In Love With...A Dead Man

He strides through my mind on a daily basis.

My heart yearns for the Love I felt so strongly with him.

My soul remembers back to the years we shared.

My body yearns for his hands upon it.

It’s been 5 years and 3 months since he left my world.

I’m in love with a dead man.

I can almost hear the shrieks of dismay and shock and see people draw back in…

I’m not sure why they would draw back upon hearing this from me.

Maybe it’s too morbid? I’ve been accused of morbidity.

Maybe they feel that it says something slightly crazy about me, that I’m in love with a dead man…

And I speak so openly about it.

Maybe they think that being in love with a dead man will keep me from being in love with a man who is alive.

Not that any opportunities have presented themselves.

Here’s the god’s honest truth…

I think about my dead husband day and night.

My pulse beats to the memories of our years together.

As I go about living this life…interacting with those I meet along the way on a daily basis…

I’m thinking about him.

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Mountain Salve

Today, Megan would have been 37 years old.  This is the fourth birthday since her death, and I can confidently say that they have gotten a bit easier.  I’m not a ball of snot and tears, or missing her any more than I already do.

She’s s imply “in focus” today.  There is no other way to describe it but “in focus”.  On any given day, something occurs that makes me think of her.  Shelby says something that sounds like her. It may be a five minute, fleeting memory, but regardless, she is in my thoughts.  Four years of processing those moments have blunted the sharp edge of grief. Her birthday is no different, other than the fact that those moments occur throughout the day in a reliable, predictable sense.

The elevated awareness that she’s dead does, in fact, make today a bit more stressful overall.  Her birthday doesn’t make any one individual thought of her “worse” per se, but the accumulation of them tends to just wear me out by nightfall.  That in mind, I’ve decided I don’t care about being worn out. We’re physically in my favorite place on earth right now, and I’m welcoming the overwhelming flood of stimuli that will have me in bed by 9:00 PM.

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Living Room

I should have started writing my blog a long time ago, but the day got away from me because I got busy L-I-V-I-N-G .  I didn't do anything particularly noteworthy today.  In fact, I spent the better part of the day doing "normal" things; which, in and of itself, is not extraordinary.  But, what was exceptional about today was that I actually got caught up in being "normal".  For the first time in a long while, I went about my day like most ordinary people do; and, for brief moments, I didn't think about Mike being dead.  Today, I gave myself permission to do something other than grieve.  I allowed myself to just be alive.  And, it felt good.

To be clear, in the months since Mike died,  I've had my fair share of busy days; but, today was unique because I felt less like I was simply distracted from my grief because of the business of life.  His death didn't lord over my mind today because I did not allow it to.  Today, I consciously picked life and living over my grief.

  

Today I didn't organize my thoughts around his deadness. 

Today I lived more than I grieved. 

It wasn't the content of my day that was amazing,

My satisfaction simply comes from me choosing to live over ruminating about his death. 

Today I put LIVING before grief and I'm better for it. 

 

I have come to a place where I accept that my life hasn't stopped because Mike died.  There are still demands on me and of me.  And, I am keeping up with my responsibilities and, I'm glad for this.  But, even more importantly, recently, I am doing more than what I am duty bound to do, I am starting to live a little for myself again.

The day he died, if you told me that it would be possible for me to live on I would have desperately wanted you to be right; but, I wouldn't have believed you.  Now, twenty months out, maybe it still surprises me a bit that I am actually living. 

 

However, I am no longer satisfied simply living. 

Now, I want to thrive

And, there is a huge difference in the two things. 

The fact that I am now differentiating between living and thriving indicates to me that my grief is changing.

 

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To Forget the Sound of Fear

I woke up to the most horrible dream about a week ago. Only the second worst kind of dream to have behind the dream of reliving my fiance’s death. My new partner, Mike, had been in an accident, and just like before… I got the phone call that changed everything. Just like before, the dizzying sensation of shock slammed into me, and picked me up off the ground like a tornado. As I swirled through a surreal vortex of a sudden reality I could not comprehend, I found a whole new fear.

When Drew died, the fear was that I would not live through this pain. I was very literally afraid for my life… because I didn’t see how anyone could make it through something so painful and so horrific and come out the other side. I was not afraid of my body dying, but worse, I was afraid my soul had died right along with him, and that I’d be damaged, angry, or just an empty shell of a person for the rest of my life. This was a very real fear for about the first 6 months. And it took time to begin to see proof that my soul hadn’t died too, and lay that fear to rest. I’m sure I’m not alone in having experienced this.

In this dream though, came that new fear. No longer was the first thought “What if I’m gone too?” Now it was… “How the hell am I going to take care of her on my own?”

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The Loudest Sound is Sometimes No Sound at All

So if you read my last blog, I was pretty stressed last week waiting for blood results and I’m happy to say everything is fine so I guess my stomach issues were really emotionally based. I do want to take a moment to thank everyone who has read my blog and the kind comments. I haven’t commented which has struck me by surprise since I am typically a talker.

Knowing that I had a blog entry to write, I thought about the kind of week I had dealing with Tin’s first birthday. It had been week after week of tough first days and this week was finally quiet. My mind is suddenly quiet. Today I realized, in my efforts to make it through the days, I am running from one task to another. I had told myself that I had to deal with my loss and not avoid it with a full schedule. Funny how you elude your own rules without realizing you are disobeying yourself. The heart wants what it wants.

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Weightless

I just returned from my 500 billionth Camp Widow.

Okay, I'm exagerating, but not by much. Besides, I lost count long ago on how many times I have been honored to be a presenter at this amazing healing place called Camp Widow. 

July 13th was the 7-year mark of Don's death. Camp Widow began on July 13th. Friday the 13th. Nothing incredibly weird happened on Friday the 13th at camp, other than the fact that my entire life is incredibly weird all the time. 

This time, at camp, I was going there as both a presenter and also a new author, my book being out on Amazon for over a month now, and on sale at the Camp Widow bookstore. The entire weekend people came up to me and asked for their book to be signed. It was my honor. My favorite part of that was sitting there and penning the name "Kelley Lynn Shepherd" over and over, knowing that I did not take my husband's name when we married, but that I would now take it on the pages of this book. Writing that name again and again made me feel so emotional. So filled with pride that I was well-loved by this incredible man. So happy to share with the world, pieces of our story. 

At camp, I met new friends and saw old ones. I attended some workshops that helped me to heal just a little bit more. I had lots of drinks, hugs, and support down by the pool. I dipped my toes in the Pacific Ocean - on two different days. I sat in my widow friend's bed and ate chocolate chips with her while laughing at our strange lives. I waded in the pool, floating from end to end without a care in the world. I went on a sunset cruise to celebrate Soaring Spirits 10-year anniversary in existence. I ate lunch at the famous Hotel Del Coronado, with two widow friends. I stood on a balcony from my hotel room, admiring the gorgeous view of San Diego, and appreciating all of the beauty in nature. I enjoyed an unexpected upgrade into a suite, where I spent the morning of July 13th reflecting quietly, and alone, and with my dead husband. I gave my presentation to the largest crowd I've ever had at Camp Widow to date. I danced to Prince out on the dance floor, and held out my arms and empathy when a fellow widowed brother had an outburst of tears overflowing. 

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Easy To Love

There’s this fairly new song called “Ain’t Easy”  where the main chorus sings, “loving you ain’t easy” after singing about the difficulty of “loving” and being with someone who is “fire then rain.” Quite simply, even though it’s a catchy tune, it makes me mad. It aggravates me because I thought of myself that way when I started dating and it was so misinformed. Also because it perpetuates the idea that being difficult to love is an acceptable way to see yourself or by someone you are with when it certainly is not. You are not difficult because of your life experiences. You are not difficult to love at all. You might just have the wrong people or person in your life. Or you might need to adjust your self image.

When I started dating I thought that whoever I dated would find me difficult to date. My rationale was that I did and do have my ups and downs; my fire then rain. My “downs” weren’t as intense as they once were but they also didn’t seem to be going all the way away.  I was also very aware that I had a past that someone not yet in their thirties doesn’t usually have and I thought it would be seen as a negative.

In reflection, I am the one who saw myself that way. And then I attracted people who reflected my own views of myself: people who saw me as difficult.

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Get Along, Grief Shamers

Along about the second year, definitely going into the third and then the fourth…I just wanted to scream at people.

Not in anger, but in shredded grief and pain…

Why can’t you just let me be sad? Why does it feel like I must defend myself against you? Why does it then feel like I have to defend my grief even to myself? Why does it feel like I can’t just feel what I feel, be whatever I am? Why must I expend all this energy defending my right to feel all that this is? Why is it not okay with you that I can’t find my feet and I’m feeling so disoriented that my stomach continually wants to heave its’ contents? Why are you trying to make me feel like I’m doing something wrong?

Why can’t you just let me be fucking sad?

These are a mere sampling of the piercing reactions that took up so much space in my heart and soul and mind in the first years of grief, in reaction to all the well meaning mostly discussions that people would have with me. To me, really, because they weren’t seeking discussion with me as much as they were telling me where they thought I should be with this, or how they thought I should be with this.

Grief, I mean.

How I was grieving vs how they thought I should be grieving.

They didn’t realize this is what they were doing, of course. At least, I hope they didn’t realize this is what they were doing.

Whether that was their intention or not, shaming is how I heard every word.

And every word from them shattered me more, because I, and we, already judge ourselves so much, when we grieve.

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Pixel Memories

Something that Megan and I did every year or two was get family photos taken.  While we had thousands of “candid” pictures, taken from our phones or old point-and-shoot devices, we were never posed, and neither of us were exactly professional photographers.  We would make the appointment, pack up a few various pieces of clothing, and head to JCPenney for an hour or so of awkward positions and goofy smiles, followed by standing in a department store looking through each and every shot, choosing the six best, and deciding on a package.  The photos are done well, and I like them, but the experience of producing them was not exactly the most enjoyable memory. If we could have had them without all of the other hassle (and money), they would have been perfect.

We still have some of those photos hanging on our walls.  Shelby truly lives up to her “Peanut” nickname in most of them...being about 2 feet tall and 25 pounds at the largest.  (for the record, I too have added about 30 pounds since then, so the “growing together” has a literal meaning). The memory of her simply being that size is the most enjoyable to me.  

Megan has a beautiful smile in all of them.  She was, simply put, photogenic, and she knew how to apply a good “picture smile”.  For Shelby and I’s part, we did our best to smirk.

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I think we all feel “lost” in some way, and sometimes in all ways.

But, understand, feeling lost after the person you love dies doesn’t mean you have to lose yourself forever.

I know that outliving the person you love isn’t easy.  In truth, it’s easily the hardest thing I’ve ever been forced to do.

 

I remember many nights I stood in front of the stove and unconsciously rocked myself, in an effort to become ‘present’, as I half-heartedly cooked dinner for my kids -all the while hoping I wouldn’t die from the aching in my Soul.

The good news is that I didn’t die from Mike’s death.  However, from his death, I’ve learned that nothing in life is constant. When he died everything about my life changed - quite literally overnight.  I remember feeling completely and utterly disorientated.  The days following his death are a blur.  I remember feeling like I was having an out of body experience.  I stood for hours surveying the mess that was left of my life.  All our hopes and dreams were shattered into a million pieces - scattered all around me.  I wanted to “fix” my brokenness, but I didn’t know where to begin.  I had no clue how to move forward; but, instinctively I knew I couldn’t stay still forever... 

 

Death forces change

And, these changes are usually unexpected and always unwelcomed - at least initially.

For most of us, accepting change is hard at the best of times; and while grieving change is especially challenging

- albeit unavoidable.

 

 

 

In the early days, grief suspends you in a type of paralysis where your mind becomes frozen; and, all decisions, both big and small, feel overwhelming.  I think this happens because death shatters everything we believe about the assumptive world; and, it takes a significant amount of time for the mind to recover from this. 

However, I assure you, with time, and hard work you can and will steady yourself.  And, once you reestablish your bearings it is possible to slowly regain your sense of self; and, with that, your self confidence...

 

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