After my husband died. I couldn’t understand his death.
I couldn’t understand my life. I couldn’t understand the beginning, middle or end of our story.
So I kept telling it. Over and over and over-- to anyone who would listen. I probably appeared a bit crazed or obsessed or morbid. But, until I could tell our story enough times, and enough ways, I didn’t think there was any possibility it could ever make sense.
As a writer the power of STORY is written into my DNA. It is rare for me to experience life without seeing things in the context of something larger. I’ve been guilty of shivering at the thought that a happy moment is simply a foreshadow of something equally tragic to come, or that all the details in life are somehow bread crumbs leading me (as the reader of my own life) to a conclusion that will somehow make sense in the end. But, this story was not making sense.
As predictable as it may have been in hindsight, suicide was something that felt out of character for my husband and out of sync with the rules of story. Death is an ending. And, this ending had nothing redemptive about it. The hero did not die saving the oppressed. In this story, my husband was neither hero nor villain. He was just necessary. And he chose to die. I could only accept that the story had to end there because I couldn’t see any story that continued for me or for my children in a world where he chose to leave us alone.
Of course I tried to lie to myself by lying to others. I tried to convince everyone that the fact we had been separated for 5 months should soften the edges of my loss. It didn’t. Or that the fact that I had just started dating a kind, sweet man during our separation meant I was “over” the love of my life (my husband). I wasn’t. I told everyone that I had been in therapy for years processing my husband’s suicidal ideations so in some ways I had already processed his suicide. I hadn’t.
I found myself not only constantly retelling our tragedy but seeking to hear and understand the story of other widows. I was searching for an epilogue. It never occured to me that I was only in the first book of a lengthy series.
Ned Stark died in the very first season of Game of Thrones after 9 episodes where the viewer is convinced this is a story where he is the hero. The real story, we come to learn, is about his legacy--his children, and the broken world in which they had to learn to survive and eventually reign without him.
My life does not read like an episode of Game of Thrones. But, I do identify with the cruel and unexpected turns in the story. Life can be hard. Children and spouses (and sadly, even dragons) die. Love is betrayed. Families disappoint. And, often victory doesn’t come without great sacrifice and loss.
There is a Ted talk by (look her up) where she means to shock her audience with all the terrible things that befell her all at once. I just nodded my head. My story, so far, has been one with cancer, and death, and suicide, and evil step parents...it is straight out of Grimm’s fairy tales and if you haven’t read the original versions then, spoiler alert: there are no happy endings. Or rarely at least.
When telling the facts of my story weren’t leading me any closer to healing, I began exploring the facts of my present. I was a single mother. An only parent. I had no college degree. I was average looking and fairly crazy. I told myself it was likely I’d end up alone forever. Who would want to be a part of this mess, I often asked. And any man who stepped up and volunteered, I convinced myself must be seriously disturbed.
Still, I am a writer. Eventually, I wondered if maybe I could write the next pages of our story myself. If I didn’t love the first book and its ending, then I can make the second book give it a deeper and softer meaning. The second book may not contain all the same characters, but it can have the same--and even more heart--if I let it.
Over the next 7 years I have written story that has included returning to school, getting engaged, and moving across the country to live in the place I have always wanted to live. My story has involved being published in a national magazine, attending an elite writer’s conference as an accepted participant, and speaking in front of hundreds of people about my love story and how I think the military can do better at supporting its soldiers and their families.
Even if you are not a writer of fiction, you are the writer of your own life. Your story is not finished. It did not end the day your spouse died. You are writing it right now by choosing to read something meant to inspire you to dream up something even bigger and more beautiful than you have lived yet. You get to give your past the meaning you want it to have. You get to decide where it fits into your bigger story. You get to change your tragedy into an inspiring journey or even a triumph.
As a coach to widows like us, I am here to help you retell your past and create your future stories. I believe your story has just begun. I believe your ending is still full of beauty and strength and hope. Whenever you’re ready, I’m waiting to uncover your story with you. Pour your cup of coffee, grab your phone, and let’s talk.
Hope and Love always,