Anyone who observed my life would have declared it to be perfect, a life that would only be found in a love-story book or movie. I was 31 years old, I had a fulfilling career in information technology and telecommunications in a large corporation, and I was married to my first love. We both were very athletic, our beautiful daughter was two years old and we lived in a house full of love, laughter and happiness. What else could anyone ask for?

It all changed on April 14, 1992, when I spoke to my husband at 5:20 p.m. and told him I would pick up our daughter, Gretchen, from daycare and we would meet him at home. I arrived at home and he wasn’t there, nor would he ever return. He passed away that evening as he was leaving his office for the day.

Rod died from arrhythmia. He walked out of work, climbed into his car and bent his head over the steering wheel. The people in the parking garage assured me that he did not suffer and that they did the best they could to revive him.

I was officially widowed. The next few days were spent making the necessary phone calls, living through the memorial service and coping with all the people at my house. But no one could have explained to me then how I would in the years that followed be a single mom, find the strength to go to work, maintain a household on one paycheck and live with my own emotions and fears.

As I traveled the path of the unknown with my 2-year-old daughter, I searched for answers to my questions, stability in my life, happiness in my heart and a smile for my face. I learned so much. I ignored so much. And, I hurt so much.

Although I am a logical person, I found that once my emotions “took over,” my logic was lost. It caused me to waffle in all my decisions, hide from everyone and everything and cry every second I was alone. Turning to religion for help wasn’t really an option as I had lost all faith. I read almost every book on death, or at least I tried. It didn’t seem to help, probably because I was looking for answers when we all know there are no answers.

During my first summer of widowhood, I joined the swimming pool in the next town so I could pick my daughter up from daycare and go right to the pool to avoid people. I would sit in the 12-inch-deep baby pool every night and listen to the people around me say, “Isn’t she a perfect mom sitting in the pool with her daughter.” Little did they know, I sat in the baby pool so I would not have to talk with them! 

I tried so hard to take care of myself, but it was not working. As I searched to find a way to sleep through the night, eat nutritional food and exercise, I came up with the idea that I would participate in the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon in my husband’s honor. Rod has always wanted to compete in the Ironman but did not want to take time away from our family.

Along with the rest of my new life, I was very naïve as to what my new goal entailed. I am not only referring to the athletic requirements but also to obtaining an entry slot. I discovered that 1500 athletes from around the world compete every year and only 250 are women! What was I thinking?! What did I get myself into?

While the goal was very ambitious, the process proved to be my ticket to find myself, reach out of my comfort zone and find a bit of balance emotionally. I hired a coach, trained and raced for two-and-a-half years before I successfully crossed the finish line of the 1995 Gatorade Hawaii Ironman World Championship. What I found on the other side of the finish line was a new world for me. A world that said if I set my mind to it, I can do anything, I can get to where I need to be emotionally and I can learn a great deal about myself and others along the way.

While my heart remains broken that my first love and the father of my little girl does not have the same opportunity that I have to embrace life because it was cut so short, I do embrace all the gifts that I have received through the process. In a weird way, I do thank him daily for those gifts.

Rachel Kodanaz

The idea of writing and speaking on all aspects of loss was part of Rachel’s journey following the unexpected loss of her husband when she was 31 years old. At the time, Rachel was a member of management in a large corporation and a mother of a two-year-old. Having worked in management for Fortune 500 companies, she learned quickly the see-saw created when personal and professional trajectories collide allowing her to providing invaluable insight to Human Resources departments. She created a program providing guidance to co-workers, managers and HR personnel in support of a colleague returning to work after a loss. Rachel speaks nationally to organizations, at conferences and in support of all aspects of loss. She has published numerous articles, books and blogs and has appeared on Good Morning America. Her books, best-seller Living with Loss One Day at a Time, Grief in the Workplace: A Comprehensive Guide for Being Prepared and her latest Finding Peace, One Piece at a Time: What to do with your or a loved one’s personal possessions have received international acclaim. Rachel lives an active healthy lifestyle in Colorado with her husband running, biking and hiking. She is an avid athlete including a Hawaiian Ironman Finisher.

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