Grief Is A Very Long Journey

So, my husband died nine years ago.

We’d been together 23 years. We were very well matched. We were happy. And we were digging out of the mid-marriage struggles of raising children and paying off debt. There was a bright shining light at the end of the tunnel: the kids were all teenagers and the bills would all be paid off in a few years. Basically, we were looking head-on into freedom fifty-five!!

He was 49, left for work one morning the week before Christmas, and an hour later, I was a widow.

I’ve learned a ton about grief since then.

Helping my five kids through their grief was an education. Dad was a very popular, respected, and well-known guy. The kind of man they name the school’s football field after.

Before he passed, as I was looking at the prospect of an empty nest and ancient credentials that weren’t worth the paper they were printed on anymore, I embarked on the trek of the entrepreneur. I developed and launched a website where I was publishing other writers’ romantic short stories, and I found my purpose!! I’d just got the ball rolling, seeing growth month after month, building relationships with writers and readers, looking forward with plans and goals, when the love of my life was taken from me.

No surprise, I suppose, that when love is instantly fermented into grief, romance really takes a back seat. I couldn’t even look at the website, and it sat abandoned for years. Now I was grieving the loss of my purpose on top of everything else.

I did make a half-hearted attempt to jump start the publication again, figuring five years was more than enough time to indulge in my pity-party. But it fizzled out fast and I fell into a very real dark pit of despair.

Again, the site sat neglected, taunting me.

My personal recovery, though still an eternity from being finished, finally took a turn toward the land of the living when I published my novel in 2019. A Road To Joy turned out to be more therapy than storytelling. I published it simply because I thought the process of grief that I describe in the book might help someone else get through a day or two of theirs. It turned into something of which I am incredibly proud, not so much for the accomplishment of having written a book so much as the strength I had to discover to write it. I think it’s pretty good.

But what’s more is that it signalled a change in me. A change that said, now. Now it’s time to move on. It’s okay to grieve and move forward. It’s okay to still miss him with every fibre of your being while wishing for love anew, whether it’s yours or not. I needed to create a new life for myself.

It took a while, about a half year, but the minute I revisited Romantic Shorts, I’d found my way back to my purpose. And so I repaired, renovated, updated, and improved the site. I made a few changes. And I was beyond excited to be on track for what came next. I set some goals and metrics for the site, hired people, and gave it my best shot.

And one year.

One of my daughters was watching me paint a mural once. At some point I was poking away at it when she looked at it skeptically and simply said, “You know Mom, 95% of painting is knowing when to stop.”

This is not a lesson I’ve ever learned. Quitting is not in my skill set. But as my year drew to a close, I had no choice but to admit that Romantic Shorts had failed to meet any of the targets I had set, and need to achieve, to make it a viable business. For whatever reason, I finally, after almost twelve years and countless hints from the universe, if one chooses to see it that way, this is not what I’m supposed to be doing.

I got myself back on track after lockdowns – getting my fitness goals back on track, getting my house in order, rediscovering my creative self – and gifted myself the winter to simply write. To explore my mind and heart and just write. And yes, I do know how lucky I am to be able to do that.

But what to write. As I saw my efforts leaning toward making this happen through autumn, I started to imagine a plan for where my mind was going to go next.

I am a Master Manifester. I have some seriously incredible goals. And it’s looking like there is a sitcom television show in my future. After rolling ideas through my head like a freight train convention on crack, an outline has taken root and I am on fire! The fact that I have absolutely NO idea what I’m doing has done nothing to slow me down. I’ll worry about that when it becomes a problem.

In the meantime, my Second Act is looking spectacular!


(EDIT: as a side note, my married name is Brown. I started Romantic Shorts as Alexandra Brown, and intended to see it through as Mrs. Brown, for me, and in memory of Paul. But my Second Act, my new vision, my absolute purpose, my goals, and my accomplishments are on my shoulders, and mine alone. I have something to prove to myself. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I wrote A Road To Joy under the pseudonym Alexandra Stacey. Still my name, but a new version of it. Just like me. Hoping that clears up any of the confusion…)

People Say The Darnedest Things

So there you are, sitting in the middle of the most mind-shattering confusion you’ve ever faced, wondering what the hell just happened, and trying to figure out what to do next. And somehow, through this intense fog that has filled your mind, you notice people talking to you, saying things that don’t make a lot of sense. Part of you wishes they would just shut up and go away. Part of you wishes they could just say the right thing to fix it all for you. And a small part of you actually tries to laugh at some of the super-crazy that comes at you when crazy has become your norm.

People want to help. They truly, honestly, want to help you. But except for the rare insightful empath who’s been through something very similar to what you’re going through now, everyone else will likely get it not quite right. Probably even wrong. Often, ridiculously wrong.

I had a gentleman approach me during our visitation and found myself consoling him as he described in great detail exactly how terribly broken his wife was over my husband’s death, certain that she would never feel that way about him. Not once in the 23 years I spent with my husband had I ever doubted his fidelity; in fact, I had the dubious advantage of unexpected access to every nook and cranny of his personal life after he passed. I, therefore, had no idea how to connect with this poor guy – my spouse’s world revolved around me. His spouse’s world, apparently revolved around my husband. Of course, the ideal time to have that conversation is in the visitation line at the funeral home while hundreds of people wait patiently in line to speak to me.

Anyway, the point is, everyone wants to say something. Everyone wants to say something meaningful. Most will fall short.

As will your responses. People say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” We respond with, “Thank you.” I’ve found it to be one of the most ridiculous conversations I’ve ever had. And this one’s on permanent replay.

Instead, though, what I try to do, what I try to make time for, is a real conversation. I don’t care if I’m at the gas station, the kids’ badminton tournament, a public bathroom; if someone expresses their condolences, I try to engage them.

“I’m so sorry for your loss. How are you doing?” With the cascade of pity through the ‘doing.’

I deflect quite artistically now, a simple nod to acknowledge the sentiment, and the kind heart behind it, and respond by asking about their grief, their journey, their memories.

It’s an entirely different experience to tap into someone else’s grief over your loss. But it accomplishes two very gratifying advantages.

First, it lets you remember your love in a way you didn’t have access to before. You may learn something new about them. You may be able to connect this person’s event to something that you remember. You will create a new memory of your loved one, even after they’re gone.

And secondly, it lets you remember without crushing you in public. By reliving the other person’s memory with them, you are one step removed from it, and can still go there, usually with a little more composure than your own vault of painful stories allows. Add to that the fact that you end up supporting this person through their grief, and, while it’s likely not as all-consuming as yours, it is very real to them. And that connection brings the two of you closer in the name of your loss. Something good from the bad.

No matter what people say to you, do try to remember that they mean well. And the ones that don’t get it right, and better yet, the ones who get it terribly wrong, will make for entertaining memories one day, when you’re ready.

Alex, What Are You Trying To Say?

A Road To Joy is out with an editor right now. I’m hoping to have a copy in my hand before I head to the Yukon in June. The wait is killing me!!!

I wrote the novel after several attempts to somehow tell the story of my own grief after the sudden passing of my husband, Paul. I’m not bad at writing emotion; but have never been able to tap into the deepest of my own feelings about my experiences. So there were several failed attempts.

This book is actually a combination of three of those failures. I had started what I expected to be a comedy about a mom who’s just had it and runs away from home. Because what mom hasn’t thought about that? But I also had a chronological accounting of my ordeal: something even I didn’t want to read. And then there was the crap attempt at tackling the whole thing from the points of view of me and each of my kids. Blech.

But still, a story was nagging at me. For more than two years, something kept bringing me back to the need to share it.

I finally realized, at four o’clock in the morning when all of my best ideas come, that I should give the Comedy Mom my story. She’s running away from home. Because she has five kids and her husband died. At the time, I truly believed I could make that funny.

What followed was six months of the most intense emotional writing I have ever done. And a story that I feel speaks to anyone who has ever experienced a loss that has ripped their life apart. Whether through death, divorce, change, or illness, loss of what we thought our life was going to be, loss of future, of plans, of self is the most devastating trauma we can face. I would go so far as to say that it doesn’t matter so much what or who you lost, as much as how much that loss knocks you flat.

When you are suddenly faced with a life that leaves you without the will to go on, without a reason to go on, without an expectation that things could ever get better, the English language fails us completely in its inability to describe that level of torture.

I did my best to change that.

I gave this mom my circumstances, widowed, mother of five, lost, angry, hopeless, and put her in her van. Then I let her tell her own story.

There were times she reached deep into my heart, ripped out parts of my own story and used them as hers, tearing me apart in the process. There were times she told of experiences in her own past, of her family, of her grief that I had no idea even existed. She made me laugh out loud; she did turn out to be quite funny. And she brought me to my knees, over, and over again.

I learned so much about her. I had no idea she was so angry. I didn’t know that she was so desperate. I didn’t expect her to be so lost. But as I got to know her, I began to realize that I was angry, too. And I was desperate. And lost. Only I hadn’t known it while I was in the middle of it. Much as I hadn’t planned any of that in the story.

In writing the story, I was able to recognize my own grief, to see my own journey for the triumph is actually was. I was able to see myself for the strong, resilient, amazing woman I am, and have been as I led my family back into the light.

And now, it is my deepest wish that, in reading the story, that you are able, too, to see some of yourself in her; she could be you. That you can discover your own strength, find your own purpose, and build your own hope.

If you are here now, I want you to know that I’ve been there: lost, alone, finished. I’ve come through the other side. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was hard as hell. But I’ve done it. And I’m strong enough and awake enough now, to want to reach out to help you discover the most surprising thing I’ve learned these past few years.

And that is, if things have to be the way they are, and you know they do, then it is actually possible to turn the worst thing that ever happened to you into the best thing that ever happened to you.

Join me. Talk to me. We are strong. We are infinitely stronger together. We got this.