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By: Patricia Ann Chaffee

Skip and SuzanneSkip and SuzanneSuzanne O’Brien had one soul mate, and she isn’t looking for another.

“I was immediately attracted to him, his laugh, his eyes, even his hands strangely enough. He was a big guy, but I never even noticed. I saw his smile. We were both immediately attracted. It took a couple weeks for him to ask me out. But the first time we went out, I knew he was the guy for me.”

Suzanne was born in Lowell, Massachusetts but spent most of her early years growing up in Somersworth, New Hampshire near the Maine border. She was adopted at six weeks old from Catholic Charities. Her father was a church organist and choir director and her mother was one of 17, so Suzanne had lots of cousins to play with. She attended the Notre Dame Hospital School of Nursing which is now called Catholic Medical Center West in Manchester, New Hampshire, and became a registered nurse.

“I always wanted to be a nurse since I was 10 years old. I loved patient care.”

She did nursing in a variety of settings for 45 years. While working at a hospital in Rochester, New Hampshire as an operating room nurse, one of the surgeons invited her to be his private scrub nurse. And one of his office staff introduced her to Eugene (Skip) O’Brien while he was visiting a friend at the hospital.

Her parents didn’t care for him much because he was so tall, 6’4”, and they were so short. He towered over Mom who was 4’11”, and Dad, who was 5’3”. Suzanne thinks that his size intimidated them a bit. Her mother referred to Skip as “him” the whole time she knew him, even after they married in 1971.

“My parents had a narrow field of vision. He was a big guy with a big laugh. He had a sharp wit and made me laugh. But he was an Irish cop. They didn’t get him,” says Suzanne. “We had our ups and downs because of it. They said, “jump” and I said, “how high? Early on, we broke up for three months and I realized I didn’t want to be without him. On our wedding day my Mom said, “It’s not too late to change your mind.”

Skip O'BrienHampton Beach NHWhen they met, Skip had just returned from a two year stint in the Peace Corps. He had been in Thailand teaching farmers to grow fish in the rice patties so they could have a protein crop. He joined the Hampton Beach, Police Department and later became a state trooper. In 1990, tired of the cold weather, Skip retired from the New Hampshire State Police and they headed south so he could accept a position in Florida. Suzanne stayed behind to sell their home. It was 14 months before she joined Skip in New Port Ritchie, Florida but when she did, she loved it there and stayed 13 years.

But in 2000 Skip was diagnosed with stage 4 rectal cancer. “I knew it was not going to have a good ending,” says Suzanne. They had two more years together before he passed away. “I looked at it as a different phase of my life. I’m an only child, I’d never lived alone, and I really thought about what I needed to do.”

She loved her home and her job and decided to work on establishing herself as an individual rather than as part of a couple. With some life insurance money available, she began remodeling their house and doing landscaping. She planned a community Christmas party and she believes that these efforts helped her come into her own and develop a stronger sense of self.

Suzanne O'Brien“I was like a young adult with my first apartment. Remodeling was something to give me direction. Our house became my house, more feminine. It was nice to do the house just the way I wanted it. I didn’t have to ask someone else. I enjoyed that part of it,” says Suzanne.

In 2005 when her company relocated to Georgia, her two kids encouraged her to return to New Hampshire. She sold her house in Florida at a garage sale in less than a month and returned to the place she had spent her early years. Moving in with her daughter, and barely settled in, she caught the adventure bug when an opportunity arose for a trip to Thailand. For five weeks in 2006, she got to see where Skip had worked with the Peace Corps so many years prior.

Over the past couple years Suzanne has continued to discover more about herself, losing 74 pounds on a high protein, low carb diet. She is 69 years old.

“I finally found a diet that works for me. I was addicted to food. It took a year and a half,” she says. “I feel good now and move so much better. I can even buy clothes.”

She’s looking good and feeling good, but has no interest in having another man in her life.

“I can’t even imagine having a relationship like we had, with anyone else. It’s nice to go out for dinner or a movie. I’ve got nothing against male companionship, but I wouldn’t want to remarry. I like my independence, doing what I want to do, when I want to do it.”

Her advice to others who may have lost a spouse or partner is to allow time to get used to the idea.

“In my case, we had two years (from diagnosis to Skip’s passing). For me that has made all the difference. I was able to plan and think about what I would need to do. If you have the time to think about your future, you need to. And take one day at a time. Having a good friend helps.”
Having said that, she also recognizes that at the same time, no matter how much time you have to prepare for that kind of loss, you never can be completely ready.

“I saw the best side of Skip over those last two years, his courage and strength. He was my soul mate. It was meant for us to be together. There was never anyone else for me. Whether you feel prepared or not, it’s awful to lose someone you’ve been with all those years. They’re a part of you.”

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