By Carol Lucas
Last month I reached the final destination of a journalistic road trip, one that I began with the passing of my husband, Noel, in April of 2001. This arrival came with the delivery of a box of fifty books, all with the same title, A Breath Away: one woman’s journey through widowhood. The book is a memoir, my memoir, a record of a very painful time in my life, and it took me seventeen years to bring to fruition a compilation of my memories, my deepest feelings, and my angst. Having taught high school English for thirty-two years, I limited most of my writing to the use of a red pen, making corrections and suggestions on the myriad of essays and term papers that crossed my desk. When I retired in 1997, the last thing I thought about was composing. Back then I was totally consumed with moving from suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Beaufort, the delightful small town on the coast of South Carolina that my husband and I had discovered three years before. We had stayed on Harbor Island for a month during our sabbatical leaves, and we fell in love with the Low Country, both of us adamant in our agreement that we wanted away from the cold and snow. Thus we purchased a lot on the first fairway of a golf course and began our dream of building a new home and being close to the water…our idea of a small slice of heaven. I was too busy working with our builder to give any thought to writing.
But sadly, sometimes the bubbles surrounding special dreams are punctured, and those dreams are absorbed by nightmares. We moved into our home in February of 1999, and that November my husband was diagnosed with leukemia. Seventeen months later, he passed away at sixty years of age. Noel was my high school sweetheart, and we attended college together. Later in my teaching career we taught at the same high school for twenty-five years. To say our lives were closely connected would not be an overstatement; we were soul mates.
The loss of my husband was a devastating time for me, but we had made very good friends in the short time we were here, and the support I received over the months and years following my husband’s passing was beyond my expectation. When I was asked by friends from Pittsburgh whether or not I planned to return, my somewhat flippant response was, “Have you looked at the weather forecast lately?” The truth, however, wasn’t grounded in the weather which we know can be fickle. Rather it lay with the friends who surrounded me. They were not fickle; I had found my “new home.”
And so I began to write. I am most definitely a night person, and every night after the eleven o’clock news, I would go upstairs and pour my feelings into my computer. At first they were fragments of my grief, but soon the bits and pieces began to take on the semblance of a story. As I told someone, it was cheaper than $300 an hour on a psychiatrist’s couch. The story expanded over the years, and I was encouraged to stay with it by the members of a writers group I had joined. The consistent message was, “Quit procrastinating. There are women (and men) who have lost a spouse and need to hear your story.” Unlike fiction, however, a memoir requires the writer to bear her soul and put herself out there for scrutiny. Was I ready for that?
There came a time when I decided that perhaps they were right; it was time to put aside my apprehension and take the plunge. By this time self-publishing had become a prominent way to get into the game. No longer did I have to be concerned that one individual could deem my work unworthy of publication, thus shutting me down. I also recognized that my book is a legacy for my daughters and granddaughters, something that delves into the deepest part of me at a time when I was so vulnerable. So this past summer I sat in a cabin overlooking the shore of Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula, a place of total tranquility, and I completed my book. I edited and edited once more; at one point I swore I would never read it again. However, when that box of books arrived in Beaufort this past November, I admit that I took one out of the box, ran my hand cautiously over the cover, and began to read. Euphoria was mine!
During the time I was still engaged in the completion of my book, I read an article about Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best seller Eat, Pray, Love. The piece, written by Alice Cary for the monthly publication Book Page (free at any library) was titled Grieve, Write, Heal, obviously a take-off on Gilbert’s book title. The content of the article dealt with Gilbert’s life after Eat, Pray, Love that included painful loss. It grabbed my attention immediately because I recognized that this string of three terse words described precisely the process I had undergone after the loss of my husband. My writing was a huge part of my healing! My second thought was, “Wow! I wish I had thought of these words when I was brainstorming a title for my book!” I knew, however, I was wedded to the title I had chosen, for better or worse. Reflection tells me that reading the Cary article was another nudge for me to get busy.
I believe part of my journey is to help others who have lost loved ones. I must include a disclaimer, however: my book focuses upon some very spiritual experiences I had when my husband lay comatose, and again after he passed. I who was skeptical for some time came to realize I could not ignore these experiences. They were too numerous and too vivid. Anyone choosing to read the book needs to understand that I battled with myself over what was happening. I ask only that the reader keep an open mind as he or she reads.
‘A Breath Away: one woman’s journey through widowhood’ is available at local bookstores and from Amazon.