Life is not an easy story. Nor is it something any writer can simply cut and paste into the shape of a book and under the guise of characters.
I have to confess, I was never a writer by profession and never aspired to be one. Writing seemed a lonely job for those with good stories to tell and who luckily had some authority over words. I chose teaching as a career because it allowed me to interact with children and help them mature into productive, thoughtful adults. The day my husband died was the day I tuned out the world. I closed my door to the children and everyone else. And one night, a year and a half later, I dreamt this book. When I woke, startled and confused, all I knew was that I had something I had to share—something I had to tell other people. The clock read 7:00 A.M. and the room was dim. I was anxious, but calm because my focus was so clear, a kernel ready to burst under the heat of a complicated tale. I was feeling everything I needed to feel to get my story out; suddenly, nothing else mattered.
So I rose out of bed, warmed myself with a pair of jammies drawn loosely on my hips, and gently made my way to the office in the semidarkness. Without thinking about what I was doing, I turned on the computer, printer and the recessed lights. I opened the blinds to let in the natural light and I took in a deep breath from a room that reeked of intimacy. This was a room that had been custom designed by my husband and tailored to our lifestyles. It had been part of a one-car garage and bedroom before we converted it into a spacious, bright office with thick, mauve carpet, oak desks that stretched wall to wall, stacked bookshelves and notes of achievement on the walls. There were His and Hers computer stations, but I had since abandoned my own for working at his. A ceramic angel sat atop the monitor, watching over me.
I took out a sheet of paper. The room grew surreal, creating a refuge that held so much inspiration to write that it was almost tangible. My fingers soon played the keyboard in a fury, and the words spilled out. I neglected everything, didn’t answer the phone, didn’t eat. That moment marked the beginning of this journey, of telling a great love story about ordinary people in an extraordinary world. And it wasn’t easy, for writing brought me no comfort. It was a compulsion.
Someone once told me that a woman’s happiest days in her life are the day she is married and the day her first child is born.
I don’t have two happiest days or moments. Every day that I was married to Steve was the happiest day of my life. If I had to reduce my life to two “big things,” I’d say one—the memory of my late husband Steve—keeps my heart beating. The second—the memory of his last month of life—scoops a hole out of my heart large enough to sink a thousand good memories; large enough to bury the most tender of moments. Those two big things meet face to face every day. I never gave birth to children because that dream ended in an auto accident when I was 18 years old. I faced death in an intersection when two cars collided and spun into me. I managed to walk away from the accident, but a botched surgery later on left a hole in my back that kept me from bearing children.
Death comes easy to no one. . .because there are those who are left behind. To grieve. To mourn. To go on. To spit hateful thoughts at the notion of God or to try and find a spiritual meaning—purpose—to the illness or eventual death.
Sometimes I cannot believe that I am still here in this world, that I am still living, breathing and watching the sun curl around the sky and set over the ocean every day. I know that I am not alone in mourning, for people die every day and leave loved ones behind. Death is one of those sure things in life. But coping with death is a very personal experience—something no other person can share in exactly the same way. Pain and grief become you. Pain takes on a force so ferocious as to take hold of you, shake you and never let you go. Until you accept pain as an emotion to manage, as you would anger, frustration and anxiety, it remains a sword.
Now you’re wondering if this is a grief journal, or another cancer story rife with depressing thoughts, gory details and cruel finger-pointing. It’s not. That has no point, serves no purpose. My husband succumbed to cancer and I witnessed it. In doing so, I learned more about living and dying than any book, course, movie or friend ever taught me. This story is that lesson.
Despite all that I had learned and mastered in my years as a teacher and in my struggle to deal with heartbreaking physical limitations since the car wreck, nothing down that path prepared me for planning my ultimate lesson: How to watch a beloved die and then go on to find joy and to laugh again. That path led me to acknowledge Life’s dirty little secrets—the things we all experience with reluctance but don’t dare speak about them often. Pain, setbacks, heartbreaks, misfortunes, disappointments, and loss are among these dirty secrets that life has for us. The personal journeys we take to get from one point to another are filled with Life’s dirty little secrets, and how we choose to handle them allows us the opportunity to find laughter, joy and happiness in the future even when it seems impossible. They are what make the journey human and unique. Along the way, we love, we breathe, we meet new people, we grieve for what we have lost and we move forward. Always in pursuit of new joy.
This book is for the living.
This book is for all that brings us joy and inspiration.
This book is for all of us who need laughter. . .and a reason to keep on going.