By May Ann Sheveland
I will never forget the afternoon of July 9th, 1988. We were sitting in the cardiologist’s examination room, waiting for the doctor to give us his synopsis of Sheldon’s exam and his prognosis. After several moments of dead silence, the doctor told us that due to the progression of the coronary artery disease since 1984, it was now diagnosed as a “high-risk, terminal condition.” He gave us Sheldon’s life expectancy: “a two- to five-year length, based on the progression of the disease.”
For a few minutes, life seemed to pass by in slow motion. It felt as if the whole world had been turned upside down and that we were being sucked into a deep, black hole, swirling around and going down, down, down.
When I thought about all the good days we’d had together, I realized that time also seemed irrelevant. What a paradox—on one hand time is important, and on the other it is not! Time is only a string of moments, while life is a string of events. The life you’ve spent is like what you see when you look in a deep bowl. For us it was the combined reflection of all the wonders that we achieved together. I have a deep spiritual thankfulness for our time together. We were so blessed.
One of the most important dreams from the day we were married was to be in financial condition to travel around and enjoy this great country of ours. Years prior to the illness we’d bought a thirty-foot-long Fleetwood Terry Taurus travel trailer that was as cute and functional as a dollhouse. We had also bought a membership in a network of private RV resorts program that provides entry to their luxury recreational parks located around the United States. They offered beautiful golf courses, clubhouses with entertainers, swimming pools, hike and bike trails, lakes, rivers, PGA indoor rodeos, and much more. Their resort RV spaces cost only one dollar a night, which includes full electric, water, sewage, and cable television hookups! Retirement would be a time that would be filled with travel and adventure. The lifestyle would keep us strong, healthy, and financially secure for a very long time.
After the illness began to show, we tried to hang on to our dream of travel. We realized this would be the time for putting those almost-forgotten dreams into action. The first hurdle was to receive the cardiologist’s blessing. He listened to our hopes and plans, and he agreed, saying said, “This is exactly what Sheldon needs, and it would certainly be good for you, too. In fact the travel could turn out to be more beneficial for his overall health than a number of pills he is taking.”
Brimming with excitement, the doctor and I set up a portfolio containing all of Sheldon’s medical records. Sheldon also had thyroid problems, and type 2 diabetes. As we prepared, we continued to talk excitedly about our dream and how it was almost a reality. This was the most fun—heck, it was about the only real fun—we’d had in years! Finally, the big day arrived Turning to Sheldon, I smiled and told him, “Everything is loaded from the checklist. We’re ready to go. Move ’em out!” The sun really didn’t need to be shining that day, because our grins, laughter, and glowing faces lit up the morning. We had so many things to see and do. We were, as they say, “happy campers”!
The harmony of our life during the trip was rich and rewarding, contrasting with the rhythm we had previously had at home. We viewed life in a different light now. We never took one moment for granted; each was way too precious. Often we sat in our lawn chairs and just gazed about at our surroundings, filled with utter amazement that we had actually arrived at this point. Words simply cannot describe how wonderful and free you feel when deep in your heart you know that you have been given extra time and a second chance at life. Nothing is more precious.
People normally take life for granted—but it becomes very special when something critical happens. You learn to look at life’s daily experiences with a different set of eyes and soon see that those petty little everyday things you once thought were major are really not. In other words, you come to disregard a lot of life’s pettiness; there just isn’t time or energy for any of that. We had shared so much together. We’d raised our precious son, Rick, and daughter, Debbie, and then we were blessed with six grandchildren and, eventually, two great grandchildren. Watching all of them to grow into strong, sturdy children and become adult was so rewarding. Living through all the historical events of our world and nation, and sharing family and friends, all combined to give Sheldon and me such an incredible bond. We had so many precious memories, but none were more precious than the love we shared together.
Eventually, our dream trip came to an end. Back home, I hung on the memories, knowing that Sheldon's time was growing ever shorter.
One December morning, the house was silent except for the sound of a pot of coffee perking behind me in the kitchen and the soft padded tap of my slippers as I entered our bedroom. Cheerful that another day had begun, I walked around our bed to awaken Sheldon. In those first few steps, I suddenly became nervous, as some unknown sense washed over me. But in the next brief step or two, I let out an audible sigh, assuring myself that everything looked just fine and he was sleeping soundly.
When I stopped and gently touched the side of his face with my warm fingers, I realized things were not fine. My husband was dead. Death had come quickly and silently during the night. He was gone!
Even though Sheldon had been ill for many years and I’d known that his time on earth was slowly slipping away, I didn’t get to say a final good-bye. During the months that followed Sheldon’s death, the stress, angst, and mental pain were brutal. I felt I would never be the same person that I had been, and I was right. Grief totally changed me. My life was disrupted; it filled with extreme loneliness, sometimes desperately so. I was on a journey of grief, in search of life after death, for my husband and for me, the survivor. Dealing with grief was the hardest work I have ever done. I didn’t think I could survive, but through much agonizing effort, the support of others, and an incredible amount of faith, I did.
My life has been enriched, and now the majority of my days are happy. I have learned to wiggle back into a meaningful life, and for this I am eternally grateful. It was and is a process like no other.
Mary Ann Sheveland grew up in a small, central Texas town and currently resides in east Texas. Her early years of reading resulted in a love of writing which in turn led to her authoring several books of children's stories, poems and the memoir, Journey of My Heart. This excerpt is adapted from that book.