In the eleven years since the sudden death of my husband, there are so many things I have learned and continue to learn about life, about death, about grief, and about many other things.
I think the thing that I have come to learn the most and also over and over again, is that no matter where I go or what I do, no matter how many years it has been, no matter how far away I feel sometimes from “that other life”; the love that Don and I shared will always appear in echoes throughout everything. It took a long time to really and truly understand this, but now I know it for sure, and because I know it, I no longer worry about somehow losing him along the way.
As cliche as it all sounds, a love like that doesn’t just disappear. It sticks around, and it’s a subtle thing, much like Don himself. Physically, he was a very tall and big presence, but in that comfy teddy-bear kind of way. He was quiet and safe and cozy, and that is exactly how I feel inside and in my surroundings whenever I feel him close. And every time that happens, I smile or I laugh or sometimes I will say out loud when a Penske truck passes me or I hear Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer” at the exact moment I NEED to laugh – “thanks, Don.”
Sometimes I feel him in those kind of ways, where he sends me “signs” to let me know he is always here, and other times it is through my relationships with the friends we shared, one or two of his family members, or when I see or hear or watch things that he used to love. Other times I help to create the ongoing presence in my life – making or eating one of his favorite dishes, attempting to learn the guitar on his guitars that he left behind, or just spending some time with our kitties that we adopted together. I believe firmly that Don Shepherd comes with me in my life and throughout my life, because A: that’s just how true love works, and B: because I make damn sure of it, over and over again.
To be honest, Im not interested in living in a world where I don’t get to carry Don with me in any of the ways that I want. And if it were my brother or mother or father who had died, I would feel the same way. They would live on and be with me in all the things that I do, going forward, forever. Of course it’s not the same as having that person here. Not even close. And even feeling those we have lost to death nearby, at times it can still feel incredibly lonely and you can still miss them in ways that you never thought you could miss anyone. But the power of knowing and feeling that you dont need to wait until you are maybe reunited with them in some kind of Heaven or afterlife or whatever you believe in – because they truly are RIGHT HERE at this very moment, every second, in so many different ways – that is everything. I don’t even think about it much anymore. It’s just there for me all the time. Sometimes its a bit louder, on the days when I need it to be, and most times it lives in the echoes and in the silences and in the rhythms of the music. Don sticks around me in death in the same way he did in life – a caring presence, a warm blanket, a brilliant piece of music, laughter like the rolling hills, and in all the places where love lives.
I can live my life with joy (and yes, still sadness) because my life is always Don-inspired, or “Don-spired”, and I wont ever have it any other way. I still have no idea what happens after death – nobody knows, no matter how much they claim to. But I know what happens in life, and I know that the things we choose to carry with us, stay with us because we need them to. And I know that once you get to that point in your grief where you can carry their love instead of all the pain and regret and guilt and anger, you will be so much closer to living in a space of peace.
His death can shout at me as loud as it wants to, and sometimes it will even get through – but it will never be loud enough to drown out the massive love that we shared, which lives inside all of the echoes of everything. Love is just that powerful.