2000 Words or Less

My original intention of creating a BLOG was to open communication between myself and the reader. Right where you are, right now.

For some it’s those places we don’t always want to unearth; those places in life that tend to keep us stranded. Those places we would rather continue believing will “just go away” and THEN we will find our joy.

For others it’s a different season. You’re in the place of complete gladness. I rejoice with you and would encourage you to administer to others your good medicine.

I was not a widow when I began this assignment. Now I am. Consequently, I was led to begin my BLOG right where I “lived.” I began this BLOG at a point in my life that was not joy-full. However, God gave me assignments immediately the day after my husbands’ passing that were life lines to me. The sole purpose of setting out on this bumpy road was and is to help readers know that they can get through whatever “it” is.

I was asked to enter a writing contest to write a story, 2,000 words or less of something that changed my life. When I was writing, I knew this would be part of my healing process; whether I won or not.

I want to share the story with you.

"I DO"

By Denise Sherriff

Tragedy strikes like a bolt of lightning. No matter how I live and breathe, I've discovered at my seasoned age, there's never a guaranteed plan when the unthinkable happens. It was Saturday, November 4, 2017. My husband Richard and I were excited to watch the Tennessee VOLS football game that evening. Comfortably seated in our family room; we feasted on a juicy turkey sandwich; one of his favorite meals while anticipating a much-needed win for the VOLS.

What happened next shattered our family. Richard began suffering extreme chest pain. He had his hand placed over his heart. With my eyes fixated on him, I said, "Honey, are you having a heart attack?"

To which he replied, a courageous "maybe."

My husband did in fact, have a heart attack that took his life that evening. He collapsed onto my lap as I was driving him to the hospital. I thought the death of my husband was the deepest of any despair I had ever known. It was, except for that of telling our son, Anthony. 

Days drifted by. How was I to move on?  I was redefining myself. As I reminisced there was one particular life-changing moment in 1989 that made me grateful I was no longer the precarious woman of my youth. I was staring into the mirror that day after facing another failed relationship. God spoke to my heart, "Denise, it can't be everybody else."

That was the eye-opener I needed; to look inwardly. I've stood at the marriage altar three times but restoration in me couldn't begin until I found myself at God's altar. So I often think of the words "I do." I said them on February 12, 1993, to the man I would spend the rest of my life with and I truly meant them.

Mine and Richard's story began in the quaint town of Roseburg, Oregon thanks to my sister-with-a-plan. She knew Richard Sherriff well and enthusiastically introduced us in May 1992. He owned several manufactured home dealerships along the South West Corridor of Oregon. I worked in sales at an insurance agency.

We were immediately attracted to one another. Richard was a reputable man with a dynamic personality. His exuberant laugh drew people to him. It seemed I waited forever before he asked me on a date. But when he did, it turned out to be the first of many.

A big event was underway. The entire City of Roseburg was enthusiastically preparing for their Annual Classic Car show. Richard and I were casually talking one afternoon and he said, "Denise, how would you like to go with me to the car show? I have a 1971 Lincoln Continental that's awesome!"

I instantly replied, "Yes!"  

"Dancing in the Streets" was the theme that year with live music from the 50's. I discovered Richard was an excellent dancer. More than anything else though, we began an amazing courtship because Richard was an old fashion kind of guy and that was his way, to court me. 

After the exhibition, we returned to his office for my car. During the drive, we humorously admired our impulsive purchase of matching Tee shirts. When we pulled into the parking lot, I noticed the radiant sunset and said, "How about we sit here a while and watch it?"

Richard said, "We can do that."

We held hands and quietly watched the sky perform a medley of color as the sun descended behind the shadowed Callahan Mountains.

I could tell Richard wanted to say something. He looked at me intently and said, "Denise, I want to spend the rest of my life getting to know you."

It seemed odd but charming at the same time because I had those feelings as well. I said, "That sounds like a wonderful idea."

I learned in a remarkably short time that Richard was a chivalrous man. When I arrived at work the next morning, I was greeted by two dozen Ruby-red roses on my desk. I began to imagine myself dancing with Richard Sherriff for the rest of my life.

His secretary had a sharp eye for details. She sized up mine and Richard's relationship by saying, "Denise, I bet he asks you to marry him!"

With no hesitation, I said, "Good!  I'll say yes!"

Richard proposed Christmas Day December 1992. At our wedding the following February, we surrounded ourselves with people closest to us. I believed we would live happily-ever-after. Why wouldn't we? I remember saying to him, "Why not believe for that. It's better than entertaining a cynical attitude." Obviously, we expected to have disagreements. Opportunity always arises to practice a forgiving nature, especially for "the little things" that drive couples crazy.

In 1994 we were fortunate to acquire our chalet-style dream home in rural Brownsville, Oregon; one of the state's oldest settlements. I began working alongside Richard and never tired of being with him. Occasionally someone would ask, "Denise, how can you work all day with your husband and then live with him too?"

My response was simple, "I can't imagine not being with him." 

We appreciated our individualism. I was spontaneous. Richard was organized and detailed. We cherished our time off work, travel, church, friends, family, and golf.

Life was good. Even so, a dream was about to come true. Richard had been in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho about five days attending meetings. The surprise unfolded upon his return home.

Anxiously awaiting him to walk in the front door was an understatement. I had a secret to tell and I was like an overfull balloon, about to burst. Nervously, I progressed to pacing the floor.

My husband, on the other hand, was contented to be home. We briefly discussed the previous few days while preparing dinner together. Richard eventually relaxed on the couch. My pacing, however, did not go unnoticed.

Richard said, "Honey, do you have something on your mind?"

I had made myself a comfortable seat by making him scooch over a little as he lay on the couch then said, "Well, yes, I kind of do."

Like a cat that randomly decides to do something, I suddenly stood up. I peered into his blue eyes, then purposefully placed my hand upon my stomach, and said, "I just want you to know there's a little baby Sherriff right here."  The smile covering Richard's face looked somewhat out of proportion, similar to what a child might draw to express happiness.   

He then exclaimed, "I'm 50 years old! I've got to call people!"

Shortly we discovered the "Y" chromosome signifying our bundle of joy was a boy. We would name him, Anthony. Not Tony, but Anthony. He would be the first child for both of us. Richard said, "He better be born with tennis shoes on because we aren't leaving him home."

In 2005 our lives were stirred for change; to pursue a business opportunity in franchising office supply outlets.

After much prayer, we sold our home in 2006 and the three of us faithfully headed out on a road trip with our two dogs, Buddy and Holly to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Richard always said, "Life is like a game of golf. As long as you're advancing the ball, you'll make progress." 

After settling, our first storefront opened May 2007. I worked with Richard some but thrived as a Domestic Engineer, or as some would say, a stay at home mom. Our family was like three peas in a pod; consuming life and flourishing as years went by.

Richard was a perpetual scholar though he worked full time. He'd say; "The word retirement isn't in the Bible and besides studying is my sanity." He pursued a Masters Degree in 2015 and completed his Thesis in Criminal Justice by 2017. He would have graduated in May 2018.

Free time being scarce, I made sure to keep our life interesting and sought out ways to make our house a home. 

A blend of both our personalities, Anthony grew to be quite the lineage package. He blessed his dad and me to no end. Diligently he prepared for the college of his choice and attended The University of Knoxville, Tennessee. Five years rendered him a Major in Psychology and Minor in Neuroscience. He was gifted with amazing organizational skills and study habits like his dad. I said, "Son, you'll do great things as you recognize and follow your hearts' passion."

Our years together were comprised of seasons both affluent and lean; the peaks and valleys most families experience. Wedges slipped in for short seasons, but they could not separate us. Love is the sustaining power that defies anything set up against it. 

If someone were to ask me today; "What would I change if I could? My answer would be; "Nothing." To change one thing would change everything and God's presence is never void; He uses all things for good."

I now better understand the importance of an unknown future. If we knew everything, we would labor to avoid affliction, missing the measure of abundant life we are to live. Richard's love for Christ was his strength and oh how I celebrated his faith and our family. 

Our new reality is that we won't have any more hugs, conversation, laughter, celebrations or anything with Richard anymore. Not on this side of heaven.

Anthony said; "Mom, I would take even the worst of our days if I could have just one more day with dad."

I said, "Me too, son." 

One of the ways Anthony expresses grief toward healing is to text his dad or listens to his dad's voice messages. I do much of what Richard and I did together; being the hands and feet of Christ. But I do them as a widow now. Everything is different.

Possessions worth a king's ransom are at mine and Anthony's fingertips helping us know more deeply the man we called "dad" and "husband." Richard wrote me love letters each Christmas. He has penned a reserve of spiritual writings for us to uncover inspiration and glean wisdom.  

The healing process of this kind of tragedy is personal. There are no rules, no right way to grieve, no book that can be read telling us what to do or how to do it. God's grace and love have placed mine and Anthony's feet one in front of the other each and every day.  

There was a choice knocking at the door of our broken hearts. I believe it was a question spoken from the Heavenly realm that said, "Denise, Anthony, will you host a spirit of defeat or will you unearth Hope?

I said, "Son, I don't know what our new normal looks like, but I'm drawn to it."

We're on a course that keeps our family scripture relevant, Jeremiah 29:11; "For I know the plans I have for you declares The Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a Hope and a future.

Those Words are an empowering call to action. Moving into our future depends on relinquishing anger and unforgiveness, especially if it's toward God.

I said Anthony, "Emotions are difficult to deal with at times, but I can't imagine life without them either. When memories come to mind, let's persist in finding our way; one that welcomes them and exchanges grief for gladness. Your dad was a loving man and would want us to. He has left us to be his legacy so let's honor him."  

Time has touched us with grace. Pain subsides little by little as we endearingly reminisce.

No, I didn't fully comprehend the words "'til death do us part" spoken at our marriage ceremony. They ring very true to me now. "In sickness and in health, in poverty or in wealth, 'til death, do us part."  

Richard and I lived our portion of life together deeply in love. However, what matters most is that I said "I Do" and I meant it with all my heart."

 Denise Sherriff