Those were the words that echoed throughout the pool at the YMCA this morning, as we were just finishing up our high-impact water aerobics class. There were about 15 of us in the class, of varying ages and circumstances, and one of the older ladies walked up and whispered something into the instructor's ear. After she did, the instructor reached down to her iPod, and put on the song "The Sea of Love." She then said to Betty, which happened to be this woman's name, "I am told this is you and your husband's favorite song, so we will end with it today. Everyone please congratulate Betty - today is her 66th wedding anniversary! Isn't that incredible?" All the ladies cheered and applauded and gave words of joy and laughter and lightly joked about marriage and how do you do it and wow, that's so many years, and on and on and on.
I sat in the pool for an extra few minutes, unable to make myself get out or climb the ladder and be bombarded by Betty and her married entourage of women all fawning over the multiple decades of wedded existence. I silently wished Betty well, because that is absolutely a milestone to celebrate. But I just couldn't be a part of it. It hurt way too much. Seven years into this, and still, hearing about older couples who are honored enough to get years and decades together when I only got 4 years and 9 months, it still stings. It stings to hear about their children, their houses they bought together, their jobs they retired from, their grandchildren, their vacations, their retirement, all of it. Longevity is not something I was given a choice about in my marriage. When your person dies suddenly, before you could have kids or houses or careers or savings accounts or milestone dates, all of that is gone. It just disappears into oblivion. I am happy that Betty can celebrate 66 years with the same person, but part of me feels almost offended that I don't get to prove to everyone that my marriage would have been one of those kind that lasted a lifetime and that grew with age and time, and that was a thing of beauty. I will never know. I will never know what would have become of us, what our future would give us. But I know everywhere inside of me that we had the kind of love that would have made it to 66 years and beyond. This I know.Read more
So, for the 457,000th time in my life, I have recently added exercise to my "trying to get healthier " life routine. i joined the YMCA, and I have been taking classes, mostly in the pool. Water Zumba, water aerobics, water weights, things like this. It is actually a pretty damn good workout, and at the end of the hour-long class, I am totally wiped out. As an overweight person who originally gained a lot of weight as the result of coping/not coping with trauma, I have been up and down this "getting healthy" routine several times. Normally, I have some level of success, and then ultimately, I don't stick with it, and it all falls apart. At some point, I end up falling back into old habits, and making poor choices with food, and then getting lazy about exercising. When my husband died suddenly, 7 years ago now, I found myself eating sporadically, thoughtlessly, and terribly. Loads of sugar. Anything with carbs. Chocolate. Cakes and cookies. Fast-food. Just all the bad things. It helped to numb me, and it tasted amazing. I did it out of boredom, loneliness, and fear. Fear of getting back up and living a life again, instead of simply existing. If I kept eating and living in a non-healthy way, it gave me all kinds of excuses to not better myself and to not care. There were many years after Don died, that I simply didn't care.Read more
So it's been 7 years since my beautiful husband left for work one morning, and never came home. Seven years since his shocking and sudden death. Seven years of living this life in the "after" of painful and life-changing loss. It's a long time, and it isn't. It's forever, and it's also ten seconds. In all of this time living with the death of my husband, I do get asked one question quite frequently. People often ask me if I feel guilty for being happy. Do I feel guilt when I experience joy or joyful moments? Do I feel guilty for falling in love again?
The answer is no.
Guilt has certainly been a big part of my grieving and healing process. I felt guilty on my first two birthdays after Don died, because he would never get to see another year or enjoy another birthday or another year older. I felt guilty on New Year's Eve for years, and I refused to do the countdown to midnight, because it felt like a countdown to more time without him on earth, and another year that he won't ever get to be part of. I felt guilty for being asleep in our bed, while my husband was collapsing on a hard floor in a Petsmart, and going into cardiac arrest. These are the types of things I felt guilt about, and the types of things I worked on for years with my grief counselor, and came to better terms with.
I have never felt guilty for feeling joy. I have never felt guilty for falling in love again. I have never felt guilty for laughing so hard my sides hurt, or for feeling euphoric about something incredibly awesome or awe-inspiring. Maybe it's because I know for a fact that the most important thing to my husband, was my joy and happiness, so I know that me being happy would give him incredible peace. Maybe it's because I so fiercely want to LIVE, because my husband does not have that choice, so I look for and cling to moments of euphoria wherever I can find them. Maybe it's because it took me FIVE years and a hell of a lot of processing and therapy, to get to a place where I was even able to find love again, so why spend one second feeling guilty about it? I don't know what the reason is, but I have never felt guilt for feelings of joy or love.
What I HAVE felt is this:Read more
Sometimes, I long for a normal day.
I no longer have normal days.
I no longer have what most people would consider to be a normal day.
Today, I woke up, and went to my 2x per week physical therapy appointment for my arthritis and bone spurs in my neck, resulting from hours and weeks and months and years of sitting and typing furiously, this book that I just published about my dead husband.
Then I had a meeting with the Marketing person (and an old friend from childhood) at Groton Wellness Center, to finalize details for my very first Book-Signing Event, taking place at their venue, in my small hometown of Groton Mass, next Thursday. We discussed making snack platters in rainbow shapes to go along with the book's title, and whether or not I should read a "sad" passage from the book, or a "darkly humorous" one.
Now, I'm back home, writing my blog post in the widow blog, and then I will be writing up emails and proposals for possible speaking engagements and more book-signings, where I will go and talk to people about death, love, grief, and loss. As these events are happening, I will feel good and purposeful and even hopeful and filled with joy. After they are over and I am back home , alone in my room at night, the deep sadness will come and the trauma will return and the panic and anxiety that sudden death and traumatic events bring will emerge - and I will isolate and maybe overeat and under-sleep and exist with a constant migraine that will travel down to my toes and up to my earlobes. And I will miss my husband deeply, even though I know he is no longer my husband and even though I now have a loving and wonderfully caring boyfriend in my life and even though I am madly in love with this boyfriend, and even though, even though, even though ......Read more
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.Read more
So last month, June 14th, was my one-year anniversary with Nick, my new love. My new beginning. My "next great love story." I never know how to refer to us, but thats another post for another time. I dont like the term "chapter two", because he deserves way more than a chapter, as did my dead husband Don. But back to the point .......
I just returned from a mini-road trip (2 overnights in the Berkshires and then Sturbridge Mass), which was Nick's anniversary gift to me, taking us on this getaway which kicked off with seeing James Taylor in concert at Tanglewood, on the evening of July 4th. We had lawn seats, which was so much fun and such a cool vibe, walking through the wooded path with our cooler of picnic food, blanket, lawn chairs, and excitement; as we found and chose our place on the lawn near the stage. James Taylor has a voice that brings me back to nostalgia - back to childhood days and innocent times and being back in high school with old friends. I expected his music to be a bit emotional maybe for me. I did not expect the grief tsunami of triggers that happened toward the end of the concert. I did not expect the intensity and severity of these emotions to come on so quickly and suddenly. I did not expect that, even after almost 7 years into this, grief can still take the reigns and take full control and attack you full-force without your consent.
It was toward the end of the concert, about 4 or 5 songs from what would be the last one. We were sitting in our lawn chairs, in the dark humid night, with thousands of others, loving and basking in the music of this talented man. It happened during the song "Fire and Rain", a classic for any Taylor fan. The song is about his childhood friend, Suzanne, who died by suicide, and Taylor's reaction to it. It is also about his own struggles in life with addiction. As he sang this song, I noticed HE was getting emotional, and his voice cracked slightly when he sang the line: "I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend - but I always thought that I'd see you again." Suddenly, the tsunami hit. My heart started burning with intense sadness, and a furiously fast flash of music-related memories of me and Don started blinking through my mind, all at once, one following the next and the next. Don strumming his guitar in our apartment. Seeing Paul McCartney together in concert, twice. Seeing Fleetwood Mac together. Being in our friends recording studio doing a recording of me singing and Don playing lead guitar on "Sweet Emotion" by Aerosmith. Sitting on our living room couch and playing CD's for each other. Talking to him that first night in that music chat room.