31. Bonus Check

31. Bonus Check

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Bonus Check

If we shall take the good we find, asking no questions, we shall have heaping measures.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I can’t feel my fingers or toes!” I said, hurrying to the safety of Rusty, the old white minivan my family had lovingly nicknamed. The night was chilly, with freezing rain. My son’s soccer game had just finished. I longed to warm up with a hot cup of tea at home. Quickly, my sister Cheryl and I rounded up my three children, three of their friends, the dog, blankets, chairs, and soccer balls. We had barely left the parking lot when I heard: “I’m starving Mom. What’s for dinner?”

“Who wants spaghetti?” I yelled over my shoulder while navigating through traffic.

“I do!” came the shouts in unison. I glanced sideways at my sister in the passenger seat to see she was smiling with two thumbs up.

Once home, I jumped into action, putting the teapot and pot of water for spaghetti on the stove to boil. We often had spaghetti dinners, so I could mindlessly do the whole routine for a quick meal. While setting the table I stopped to count aloud to my sister as I figured how many plates we needed: “Five plates for our family, three for friends, two for extra friends that stopped by unexpectedly, plus one for you.”

My sister interrupted my counting: “No. You will need four plates for your family.”

“What?”

“There are four of you now in your family.”

I held my sister’s gaze for a few seconds as the noise and commotion around me vanished into a dark swirling whirl that made me suddenly feel dizzy. Her words spoken gently hit me like a brick.

“Yes. There are four of us,” I whispered back, as tears fell.

It had been almost two weeks since my husband Ben lost his battle with a liver disease. It was still so surreal that he was gone. Sweet memories flashed of him playfully impersonating the I Love Lucy show when he walked in the front door after work: “Lucy, I’m home!”

“Ricky, is that you?” I would yell back with a smile. This would be the signal for our children when they were younger, and they’d squeal, “Daddy!” and race to him for hugs.

Although I realized my sister’s words were necessary, I did not want to hear or face them. My pain was still an open wound. I had just lost my best friend, and my world had been torn apart.

In the months that followed I kept my family together the best I could, and kept our household running smoothly to make it feel as normal as possible. My children continued in the same sports they had before their dad died. The consistency of their daily routines helped them stay stable, and gave them something to think about besides the sadness they felt. It was important for them to see that life would continue in a positive way.

It was interesting how each of my three children grieved and reacted so differently on the morning they heard their father died. Thankfully, pastors from our church, youth group leaders, and friends gathered in our family room early on a Sunday morning for support when we told them their daddy was gone. The waves of sadness were unbearable to feel and see.

My younger son Jordan, twelve, sought comfort from friends. A steady stream of friends came in and out of our house all day. It was heartwarming to hear and see them playing guitar, singing, crying with Jordan, and sitting quietly together.

My older son Benjamin, thirteen, was scheduled to play in a soccer game that afternoon. I thought for sure he would not go or feel like playing, but he wanted to play a game for his dad. It was important to him. So he left with a family friend who took him to his soccer game.

My daughter Amanda, who had just turned sixteen, snuggled next to me on the couch with a blanket and did not leave my side all day. We held each other as waves of sadness would come and go for both of us. We sought comfort from each other, as neither of us knew what to do or feel. The hours of that day ran together into the next days, weeks, and months.

Keeping my family together, paying bills, driving to sports practices, and working left me exhausted. I survived the days by going through our routine. By the time I went to bed at night I was beyond tired, but still greeted by the huge pile of clean laundry dumped on my bed. Pushing the laundry to one side I would often fall on my bed and cry myself to sleep. “How could this be happening?” I would cry out to God. “Lord, please bring Ben back. I can’t do this alone.”

One night felt particularly hectic after working, grocery shopping, taking kids to and from soccer, football, baseball, cheerleading practice, dinner and a band concert, and more dirty laundry waiting for me. I desperately needed something to give me hope and encouragement. I once again pushed the mound of laundry to the side of my bed and crawled under the covers exhausted, but too sad to sleep. Lying in the dark, tears streamed down my cheeks as I desperately tried to put what was happening to my family in perspective. “Dear Lord,” I prayed, reaching for help. “Please give me something to get me through this difficult time. I cannot keep up this pace and I’ve lost my strength.”

Then I had an epiphany. I contemplated what was important for me to accomplish at that moment and came up with the following:

Do you have clean dishes?

Yes I do.

Do you have clean underwear?

Yes I do.

Then everything else is a bonus!

So simple, yet so powerful to release my guilt! I needed to celebrate my successes and not focus on what I had not accomplished.

Several years have passed since that day and I have shared my fun expression with many who needed encouragement to renew their strength. It still makes me smile when I feel overwhelmed by a long to-do list. Then the quiet gentle voice reminds me:

Do you have clean dishes?

Check.

Do you have clean underwear? Check.

Then everything else is a bonus!

~Patricia Ann Gallegos

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