I Lost My Husband, Not My Mind!
Published: Saturday, December 1, 2007 - 2:00 am
By Kathy Sheppard
Editor’s note: On Nov. 9, 2002, John Sheppard celebrated his 56th
birthday. Four days later, on Nov. 13, his wife of 33 years, Kathy received a
phone call telling her that he had suddenly died of a heart attack. She
describes her journey as “going through grief in search of life after death
for the living.” Her uplifting story will be published soon in a book titled, “I
Lost My Husband, Not My Mind.” We asked her to share her tips for going
through the holidays in hopes that her story will help someone who is in the
process of grief.
Holidays at the Sheppard house were the usual hustle and bustle. It really began the day after Thanksgiving — I was
eager to get up at 5 a.m. and go shopping with family and friends — it was crazy, crowded and hectic, but so much fun.
After I finished shopping, my husband, John (who had slept in) and I would go look for the perfect Christmas tree.
Every year we said the tree was better than the year before. Into the house the tree came — John nailed it to the floor
(a subject too sore to talk about) and then put on the lights. That was always fun to watch — no matter how careful he
was the year before, the strings of lights were always tangled and we usually had one or two lights that didn't work.
After a run to the store for more lights, we decorated the tree — he did the top and I did the bottom. Aaah, lights on —
oh, how beautiful. Now the holidays can begin!
November and December were our favorite time of year — John's birthday, Thanksgiving, the Christmas holidays and
New Year's. During the holidays we enjoyed many traditions with family and friends, but we also made new memories.
We had so much fun driving through the neighborhoods looking at the Christmas lights with Paul, our son, and later
with Paige, his wife. Pelzer was our favorite — people actually are wearing lights? We always had Christmas parties
and loved having our home full of friends.
But ... things are different now. It's just me. The holidays are a challenge — why can't I just crawl under the bed on
Nov. 1 and on Jan. 2 crawl back out? Bah Humbug! For me the holidays were all about our family, friends and John. I
was excited about that special gift under the tree for me that was chosen with extra love. And the wonderful feeling of
waking up Christmas morning and hearing, "Merry Christmas honey, I love you."
Holidays, which are traditional times to gather together with family and friends, can be a painful reminder of someone
who isn't with us anymore. I wanted the world to stop — John Sheppard is dead — let's ALL be sad. I will always have
unexpected rushes of sadness regardless of the length of time since my loss. Things will never be the same.
I can't fool myself into thinking that I can ignore the holidays. I tried it — it doesn't work. Everywhere I look I am
reminded that this is the holiday season. The neighborhood, the streets, the stores, the TV, the radio, the Internet, the
newspapers etc., all are constantly reminding me how many days left before Christmas. And, of course, there is the
ever-present greeting of "Merry Christmas." So, let me share with you what has helped me muddle through the
Be prepared — plan ahead. I try to be realistic about how I can enjoy the holidays with my family and friends. I make
plans to be with the people I enjoy. I have girlfriends who are total fun. We get together and write out our Christmas
cards months in advance. We help each other with decorating, parties and shopping. I find that when I lack a plan, it
becomes easy to be overwhelmed and slip into the unexpected rush of sadness.
Find a new way — your way. This can be a transition year to begin new traditions and let go of other traditions. John
and I always had a Christmas Party — I still have a party, but it is with girlfriends only. Instead of the usual nine-foot
live tree, I have purchased two smaller trees that are easier to put up and take down. I enjoy attending Christmas
parties, and I plan ahead and ask a friend to join me. Our family enjoyed going to church Christmas Eve — now, I light
a candle for John and nestle down in my bed with a cup of coffee and watch a Christmas program on TV. Life is
different — I am different.
Be good to yourself. I know I will have limited energy. I cannot do all the things WE used to do — I am just me. I do
what is most meaningful to me and I focus on those things, rather than trying to do everything. I don't force myself to
get into the holiday spirit. If I want to cry, I cry. I give myself permission to scale back, if I need to. Holidays can be
emotionally and physically draining — it is easy to forget to take the time to be good to yourself.
Allow yourself to have fun. Good cheer, laughter, and happiness are emotions associated with holidays and special
occasions. I have learned that laughter and joy can be a part of my life without guilt and feelings of betrayal to John. I
also realize it is impossible to stay happy during the entire holiday season — but that's ok too.
"Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas" can co-exist with my grief and mourning. For me, holidays do magnify my
feelings of loss. But I refuse to embrace grief — it is a choice I am now able to make. My Christmas may not be better
or worse, but it will be different.
This Christmas morning I will go to my son's house. Last year I arrived before my grandbabies (Carson Channing and
John Paul Sheppard III) got out of bed. I did not want to miss a single second of their excitement. In those first few quiet
moments before the hustle and bustle began, my daughter-in-law and I shared a cup of coffee and a few tears. But as
the Christmas bows and wrappings began to fly, how truly blessed I felt — it was a Merry Christmas!
Talk Greenville Magazine
I Lost My Husband, Not My Mind!
December Issue ~ 2007
Courtesy Talk Magazine Greenville, SC
|I Lost My Husband, Not My Mind!
|Book Helps Widows Deal With Loss
Published September 20, 2008 at 3:51 pm
By Ruth Moose: Special to the Pilot
I Lost My Husband, Not My Mind
By Kathy Sheppard
Sandland Press, 2008, $19.95
Five years ago I DID lose my husband and for awhile I DID think I'd lost my mind.
I began sleepwalking (something I'd never done in my life), developed allergies and couldn't concentrate long enough
to remember a phone number if I hadn't written it down. I discovered grief is an awfully demanding housemate.
Of course I read every book I could find related to grief. Nothing helped. The books were either silly, too sweet,
sentimental or riddled with religious clichés. There was nothing practical in them. A grief support group was a life
saver. That and friends, and work. Blessed teaching and writing.
Now along comes the book I wish I'd had five years ago. Kathy Sheppard was married 33 years when her husband,
John, died suddenly in 2003. That same year she lost her mother and her only brother. Triple whammies.
How does one go on?
According to statistics, in the U.S. alone, this year there will be over one million new widows and widowers. Loss is loss,
and pain is pain. Somehow days become weeks and weeks become months.
Sheppard writes of "firsts." Her first Christmas alone. The first Valentine's Day with no valentine. And of course the
anniversaries. They hit you hard. Then there is the first time you have to check the box marked "widow" when filing out
When you take off your wedding rings and put them away? When do you clean out his closet? And what do you do
with mail that continues to come in his name? It's a lonely journey going through the country of grief, and as Kathy
says, "you search for life after death for the living."
She writes of "widow time." Time that alternately stands still, moves fast or creeps. Some days seem extra-long. Or
short. Nights are the same way. Any task takes too long. You can't focus.
House cleaning becomes "constant stress and pressure to do" but Kathy can't make herself do it.
"What does it help or hurt if I don't do this or that?" And the answer is "It doesn't." So you don't do it. But you do have
to pay bills and taxes and keep the car serviced. Changing light bulbs and fixing door bells, garage door openers,
blocked drains..so many small household things you never did before, never noticed before, suddenly you are
Kathy Sheppard formed a group called the Society of the YaYa Widowhood and finds support. She makes you wish
that kind of thing had been available to everyone who has ever lost a mate.
Today Sheppard works with individuals and is in the process of developing a grief and loss recovery curriculum for a
wellness retreat center in the South Carolina foothills. She also has become an inspirational speaker for those in grief.
"I Lost my Husband, Not My Mind" is, as I said, the book I was looking for five years ago and one I'm going to
recommend to friends newly widowed or just dealing with personal loss. It's well written, all the tears wrung out and full
of hope and courage.
Ruth Moose is a creative writing instructor at UNC Chapel Hill and is a longtime reviewer for The Pilot.