Tag Archive for grieving

Client Success: Eileen Cooley Guides Widows Through Relational Stress From Personal Experience

“After becoming a widow, I would come home from a social encounter or event feeling upset.  I found writing about these stressful experiences helped me manage them,” shared Eileen Cooley when discussing her personal essays.  “As I experienced social awkwardness, I realized that most of the other books on widowhood had failed to address these interpersonal stressors.”  A dozen essays in, she contacted me with the idea for the book.

Four years later, Newly Widowed, Now Socially Awkward: Facing Interpersonal Challenges After Loss includes 45 essays.  Utilizing her experience as both a widow and a licensed psychologist for over 25 years, each essay includes a subjective, first-person account of Eileen’s emotional response to a situation followed by her objective guidance in “What I Can Do For Myself.”

Divided into three sections which reflect changing needs and issues from the initial months through the first years, the book’s essays focus on specific topics.  For example, she found herself upset with others who offered “words of wisdom,” compared their prior losses to her own, and assumed she’d be back on her feet after a year.  She was also upset with herself for seeking too much sympathy, asking for help too often, and sharing the worst side of herself with friends.

“At first I thought my audience was focused solely on new widows.  However, based on the positive reactions I received from non-widows, I believe my audience is broader.  I now see the book as relevant to people experiencing any significant loss and to the folks who support them in their grief.”

The first in this expanded category was me.  I lost both my mother and brother back-to-back at the end of 2012 not long before Eileen and I began our work.  I found the essays’ guidance helped me understand my social discomfort at funerals and to other interactions beyond them.  When my father passed in 2015, I discovered I was more prepared to simultaneously handle my own grief as well as relate to the interactions with other mourners and supporters.  And in attending later funerals, Eileen’s advice to simply be present, and not feel forced to say something to those who suffered the loss, but, proved golden.

Having worked together in 2011 on Eileen’s first book, Why Do My Feet Say YES While My Head Says NO?, a children’s book published by Headline Books, we had an established rapport to build upon.  We easily communicated about the emotionality and gravity of the subject matter while keeping an eye on the audience experience.

“Wayne was my biggest encourager,” Eileen shared.  “Persistence is the key, and working with Wayne as a writing coach and editor helped me with feedback, direction, and commitment.”

Now as Eileen faces accolades and feedback, she is discovering a new awkwardness.  “It’s a little embarrassing to have some people read my book as it is very personal.  A few people have apologized for not being more sensitive to me after hearing my reactions to being newly widowed.”

Still, having the book published and out in the world is a big lift.  “It feels really great to complete a project.  Doing a project for myself that might be helpful to someone else is particularly satisfying.”

Client Success: Vanderyt Publishes Memoir Sequel “Obsidian Rose”

Memoir classes scheduled in Winter and Fall.

“My inspiration for writing Obsidian Rose was feeling like I had unfinished business,” Karen Vanderyt said about her sequel to 2012’s Afterglow. “My writing process was smoother, probably because I had a bit more confidence after editing and publishing my first book, but also because I had worked through a lot of things emotionally.”

Vanderyt.Obsidian.Rose.coverAfterglow: Remembering A Life Well Lived, her memoir about commitment and family, heartbreak and loss, was heralded a love story. This exercise in remembrance came soon after losing her husband of 39 years, Bill, to incurable brain cancer. She wrote to attempt to make sense of those swift three months from diagnosis until his passing.

Obsidian Rose: Reclaiming A Life After Loss shows her reality still full of memories and mourning, but how bringing a Lab puppy into her home while navigating everyday hills and valleys reinforced her determination to create a new life for herself. The pup became a touchpoint, and in turn, the title of the book. To all who know her, she’s lovingly called Siddie.

“Writing the sequel enabled me to be more proactive about doing something about the disease that Bill died of. I have worked through a lot of anger, and I want to feel as if I have made a contribution by supporting Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure and sharing with others my own healing process.” Karen donates all proceeds from both titles to ABC2 for their mission “to invest in research aimed at finding the fastest possible route to a cure.”

Shortly after publishing her first book, Karen began anew. “It was nice to take a break from the writing routine, but I found I missed it and started carving out a few mornings a week to write, and the process flowed.”

Her biggest encouragement came from family and friends, even strangers who identified with her grieving process. “There is a special bond that only another person who has suffered a similar loss can truly understand.”

kv.Kirby.Siddie.porch.back.cover With our ongoing creative relationship of 14 years, she credits our bond of trust and our lively concept meetings as the most fruitful part of her writing process. “They encouraged me to explore deeper levels of meaning,” Karen said. “You push writers to better themselves and their product.”

“Getting the book to print was challenging because there were several things going on at once: editing, proofing, website design, navigating social media, and traveling to visit my three grown children and my eight grands! Life does go on…” She also set a deadline to publish in May to coincide with Brain Tumor Awareness Month, which we achieved.

Currently, she is building a home in Oregon on land she and Bill bought decades ago, land where they planned to fulfill a dream of retirement, a dream she is realizing. “I’m giving myself permission to take a break from writing, and then, I’m going to explore writing a love story about my parent’s early years together based on the love letters my dad, Norm Van Brocklin, wrote to my mom, Gloria Schieve, during the special time in our nation’s history after WWII. And, either concurrently or after that, I’ll work on closing the trilogy of memoirs, writing about restoring life after loss. But I realize that requires living life for a while! And there is great fulfillment in saying ‘yes’ to life.”

And no doubt, Siddie will be right by her side.

Visit Karen’s website and order books in paperback and e-book formats.

Honoring Service

flag.4Dad carefully unrolled the recently acquired panoramic photos of his and his brother’s graduations from basic training during World War II. A tiny arrow was placed above both of their heads on the respective photos to identify them from the near hundred men.

“That’s Bo?” I asked with quiet respect. “I don’t know that I’ve seen any pictures of him.”

My 84-year old father nodded in a mixture of pride and sadness.

As he shared stories, Dad handed me a small, tattered brown folder. Inside were personal and official letters. I removed a faded telegram.

“…Private Clarence Martin Smith, Jr will be accompanied by Private. . .to the funeral home in Thomasville to arrive on December Two Four. . .”   The strict language marched as formal as a precision military formation, yet devoid of emotion.

Most of my life I’ve known Bo got an infection from a wisdom tooth extraction on base. On the transport ship to Europe, he reported ill to the infirmary on a morning before Thanksgiving, was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, and died before the next sunrise as the ship churned across the Atlantic. The family waited over a month for the return of his body. He was buried on Christmas day.

I gently blew open another envelope’s ragged end and retrieved the fragile paper inside. Seeing Bo’s handwriting and reading his words for the first time was like hearing his voice. Bo plainly wrote to his Momma about where he was, what he was doing, and how much he loved her and his family. There was also one page written just to Dad encouraging him to get a particular piece of farm equipment running and an added mention about their sweethearts. I asked Dad some questions, some of which he couldn’t remember the answers, some he simply couldn’t muster the words.

Gently folding and returning the letter to its resting place, I felt a rush of sadness—reading Bo’s words and holding his letter in my hand as I stared at his benevolent, timid expression in the photo was like meeting him and burying him in the same moment.

As I looked into Dad’s eyes full of respect for these precious artifacts, for what was and for what might have been, my heart began to grasp the depth of his loss. Through the tremble in his voice as he bravely fought to hold off the flood he’d kept in check for so many decades, I fought alongside him as he allowed me to be present with his love and loss.

It’s not a duty, but a freedom to choose to honor all who serve. With Dad, I am also grateful to witness and benefit from his choice to live every moment of his life in service to God, country, and family. He inspires me to strive to higher service in my own.

Revolutionary Revision

fireworks2

All the writing for his book was on one flash drive.

Bending to the tyranny of fear that harm might come to the computer – a theft, a lightning strike – Bob only wrote on the flash drive, placing it in different spots throughout the house to further protect his work.  Eventually, he couldn’t find it.  His exhaustive searches dwindled before he struggled toward acceptance.

“I know what I said about just sitting down and starting over, but how is it even possible to rewrite something that you wrote from your heart and soul? All I am doing now is listing facts on this chapter I’d almost finished. I came across a few handwritten notes and sketchy opening pages, but I just can’t seem to put meat on these scattered bones.”  The smoke of dismay clouded the light in the room.  “Right now, I am not a happy camper.”

Like the colonists who fought for the right to build a free country for its citizens, one that’s been adapting for 237 years, writers constantly carry on a process of creating and recreating.  Revision IS writing, and when we have something, anything, on paper, we have a place to start.  However, Bob, with no draft to revise, had a choice to survey scattered notes, comb his memory and reexamine his thoughts to spark a creative revolution.

So many things can happen to stymy a writer’s progress.  Losing your work is a harsh one, yes, but it is possible to completely rewrite a lost piece from scratch.  Make peace with the fact that the writing is gone.  Feel the sadness, then replace it with gratitude that you still know the story and have the ability to write it again.  Celebrate your right to creative independence as you prepare to represent your story anew.

rev.war.6Even if all you can get down are the bones, these basics are a start at structure to hang specifics on.  Question what you have to find details to fill in the framework, and continue writing.

If you have a draft with notes, yet aren’t a happy camper, pitch your tent somewhere else.  Switch gears to another chapter, or work on a completely different story.  Let the frustrating one rest, and seek a different view.  Maybe a new campsite will have more sun and warmer inspiration.

Sometimes you realize a draft isn’t going anywhere.  Working within it becomes more of a struggle than simply starting fresh on a clean page.  Be grateful the unusable draft did its work by clearing your mind.  Go with your gut. Move on, and begin again.

Revere your process, and volunteer to re-enlist in your project.  A setback doesn’t mean the cause isn’t winnable.  Adaptability is a creative act.  Stand up to your issues, then express your freedom to write.

Disclaimer: It’s true; writers write what they know, and, yes, I write from my experiences.  However, all characters and situations in my stories are fictitious fusions, creative amalgamations.  Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or real interactions with me are purely coincidental.