Before Don’s sudden death on that ordinary Wednesday back in July of 2011, I am not sure if I believed in signs or energy or souls or whatever you want to call it. Even now, all these years later and after the countless times Ive felt him close or felt an obvious Don-vibe happening, I still would put doubts in my own mind about it at times. Id shrug it off and tell myself: “I just WANT to feel him near me because I miss him, so maybe I’m creating this energy that’s bringing him here in these ways.” But really, I was dismissing my own instincts and my own heart/soul feelings, not because I wanted to, but because I didnt want to be judged by society for believing these sort of things. Over time, I have come to see that when I stop and think about it, I don’t much care what society thinks or what anyone thinks about my ongoing connection with Don since his death. What matters is that I feel it, and the way I feel each time it happens is amazing. Feeling Don’s presence near me or like he is a part of things in my life gives me a feeling of comfort, love, and peace. It’s like a warm blanket is being wrapped around my soul and he is telling me over and over again: “it’s okay. I’m here, and it’s all okay. All of it.”
Recently, Don’s love of animals has come into play in me feeling like he is with me. A woman who is part of a networking group that my mom runs, ran into this other woman who was giving a service at church (she is a Reverend), and during her service, she mentioned that she is also a Death Doula. The woman who is in our networking group told this woman about me, and how Im a grief counselor and speaker and Author, and they exchanged information. Weeks later, I met this Death Doula for lunch at a local place for us both, and a few hours later as we both left there in the midst of a massive downpour, we both felt as if we had just connected with a soul sister. We made plans to get involved in several things together, one of those things being to co-host a 6-week Workshop on Zoom for “Pet Loss Support.” We will be doing this in September, and Im SO BEYOND EXCITED to begin. I literally keep hearing Don’s voice loud and clear, telling me how incredibly cool it is that Im doing a support group for pet loss. I can see him cheering me on in the corner of the room, with tears in his eyes as he tells me: “this is the coolest thing ever. I wish there was something like this around when we lost Isabelle, and Ginger.” As my new friend and connection Jessica work on this together, I have that warm-blanket feeling in my soul the entire time.
Yesterday, Nick and I took a drive (about an hour and 15 min) up to New Hampshire, to this magical place called LIFE FOREST. We met Jessica there, and she showed us around and took us on a little tour. She is very involved there with doing burials, grief workshops, and many other things. When she told me about what this place is, my insides felt so at peace and so good. “Life Forest” is a place where people can buy a burial plot for their loved one – human AND animals/pets – and it’s basically a plot for cremation, and all around the plots, they build a forest of gorgeous plants, trees, bushes, you name it. There are benches to sit on, picnic tables, a walking and hiking path, a telephone booth where you can have a private space to “converse” with your dead, and so much more. It is the very first place in the country that allows people to be buried with their pets. Just typing that makes me start shaking with emotion, as I know in my heart that if Don were alive today and could choose where he would “be” after death, he would certainly say: “I want to be with Isabelle and Ginger” (and now Sammy, too.) Walking around there yesterday with Jessica and Nick and hearing all the beautiful stories of “this is the founder of Life Forest’s plot, and this tree grows in the center of our forest in memory of her mom”, and so many more love stories, it gave me the chills – in the very best of ways.
Being there, in that space where people come to visit those they love who have died, and they also come and walk their dog or listen to a harpist play live music or attend a poetry circle or walk the soon to be completed labyrinth that will be on the grounds – it was beyond special, and I felt Don with me closer than ever. If there is such a thing as the perfect place to be when youre dead, this was it. At least for Don. I still have some of his cremains, and could still potentially get him a spot there with all the many animals and humans and trees and plants and this great, big forest of love. I need to think about it, as Im not sure of the cost and all of that, but to know it’s an option makes me feel such love inside. In so many ways, 12 years after losing Don Shepherd to death, I feel closer to him than ever before. And at the same time, I miss him every day. It’s such a strange way to feel. Knowing he is here with me in a powerful and profound way – a way that only death can provide, and also still wishing we could sit down and have a root beer together and laugh like hell at something completely silly and ridiculous.
I guess the missing of them never goes away, and we can find and discover new ways to love them and feel connected to them and remember them. As with most things in this life, it is not one or the other. It is not either/or. Death and life and love intersect in the most beautiful of ways, and together, they create a lovely and magical forest. Love Grows Love.