This past Wednesday, July 13th, was the 5-year anniversary of my husband's sudden death.
Beginning on the first year anniversary, back in 2012, I started a campaign called "Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd." I have run and organized this campaign / project on July 13th, every single year since he died.
So, this is the 5th year of doing the project, and after 5 years of doing this, I would like to use this project and opportunity to make an observation. There is something I would like to say here, about people and life and grief.
The PIF project began as a suggestion from my grief-counselor as something to help me get through that day, while also creating something that would be the very definition of who he was and always will be.
This is what I want to say, and it isn't a judgment or me being upset or angry at anyone - it is simply FACT. The "Pay it Forward" project would not exist, or would have fizzled out, or would not have the chain reaction of kindness that it now has, if it weren't for my friends in the widowed community. Why? Because every single year, not only do I create a PIF Event Page on Facebook, post the link several times - but I also send out multiple group emails to everyone I know, in weeks leading up to the event. I also post about it in my personal blog, and pretty much everyone that knows me KNOWS that this is happening, and that it's important to me.
Despite all of this, every single year, the project has the participation ratio of (estimating) 90% widowed friends, and about 10% friends/family. And of that 10% friends/family, I'd say that only 5% of that are close/immediate family of mine or Don's, or close friends of mine or Don's. The rest fall under the category of online friends, or friends Ive made over the years at work or in other places. Anotherwords, the people that knew and loved either Don or me or both of us MOST, are the very people who (generally speaking, there are exceptions) choose not to participate in this project. Again, I am NOT saying this as a way to make anyone feel bad or guilty, and I do realize people cope and grieve and show their love for someone who died in their own way and all that, but I do think it's very telling.
It is telling because it means that the majority of people who are honoring my husband on this day, are people who DIDNT EVEN KNOW HIM. As in, they have never even met the guy, and some of them have never even met ME. It is telling because it means that my fellow widowed peeps are, generally, the ones who REALLY comprehend WHY this project is so meaningful to me. Why I do it. They understand how vital and beautiful it is to hear the name of the person you lost to death spoken and said out loud, or to have an act of love done in their honor. They understand that when a couple hundred people choose to honor my husband, it speaks volumes to the universe about a life that matters, and will always matter. And they understand the power of others who loved him saying to me: "Yes. I miss him too. No. He hasn't been forgotten. He never will be."
It is telling because the REASON these widowed people understand this so well, is because they have felt the same from their own families and friends. They have sat through birthdays or anniversaries or milestones of the person they love who died, where they have received no acknowledgement from anyone. Nobody saying: "Wow this must be a hard day for you - your 10th wedding anniversary. " Generally, the only other people who say this to us, are other widowed people. And no, we dont expect everyone to remember all the milestone dates of the person we loved that died. But, when it's put out there for people to know or acknowledge, and still gets largely ignored, it just feels bad. This is very telling about grief, and the way we as a society treat death, and those who are forever missing someone they love.
I was talking with a good widower friend the other day, and he was feeling extra sad because it was his late wife's birthday, and when he went to the cemetary to put down flowers at the end of his day, he noticed that nobody else had been there. And nobody called him, or acknowledged the birthday in any way. Not her family, not her children, nobody. I said to him "you must be so angry and disappointed." He said: "Im way past disappointment now. It's been years. I know now not to expect it. I know that the only person that will acknowledge these milestone days, and acknowledge her life, is me. Nobody else remembers." So on Wednesday, I remembered his wife for him, and made sure to include her in one of my Pay it Forwards.
This is NOT okay. This is not the way we should be treating people that we love, who die. Guess what? Every single person reading this is going to die. And every single person reading this is going to experience the mind-numbing, soul-crushing hell of losing the person you love most. Like my friend Michele, founder of Soaring Spirits International says, "if you love humans, they are going to die. Humans die." This is not how we should be honoring and remembering the people we love. By placing them on a shelf somewhere and never speaking of them again. By shaming people who sit beside their wife or husband at a cemetary, telling them to get over it or stop going there. By letting the person we love who died become further and further away with time, because we choose to ignore it as if it's some awful thing in our past that we should let go of.
No. I will NEVER let go of love. I will carry it with me and let it be the wings that make my future soar. I will not forget love. I will not forget my husband. And I will continue to find ways, always, to create beautiful things that create an avalanche of exactly what and who he was - PURE LOVE. To me, to do anything less is unacceptable.
So, to my widowed community family, THANK YOU for being the fuel to keep this project going, and thank you for truly getting it. And to my friends and family and Don's friends and family who HAVE participated in this once-a-year thing that I request from you, thank you with all of my heart. It means so very much to me, and it is noticed by me each and every time you choose to remember him or share a memory of him with me or say his name or anything else that keeps him here with us. It literally means everything. Every. single. thing.
All of the above is just me using my PIF campaign as just one example of a way to say this: We, as a society, can do better. Yes, death removes the people we love from earth - it takes their physical form away from us, and forces us to have a different relationship with them. But It is not DEATH that takes people's soul away from us - it is us. We are doing that. We are making the choice to do that. By our actions. Our words. By our decisions on how we choose to stay connected (or not) to the people we love who have died. We are the ones making the people we love disappear through death. And it's not okay. They deserve better. They deserve more. When I die, the people I love better talk other people's ears off about me, and find ways to keep my soul alive, or I'm gonna be pissed. Because to me, anything less is shameful.
We can do better. The people we love who died should remain a part of our lives always. They are NOT part of our past. They are forever connected to us, and we can keep them closer to us by keeping them alive. In our stories. In our hearts. In our breath. Just trust me on this. My husband is only really "gone" when I make choices that don't keep him part of my life. We are connected to the people we love, forever. Death is just death. Don't give it more power than it already has. Thank you for listening.