published in Uncategorized by Maryanne | September 18, 2018

Comment on A Widow’s Awakening Book Cover Sparks Candid Discussion

 

“Sometimes we must lose what we love the most to awaken the person we are meant to be.”

– Words on cover of A Widow’s Awakening novel

Words have tremendous power

Words can heal. Words can help. Words can hurt. Words can forge relationships and words can end them. And the words on a book cover, I recently learned, don’t just help sell books; they can also send potential readers running in the opposite direction.

That’s exactly what happened after the launch of the A Widow’s Awakening novel. And I am grateful the potential reader in question chose to contact me directly…because her comment sparked a candid discussion about a deeper question:

When tragedy strikes, are we “supposed” to learn from loss and try to transform a horrific situation into some sort of change for the better, either in ourselves or the world around us?

This is the original comment I received:

Good morning Maryanne,

“Sometimes we must lose what we love the most to awaken the person we are meant to be”. I was about to order the book when this stopped me in my tracks. I hear things like this, and I cannot reconcile anyone saying this to me. I would give anything to have had my life path go in a direction that did not include my losses. I will never know how my life path would be if my son and husband were still here. I will never know the difference between them being here and them not being here. Nobody knows, nobody could ever know. My son was killed at work October 2015 at 25 years old. My husband died of brain cancer February 2016 at 51 years old.

I came across your blog a year or more ago (I have no sense of time) and I think your name caught my eye at first. Then I really connected with your way of thinking, writing, feeling. I understand from you, that your loss allows for writing from the financial point of view, and it prompted you, I just cannot wrap my head around the sentence. I do not know you, even so, I wonder if you wrote the sentence? I would have guessed your line of thinking was the same as what I have tried to explain. I would love to hear from you.

This was my response (edited slightly for this blog): 

Thank you for your heartfelt comment on my Pink Gazelle blog – about the sentence on the cover of A Widow’s Awakening: “Sometimes we must lose what we love the most to awaken the person we are meant to be.”

No, I did not personally write that exact sentence. The publisher came up with that – based on the contents of my book AND on all the additional content (for marketing and PR) that I wrote and sent to them. I approved the sentence and stand by it. But I can totally understand your perspective…because that is certainly NOT everyone’s belief: that everything happens for a reason and when we suffer horrendous losses, we can choose to become better people through the experience.

Your comment raises an extremely important question: ARE we meant to learn from horrific tragedies and strive to become happier than we were before those we love were yanked from us? Or do tragedies just happen…and we get to move forward however we choose?

I do NOT have the answer. As a writer, however, I have chosen the path of exploring the possibility that sometimes a tragedy has the potential for positive change – both in ourselves in and in the world around us. My personal experience has shown me that maybe, just maybe, there is always some sort of larger plan unfolding and that my husband John’s death was part of that…everything that happens is.

But I could be wrong. John’s death could just be a simple case of cause and effect…no safety railing, no husband. And my choice to ‘awaken and become the person I was meant to be’ was simply a personal choice based on my beliefs, my relationship with John, the circumstances of his death, my financial situation and my dream of becoming a writer.

The argument John and I had hours before he died was a defining moment for me. I had been complaining to him, yet again, about how frustrated I was with myself for not writing…and how scared I was of waking up 20 years later and STILL not have finished writing a book. He looked at me and said, “You’re probably right about that…just as long as you know that will have been your choice.”

Ouch. So when he died the next the day, I knew exactly what I had to do: write. And in the process of grieving his death, writing, working with the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund, determining whether or not I wanted to have a child on my own, and trying to find a new guy to have a relationship with, I gradually began to realize that I had a choice: I could more or less stay the same person I was when John died…or I could change and grow and become better – with or without a new partner to share my life with.

There is a quote (it is in A Widow’s Awakening near the end) by Louis Menand that goes: “Organisms don’t struggle because they evolve; they evolve because they struggle.” That sums up my journey through grief.

Interestingly, the book I am currently writing is entitled, Life After Loss; Lessons Learned from Grief, Grace & Growth. It is an exploration of the very subject matter you and I are e-mailing each other about: the possibility that tragedy, loss and suffering hold the potential for personal growth. But at the end of the day, this particular path/perspective is a personal choice. There have been many days (and still are) when I wonder if John’s death was ‘meant to be.’ My writing explores this possibility…but that’s all it is: a possibility.

The only thing I really know for certain is that I have grown as a person in the wake of losing John. Yes, I was kicking and screaming for much of the process but at the end of the day, I have learned an awful lot that I likely wouldn’t have if he had lived. But if he had lived, I know I would have learned different things!

I hope this answers your question. I cannot thank you enough for being so candid in your comments. I am so very sorry that you lost both your son and your husband.

Please take care,

Maryanne

And then this happened…

I sent the e-mail then went to my kitchen for coffee. My friends, Lynne and Gavin, happened to be staying with me for the weekend and I ran into Gavin in the kitchen. I told him about the exchange, to which he said, “I think the key word in the sentence on your book cover is sometimes. You’re not saying that everyone who loses someone they love is going to – or needs to – have the experience of awakening to the person they are meant to be.”

I went back to my computer & sent the person this follow-up e-mail:

Hello again…after I sent that e-mail, I remembered one more thing I wanted to mention. In that sentence that struck a real nerve with you, there is the word “sometimes” at the beginning. I think that is a really important word.

I think we are each on very different journeys and are going to experience different things in the wake of whatever it is we are dealing with. In my personal situation, I really got the sense early on that John’s death was a wake-up call for me. His death forced me to face a great many things about myself that I likely wouldn’t have dealt with otherwise.

But I don’t think that every time someone experiences a significant loss, there is a some sort of mandatory requirement to learn from the experience. I think that is a choice…and a very personal one based on many factors.

Maryanne

And then Lynne woke up…

Lynne actually read A Widow’s Awakening a couple of weeks ago, so the story was fresh in her mind. When I told her about the e-mail exchange, she had a different take. This was her response: “I agree the sentence on the book cover is a possible message one could take from the actual story – but to be honest, it really should be up to the reader to decide that after reading the book…versus being told that on the book cover.”

Lynne, the actress working with me on my Bungalow by the Sea play script, then smiled and added (oh so cheekily), “It’s like a play, Maryanne…you don’t TELL the audience what you think they are supposed to take from it or even what they could consider taking from it. You let them determine that for themselves based on the story.”

And there you have it. If you would like to weigh in on this discussion, I would love to hear your feedback (at least I think I would…this constant learning is really rather exhausting!).

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here. As a thank you, you’ll receive a short but saucy e-book entitled, Dive into this Chicago Deep Dish – Ten Bite-Sized Steps for a Yummier Slice of Life.

8 Comments

  1. JoMae Spoelhof on September 19th, 2018 at 5:51 pm:

    Not sure about ‘supposed to’ nor do I think I lost my love in order to awaken the person I am meant to be. Yet loss is awakening me, transforming me into a new person. That is precisely what has happened! I doubt my John died IN ORDER to make me new in some grand scheme of things, yet from the ashes this new spark did emerge. By grace, I am beginning to like this new identity I did not choose.

  2. Maryanne on September 20th, 2018 at 1:41 pm:

    Thank you for your comment!
    Take care,
    Maryanne

  3. Maryanne on September 20th, 2018 at 1:45 pm:

    This comment just came in from a reader via e-mail:

    Right from the beginning of time, everyone has been given a choice. Because we have choice and “sometimes” don’t make great choices for ourselves, not only do each of us suffer our own consequences but others “sometimes” do too.

    After any loss, there is a time of grief. Each person grieves their own losses, in their own ways, in their own time, differently from another.

    There is a saying, “When you are given lemons, you can turn lemons into lemonade”, or something like that. We can grieve and then choose to move on in life, or we can choose to allow the grief to taint the rest of our lives.

    Maryanne chose to use her grief to fulfill what was already a growing passion in the core of her being. She could see beyond John’s tragedy and chose to see the gift John gave her in using her passion for writing, working through her grief through the written word, and then sacrificing her own fears by sharing her raw story through grief with the world.

    We always have a choice, one step at a time that builds our life story until it’s our turn to pass from this side to the next.

  4. Maryanne on September 20th, 2018 at 1:46 pm:

    Thank you for your feedback on this blog!
    Maryanne

  5. Maryanne on September 21st, 2018 at 11:50 am:

    Another heartfelt & candid comment just came in via e-mail! Here it is:

    Ok. I would like to comment on this topic as I find it very interesting and feel through my personal experience of loss, that I have something to contribute. Because I have pondered this very topic for 18 years…and been on both sides of the fence at different times!!

    My husband was killed in a car accident, involving a drunk driver, on his way home from working an over time shift as a police officer; when our daughter was just 2 months old. Ouch! What fricken good can come out of that?!? Nothing, for several years.

    Now to back up a second, this is how I met Maryanne, because all this happened just 3 months before John died. My husband and John were both members of the same Police Service, so when John died, I contacted Maryanne by phone, introduced myself and offered to meet up for coffee one day, as we might have something in common. And so the friendship began. Slowly at first. (But honestly who doesn’t meet Maryanne once and want to be friends😊).

    So, many visits back and forth, vacations together, lots of phone calls, emails and 18 years later we are still very close friends. So there, something positive came out of my loss. Could we have met some how, some way even if our husbands hadn’t died? Absolutely. After all, we were in the same city and the police service is kinda like a big brotherhood.

    But that’s not enough to say it awakened me to be who I am. So even though I knew this early on… that Maryanne felt like it was a bittersweet gift of some sorts, I did not share those some feelings. Yes it changed my life, but I didn’t have any sort of awakening. And I’ll be honest there was times when I definitely felt almost guilty about that. As if I should be having some big revelation!!

    I totally get what your reader is feeling. Maybe there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t see the good in it, maybe I wasn’t grateful enough, patient enough, observant enough!?!

    Then after 4 long years I got my settlement through insurance, which by no means set me up for life. No pension for this widow! Chief made that very clear in those first few days. My husband was not on duty! “Off Duty Police Officer Dies”. That’s how I felt her words rang out to me.

    Anyways, it did allow me to do a few extra things financially and situationally as well. I took a good chunk of that money, grabbed my then four year old, a backpack and hit the road for a year. We covered 16 countries in planes, trains and automobiles. And had a fabulous time!!! Growing together, learning together and bonding together; with just my daughter. I was broadening her horizons and she was going to be all the much better off with this experience.

    Not say, better off than with her dad and quite probably more siblings. But since we couldn’t change that fact, she was going to be better off experiencing this – than if I just stayed home and carried on.

    I would never have been able to do that if my husband had not been killed. There, I finally have an awakening! Something good had come out of his death. I feel better about this topic, right?

    Most of the time, yes, to a degree, as mentioned I couldn’t change his dying, so I made the best of it. But slowly as the years have gone by and I remarried, had more kids, some more, very stressful situations have arisen, stemming back directly relating to his death. This wouldn’t be happening if husband number one hadn’t died.

    I wouldn’t be dealing with very meddling grandparents who feel they can do whatever they want with the daughter of THEIR son! So much to the point that I feel very strongly, that it is having a very negative impact on ‘life-long impacting decisions’ of my now 18 year old! And I KNOW this would not be happening if husband number one was still here!

    So am I better off for it? Where’s the awakening that a better me, has emerged?

    How is this better for the 18 year old daughter that never got to know her dad…who has not just been spoiled by but also negatively impacted by the actions of these grandparents (who she adores because they have catered to her)? That because of their actions, it gave her the power to buck our (my second husband and I) system of raising and disciplining throughout the years (and especially the teenage years)!

    Even though husband number one and I had discussed at great length how we wanted to raise our children and what we would not tolerate, the grandparents have absolutely bull dozed over and done so anyway! Even after I pleaded to them to not because this was not the wish of their son!

    I tried to explain that I felt it my duty to honor his wishes since as he was no longer here to do that. But to no avail! I know that wherever husband number one is right now, he is NOT happy about how things have transpired!

    Where’s the good in this?? Where’s the awakening that there is a better me or that my daughter is better off? I just can’t find it! Sigh…

    I feel at times, I’m right back where it all began 18 years ago on this topic. Yes, I made the best of it. Yes, I love husband number two and the children I have with him very much. And I have definitely grown from all these experiences. I’m definitely stronger for it.

    But I can honestly say I don’t feel that my loss awakened me to be who I was ‘meant’ to be. I am who I am because of that experience. But that’s where it ends for me.

    Interesting to note though, I have found myself thinking that a statement such as ‘this happened for a reason’ or ‘something good must come out of this’ (for both myself and my daughter) has helped me get through some of the rough times!

    I feel the word ‘sometimes’ in that quote (on the A Widow’s Awakening book cover) is very crucial. That word indicates that this CAN be some people’s experience but not a statement to hold on to…that it must be this way. I can understand, where, if it’s not happening for you when you’re going through a loss, you may not feel up to hearing about somebody else’s experience of it.

    It’s like the same effect social media can have on a person when they are going through some shitty, rough times. You don’t really want to see all those happy posts of everyone’s life which is so perfect, right?

    Jackie F, Foam Lake, SK

  6. Maryanne on September 21st, 2018 at 11:55 am:

    And here is another comment that came in via e-mail:

    Excellent blog! Hmmmm…lots to think about. I personally think we are supposed to learn from our losses and transform. I think that whatever life deals us (and some people have terrible things they are dealing with, much more so than others), we can use it to move forward, change, and be better – or stay where we are and stagnate.

    Dwelling on what happened, when it cannot be changed, to me is more harmful than anything. Therefore to transform and build a new life is, in my opinion, really the only healthy option…and to LEARN from what life has dealt us.

    That’s kind of my gut reaction. However, I DO really appreciate what that person wrote and it has given me a lot to think about.

  7. Maryanne on September 21st, 2018 at 11:56 am:

    Thank you for your comment!
    Maryanne

  8. Maryanne on September 21st, 2018 at 11:58 am:

    WOW…thank you SO much for your honesty, Jackie! AND for taking the time to write such a detailed response to this blog. You and I have had many conversations over the years about this very subject matter. I think we have helped shape each other’s journey and perspective. And like you, I am very glad our paths crossed – even though it took two personal tragedies to make that happen.

    Take care and big hugs…talk soon!
    MA

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