Donations: Remembering Don Shepherd

RIP The Life I Knew ... By Kelley Lynn

Tomorrow morning, I will be driving Dons car (our car) on one last road trip to my parents house in Massachusetts. I need to stop life for awhile. I need to stop time. I need to be with family; and be home. Except it won't even be "home." At least not the home Ive known my entire life; the home in Groton Massachusetts that I grew up in, had my childhood in. No. I wont be going there anymore. That home was foreclosed on, and that nightmare just happened to go down in the same month as the main nightmare - my husbands death. This "home" is a rental condo. Its an extremely nice townhouse; but it's not our home. Its not familiar and comfy. And in about a month, I will most likely be driving a completely different, slightly less used car back up to NJ, and leaving our good ole Pontiac Grand Prix 1997 that Don loved so much, in my brothers hands to try and sell for me, like Don and I were planning on doing ourselves in a few months. Because everything is different now. Everything has disappeared; and I am living in a brand new reality. A world where home isn't home anymore; and where my beloved husband, the love of my life forever, is no longer here.

On July 13th - this new reality hit me smack in the face at 7:00am, when I was woken up by a ringing phone over and over. My husband had gone to work at 430am that morning, and because it was so early, he never woke me up to say Good Morning or anything. He didnt want to bother me, so he would just leave. He had picked up a 2nd job at Petsmart, stocking shelves and pricing things, to pay off his dental bill so we could afford monthly payments on a brand new car. That was our plan. To finally let go of his 97 Pontiac that had been giving us problems, and get a new car. He was going to quit the job as soon as the bill was paid off. He was trying to support his family. He was really exhausted. But he never once complained or showed any signs of something being wrong with his heart or health. Never. In all the years I have known him, he never once took a sick day from work. He was never sick! He even played tennis on his one day off, 2 days before, and somehow found time to also volenteer for rescue shelter there and take care of the kitties. He took care of everyone. Especially me.

When I called Palisades Medical Center, they told me "get down here right away. Its your husband." Immediately, I knew that this was BAD and terrifying news. I knew, because Im married to an EMT, who told me time and time again how the hospital never tells you someone died over the phone. They cant. They have to tell you in person. I hung up the phone and got a car service down to the hospital, shaking the entire way and saying out loud to noone and to the universe: "No, this isnt happening, this isnt happening, this isnt happening..." But it was happening. And from the second I RAN into the ER of that hospital ... everything that happened next and since then is a blur; and yet very specific. Its in slow motion; yet seemed to go by in 60 seconds. You know on TV when they take the persons wife or husband into a special room off to the side, close the doors, ask you to "please sit down" so you dont faint, and then say a whole bunch of words that end with "Cardiac arrest ... we tried to get him back ... Im so sorry. We did the best we could. He didnt make it." Yeah. That is exactly what happened. Except it wasnt a TV show. It was me. And I was the one sitting there, trying not to faint. Trying not to soffocate. Its a good thing they tell you to sit down. The animalistic cry that came out of me was a sound I have never heard before; but a sound that in the past 3 weeks since; I am now very famliar with. A slew of phone calls were made by the nurses. To Dons sisters. To my parents. And then to local, very close friends who made their way to me as soon as they could. My mom got in her car and drove the 4 hours to NJ. And his EMS brothers showed up too, held my hand, cried with me. But before all that happened, I was there alone. Waiting. And they asked me if I wanted to "see" him. I had to see him. I sat in the hospital room next to him, and I held his hand, touched his face, his hair, and talked to him one last time. Hugged him as tight as I could, one last time. He looked like he was just taking another nap. I couldnt breathe, and I didnt want to leave the room. "Let us know when youre ready", they said. When Im ready? I will never be ready. How can I be ready to leave that room, ever? There is no such thing as being ready when your entire life and soul disappears in an instant. In a flash. When you wake up, and you are a widow. I will never ever be ready.

I told him I love you so much, probably twelve times. I just kept saying it. It never felt like enough times. And then, in the minutes and hours and days that followed, there were instant decisions to make. Things Don and I never once talked about, except in a joking way when we would mock death and make silly, sometimes twisted observations. People came at me from every direction, with endless, important and pointless questions: Are we going to donate organs? What funeral home would you like to use? Would you like some water? Oh, and how about those organs? Will you be donating them? When can you let us know? Will you be cremating or burying? Where would you like to bury him? Can I make you a sandwich? What kind? You really should eat. Oh, and we will call you in a few hours about those organs. Give you some time to think about it. Have a turkey sandwich.

If you are married, please please tell your spouse what you want to happen when you die. We didnt do that. We thought we had plenty of time to figure that stuff out. Turns out, we were dead wrong. And let me tell you, from someone that just had to spend the past couple of weeks making these type of horrible decisions about my own husband who was only 46 yrs. old and had SO much more life inside him; not knowing AT ALL what he would have wanted ... it is a Hellish nightmare. I have questioned and doubted and requestioned every single decision that I made. I have spent hours crying and screaming and wondering "is this what he would want? Am I doing the right thing? Why am I not getting ANY sign that makes me feel better about it?" Its Hell. Dont put your loved ones in that position; because when life decides to fuck with you; you will NOT expect it; and it will come out of the blue; on a perfectly ordinary day. And you will never be the same.

I have so many questions. I am so angry. Im angry that Don never saw a doctor. Im angry that I didnt stuff his ass in the car and MAKE him see a doctor. Im angry that his family history was so bizarre and that he didnt have the opportunity to know his own father enough to know that HE had a heart attack in his 40s, but lived to be in his 80's. Im angry that Don didnt get a "warning" heart attack; and that he didnt get the life scared out of him, and get a second chance. Im angry that our country doesnt take care of someone who served their country in the Air Force and Desert Storm .. .in war ... that there are no benefits at all available to me because he was not "active military." Im angry that Social Security doesnt give you death Survivor benefits unless you have children. Im angry that I have only one income, no health insurance again, and no way to take care of myself. Im pissed that the bills keep on coming, only seconds after he dies. Don would be angry too, because the most important thing to him was that his family, me, was taken care of. He showed that to me his whole life. We took care of each other, with the little bit that we had.

Im angry at couples. Old couples that get to be together until they are very old and grey. Im angry that he wasnt at his regular job, ON AN AMBULANCE, when he went into cardiac arrest. Why the hell coudlnt he have been THERE? He probably could have been saved. Im angry that he is gone, and that Im alone without him, and that Im now living my BIGGEST fear in life ... growing old alone. Im so mad that I didnt get to say goodybe, or hello, or good morning, or ANYTHING on that day, and that the night before was a boring, uneventful evening and I cant even remember what our last words were to each other that night before bed. Im angry at myself for being the one that is overweight and out of shape. Im angry that he felt he needed to take that second job, and I keep wondering if that job is what killed him. He was so tired, and he kept saying "a few more months and I can quit." I remember telling him "its not that important that we get a new car. You dont wanna kill yourself over it. You need a day off." He never complained. He just did what needed to be done. For us.

People say stupid shit when someone dies. Most people dont know what to say, and I understand this. Its awkward and uncomfortable. Its the same way some people act when confronted with someone in a wheelchair. They try and pretend that the person ISNT in a wheelchair, and they stumble about and say retarded things. Religious people are the worst. They are so assumptive. Why do they all assume that THEIR religion is everyones religion, that their beliefs are everyones beliefs? Do they not realize that there are literally HUNDREDS of other religions out there, and that some people dont believe any of it? For the record, I believe in God. But I dont know what God is. God is a spirit, a feeling, its Earth, Mother Nature, its a soul, a power, its whatever you think it is. Please dont tell me that you KNOW what it is, or that you KNOW what happens when we die. Are you dead? Then you dont know. The God I believe in doesnt decide who lives or dies, and doesnt "take" people at a young age because he "needs another Angel." Seriously? You're GOD! Just MAKE ANOTHER ANGEL! Leave my husband alone.

One very well-meaning,sweet person told me a story about how she was driving and saw a double rainbow, and that was Don looking over us, telling us its okay. This is just hilarious to me. First of all, I know my husband. And he would never appear as a fucking rainbow. Second, if that was Don, then how do you explain all the other hundreds of people that saw the same rainbow and dont even know Don? Lastly, if Don were to come in the form of a rainbow to make anyone feel better, wouldnt he make sure that HIS WIFE was the one who saw it? How come I didnt see the rainbow when I needed to be comforted? All the times Ive gotten a migraine from too much crying since this happened ... I have received no comfort. IT WAS JUST A RAINBOW.

The worst comment so far is the people who say: "It was his time" or "It was Gods Plan." Really? His TIME was at age 46? And really? Gods PLAN was for my husband, probably the most selfless and amazing person Ive ever met, to go into cardiac arrest on a Petsmart floor? THAT PLAN SUCKS. There is no plan. Its all random. At least thats what I believe, and I know thats what Don believed too. I dont think this happened for any reason at all. It happened because shit happens. Life is shitty sometimes. And sometimes its beautiful. And mostly, its not fair. It is absolutely not fair. Because if it were fair, then only rapists and murderers and pedophiles and truly evil people would be stricken with cancer at age 35, or drop dead of a heart attack at 46, or get hit by a drunk driver and die instantly. The good, amazing, wonderful people who gave SO MUCH to everyone, like my husband, would live to be happy and in their 90's, and die in their sleep while lying next to their wives. Not many of us get that ending, and not many of us get a fair life. Its all just a big clusterfuck of questions that can never be answered.

People dont realize how much CRAP is involved when you lose your spouse suddenly. I have spent the past few weeks dealing with the stupidest bullshit you could ever imagine. Closing accounts, opening new ones, discarding of items, keeping other items, doing laundry for the first time in 6 years, (like I said, he was amazing) bringing death certificates to banks, trying to figure out website passwords and which bills were and were not paid this month on his end,figuring out what to do with our car, our cats, our apartment, how to pay bills, how to AFFORD life, and dealing with some of the biggest idiots on the planet. I am talking about people in customer service. One particular phone call to AT&T in which I was trying to keep our account but put it in MY name instead of his, was particularly mindboggling. The woman on the phone kept telling me that she needed to speak with the person whose name is on the account. I kept shaking my head. "You cant speak with him. He's DEAD!!!! What part of DEAD arent you comprehending?" She must have asked me five times to speak with Don Shepherd. I should have told her that hes now a fucking rainbow, and please just put the damn bill in my name already.

I have to say this. I am really scared. Scared of what I will do next, where I will live,how Ill make it all work. Scared I will never again be happy or feel what I felt with him by my side. I got so used to life with Don, I dont really know how to live without him. He was my anchor, my soul, and my best friend. He was my future. He was the one who would tell me to calm down, everything will be okay. I would freak out and make assumptions ... he would be logical and comforting. He was so proud of me, and he smiled like crazy watching me perform, or direct a show, or create something onstage. He loved being a part of that world with me. I just wish he knew that he was MY hero. He really was. Before I met him, I lived my life and I thougth I was happy ... I had friends, and a great teaching job, and I was pursuing my dreams. But I wasnt happy. I didnt know happy until I met him. Just sitting home watching TV with him, or doing nothing at all, or listening to him strum his guitar ... THAT made me happy. I loved being around him, loved his company more than anything. Now all I have are the guitars, and the tennis rackets, and his shirts that smell like him, and everything that reminds me of him, but isnt him. Its such a horrible empty feeling, giving your husbands things away, or trying to decide the best thing to do with them. Its really horrible. To be left with only THINGS ... items ... and for the person, the soul, the life, to be gone. Today I was taking out some of his guitars, and I actually leaned over one of them and cried my head off. The way that you see some "widows" do over the casket in those movies. Only I did it over his guitar. To me, that is him. That wasnt him in that casket. His soul isnt in that body anymore, so its not him. He is nowhere, and he is everywhere. He will be with me forever.

Right now Its such an empty and horrific feeling. It feels like my heart was literally ripped out. EVERYTHING is a reminder of his death. Watching the Yankees, making iced tea, petting the cats, lying in bed at night alone, looking at the space where he once was. Where we laughed. Where we were intimate. Where we shared our silly songs and stories and mostly ... our dreams. One conversation sticks in my mind on a loop, and in my dreams. It was about a month and a half ago, we were lying in bed and talking about our nephew, Brian, and how hes such a great kid. We started to talk about and really consider the idea of adoption. Not anytime soon, because we could barely afford our OWN lives, but in the future. It was something we both wanted to do. I was going to "make it" in this business, live my dreams, and then we were going to help out a child who needed a family. We both loved the idea of being able to give a family to someone who was already here, and desperately needed that. I think now about all the dreams that will never happen, all the things we will never do together. And my heart hurts.

Marriage is the most wonderful, brilliant thing I ever did. Marrying Don. We were family. There is nothing as beautiful as a marriage ..its like a secret between two people that noone else ever fully understands. I will carry with me that secret for the rest of my life. I will miss his hugs, the way he smelled, his awesome laugh, the way he would pout with his bottom lip at me when he wanted something, the way he called me "Boo" even in a text message, his music that would fill the house, his smiles when the cats would leap on him and love him, his annoyance and hatred of all things NJ, his little boy energy and face when I took him to the US Open for the first time, walking on the Cape Cod or Florida beach with him and holding hands, his vows on our wedding day, how he made me laugh so hard I cried on a busride from Newark airport one time, his endless all encompassing compassion and love for me, for life, and for everyone. I miss him so much that it aches inside and outside, everywhere, all the time. I dont understand any of this ....

And I will NEVER be ready to let him go.

Kelley Lynn
Don's Wife


  1. Kelley - This post made me cry as it brought back how I felt when I first lost my TJ in October 2009. I am so sorry, but I know at this time those words are very empty to you. Just know they are heartfelt coming from a fellow widow. I wanted to slap the shit out of people when they said this to me really does get easier with time.

    You are not alone in your grief journey.

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  3. I can't tell you how to cope with this sudden tragedy or ease the pain of grief with a mere comment but I can tell you that remembering/honoring Don's life is (for lack of a better word) commendable.

    Death is only a loss if you forget the person who died. < a bit cliché but its a testament to the power of remembrance.

    RIP Don Shepherd may all the people you held dear never forget

    Stay strong Kelly... keep making the masses laugh

  4. You are right. People say stupid shit when someone dies. The one true thing someone said to me was that there will ALWAYS be a hole in your life, you just learn to live with it. Stay strong. You do learn to live with it.