This week I’m remembering the 4th anniversary of the publication of Again in a Heartbeat, my memoir about being widowed at a young age. The book changed my life.
Another milestone: In October, I’m coming up on 20 years as a widow.
In the days and months after my husband John Cavalieri died, I sat in my bedroom at night and thought . . . some day I’ll be saying its been 20, 30, 40 years since he’s gone. Impossible.
Now the impossible is the reality.
As I look back on the last two decades, I realize that "after changes" – as Paul Simon said, "we are more or less the same." I’m still the brash, high-spirited woman I was when John first met me under dogwood trees at Valley Forge Military Academy. I was 26 then . . . so young and so hopeful. He was 29.
Yet, I am light years away from that young woman, too, tempered by age and the realization as Joan Didion wrote in this article and in her memoir – The Year of Magical Thinking: "Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant."
My journey as a widow has immeasurably been shaped by the many people, good and bad, I’ve met along the way, as well as my belief that it can all change in "a heartbeat." Most of all, events and circumstances too numerous to mention have made me realize one thing - if we allow it, great abundance can come out of great loss.
That doesn’t make loss any easier.
There is no way to sugarcoat how challenging these last two decades have been. Raising two children; being sole breadwinner; keeping my home; mapping out a plan in retirement that in all likelihood will be alone . . . the resourcefulness and resilience so necessary to survive are attributes I believe I developed due to the death of my husband – and my writing.
Many times I had to challenge the traditional “myths” society holds about the single woman and single mother. Women like me and those who have come before me have had to rewrite the narrative we grew up with in order to discover our own path and choices.
That's where writing comes in. Writing encourages psychic growth. It also serves as testimony and a way to break the silence. A woman in the Circle wrote about her first and truest love who died tragically in a horrible accident. Despite her children and grandchildren urging her to stop - "What's the use of reliving the past?" they asked, she went ahead anyway. Last week she told me, “I finished my story! It's as if a weight has been lifted. I feel so much better! Now my granddaughter understands who I once was - that I had another life!”
Books and stories, particularly true stories, are the life blood of the grief-stricken. In them we find our way out of isolation and aloneness into a larger and more community-oriented vision of life.
I want to share a sampling of books which helped me discover my story, re-examine “traditional” narratives, challenge myths, and offer a path to transformation.
Are there books you can add to this list? Please feel free to leave a suggested read, or just a comment. Thank you. ~ Susan
Writing A Woman’s Life by Carolyn G. Heilbrun
Women Writing for (a) Change by Mary Pierce Brosmer
How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ
Writing As A Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo
Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life (How to Finally, Really Grow Up) by James Hollis
Wishes Fulfilled: Mastering the Art of Manifesting by Wayne W. Dyer
Creating Love: The Next Great Stage of Growth by John Bradshaw