwork would have been worded differently. As it was, I was not legally obligated to FORCE the kids to go with him, even during his parent time. It was their choice. So the night he killed himself – when he was texting and calling and asking to pick the ALL 3 kids up – I asked them if they wanted to go and they said no. I feel like these angels – seen and unseen – surrounded me and these children and saved our lives that night.
They are so overwhelmingly grateful for the donation. We have began a program called HOPE2 (except the 2 is smaller, like an exponent – Hope Squared, if you will). I didn’t realize how LARGE and important my little donation was to them until things started coming out. I had no idea this would increase their little nonprofit’s budget by 10%.
I choose to believe that my husband’s no longer ill. That his mental state is perfect – just like anyone else that passes and made whole. I believe he loves me and our children with his whole heart – that he’s thankful to me for keeping them safe, even if it was from him.” – Chose to Remain Anonymous

“So on Saturday, the show that John played was a benefit for injured firefighters. I think that’s very fitting for his pay it forward since Don was in a similar profession being an EMT. As for me, maybe pouring don’s ashes in front of Carmine’s for you when we all went out on July 12th for dinner to celebrate him, knowing how much Don loved that restaurant, now a little part of him will be there forever.” – Jessica and John

Celebrating and remembering Don with friends at Carmines Italian Restaurant in NYC…

“I told my 4 yr old son Orion that we were going to try to do one nice thing for someone we didn’t know today, he was totally geeked. I just didn’t know HOW geeked. He approached a family on the playground while we were in town. The mom was telling her two kids that they couldn’t go get ice cream from the next-door stand because she only had enough money for one of them, which wasn’t fair to the other kid. Orion approached the mom and said “Excuse me. I have ice cream money in my pocket that I brought with from my piggy bank. I have enough to buy two! One for me and one for him,” and pointed to the other kid. The mom looked so shocked. She tried to tell him that was nice of him but he didn’t need to, but he insisted “My bonus-mom said that it’s okay.” So he went with them to the stand next door (as I watched from a distance) and bought the other little boy ice cream. You should have seen the mom’s face! She was so grateful/impressed. The boys wound up getting along really well, and the mom & I swapped numbers so we could arrange another play-date down at the park in the future. As far as my own good deed for Don, I made a donation in his name to the volunteer EMTs on an island in Gothenburg. The people who live on that island have to take a ferry back and forth to get to mainland. If they need medical attention, it obviously can take a bit longer for help to arrive. They have volunteers who are called to stay with the person who needs help until an ambulance or helicopter can make it. These are private citizens with medical training who just want to help. I thought Don would have appreciated that these people give up free time with their families after work to help others.” – Taylor Green

“Kelley, I was very happy  and honored to do this for you and Don at our band’s show.  I know how much he loved music and playing his guitar, and that “Something” was his favorite Beatles song.  I can’t imagine what you are going
through. Your love for him will never die. Love Ron” – Ron DiNinno, MA

“We saw a family that appeared to be living in their car, with a young man holding a sign for help with gas and food. The girls and I found $4.75 in the car, turned around and stopped to give it to the gentleman. He was extremely thankful and seemed almost embarrassed. Today, I will donate clothing for a local women and children’s charity. For you Don.” – Joyce Jefferson

“Just got an email from the woman who runs the rescue I donated to in Don’s name. She said thank you, they have a pregnant dog who needs to go to the vet and this will help!” – Christine McNulty

“I helped two people who couldnt afford to come to our widow’s PA gathering in August to get there.” – Ann Ross Sporacio

“A few months before my husband Steve died, he announced that it was time to get another dog. This was quite a surprise to me as I was doing just fine living without poop patrol!

Anyway after much discussion on names, and many trips to the animal shelters, we came home with our new dog Ecko. She has been the best animal friend a family could have and we love her so much!

Well, twelve years later, Ecko is old – can’t hear, spends way so much licking her private parts, sheds all over everywhere and she can no longer do things like jump into the back of the car and stairs are becoming harder.

The worst part is that she really needs a bath – a nice warm bath. Not the backyard garden hose bath but a real bathtub warm water bath with the hand held shower sprayer.

So, this morning I decided to give Ecko a bath as my pay it forward to Don. It was so special – she loved it and it made me feel so good that I spend rest of the day cleaning carpets!”  – Karen Brenno Norbeck

“I just met you at Camp Widow & love this idea. I purchased a cushy outdoor chair for an elderly person to enjoy their back deck. ” – Celeste Ladesma Gregory

“I just spent a couple of hours playing with my friends cats. We played paper bag, and string in bag, incense stick through the hole in the bag and them just string. I dedicate that play to Don today because he loved animals.” – Casandra Ross

“We donated $100 in DOn’s name to our no kill shelter, for the animals, and I also went in again and donated $100 to a layaway where there were kids stuff, at walmart, from Don/Lanny. I figure if it’s on layaway at walmart there’s a chance they won’t get it at all, and if it’s a kid’s birthday then I want them to have it. Also, We had a love seat for sale on craigslist, and they picked it up tonight. It was a single mom, clearly, with her son along. So we let them just take it, in memory of Don. They were really nice people and I’m sure they could use it.” – Cyndi and Todd Harvey, CO

“Diggy & Womble (Airedales) wanted to help Pay it Forward for Don, so they have donated a ton of their own dog food, treats & toys to our local RSPCA (dog shelter).” – Zoe Palathorpe

“In honor of your Pay It Forward for Don Shepherd Day, I’ve made a donation to Soaring Spirits (which will be DOUBLED by a matching grant!), making it possible for more to experience Camp Widow and the wonderful programs of Soaring Spirits. Also,I listened to an audio interview last night that spoke of how important it is to live in gratitude, to live an inspired life and I try to do that. This morning I saw a plea from a fellow widow, someone I’ve never met but got to know in Widowed Village when we were both new in our loss. She’s had a really hard life. Widowed at 33 with 3 young boys all on the autism spectrum. Her youngest died last September. I’ve extended the Pay It Forward to include my donation to Peggy for her boys to get this treatment that will hopefully make a difference in all of their lives. http://www.gofundme.com/3l8m5s” – Dianne West

me with dianne at Camp Widow, San Diego

“There is an animal refuge here that needs a ton of help especially in bad weather to help walk the animals. Anthony is old enough to walk the dogs but Andrew is not…We are currrently gathering a bunch paper towels, treats, dog bones, cat toys and bringing them by the refuge. Andrew has offered to give his own money to get the supplies. His little 8 year old heart is bigger than they come. We will let them know when we get there this is being done in honor of your husband whose life was taken way too soon and who gave his time to do exactly what we are doing now. Helping the animals- those in need because they can’t help themselves. I wanted you to know…and will forward pictures once we get there.” – Debra Carozza Lynch

“I am friends with a woman whose husband is dying from the same kind of brain cancer that my husband, Bob, had. She has a 9 year old boy who is depressed because of his Dad’s illness and at times he’s getting lost in the shuffle. He loves baseball, especially the Seattle Mariner’s, and is not able to play catch with his Daddy anymore.  She said he was feeling bad one day and wanted to know why he never received any mail. I wrote him a letter so he could receive some. Along with it, I enclosed some special baseball cards that I had collected many years ago, some Edgar Martinez rookie cards. I hope these will help bring a smile to his face, even if for a little while.

I also went through my pantry and filled a couple boxes with food that I delivered to the Food Bank. After filling my gas tank yesterday, I taped a ten dollar bill to the pump for the person waiting behind me in line. I feel good about that because it was just a regular car, nothing fancy, with a young mother and three kids inside. It’s tough in today’s world and I hope it helped them out a bit.

Lastly, I made two donations. One to Elayne Boosler’s charity “Tails of Joy” and also a donation to you, Kelley Lynn, to put towards the publishing of your book. Your stories and blogs have helped so many and your book needs to get out there… to spread the laughs and help many more. ‘ – Verona Foster Franzkeit

“my husband was a musician. i am looking for a student in need of a fiddle. we felt that music should be available to everyone.” – karlyn carroll

” I like to purchase balloons filled with helium attached to ribbons. Walk through town, and if I see someone who looks troubled or too busy to stop and smell the roses, I give them a balloon. It makes their day I can tell. Doing that does so much more for me than the receiver.”- Charmain Schulman

“dear kelley, you gave me such a gift of laughter at camp widow. this is what i did to pay it forward for don: i took some money over to a cousin who has had some unexpected expenses, but who would be sad if i tried to offer her financial help. when she answered the door i put it into her hands and said this is for you, but you have to hear why i am giving it to you. i told her how you made me laugh at camp, i told her what i knew of don and how he loved animals and how you have suffered knowing that he died while you were asleep, as i have obsessed about my husband dying at home. i told her about your idea to pay it forward in don’s honor. i hugged her and whispered that it was to honor harmon, too, and that you and i both would appreciate her kindness in accepting. you’ve done a good thing, kelley ” – Janice Cordett Heidt

“Hi Kelley. Since last year’s Pay it Forward, whenever I go to Petsmart (usually every other month) I make a donation on behalf of Don. Hope today isn’t too terrible and that all the kindness sent your way helps.” – Brett Alyse

“Kelley – hugs to you on this day. I hope all the wonderful things people are doing in Don’s name will make it a a little easier to bear. My own small contribution was a donation to SSLF in his honour. soft days to you.” – Liza Rupp

“today my boys and I are heading into CHOP we do this often today we bring DVD’s to the childrens ward. My boys did not use their money from their chores and we went into the 5 dollar bin at walmart for kids movies. We do this today to honor your Don. Sitting in a hospital waiting and waiting regardless adult or child you need something a little something to escape. ” – Dianne Lelin Tufo

“Hi Kelley, It was my pleasure to PAY IT FORWARD in memory of your sweet husband. I have made a donation to the Tails of Joy. I love this idea and may need to do it too. It is a heart warming way to honor our loves and turn this horrific event in our lives into something positive. I’m sure your Don is smiling and so proud of you. Sending hugs to you today.” – Roseann Kurdilla

‘We have always had a tradition in our family that I make the kid’s favorite meals for them on their birthdays. When our son-in-law Don joined our family, we continued this with him, of course. Don loved food, and one of his very favorites was chicken parmesan, so to celebrate his life on the anniversary of his death, we have continued our tradition by making his favorite foods and inviting family and friends over to toast to him and remember him. So, I thought this would be a great thing for me to continue in other ways. I have two good friends/consultants in Mary Kay (I’m a MK Sales Director) who have cancer and are each going through their own pain and struggles right now. I’m going to call them up and find out what their favorite meal is, and then make it special for them, and bring it over. Food can bring so much comfort and show so much love. We love you Don, always.” – Christine Niemi (my mom)

 

Don (right) with my brother and Mom, during a typical family gathering…

“My daughter Alison’s new father-in-law is 54 and diagnosed with terminal lung-cancer. He is soon to enter hospice care. In the spirit of Don’s kind heart, I will make a pay it forward donation to his hospice organization in the Chicago area. Thank you for the opportunity to be a better person. I probably would not have been so thoughtful without your prompting!” – Sue Manigan, MA

“In honor of Don, I bought a couple of on-duty E.M.T’s coffee at Dunkin Donuts. That is my pay it forward this year. Thinking of you xoxo” – Laura Thibeau (my cousin)

“Hi Kelley, I just wanted to let you know I did a pay it forward in Don’s name.  I am sponsoring a little 5 year old boy, Jonathan, through “100% Hope” in Uganda, a project which allows poor children in the surrounding village the chance to attend school and receive much needed medical attention.  My child actually lives at the mission because he has no family.  They are currently building a wall around the mission to keep the children safer.  I donated 100 bricks in Don’s name.  I told the head of the project what my donation was for and asked that  they remember Don’s life. I think he would be pleased.

Also, a smaller thing that just happened; John (my husband) and I were sitting outside of The Little Pie Company when a homeless woman, obviously very mentally unstable, explained her problem of not being able to move all of her belongings to another block (stacks of trash it seemed) and then asked if we could buy her some lunch.  John said without hesitation: “sure, I can do that for you, what would you like?” I asked him to offer this up for Don, Kelley’s husband, as an act of kindness to honor him.  So he did.  Small thing, but something I think Don would have done as well.  I showed John his picture afterwards so he knew a bit about Don.  Take care of yourself these next few days.” – Caitlin Kelly, NY.

Dad makes welcoming speech at our wedding reception, 2006

(This next one is a combination PAY IT FORWARD from Bill Drewes, and myself) 

The Gotham Comedy Foundation, GCF, is the nonprofit, charitable affiliate of The Gotham Comedy Club in NYC. The mission of GCF, is to bring humor to those who most need it, one laugh at a time. GCF sends stand-up comics to hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, and social service agencies at no cost to these community partners, to bring laughter to the sick, aged, and lonely, as part of it’s humor therapy program. As part of paying it forward, Kelley Lynn will be working with us on these programs, and performing as one of our stand-up comics, beginning this fall. Kelley Lynn is a member of GCF and take part in benefit performances at Gotham Comedy Club, as well as volenteer performances off-site.” – Bill Drewes, Founder of GCF  www.gothamcomedyfoundation.org)

“A donation will be made in Don’s honor and memory for Gentle Giants Rescue and Sanctuary. They help provide foster care to animals found in Northern NJ and rescue animals from high kill shelters in the surrounding area. Inspired by Don’s deep love and respect for animals, we decided to support a local organization that strives to save animals lives and provide them with a loving home.” www.gentlegiantsinc.org – Rebecca and Ben Garrith, NJ

“My husband had a lot of toys. A LOT. They were for him. He was a little boy stuck inside of a grown man’s body. I always asked him why did he have all this stuff, and he just said he liked it, and that maybe one day we would have a house and he could set it all up and display it. If not, he could always give the toys to our nephew, Brian, who was 2 years old when Don died. My husband’s toys now sit in my parents basement of their condo, and Im slowly making decisions on what to do with them, day by day. On July 13th, my dad brought Brian upstairs to where all the toys are, and told him he could pick out 2 things, but that he had to treat them very special because they were Uncle Don’s things. He picked out the remote control helicopter, and the special edition 9/11 Firefighter figurine that Don absolutely loved. Immediately, he fell in love with the toys, and started pretending the firefighter was saving and rescuing people from harm. It made my heart sing to see him enjoying Don’s toys, because I know that Don would want him to have them. As time goes on, we will keep giving him little things here and there, so he will appreciate it. There are quite a bit of toys, so we can really milk this for quite some time.” – Kelley Lynn, and David Niemi (my dad)

My brother and Brian hold up the toys given from Auntie Kelley, Grandpa, and Uncle Don …

“I received the reminder email on Friday for Pay in Forward for Don Shepherd day and I knew that I would be going to the Yankee game the following day on July 13th.  First thought was to put his name on the big screen, so I start doing my research and they said you need at least 1 week, and its 4:30 pm, and game time is 1 pm the next day.  So I call instead, there is no answer, but they say it’s quicker to email, so I do.  I request it, and as I am waiting I am thinking of other things to do, but this would just top the cake. So it’s open…can you believe it, how amazing is that??!  And the proceeds go to charity. While at the game the next day, we took video and pictures of Don’s name up there on the screen. They put him on the “Anniversary” board, as in “angel-versary”, and there were 3 sets of names. His came up last, and while the other names were only shown for a few quick seconds, Don’s stayed up there all alone for a LOT longer. It was awesome.

It felt wonderful to be able to do this for Kelley, as I know that Don LOVED the Yankees, and it was something they loved together.  She was so happy, and crying at the same time and to be able to put a smile on her face was touching. When I emailed Kelley to let her know I would be at the game, she was so sweet to also say to do something in my family’s name too, as I lost my brother and father a few years ago, they are always with me in my hearts and I do many special remembrances for them.  Today was Don’s day, so during the 5th inning they displayed his name at Yankee Stadium. With the pictures, it will forever be in lights on his anniversary, which I call his Angel Day. My favorite Pay it forward.” – Laura Ameruso, NY.

 “I was at Yankee Stadium, and couldn’t think of anything cool to do for Don’s day there, and then I saw this large family out by the gate who was really wanting some tickets for the game, so I gave them mine for my pay it forward, telling them about Don Shepherd and what the day means. Now I come home and read this, and so not only will that family see the game today, they will also get to see Don’s name up in lights. God really does work in mysterious ways.” – Chris Lucas, NY.
So, there you have it. An epic tornado of kindness. A life that will never die. People really can live forever, as long as you keep their soul alive. Keep their heart alive. Take their spirit and put it into everything you do. Carry it with you, like a secret. And that is what I have done, and what I will continue to do. Because I love him. And he deserves nothing less, and so much more. It is my way of continuing Don’s legacy, and blending his heart with mine, so that it never stops beating.
Everytime I love, everytime I laugh, everytime I feel the rush of life – his heart is still beating. Always beating. Staying alive in me, and in all of the good inside the universe. 

Turning the Key

If a tree falls in a forest, and nobody is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?

If a really cool thing happens in my life, and nobody is there to share it, does it still make a difference?

I had a really good week. I had the kind of week where lots of little things happened that could turn into bigger things, and that move me forward in my goals and dreams and aspirations. I became a contributing writer for Modern Widows Magazine, where I will write a monthly, humorous grief column. I landed two really cool performance stand-up comedy gigs, both coming up soon. Some of my former stand-up comedy students started a monthly Comedy Meetup, and we had our first meeting Sunday. The blogpiece I wrote about Camp Widow was featured as a link in The Huffington Post, thanks to my widowed friend Tanya Villanueva Tepper, who was kind enough to reference me and my blog inside her own article. All this, and I’m just 3-weeks away from performing at Camp Widow West in San Diego.

It was the kind of week where I should have been happy, where I should have felt excited. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t. The reason for this is simple, yet heartbreaking. Happy things don’t feel so happy anymore when you don’t have your partner to share them with. When you cannot rush home and run through the door and yell: “Boo! Guess what happened? Guess!!!”, and await the delight and proud gleam in his eyes when you tell him. When there is nobody on the other end of the phone who says: “Oh honey, I’m so proud of you. I know how much this meant to you, and now it’s happening!” When there is nobody to lie in bed with, giggling wildly and holding hands, dreaming about your tomorrows. The biggest things feel like nothing, when there is nobody sitting at home who gives a damn.

Hubby and friends hang out and give me flowers after one of my shows

Hubby and my dad stand in support as our cast takes pics after my Adelphi cabaret.

Now, this is the part where you tell me that I have my family, and my friends, and that I have lots of people who care about me. I know this. I’m thankful for this. I cherish this, and I cherish them. But none of them are the first person I want to tell everything to. None of them put me first every second of everyday, no matter what. I am no longer Number One to anybody. I am no longer somebody’s first priority. My husband was my best friend, my number one fan, my biggest supporter in life. Whenever I accomplished something or began to see a dream realized, my favorite part of that happening was sharing it with him and seeing his reaction. Seeing his whole face light up as he watched me perform onstage, or create a script, or write a funny scene for a show. Listening to him tell his friends over the phone about the latest thing his crazy wife was up to in NYC. Running through the crowd outside and into his arms, after doing stand-up, and hearing him whisper into my ear: “You were the best one.”

Today, after his death, when something really good happens, it’s always the same. In the midst of the good thing happening, I’m on a high and feeling great. Then, that high very soon becomes a very depressing low, as I eventually have to face going home alone from wherever I just was. There is nobody waiting to greet me. There are no flowers or cards or shouts of: “Lets go get pancakes and celebrate!” There is only me and my latest accomplishment, which suddenly feels incredibly pointless.

This past Monday, I went to my private grief-counseling session, like always. Now, anyone that follows my writing on a regular basis knows that I have made it no secret how much I love my counselor, Caitlin, and how much these sessions have helped me and continue to help me. That is still true. Im actually the only person on planet earth who loves Mondays.

But lately, I feel a bit like a broken record everytime I go in there. Like an annoying parrot that only knows how to say 3 or 4 things, over and over again: “SQUAWK! I miss Don! SQUAWK! Why does this still hurt so much? SQUAWK! When will the pain start to ease up a bit?” I feel bad for her, having to sit there and listen to my repetitive drivel. It’s like my heart is the needle on that record, and it just keeps skipping. I’m moving forward in my life – in accomplishments and doing things and making changes – but my heart refuses to catch up with the reality that he is really, actually gone forever. It’s just an old record, skipping over that same part of that old, sad song.

Something weird happens somewhere after the first year mark or so from the death. People no longer know what to say to you. They don’t understand why you are still sad, why you’re not over it by now, and they get annoyed and frustrated and nonchalant – and they begin to pretend that everything is normal and that nobody ever died at all. They start to view you with confused and quizzical eyes, like my counselor did on Monday, as if to say: I don’t know how to help you. And when that happens, like it did during my session, or like I imagined it did, I just keep talking nervously – repeating my same stupid pain, over and over again. But while I was doing that, something weird happened. Something that seemed like nothing, but it took me by surprise and held me down like a wave in the ocean, until I could barely breathe or swim or speak. I was blindsided.  

She was right in the middle of a sentence, asking me if I had seen the interview with British actress Maggie Smith on last week’s 60 Minutes. Maggie lost her husband of 25 years to heart-disease, in 2008. I hadn’t seen the interview, so when I got home, I looked up the text. Maggie was talking about what Im talking about right now – the feeling of no longer being somebody’s number one. She very casually, correctly, and matter-of-factly stated, that “everything seems a bit pointless” in her life now, because she no longer had her partner to share it with, no longer had someone to come home to at the end of the day.

Caitlin expressed that she was struck by the use of the word ‘pointless”, and I expressed that it was the perfect word to use, and that it didnt surprise me one bit. It is pointless. If I finally ever finish this damn book one day and see it published, or win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Comedy Actress in a Sitcom – what good is it If I have to come home to an empty house and stare at my Award in silence? What the hell good is that? And just as Im reaching the dramatic crescendo in my speech about being alone for the rest of my life, there was a noise. It was a noise I faintly remembered, somewhere deep inside my heart, from a life that was lived long ago. It was the simplest and saddest noise I have ever heard.

A key was turning. A husband was coming home to his wife, who happens to be a counselor, sitting with her pain in the ass client who always goes over her alloted session time that is so graciously offered in her counselor’s home. My eyes shifted fearfully over to that door, and I saw that lock turning, as the door started to open. And as my counselor ran to the door, telling her husband to please give her a few more minutes with this insepid, monotonous widow – my heart went straight to my life and my marriage and my love. Suddenly, her door was my door, and her husband’s keys were my husband’s keys, and he was coming inside from work, like he always did. Suddenly, I was in our bedroom in our New Jersey apartment, and I was typing at our computer desk, and the sound of that key being turned and that doorknob opening, meant that my husband was home and safe. Suddenly, I saw our 2 kitties leap off the bed and run charging to that door, forgetting all about me and attacking every square inch of my husband’s body with affection. Everytime that key turned in that door, I would smile, because it meant that my teammate was home, and everything mattered again.

She came back and sat down, and I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry so hard, so deep, right there in the middle of her living room. My whole body was shaking, and I felt like I was underwater and tied up. Something about that noise – that key – the sound of marriage, the sound of comfort, the sound of safety. It tore me up and it ate me alive from the inside out. And there I was, sitting in the one place where I should be crying and getting out emotions and making hard discoveries and shaking and being blindsided by keys turning, and for some reason, I just held it in.

 I didnt want to make her feel bad just for being married. I didnt want her to feel uneasy in her own home. And besides, I didnt think she would or could possibly understand why the hell a key going into a door would send me into convulsions. Hell, I didnt even really understand it. So instead of crying, I started making jokes and lighthearted comments, saying how I felt badly that she pretty much kicked her husband out of his own home. I talked nervously again, until I ran out of words and could get up and exit with some form of dignity.

There are so many unexpected triggers, that bring on unexpected emotions. They can happen anywhere, anytime, even while sitting in the safe-zone that is your counselor’s couch.

I wish that I had let myself break down. I wish that more people could understand my pain, so that I wouldnt feel weird or strange breaking down. I wish that my counselor could know what it’s like, to feel like everything you do is pointless, so that she might tell me that it’s okay to break down.

But those things are all impossible. You cant understand losing your husband, until you lose your husband. I do not wish that on anyone.

I wish my husband could turn that key, just one more time, and come home to me forever.

My Dreams Were the Color of Your Eyes

My Dreams Were the Color of Your Eyes. Your eyes that are no longer your eyes. The same eyes that glistened their sky-blue smile at me from across the pillow, in the middle of a sleepless night. The same eyes that batted themselves and pouted at me with such precise rhythm, that I could rarely say no to anything they required from me. The same eyes that I trusted with all of my secrets. With my soul. My life.

My dreams were the color of your eyes. Your eyes that promised me forever on that brisk October day. Your eyes that clutched my heart in that boat, at that moment, when you kissed me first and said, with wind in your voice: “Finally.” Your eyes that looked so smart and adorable behind your glasses everytime you read a medical book or sheet music for your guitar – so piercing and warm inside their own nakedness, when you would take the glasses off. Your eyes that were the bluest eyes I have ever seen, and the most honest. Your eyes that, when I looked in them, spelled the word Husband.

But sleeping is something that we take for granted. Dreams are something that we take for granted. Marriage is something that we take for granted. Love and time and years are something that we take for granted.

Those Eyes ….

 Decades. So many couples, so many marriages, that have the privalege, the honor, of spending decades together. We will never know a decade of married life. We will never have that son or daughter that we might have had. There is nobody – not a soul – that I can look at and say: “You get that from your dad. Your eyes look just like his eyes.” I cannot see you in anyone’s eyes, and Im the only person left who cares the most about you. Other people care, but I care most of all. Because I looked in your eyes and I found my heart.

My Dreams Are Not the Color of Your Eyes. They are not even dreams. They are shattered pieces of broken glass, scattered inside my brain, feeding me with migraines and anxiety and nightmares. They are worms that swim in my skin – alligators that bite at my toes and feet as I thrash back and forth in my hot, sweaty bed. There is no such thing as rest anymore. Or sleep. There is only guilt and exhaustion and hurt and pain. There are flashbacks and terror and panic and fear. Everything turns black.

My Dreams Are the Color of Blackness. Of death and grief, of gray and ashes, of urns and caskets. Why do I keep seeing you lying in that casket? Why? Lying there over and over, with your eyes that were not your eyes, because we gave them away to the living. The same eyes that loved my soul, were now just pools of empty sunken circles, in the place where your eyes used to be. And your skin that was not your skin, because we gave that away too, so your arms looked all puffy like sausage, and your hands did not resemble the hands and the fingers that interlocked with mine as we slept side by side in bed, humming ourselves to dream. To sleep. To dream.

Where are your eyes now? A letter from the Organ Donation Center only tells me that your eyes “gave a blind man the gift of sight.” Who is he? Is he kind and funny like you? Does he love animals like you? Does he have a wife that he loves and a life that he loves, like you? Does he dream in the color of your eyes, that are now his eyes? Does his wife feel her heart burst when she looks into your eyes? Do they know that my dreams are now nightmares, and that they lurk in my closet and under my bed, existing without color?

Where is your skin now? Another letter only tells me that several burn victims received the gift of skin-tissue to help repair them and give them new arms and elbows and hands. Who are they? How many people are walking around with your skin on them? Does one of them use his fingers to strum chords on a guitar, like you did? Does their skin get dry and itchy and red, like yours did? Do they use one of their arms to hold out for their wife to grab onto when she is terrified on an airplane, like you did? Do they know or realize what a beautiful person you are? Can they somehow feel it, or carry some of that beauty with them, through your skin? Do their loved ones feel a special electricity, when they brush up against your arm?

Id like to imagine or think or dream, that maybe your skin and your tissue and your eyes and organs and parts, are all pieces of other people’s lives and families. Maybe your skin that is part of somebody’s arm is teaching his kid how to throw a baseball, like you wanted to do with our future son one day. Maybe your cornea that is part of someone’s eyes, looked into his wife’s eyes as she gave birth to their gorgeous daughter, and changed their lives forever.

 Maybe none of those things are even remotely true, or possible. Maybe it’s much more simple, and much less grand. Maybe I don’t ever get to see your face again, or look into your eyes, or feel your skin and your touch.

 But maybe I get to keep that piece that nobody else gets. Maybe you and I get to share your Soul and your heart, until the end of time and then longer. Much, much longer.

I need to believe that. I need to believe that in order to survive.

My Dreams Are the Color of Your Soul. Your soul that lives inside my heart, and that keeps your eyes Yours, forever.

 

 

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.

Snuffleupagus

There is a very specific, undeniable feeling that belongs to those of us unlucky enough to be living the widowed-life. It is a feeling I have had trouble describing to others in the past, because it’s something that is nearly impossible to imagine, unless you’ve walked in this path of hell yourself. It is a feeling much different than loneliness, although being lonely is a part of it. It is not quite the same as feeling alone, but feeling alone is one of it’s components. It is in the same league as feeling isolated, but isolation doesn’t really begin to cover it. So what is it?

Snuffleupagus. Remember him? He was a big, furry, sort of elephant – sort of rhinoserus-looking thing. Technically, his name was Mr. Snuffleupagus, and technically, he didn’t exist. He was a character on Sesame Street – but unlike the other muppets walking around, he wasn’t real. He was Big Bird’s imaginary friend. Nobody else in the neighborhood could see him, so nobody acknowledged his existence. When they did talk of him, they spoke only to Big Bird about him in condescending tones, as if they were looking right through him. All the people on Sesame Street were uncomfortable and awkward around “Snuffy”, (Big Bird’s nickname for him) so they pretended that it wasn’t happening, and they ignored him.

This is what it feels like to be widowed and living in the world. You feel like Snuffy, and you feel like your dead spouse is also Snuffy. But there is one main difference: our dead loved ones are not imaginary. They are very real, and very missed, and very much alive in our hearts every single day. The problem is this: the world wants to pretend that they are imaginary. The world wants you to forget about them. Move on. Get over it. Stop talking about them. Leave the past in the past. Yes, people who have not experienced true pain can be extremely cruel and heartless. 

Widowed people are forced to live in a world where they no longer fit in anywhere. We have to rebuild our lives, brick by heavy brick, and very few people comprehend or even acknowledge our loss. The more time that goes by, the more we miss the life we had, the more distant we feel from our loved one, and the more invisible we become.

This feeling of being invisible is nobody’s fault. It’s everybody’s fault. Society. Family. A culture that’s obsessed with marriage and kids. A world where very few people deal with death and grief in a healthy way. An environment that pushes people like us away from you, and more toward each other. Pushes us toward the other widowed – the only people that are just like us, and that understand. We cling to one another. We isolate with one another. We vent and we cry and we laugh with our dark, dead-spouse humor. We acknowledge. We give and feel the compassion that we don’t always see coming from the outside world.

It’s not your fault, and it’s certainly not mine. But it’s happening, and it’s about time we talked about it. For me, sometimes the best way to do that and to get across what Im trying to say, is to go directly to the source. So once again, I asked my online widowed friends to try and describe this feeling of being invisible. How much it hurts. What it does to you. When it happens. Here is some of what they said:

(Some names have been altered or changed for those who wished to remain completely anonymous. Only first names were used.)

Brittany felt invisible after her fiance’s death, when she was told she could not receive any sort of bereavement pay or benefits, because “you weren’t married, and that kind of thing only goes to close family members.”

Karen expressed how she rarely gets invited to attend social get-togethers since her husband’s death. One BBQ she did go to, left her feeling alone and forgotten. “There were lots of hellos and goodbyes, but absolutely nothing in between.” Jenni had a similar experience going out to a bar one night with friends. “As everyone danced and laughed and conversed, I sat alone and unnoticed. I felt so lonely in a room filled with people.”

Carol puts it like this: “As a widow, I no longer fit in. Everyone is busy in their own lives, and there is nothing in common anymore. My in-laws have dropped out of sight, and I find myself withdrawing from my own family stuff. It just hurts too much, hearing about all their vacations or weekend getaways, or hearing married friends and family whine about petty shit involving their husbands.”

Erin says that she feels empty inside. “I feel like Ive been forgotten. Ive reached out so many times for support and love, only to be ignored. Now that the drama of his illness and health crisis is gone, so are the people.”

Sheryl turned into Snuffy around the year 2 mark. “I was with my family over the holidays, and nobody said his name. I feel like I live in a bubble, all alone, surrounded by everyone. It’s like they all assume or want me to just be ‘over it’ by now.” Vanessa gets a similar feeling when around his family. “Its nothing they do to make me feel bad, but they never speak of him, so I feel invisible for him. It’s like me and him are stuck in a time warp and we don’t really exist.”

When I asked around, I started to notice that a lot of the people I spoke with felt the most uncomfortable or alone when around their own families. Or their late partner’s families. It made me sad, because I have felt this way too. Many, many times. I know that most of my extended family is not trying to make me feel bad, but sometimes, it is just how it feels.

My husband, sitting on a rock in Central Park. He lived. He existed. He mattered.

 It hurts like hell when nobody talks about your love, your marriage, your loss. It hurts like hell when nobody says that they sometimes miss him too, or what a great person he was, or how incredibly hard it must be for me to show up on this emotional holiday. It hurts when you are sitting at a table with relatives, and everybody is talking around you. Or you try to relate to a story they tell about their husband, by telling one about yours, and they roll their eyes or look away. Or they treat you like a child, like you were never married, like it didnt happen. It hurts like hell when you have to sit and listen to happy stories of romantic birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, new homes, families and lives; yet nobody asks you about your life anymore. It hurts like hell when you are writing a book, and have a blog that is gaining in popularity, and you are doing things in the widowed community to help people; and you can count on one hand the number of family members who have even bothered to read it or ask about it, or who even know about it. It hurts like hell when your world is gone, and people seem to be running out of patience or time for your pain. It hurts like hell to feel forgotten about.

After awhile, you start to think maybe they are right. Maybe he never existed at all. Maybe I was never someone’s wife. Maybe I never had that incredible love. Maybe I made the whole thing up.

Us

Christine expands on this thought: “It was the first Thanksgiving after he died, and I went to his families house like we always did. I felt truly alone. I sat with my kids at the kids table, and was never asked to join the others. I remember sitting in the corner listening to them go on and on about their families and lives, and not once did they include me in anything. It was like The Twilight Zone.” Jo tells about a similar experience with her sister. “She had already planned my nephew’s 2 yr old birthday party for two days after my husband’s funeral, and she wouldn’t reschedule it. Not only did I have to go, but they all avoided me like I was the plague.”

James feels like he is invisible whenever people respond to his pain by reminding him that he has a little boy to love. As if he had forgotten. “Im tired of everybody saying ‘you have your son.’ Yes, I do, and I love him more than anything. But I cant hold him the way I held my wife, or kiss his neck in the morning. He cant remind me to take my medication, or ask me about my day. Yes, I have a son, but I feel alone all the time.”

Lauren tells this heartbreaking story about this past Christmas, her first one without her husband. “The kids and I were at my parents place, and the weather was awful, so I couldnt get to the cemetary like I wanted. I was really upset about the snow being on him, so another widow friend of mine offered to go to the cemetary and take pictures of his grave. As she sent them to me, I sat there looking at them on my phone, and sobbing. My older sister walked by me three times and didnt say a word. Never even acknowledged me.”

Bianca didnt think she could get through speaking at her husband’s services, so she sat and watched as others did. “His mom gets up and says how cute he was as a child, which is probably the last time she even saw him. His dad says he doesnt know how he will go on without his “little Eric.” Even the priest talked about him as a boy. Not one mention of his grieving wife in the front row. Nothing said about him being married, just on and on about what his parents were going through. I felt like I didnt exist.”

Sylinda felt shut out by her own friends one night at a bar. “Everyone was coupled up. Everyone was talking and I was slowly shoved away from the table and nobody said anything. I felt like I was invited to be the token 3rd wheel, so I left, and nobody noticed. My friend called me the next day and asked when I had left and why. Ive never felt so invisible in my life.”

Tom feels the most invisible during the holidays. “I am alone, not wanting to impose on the joy of others while they happily get on with their lives as if they have no reason to pause and ask how I am. Because they feel uncomfortable, they simply act as if I dont exist.” And after 19 months of this new life, Lisa is starting to see what it’s like to be Big Bird’s imaginary friend too. “The phone calls from friends and family have simply stopped. Just stopped. Nobody checks in anymore to see if Im okay. I know they have lives, but it feels like nobody cares after a few months. And by the way, Im not okay.”

My last story comes from my friend Stephen, a dad whose kids were only 2 years old, and 2 weeks old, when his wife passed. “In my case, I actually felt most invisible with my own kids. I needed help, especially with my newborn son, and friends and neighbors and family came to help. They helped out a lot, but after awhile, it felt like I was watching my son being taken care of from the outside. It came to a head at my son’s 1st birthday party. I walked into the kitchen to see a crowd of mom’s around my daughter. She had busted her lip pretty bad. Nobody thought to come and get me, her dad. That was when the switch flipped and I bulldozed myself back into being in charge. I want to stress that none of this was done to purposely hurt me or make me feel bad. They wanted to help and Im very grateful. It was just a case of good intentions running out of control.”

My brother, my dad, Uncle Richard, Aunt Debbie, and me. A zillion years ago. Before death and pain.

And maybe that is the point here. None of us quite know how to communicate with each other, so instead of dealing with that very real issue, everyone runs away or pretends as if nothing is wrong. But something is wrong. When you lose your life partner, your love – you lose your world. Your balance. Your joy. Your sense of purpose and footing. You lose your rhythms and your patterns, and often-times, you lose a lot of your friends and family too. Why? Because people forget how to communicate with you, or they dont want to see or feel or hear about your pain, so they shy away. Or they have good intentions by not mentioning your loss, or your loved one. I truly hope that those people who are not widowed and are reading this will understand how much it means to us to simply be acknowledged. To feel like we still belong somewhere. Anywhere. In our own families.

A few weeks ago, my parent’s good friend of over 30 years died. His name was Al, and we didn’t always get along, especially politically. He was a hard-core Republican and Obama-hater. He also was one of the many people who said something hurtful to me when I lost my husband. In response to one of my blogposts, much like this one, he wrote me an email, that said, among other things: “It is clear to me that you need to move on from this now. You need to get over it and stop writing about the past.” He said this just a few weeks after my husband’s death. At the time, I sobbed my face off and wondered how anyone could say something so cruel. Now, almost 19 months later, it still hurts, but I realize that he just didnt know. He wasnt trying to upset me. He was just being Al, and that is something Al would say. It wasnt meant to be cruel, it was just his take on things. Al was more than just a conservative Republican who sometimes said harsh things though. He loved jazz music and comedy, and would often talk to me about comedians and acting and the world of entertainment. He was funny and he was a friend of our family for years, and of my dad’s especially. They had years of amazing memories.

Our friend Al …

So when he died, I felt like I needed to attend the funeral. I was visiting my parents in Massachusetts anyway that week, so I decided to go. I wanted to do it for my parents, and also for his wife Sue, another very good friend of our family. It would be only my second funeral since my own husband’s.

The morning of the funeral, as we were getting ready, the phone rang. It was my Aunt Debbie. My Aunt Debbie; who is married to my Uncle Richard; my dad’s brother. Years before, Debbie and Richard’s daughter Tricia, my cousin, became a suicide widow, when her husband hung himself in their garage. On this morning a few weeks ago, my Aunt Debbie told my mom that she was calling to speak to me. I got on the phone, and this is what she said:

“I just want you to know that I have been reading everything you write in your blog, and that I think you are so brave and so courageous to put your emotions out there like that, and to use your own pain to help so many other people that are like you. I so wish that Tricia had something like this to read when she was going through it, because it really would have helped her tremendously to not feel so alone and invisible. I also think it is really incredible of you to go to Al’s funeral today, and I know that cannot be easy for you. I just think everything you are doing is so right on and so wonderful, and I know it hurts everyday, but I just wanted to acknowledge you and let you know that somebody notices and cares, and that I love you.”

Maya Angelou says: “When you know better, you do better.” Al didn’t know the intense pain of losing your partner to death, so he told me to move on. And while most people have no idea what to say to me, my Aunt Debbie knew, because she went through and continues to go through it with her own daughter. She knew, and now Im sharing it with all of you, so that you can go home to your widowed sister or brother or friend or son, and reach out to them more. Open the lines of communication. Acknowledge their loss. Mention their loved ones name. Talk about them. Trust me. That is what they need. That is what they want. 

When you know better, you do better. So now that you know, you can no longer pretend that you dont see Mr. Snuffleupagus, sitting alone in the corner. Now that you know he is real, go over and say hello. Ask him how he has been. You’ll be shocked at how little it takes to make a ginormous difference. 

This is Snuffleupagus – signing off.

To the Families of the Victims at Sandy Hook Elementary …

There is a good chance that you may never read this. Or maybe you will read it sometime far away in the future. Weeks, months, or even years from now. I hope that somehow, someday, this finds you, and that you do read it eventually, because I can feel your hearts, and they are hurting. I hear your pain, and it is gut-wrenching. And I know that if you ever do read this, it will not be right now. Right now, as I type these words, and as the country argues over gun laws and school security and mental illness, you are sitting or standing or being interviewed on TV somewhere, and you are in deep shock. People keep saying you are so strong, as you aimlessly wander through endless funerals and speeches and burials, and you are stunned and you are numb and you are changed with each new second of horror that you face. You are living this new reality – this new world that you never asked for. You are just trying to breathe and make it through the next day, the next hour, the next minute. If you did happen to read this right now, you wouldn’t remember it anyway. You are living in the fog of grief. Welcome to your new life.

Happiest Day of my Life

 It is a life I am very familiar with. Last year, on July 13, 2011, 17 months and 5 days ago (because that is how I count things now), I woke up to this new life at 6:30am when my phone wouldn’t stop ringing, over and over and over again. “We have your husband”, the hospital said on the phone when I finally picked up. “You need to get down here right away.” Even though my husband Don was only 46 years old, in very good health, was not sick, and had absolutely NO symptoms of anything ever, I knew by their words in that moment that he was probably in a coma or dead. Why? Because I was married to an EMT, and one of the things he always told me was that hospitals are not allowed to inform you that your loved one has died over the phone. They have to tell you in person.

So I rushed myself into a car service and got myself to the E.R., the whole time saying out loud to myself over and over and over: “This isn’t happening, this isnt happening, this isnt happening.” I ran faster than I have ever run in my life into that waiting room. Nurses and doctors whispered and tried to calm me down. They brought me into a private room and made me sit down, at least 15 of them surrounding me, offering me things like water and tissues. One of the doctors sat down and said a whole bunch of words that ended with the only ones that were important: “He didn’t make it. We are so sorry.” The sound that came out of me was something that, at the time, terrified me. Since that day, I have made similar type sounds many times in the throws of grieving. Sounds that have become my everyday norm. That morning, the love of my life went into work, and never came home. He collapsed on the floor of a Petsmart while working his 2nd job stocking dog and cat food and helping with animal adoptions, a passion of his. I never got to say goodbye. I never got to tell him I love you. We didnt even say good morning. While I lay in our bed fast asleep, my husband lay on a cold ,hard floor, dying. Massive heart attack, they said. Cardiac arrest.

 

Since that awful morning that changed everything forever, I have become a different person. I am now the kind of person that writes letters like this to people I don’t even know, or will probably never meet. Because when something like this happens to you and shatters your world, you feel a connection and a bond and a secret understanding with anyone else whose life is torn apart in the blink of an eye. Or the stop of a heart. Or the shot of a gun. You want to embrace them. You want to tell them that things will never be the same, and that they will not ever get over it, but they will get through it. You want them to know, more than anything, that there is someone out there who feels a tiny piece of what they might be going through, but at the same time, has absolutely no idea what they are going through. You want to give them all of the tools and the maps and the directions on how to cope and how to make it through the next moment. You want to help.

So, today, Newtown families, just days after your entire world has been stolen from you, when everyone else is busy arguing and debating about why this happened – I want to deliver a different message. I want to talk with you about a Monster that attacks everybody at some point in their lives. We all know it’s coming, but we don’t know when or why. It doesn’t matter anyway, because when it comes for you, it takes over your entire being, and you are drowning in the ocean and choking on salt water just to stay alive. I am talking, of course, about the monster called GRIEF.

They matter.

Every single day, I am learning, still learning, how to handle this evil monster. Although I don’t yet have all the answers, and probably never will, I would like to share with you some of the things that I have figured out so far, in the hopes that it might help you to get through that next cup of coffee, that next Christmas, or that next death anniversary. I am not sure if I would call what I am about to write here “advice”, suggestions, or just words. Maybe they are just words, but sometimes, words can resonate, and they can move you. And by putting words out there, you never know who might read them.

 1. People often ask me different versions of the question: “Are you doing better? Are you getting better? Do you feel better?” No. Please know that there is no such thing as things getting better. This is not a scratch on your elbow or your knee that heals. It is not the flu. Your child, or your brother or sister, your mom, your grandchild, your cousin or aunt … is gone. It does not get better. That reality is never, ever okay. It gets different. It gets easier, very slowly, because you pick up coping skills along the way. Skills that help you fight the monster. Skills that help you sit with the monster in silence, and realize that he isn’t leaving. Ever. Skills that show you how to get along with the monster, and ask him if he wants a cup of tea. You don’t accept. You adjust. You don’t move on. You move forward. You try and live, because they no longer can.

2. Cling to anything that works. Anything that helps you. (Let me clarify. If drinking, drugs, or other things that will harm you or others are the things that help you, please don’t cling to those things. That would not be good, and in the end, you are only prolonging and postponing the monster. He will come back with a vengeance.) Family. Religion. Music. Hobbies. Reading. Exercise. Volenteering. Cooking. Sailing. Whatever it is. Something I wrote awhile back which I think is the extreme truth is this: Everything hurts, but some things help while they hurt. For me, writing slightly helps. Connecting to others who “get it” slightly helps. Being creative helps. Humor helps. Helping other people, and finding ways to honor my husband’s kindness helps. Please know that sometimes, many times, absolutely nothing helps. Sometimes, you will just scream or sob or lose your freakin mind because you miss them so powerfully that you actually cannot breathe. In those moments of complete hopelessness and sorrow, what I try to remind myself of is this: Everything is temporary. These intense emotions will not last forever. I will feel differently soon, and then they will change and shift again, and again. It hurts, but it also helps to know that any emotion or feeling I have, is fleeting. Joy. Anger. Hope. Fear. They all go away and return, just like the moon and sun. Try to embrace that. It helps.

 3. People are clueless. They say stupid and thoughtless things, and then other people will tell you that the reason for this is that they just dont know what to say. Hmmm … well, for people who don’t know what to say, they sure do have a lot to say! There are an endless number of insensitive comments you will receive from mostly well-intentioned people, but here are a few of my all-time favorites: God Needed Another Angel. / It was God’s Plan or Will. / He/she is in a better place. / God Never Gives you More than you can handle. / It’s a good thing you have other children. (or in my case – at least you didnt have children.) / You are young – you will get over this. / Be positive. / Time heals All Wounds. / I know how you feel. / Its time to put this behind you. / Be strong. / (to surviving sibling) Now you are the man (or woman) of the house. When you encounter these types of comments, try to remember that these people have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. They do not live inside this, and they just don’t know. Sometimes, remembering this helps me from wanting to smack them into the next time zone. But only sometimes.

4. Do not expect any of this to make sense. Because it doesn’t. The grieving, the feelings, the emotions, the why did this happen? Why us? Why him/her? The endless questions you will keep taunting yourself with: Were they scared? Did they know what was happening? Did they wonder why I wasnt there to help them? WHY DID THIS HAPPEN??? These are all things that will plague you on a constant loop in your mind, and you will drive yourself nuts with it. There really are no answers, and only time will make you feel a bit less awful about it. If religion helps you with some of these types of questions, then lean on that to comfort yourself. If it doesn’t, then try not to take outside opinions on the subject to heart. Feel whatever you feel, and never apoligize for it. With grief, the only way out is through. If you go into this knowing upfront that it won’t make any sense and that everything you are feeling, no matter how dark or foreign, is normal, then you will be a small step ahead. I wish someone had told me this in the beginning, in those first 5 or 6 months after his death, where I felt like I was literally losing my mind.

Benjamin Wheeler

Expect the unexpected. Emotions will change and shift like the wind. In one hour, you can go from joy to bitter, anger to fear, hopeless to elation. Things that you never thought would affect you, will affect you greatly, and other things might not. The first round of holidays without him, I worried and worried about Christmas Day, because it used to be my favorite day of the year. That day passed without much crying, but then New Years Eve sent me into a tailspin that I never in a million years expected. We didnt even celebrate New Year’s Eve! But I was at a party with my parents that night, and just minutes before midnight, I said to my mom: “I HAVE to get out of here. I feel like I cant breathe.” We got in our car and left. “Turn the radio off”, I said. I could not hear the countdown to midnight. I just couldnt do it. The one thought inside my head was this: My husband will never see another year change. He will never countdown to a new year. He has no more years. 2011 is the last year he will ever know. That thought filled me with pain, and I sat in my bed until 2am, crying for him and all the things he would never get to do or see. You never know what will hit you, or why. You cant prepare for what you will feel, but you can prepare by knowing it’s all a big, fat clusterfuck.

Noah Pozner

5. Get help. In any way that you can. By as many people as you can. When community or friends or family offer to help, take them up on it. Let them. A lot of people will offer to help you in the beginning, and sometimes, you just want everybody to leave you alone. Here is something you will soon learn: one day, you will look around and realize that you got your wish, and everyone has left you alone. In the end, people move on with their own lives, and they will help you when they can. Or not. But you are the ones that have to live inside this grief. You are the ones who won’t be taking your little girl to school tomorrow, or watching your little boy open his Christmas gifts. You are the ones who go to bed every night, knowing and remembering what you will wake up to tomorrow. Forever. It can be extremely isolating, even with all this media attention. One day you may be in a big room somewhere, surrounded by hundreds of people, and you will think to yourself: I have never felt more alone. Take the help that is offered. Talk to people. Create a support group with the other families of this horrific loss. They will be the only other people in the world who truly understand. You will find a complicated love and bond with one another – one that can only be created through mutual pain. Seek grief counseling. The support groups I have joined and my private counseling sessions have been two lifesavers for me. It is impossible to go through this alone. Your soul needs help. It is broken. Please don’t be ashamed or embarassed to ask for help. It took me awhile to figure this one out, because I don’t like to burden people. Now, whenever I ask for help, my friends come running.

 

Rachel D’Avino

6. Trauma creates trauma. You have been through and will continue to go through a traumatic event. When someone dies suddenly, with zero warning, that is a trauma that creates all kinds of fun issues for those of us who are left behind. Physical, mental, psyhological issues. Things like anxiety, panic attacks, migraines, muscle aches, heartburn, ulcers, vertigo (that is my latest one, most likely brought on by severe stress), dietary changes, lack of sleep, depression (which is very different than grief), joint pain … the list goes on and on. Add to the trauma of sudden death the extremely violent nature in which their lives were taken, and you have a recipe for years of P.T.S.D. (post traumatic stress disorder.)

Just to warn you, there will be many triggers, and they will be different for each of you. In some of you, they may show up right away – maybe when bringing your other children to school, or when hearing a gunshot of any kind. For others, the trauma can lie there, dormant inside of you, and show up at some random and unexpected time. For me, because my husband died of a sudden heart-attack and I was told his only symptom at work that morning was that he had a mild stomach-ache and used the bathroom a couple times, I convinced myself one ordinary Tuesday morning, that I, too, was dying of a heart-attack, because I had a stomach-ache. What was actually happening to me was my very first ever panic-attack. I started to get similar feelings whenever driving by the hospital where he died and where I sat in that cold, tiny room with him as he lie there, no longer alive. Since he was an E.M.T., anytime I see or pass by ambulances, I get a nauseous feeling everywhere inside me. I still can’t go into the Petsmart where he collapsed, and when I see anyone in a paramedic, cop, or firefighter uniform, I want to run up to them and hug them, because their uniforms ALL remind me of my husband’s.

Olivia Engel

It doesn’t have to be a horrible memory that creates a terrible physical sensation inside you. No. Sometimes the happy ones are even harder. Like Christmas. I can’t stop thinking about how this awful, evil thing happened to all of you so close to the holidays, and so now the holidays will forever be sprinkled with heartache. My husband proposed to me underneath the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in December of 2005, because that is how much I loved Christmas. Now? All the things that I once loved bring me intense pain. I can’t even go near that tree. I tried. A couple weeks ago, I found myself walking to our tree, where I sat down and sobbed into my hands for almost an hour. I wasn’t ready, and I will never try and rush through my grief again, because it feels awful.

Trauma creates trauma. Month or years after this day that changed your world, something else will happen in the world that will bring it all back again. Some other type of traumatic event or something similar enough in your heart, that it screams out to you and stabs at your soul. This school shooting did that for me. It brought me right back to the morning when my world collapsed, and it affected me and continues to affect me on a very intense level. To be honest, I am not entirely sure why. My husband died just 3 months shy of our 5 year wedding anniversary, so we hadn’t yet started our family together. I am not a parent. I am, however, a college professor, so it hit me on that level, from a teacher’s perspective and just trying to imagine the horror of something like that happening.

 Would I act as bravely as these incredible women did? Would I be like Victoria Soto, or Principal Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Rachel D’Avino, Mary Sherlack, or Lauren Rousseau? I can only hope so, but I just don’t know. This event also hit me as the widow of an E.M.T., Air Force veteran, and animal lover / activist. My husband wanted to rescue everybody, especially children and animals. I remember asking him one time how he copes with seeing people, patients in pain and sick and dying. He said: “I do it for that moment where I can save them and make them better and help them. That moment when we save one person is worth everything.” His heart would break whenever he couldn’t save a child, and it would soar when he could. And so; when I think about the unthinkable that happened just a few days ago, I think about my husband, and how he would have given his life to protect or save those kids. I think about all the heroes that emerged that day, and how he was a hero to me. I think about all of the kids and teachers, and how just looking at their pictures and hearing their stories touches me to my core. How I feel an intense desire to read about and listen to their stories, because they were here and they lived and they existed, and I want to honor that. It’s so important to always honor that, because people forget too easily. People move on when the next big media story comes along. They take their cameras and their reporters and their phony, anxious concern – and they sprint away to the next thing. But because of what I have been through and what I have lost and who I have become, I will never ever forget. Nor do I want to. They have all touched me in some way, and their lives matter. They matter.

Dylan Hockley

Daniel Bardun mattered. He was 7 years old and he took after his musician dad, by forming a band with his brother and sister. He played the drums. Rachel D’Avino mattered. She was 29 years old, loved animals and photography, and her best friend was planning a surprise marriage proposal to her on Christmas Eve. Charlotte Bacon was only 6, and she was an outgoing, energetic girl who loved pretty dresses, and school.

Oliva Engel, 6, sounds like someone I would have loved to spend time with. She loved theatre and dance, and she was very bright and grateful, leading Grace at the dinner table nightly. Dawn Huchsprung was a mom, a wife, and the principal at Sandy Hook. She pushed her body toward the killer’s in the hopes of stopping him and protecting her schoolkids. I can’t stop thinking about her husband, and how he is now widowed, like me. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that Dylan Hockley, a 6 year old who loved trampolines and video games, was in the wrong place at the wrong time after his family relocated from England to smalltown Newtown, Connecticutt. Josephine Gay mattered too. She had just turned 7, and she loved riding her bike and selling lemonade in the summertime.

Catherine Hubbard

I never knew Emilie Parker, 6, but I will never forget her name or presence. Her grandmother, Betty, was just widowed 11 weeks ago and is part of an online support group I belong to called “Hope for Widows.” When it was posted on Facebook by the group leader that little Emilie was Betty’s granddaughter, my heart sunk instantly and I cried for her. Emilie’s father described her as having an “infectious laugh”, and said “the world is a better place, because she was in it.” A born leader and avid reader at only 6 years old, Madeleine Hsu was so loved by her family. Chase Kowalski, 7, also mattered. He loved baseball, Cub Scouts, and completed his first triathalon at the young age of 6. Catherine Hubbard, the beautiful little red-head, was a girl after my own heart. Just like my husband, she loved animals more than anything, and she dreamt of growing up one day to open her very own animal shelter. Catherine was just 6 years old, and her family asks that those who wish to honor her, to please do so by donating to the Newtown Animal Center.

Dawn Hochsprung

Jesse Lewis was 6 years old and his life mattered. He loved riding horses, and was excited to make gingerbread houses at school that Friday. Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, took after her jazz-musician father, and loved to sing. She was beautiful and vibrant, and loved her little brother. Anne Marie Murphy was a 52 year old mom, and a hero. She was found by first-responders with her body covering young children, as she attempted to shield them from the gunfire. Grace McDonnell, 7, was one of those young children. She wanted to be a painter, and she wanted world peace. James Mattioli was 6 and 3/4 old, as he loved to tell people. He looked up to his big sister, loved to eat, and enjoyed swimming and diving. Jack Pinto was 6 years old, and he loved wrestling, basketball, and football, especially Giants star receiver Victor Cruz, who paid tribute to the boy by penning “Jack Pinto: My Hero” on his cleats before the last big game, and by meeting with his family.

Caroline Previti was 6 years old, and although I was unable to find any information on her, her life mattered greatly. Messages on her Facebook Memorial Page call her a sweet little Angel. Noah Pozner was a 6 year old boy who “lit up a room” with his mischievious smile, said his family. Jessica Rekos had a passion for horses, and was often referred to as “our little CEO” by her family, due to her intelligence and wit. Avielle Richman, 6, also loved horses, and recently had her first loose tooth, which she excitedly wiggled for her family. All these children matter, and their lives and stories need to live on. Lauren Rosseau, 30, wanted to be a teacher ever since she was a little girl, and was hired as a permanant substitute teacher at Sandy Hook. Mary Sherlach was the school psychologist, and she was with Hochsprung when they heard popping noises. She was shot to death while going out into the hallway to see what was happening. Mary was 56, married, and was the proud mom of two daughters in their 20’s. Victoria Soto, 27, was another hero. Moving her students away from the classroom door, where gunfire was erupting, she protected them from harm’s way, before the shooter burst into the room and shot her without saying a word.

Benjamin Wheeler, 6, loved lighthouses, the # 7 train to Sunnyside, Queens, and The Beatles. (The Beatles? Seriously? How cool does this kid sound?) Allison Wyatt, also 6, loved to draw and wanted to be an artist. She once gave her snack to a complete stranger on an airplane. Nancy Lanza, mom of two boys and seperated from her husband, would become the first victim of her son’s killing spree. Ironically, it would be the guns that she bought for protection, that would be used to murder her, and 26 others.

27 people. Here one second, gone the next. Their entire lives in front of them. Dreams unrealized. Futures stolen. And you. Their family. You are left behind to put together the pieces, to figure this out, to live a life. There will be some days when you don’t want to, or when you don’t think you can. There will be times when you just want to leave this world, and go be with them, somehow. In those times; try and focus on the love. Try and think about their light. Their joy. Try and capture what made them so special, and then find ways to honor it. Honor them. Sometimes it is the only reason to keep breathing, to honor them and to make sure that others know how incredible they were.

Tell their story. Be their heart. And please, be gentle on yourself. Grieving is the hardest thing you will ever do. Just get through today, and then eventually, you will find that you are getting through tomorrow. It takes time. And it will hurt. But if you aren’t afraid to live inside of it, you will come out the other side. You will make it. You will use their strength to guide you, and on their wings, you will soar.

 

For a list of where and how to donate to families of Newtown, go here:

http://www.wptv.com/dpp/news/world/sandy-hook-donation-information-where-and-how-to-donate-to-newtown-connecticut-victims