30. Until Death Do Us Part

30. Until Death Do Us Part

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Until Death Do Us Part

Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.

~Author Unknown

“Al and I, Al and I, Al and I,” kept repeating in my head. I didn’t know who I was without him. This was not how it was supposed to be. He had turned thirty-nine the week before. I had teased him about the big four-oh coming up. I was already thinking about the party we would have.

Our sons, David and Gerad needed him. They were only nine and six years old. I needed him.

“Until death do us part.” Now what? When I said those words at our wedding fourteen years ago, I assumed we would grow old together. Then suddenly, I was a single mother, a sole provider, and a widow.

I was at work when I got the call. They had taken Al to the hospital from his job. When I arrived at the hospital Al was awake and talking. I was worried when the doctor said they needed to get him into the trauma unit right away, but I never imagined that it would be the last time I saw him alive. He had been hospitalized with a blood clot the year before. They knew what the problem was — fix it and he would be fine. But then the doctor sat beside me in the waiting room and said, “We are going to try everything we can, but I don’t know if he is going to make it.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It wasn’t long before the doctor returned. I knew before he said anything. We later learned that Al had a hereditary blood clotting disorder.

Had it not been for the boys, I might have curled up in a corner and stayed there indefinitely. Instead, I was at the arena the day after the funeral to watch David play hockey. Life had to go on even though I was dying inside.

It was one day at a time. Sometimes that was too overwhelming. I had to convince myself that I could get through the next five minutes, or through a meeting, or through just one hockey game.

I realized the boys would need physical, concrete connections. We made a memory box for each of them with things of their dad’s, pictures they made and things they wrote. We painted rocks and placed them at the cemetery. We ate lemon cake on Al’s birthday.

There was a moment when I realized I could live the rest of my life with bitterness and resentment or I could cherish the memories and make the best of my life. I made the choice each morning to make it through the day the best I could.

I started a gratitude journal. Each night I wrote five things that I was grateful for that day. Some days it was a challenge to think of five things, but it got easier. It helped me focus on the positives.

The boys attended a group called Expressive Arts for Grieving Children. An art therapist and music therapist worked with groups of children dealing with similar losses. I knew it was important for them to know other children were going through the same things as them. Yet when a counselor suggested a bereavement group to me, I said, “I will try it.” But what I was thinking was, “A group is not for me. I will go, but I am not going to talk. I will be able to say I tried it, but I won’t go back.”

Apparently, misery does love company. I was comforted to know others were dealing with similar loss and grief. I was surprised at how much I shared at the first session. When I shared how angry my son was and that he “hated me and wished I had died instead of his dad because then everything would be fine,” I was sure the counselor was deaf or had lost her mind.

She said, “Isn’t that great!”

It sure didn’t feel great. But when she explained how unusual it was that a child would be able to express that so early in the process of grieving and to the surviving parent, it started to make sense. I started to believe that maybe we were going to be all right, maybe we would make it through this and maybe I was doing something right.

That was definitely a turning point for my son and me. I was able to let him know that he could say whatever he wanted, but I was going to keep on loving him. I explained to him, “It feels like we have fallen into a dark hole. Now we need to climb out. We may slip, but we need to keep climbing. We will get to the light again. Sometimes you may need me to pull you up and sometimes you might give me the boost I need. Together we will keep climbing.”

Together we kept climbing. We slipped and we pulled each other up. Sometimes I glimpsed the light and sometimes I only saw dark, but I kept climbing closer to the light.

A few years later, when my son’s counselor talked to me about sitting with him every night until he fell asleep, I explained that he needed that. But when the counselor looked at me and asked, “Does he?” I knew that I was the one who had come to need it. What had started as support and security for my son had become my security and comfort. It was then that I promised myself I would not hold my boys back because of my needs. This was a tough but important lesson to learn.

For several years, I dreaded Christmas. I went through the motions with a smile on my face, determined to make it special for the boys. Then one year as I was shopping I realized I was singing along to the Christmas music and smiled, without effort.

I am fifty-three years old. Three years ago, I took a risk and made a career change, then moved to a new city. I am pursuing my passions of writing and photography. I am content. My boys are successful young adults. David is pursuing his passion as a chef; Gerad is finishing school and next summer will marry his best friend. They are constant reminders of the man Al was and of the great love we shared.

It has been seventeen years since Al passed away. For me the only thing worse than living through this loss would have been never having Al in my life. I am grateful for what was and hopeful for the future. Since Al’s death, there have been many blessings and many challenges in my life. I am grateful for both. Through the challenges, as the emotions come in waves and threaten to knock me off my feet, I know without a doubt that not only will I survive, I will thrive.

~Rose Couse

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