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,
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.
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.