I Can Finally Breathe by Ashley Gamble

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It was a Monday afternoon when my husband’s phone rang. The number was not saved in his phone so confusion showed on both of our faces, but when he answered, I heard a familiar voice and I just knew. He hung up the phone and looked at me in fear and all I asked was if it was an accident. He said nothing. Suddenly, time stood still and I instantly thought of my next move. At the time, I lived halfway across the country from my dad. I needed to make plans on how I was going to get to him. The next day I loaded up my toddler and we drove two days and a total of 25 hours to Texas. The next month was chaotic. I was exhausted. Not only was I a single mother during this time since my husband was stuck in North Carolina, I was also a new Graduate student, and an only child trying to figure all of this estate stuff out.



After a month of being there, I couldn’t take anymore. I couldn’t handle the pettiness that was surrounding me. I needed out. I called my husband and asked him to fly down and drive back with me, and he did. During my month in Texas, I really didn’t have a chance to grieve. It wasn’t until I was back to my “normal” life that it all hit me like a giant boulder continuously rolling over me. It was when I would least expect it. When the house was quiet and I needed to focus on school- I would instantly start crying. In these moments, I so badly wanted to call my dad and yell at him. How could he leave me? He wasn’t just a father to me. He was the man that came into my life when I was a child and chose to love me when he didn’t have to. He was the man that backed every crazy decision I made even when he shouldn’t have. He was the one I always called when I needed to be lifted up. He made me feel like I could conquer the  world with just one conversation. How was I supposed to exist in a world where he no longer did?

At the time, I was already seeing an amazing therapist. I needed “life help.” When I started back at my regularly scheduled visits I explained that I couldn’t concentrate on anything. There were so many emotions that I couldn’t begin to sort through and I needed something to help me! I needed a tool out of her valuable toolbox to work through this so I could start enjoying life again. My husband and daughter were suffering because I couldn’t figure out how to breathe. My friends were seeing less of me since I just wanted to be a hermit. That’s when she suggested writing to my dad.

Sounds crazy, right? How can I write to someone that isn’t physically here to read it? Well, the letters weren’t for him, they were for me. I started a journal for the first time in my life. Each page started with “Dear Dad.” It wasn’t until the words just started pouring out on the page that I realized what I was really feeling, anger. Before this, I had fallen into the habit of what everyone else was doing, making excuses for what my dad chose to do. When I started writing, it freed me from that habit.

The journal gave me an outlet. Any time I felt unable to focus, I would pull it out, look at my dad’s funeral program and my eulogy, and just write. I wrote often in the beginning. Then, the journal entries became less frequent. I started to feel human again after a while and I could finally breathe again. I no longer hated him or was angry with him. I was no longer consumed with guilt over his decision. It took almost 2 years, but I finally felt like I could be a wife and mom again. I saw myself living my life instead of just trying to make it through each day. I still have days where I find myself in tears. Everything reminds me of him and I wish he was here to enjoy life with us. I wish he could have met my daughter and could be here to celebrate our son being born later this year, but he made a choice that the rest of us have to figure out how to live with. That part is never easy, but eventually you find a way to finally breathe.

7 Responses

  1. Ivy Hamm

    Very good article. I knew Rodney from a baby, since James is my first cousin. I watched Rodney grow up. It was very sad that he felt compelled to take his life. Those of us who knew Rodney from little on up also knew that he always had some problems and with a bad back, it seems that things just got too much for him.

  2. Julie Harris

    Great writing on such a painful subject. Think it was about two years before I could breathe again too. Writing is definitely a good way to work through the pain. Hugs Ashley!

  3. Roger

    Great article. I too used journaling as an outlet for unresolved anger and grief. Two years later, the entries are fewer and their tone is lighter. I wish you well on your life journey.

  4. Kathleen

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. You are such a strong young woman, and a talented writer. I love you, and am proud to call you my daughter-in-law.

  5. Lisa

    My daughters are struggling very much with the loss of their Dad, my husband. I want them to read this. You articulated your feelings so beautifully about what you went through. Thank you.

    • Ashley Gamble

      Hi Lisa,

      I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I pray that your family is able to find peace and comfort. I started a personal blog that can be found on Facebook called “Riding Without Dad.” Please feel free to reach out if you or your daughters need anything! Your story is exactly why I decided to share my experience. I want to help others find healing.

  6. LizCasteel

    This is lovely. Thank you so much for being bold and transparent and sharing this with everyone. I know there will be many who will be touched by you sharing your story. <3