78: Taking a Chance on Life

78: Taking a Chance on Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Taking a Chance on Life

Grieving is a necessary passage and a difficult transition to finally letting go of sorrow — it is not a permanent rest stop.

~Dodinsky

Paul and I had married young and lived happily ever after, as they say. We had produced three wonderful children, and we lived in a beautiful home in suburbia with careers we loved. We had truly achieved the American dream.

Life came crashing down on a cold December evening in 2010 when my soul mate and husband of forty-plus years dropped dead of a heart attack. “We shocked him three times, but we’re sorry. We did all we could,” the doctor reported sympathetically.

How would I cope without my rock, the love of my life, the guy who always called me “babe”? I was about to find out how hard life could be.

The days following were a blur. My three kids, their spouses and the grown grandchildren moved in for a week while we planned the funeral. I cried myself to sleep every night and slept alone for the first time in decades.

We buried Paul in the pouring rain a week before Christmas. The skies were a fitting dark gray as we trudged to the burial site in our boots and jeans. We were a little group of nine lost souls. My parents, husband’s parents, my sister and extended family had all passed away years before. I had never felt so alone.

The kids and I bought a Christmas tree and new ornaments, trying our very best to act merry. I couldn’t bear to bring out the old ornaments that Paul and I had accumulated over our many years of marriage. I vowed to never like Christmas again. We cried, we laughed, but mostly everyone just tried to cope. And then they all left.

I spent New Year’s Eve alone for the first time. I was terrified of this new lonely life. I had been with Paul daily for so many years. Panic and anxiety filled my days, and weird dreams filled my nights. I awoke every morning at four.

The first year was filled with bereavement groups, friends dropping in or calling, kids visiting on weekends, finding a grief therapist, and living from day to day. Barely eating, losing weight, crying until my eyes were swollen shut, I was a shell of a person. But somehow I kept going. There were all the firsts: first Christmas without Paul, first birthday, first wedding anniversary, first Mother’s Day, Father’s Day. On and on they came, crashing against me. Going back to Sunday church, I found my faith again and this helped me immensely.

I went to lunch and dinner with everyone and anyone I could find. I tried to stay busy and not be alone. That didn’t work either; I just couldn’t outrun the grief. Finally, tired and weary, I started staying home more.

Every time I wanted to throw in the towel, I made myself do something hard to keep moving forward. I took off my wedding ring and cried all day. I got rid of his clothes and sobbed when I smelled his cologne. I yearned for his touch and turned over all his pictures on the credenza. I shut down our joint accounts and rearranged our bedroom furniture. I bought his gravestone as a birthday present for him and took him flowers from his garden when it was laid. I bought an ornate cross for my living room on the first anniversary of his death. The kids and I gathered for dinner at his favorite Italian bistro and told stories about him. I had buttons printed with his photo and his favorite saying: “Drive Fast, Take Chances.” This was his way of saying live life to the fullest.

I was trying, but I hated my new life.

There were many days I prayed to die but suicide was never a viable option. I knew Paul wouldn’t want me to give up, and I had a small group of dedicated friends and our kids rooting for me.

Years two and three were when the reality of my loss hit hard. The feeling of Paul being there was fading but taking its place was a huge chasm of loneliness. I spent time talking to my friends and family on the phone, sometimes crying out in pain, “I am so lonely!”

Nothing filled the hole. I had to remind myself that Paul was a huge part of my life and you don’t get over grief, you get through it. You learn to live with the pain and accept the loss as your new normal. I was either going to give up and die or decide to live. I was down but not out.

As the fourth anniversary of Paul’s death approached, I sat down and had a heart-to-heart with myself. Paul would have wanted me to live life to the fullest just as his favorite saying had stated. I had come so far from that first year and now I was determined to live life with meaning, not just exist. A new stronger me was emerging and I liked her.

I joined an art group and a widow/widowers meet-up. I am writing a book on my experiences to help others who have lost a spouse. I started teaching a writing class for senior citizens at Cal State Long Beach. I’m now signed up to teach every year and I love it. Helping other seniors realize their writing dreams is very rewarding.

As I enter year five I am excited about the future. I thank God that Paul and I had so many wonderful years together, but I am also thankful that I found a new stronger me. I can hear Paul saying, “Drive fast, take chances, and you go, girl!”

~Sallie A. Rodman

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