I am a word-nerd. I love words and poetry, and similes and metaphors and illiteration, and sometimes the way that somebody words something or the way they write something, can change everything for me. It can make me see things in a whole new way, or bring to me to a deeper level of understanding about something that I never would have had otherwise.

Words make me feel, and they make me think. I love the order of them, and the thought that goes into choosing them. I love the way they sound when I say them silently while writing, or scream them loudly while testing out their effectiveness. Words are the beginning of creating a world, a vision, an image. They sit inside your heart and they help you ponder life's biggest mysteries. Sometimes, when I feel lost for words, I close my eyes and picture how I'm feeling in that moment, and how I might describe that feeling out loud. Eventually, words form in my brain. And when they don't, images do, and then the images turn into words. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the middle of a phone session with a grief-coaching client, and I found myself talking with her about that feeling you have when you realize that your "other" life has ended, and a new one must begin. We were talking about what it's like to have to literally stand in the middle of nothing, and learn to pick up every single thing that has shattered around you. That feeling of being totally lost as the whole world moves around you. Immediately, a very specific image of what this was, came into my head, and then later that night, I had a dream about it, where the images were laid out for me like a home movie, and this is what I saw .... 


Life after losing your spouse or partner is like a pinata. Think about it. The pinata is your life. Your new life. The one you never asked for. The one that came crashing into your old life, uninvited. The one that mocks you everyday with it's loudness and bright colors, when all you can see is grey. Your new life sits there, perched up above you, lightly swinging back and forth in the wind, messing with your sense of balance and steadiness. You are standing below it. Below your life. You look up at it, and nothing about it is familiar to you, because it is not the life you had just five hours ago, or five days ago. Your tired eyes are trying like hell to adjust to this oddly-shaped thing above you, and you are trying to focus, when suddenly, out of nowhere, another shock to your system. 

Suddenly, someone is behind you, and you don't know who it is, and they begin to put a blindfold over your face. So now your new life that you don't want is above you swinging in the wind, and you can't even see it. In fact, you can't see anything. Nothing. Your world is completely dark. There is no light anywhere. The worst and most alienating part is that life is going on around you. Literally all around you, on every side, kids are laughing and people are dancing and life is singing and humans are having a party. They are having a party while your life is suspended in mid-air, and you have been blindfolded. 

So now you are terrified. You are shaking and your mouth feels like it's filled with dirt and mud. You want water but everything around you is sand and dryness. You can't stop sweating, and then this horrible stranger who blindfolded you grabs you by your shoulders, and starts to spin you around. They spin you around in a circle. You go in circles for a long time. A really long time just moving in circles, ending up right back where you began. No focus. No purpose. No point. Just dizzy and nauseous from all the spinning and all the confusion. Where did everybody go? Where did my life go? Where are my friends? They were here just a few minutes or hours or weeks ago. You ask all these questions and more, but nobody hears you. You are left alone. Spinning. 

The stranger puts a bat in your hand. It feels like a baseball bat. Why would they do that? You are about to pass out, and you feel like you cannot possibly accomplish one more task. You just want to sleep forever or stop feeling pain and hurt, but the voices come and so you can't sleep and you can't stop the hurt. The voices come from the thin, dry air and from all around you, and you can't really make out what they are saying. It doesn't sound like words. Nothing sounds like anything in this world where you are blind and spinning without your anchor. You feel the hand guide your arm up toward the strange colorful object. You still can't see and you feel insane. But now, now suddenly and with a fire that scares you, you are filled with rage. You are crying and you are pissed off at this life and these questions and this God you believe in, if you believe in a God - suddenly the space around you grows silent, and you start blindly swinging. You swing and you swing and you swing, and at first, you touch nothing. Your arm starts to hurt and you start to question your sanity again. Is there anything up there? What am I swinging at? What am I reaching for? I don't have the energy. I can't do it. I can't do it, I can't, I can't, I can't ... 

But you do. You do, because you are so tired and so disoriented now, and in so much grief and pain, that you don't know what else to do except stand there with your limp in your legs and your Jello arms and swing like a motherfucker at your life. You do this for hours or weeks or months or years, sometimes taking breaks for work or other obligations you are forced to still take care of, even though you can't see and you have been blindfolded and left alone in a foreign space. You scream and you cry and you beat the shit out of the ground in front of you with your bat, and you stab at the air over and over and over, still feeling nothing except the cracks in your own joints from swinging. 

Finally, there is a swing you take that has such intensity and such lack of direction and such violence in it, that you somehow magically actually make contact with something. You have made contact with your life. You try and center yourself, and you swing again through the darkness and the blackness and the hopelessness and the fear. You feel the tip and the middle of the bat hitting on something, and it makes a thud sound, once and then twice and then once more. You swing harder and faster now, even though you are seconds from passing out. You swing and you swing and you swing, and you hit and you hit and you hit. And then there it is, all of a sudden, and why did it take so long. You hear the final thud of your life, as it shatters in pieces around you. There is no applause or cheering. Just a subtle loosening of your blindfold, as it makes its way down your eyes and then falls down around your neck. You look around you, and there is your life. 

You are broken open. Everything is scattered in pieces, and the fragments lie all over the hot ground. Your blindfold is off, so you can finally see, but your vision is still impaired. Everything is fuzzy and out of focus. Everything looks like shapes. You don't know where to look first, what to deal with first. Your life has been broken open all around you, and you are still alone. 

Eventually, after some weeks or months or years, you start to aimlessly wander around the space that is near you, searching for something. You have questions and there are no answers. But there is hope. There are shifts. There are changes. There is joy. There is laughter. It is somewhere, and now and again, you remember or feel what that was like. You can recall it, for a few seconds. But it disappears again because you are not ready. You have not picked up the pieces that are all around you. You realize that you have to start ....... 

Everything lying on the ground around you looks weird and unfamiliar. It is not candy or anything like that. It is all the pieces of what you must work through, what you must analyze and break down and feel. Sometimes you step on the pieces because they are sharp, so you have to then deal with them. Other times you bend down and pick up a piece of your grief.

This piece is the guilt. That piece is the anger. This piece is the jealousy and envy . That one over there is my future, the one I don't get to have. The one I must grieve. That piece sitting in the rubble is the pieces of my children - the ones that were only born in the minds and hearts of me and my husband, as we dreamt of our someday family. That piece takes a long time to handle. That piece is a killer. This piece is loneliness. That one is the one that misses him. This one is my best friend being gone. That one near my foot is about the safety and security I felt with him, and no longer have in his absence. That jagged edged piece that I can't seem to pick up still, is the one where I am no longer someone's priority. The one where nobody is asking me what time I'll be home tonight. And still, there are so many more pieces. The pieces of my life that I hit with a baseball bat came down in a flood, and there are too many right now. That one is old age and this one is getting sick and that one is dealing with more loss in my future without my husband. This one is my dreams. Our dreams. That one is the house we never got to buy, and the places we never went, and the anniversaries and vacations and kids and grandkids and retirements and years we will never ever have. The pieces are endless, but there they are. And you cannot fully life your life until you work through all these pieces. Some you come back to again and again, because they are just so hard and so painful to face. Others you are able to let go of or move through with a bit less harshness. 

Eventually, you look out at the space all around you, and maybe you can finally see parts of the earth again. Maybe there are sections where all of your stuff and all of your fragments of grief aren't taking up all of the room anymore. And then maybe you even have space for some of those things you felt in the distance before - things like hope, joy, beginnings. 

When your life is taken from you without your consent, and a new one is forced upon you with zero notice, you are broken completely open and all the pieces of what lies before you emotionally, is scattered all over the ground. You are forever changed from this loss. This death. This is true. But the way that you change is up to you. At first, and for a long time, it doesnt feel that way. It feels like nothing is a choice, because it isn't. But much later, once you work and move through the pain and the hurt and the pieces all around you, you get to decide how you might transform, and what that will look like. You get to decide, because you are finally able to see. 

This Monday, July 13th, is the 4 year anniversary of my husband's death. One of the things I have decided to do as part of this version of my life, is to use that day to honor who Don Shepherd was and is. He was the most selfless person I ever knew. And so because of him, I have created "Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day." This will be the 3rd annual Don Day, and all details can be found on my public Facebook page for the Event. Anyone can participate:

Coming up on 4 years, I am still working through the pieces that remain on the ground. I have picked up and moved through and stared in the face of many of those pieces, but there are still a few left to conquer. These days, I feel love more than I feel loss. I feel life more than I feel death. I feel joy more than I feel pain, but then again, my joy has pain inside it now. It's different. Everything is different. But it is a thousand times more beautiful and meaningful than it ever was before, and my relationship with my husband is more profound these days than ever before. 

It's not ideal. But I'll take it. 

I spent almost 3 years swinging and swinging and swinging at that pinata. 

When that bitch finally pulled apart and fell out all over the earth, it became mine for the taking. 

In the distance, there are people having a party. 

I think it's time for me to join them. 

Showing 8 reactions

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  • Margie Williams
    commented 2015-07-17 12:56:31 -0700
    Wow…you’ve truly captured how I feel. I’m 3 months away from 5 years now and this is me exactly. Thank you for putting it in words.

    I hope you don’t mind but I’ve printed it with the intention of sharing with my mom, my dad died 9 months after my husband. We’ve shared a large portion of the process and been each other’s sounding boards, my siblings are wonderful and kind but don’t quite “get it”, and I hope they never do.

    Mom and I have both tried to put these feelings into words and haven’t been able to nearly as eloquently as you did.
  • Bobby Brodour
    commented 2015-07-11 22:20:54 -0700
    I cried reading this as I feel so like this writer !
  • Judy Kaan
    commented 2015-07-10 19:29:07 -0700
    I have not read this once but twice. Crying through the first round and teary eyed through the second and yes I probably will read it a few more times. You described just what we felt in the beginning, the middle and still what we will feel for the rest of our lives. This is extremely powerful – and like Sarah said – I’m so dammed proud of you. Wow – one day I’d like to join that party too. Thank you for going so deep in your heart and soul and writing this piece. Love you.
  • Sarah Treanor
    commented 2015-07-10 16:48:38 -0700
    I am SO incredibly proud of you. More than I could even express in words. I won’t even try. This was so beautiful. You made ME cry today. This was exquisite and such an accurate portrayal. It took me back through ALL of it. All the pain, all the crawling, all the fighting, all the confusion, all the anger, all the disbelief, all the sadness. I am so grateful to call you my friend. You inspire me more than I could ever say.
  • Karen Sutherland
    commented 2015-07-10 13:24:56 -0700
    Kelley, you have written the most powerful piece describing grief I have ever read. I found myself swept away, into that vortex, that void. i experienced every emotion you named while standing in the rubble and seeing all the horrific havoc grief wreaked as I looked at the ground – all those pieces, all those fragments, all of what was, all that will never be. at 26 months after my husband’s sudden death, I have often questioned whether I have made much progress in moving forward – grief is so confusing in it’s spiraling way, reducing the highs of new found joy into the depths of despondency – I often feel completely insane. but when you wrote about the WAY one chooses to change it made me realize that I have made progress and that facing and working through my grief has/is so worth the horrible pain of such decimating loss.

    I am glad, so glad that you are once again honoring your Don with the pay it forward event. whenever we can turn OUTSIDE OF OURSELVES to render tender mercies, perform random acts of kindness for others – it’s a GIFT, to us as well as to those to whom we give. thanks, Coach!!!
  • Stephen Hochhaus
    commented 2015-07-10 11:01:19 -0700
    (sorry about the spelling)
  • Stephen Hochhaus
    commented 2015-07-10 10:21:01 -0700
    Wow! Totally awesome Kelly. Gimme the damn bat!
  • Kelley Lynn
    commented 2015-07-10 09:52:05 -0700
    Crap. My FB link to my event page didnt work. If youd like to reaad more about what Pay it Forward Day is and how to take part, its a public page on my Facebook, so just do a search on FB for “Avalanche of Kindness: 3rd Annual Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day”, and it should come right up. Thanks guys!