Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Interview With Elaine Williams - Author of 'A Journey Well Taken - Life After Loss'

Today I had the opportunity to speak with Elaine Williams, author of ‘A Journey Well Taken - Life After Loss’.

When the marriage of Elaine Williams ended in the tragic death of her husband Joe after 23 years of being together, Elaine could have simply thrown in the towel. Many do. However she chose to take a different path and discovered that there is at last a hope of happiness after loss.

A Journey Well Taken - Life After Loss is at its very core, a tale of discovery. It is filled with shock, sorrow, confusion, despair, pain, grief, transformation and ultimately hope.

As regards the death of a loved one, it is never a question of 'if', but is rather always a question of 'when'. Therein lies the problem, for it comes always too soon - the time is never 'right' for such things. It is not the event itself that is so painful, but is rather what we must do after the event that causes the fear to well up inside. For we know that we will be alone. Alone is a terrible place to be.

However, alone does not necessarily have to be forever, as Elaine illustrates so well in A Journey Well Taken. The book is raw. It is a gut-wrenching ride through the mind of one left behind. Unlike other books of its kind however, there is no linear progression from excruciating pain to final acceptance. It is instead a roller coaster ride of emotions that run the gamut from grief to joy and back again, time and again.

1. Why did you write A Journey Well Taken: Life After Loss?

I wrote it initially for myself, but then realized that other women needed to read it. It's not just my experience but it's something many will go through. Even though grief is unique to each individual, there are untold similarities in the universal process. Your life changes -- not only in the obvious ways, but also emotionally and sometimes financially.

In today’s world, with our military men in foreign countries, support is crucial for the women who will become widows when lives are lost. My husband was ill with esophagus cancer, but it has to be an even more incredible heartache to find out your once healthy loved one has died far away from family on foreign soil.

2. You were a caretaker for your husband during his illness?
Yes, with the esophagus cancer he couldn't eat, he was on heavy narcotics for pain control. Even though I wrote down everything, in the early days I was terrified of giving him an overdose. Once hospice started working on his pain control, I knew he was in good hands. I never thought of calling them except my sister-in-law, a nurse, told me pain control is their forte.

3. You state in A Journey Well Taken you felt devastated by this loss. Are you still feeling that, four years later?
Some days it's still there, but I no longer feel that total devastation. I still think some days about what we’ve all lost, what our lives could have been had he survived. Most days I’m fine and no longer drained by the loss. My life is taking different directions. I love my life.

4. Do your kids talk about their dad?
Yes, I encouraged it. My youngest boys are still home and we reminisce at times about funny incidences or remembrances involving their dad. My oldest, because he moved away, didn't have as much interaction in this manner, but I feel this really helped us, not being afraid to remember.

5. Do you think people in general understand the grief process?
Not entirely. Many times people think the traditional time to be getting on with life is a year. At one year, I was just getting started on my healing process. I thought I was okay, then I'd go for days where I felt down and not okay. I'd start crying as I drove down the road. My emotions seesawed up and down without rhyme or reason. Some of my grief processing was delayed because I worked nonstop that first year. It kept me from thinking about the loss or facing the demon of loneliness inside. I pushed it way and closed the door.

6. How are your boys doing now?
My youngest is almost sixteen. He's coming into his own comfort with who he is. He's a very outdoors type person, a lot like my husband in his interests. He likes to hunt, and a friend who is an avid hunter takes him with him. He got his first turkey this year. My middle son is 22 and is more focused. He went through a period where he wanted to stay in bed, not attend classes or get a job. Now he's working, in college, making plans for the future. My oldest had car accidents, tickets and had moved away from home. I envisioned him running wild and out of control. To some degree, this happened. He's now back in college working toward a marketing degree, works full time and has his own apartment. So we have all experienced our own testing as it were and come through on the other side.

7. Were holidays and anniversaries especially difficult?
Yes, in the beginning. I felt like I was on autopilot, living in automation. You feel numb, and yet there's this deep, gaping wound in your chest that nothing will fix. I felt incredibly sad leading up to and through each anniversary and holiday. Christmas was the hardest. It was based on my own expectations of what Christmas has always meant; being with family and loved ones. For several years the holidays felt broken apart.

8. Did talking have any benefit for you?
Yes, not only talking to other widows, but my writing also. I wasn’t able to communicate via writing for several years, and that worried me. I spoke with a counselor and she just let me talk and vent, getting out whatever was stuck on my mind. I had pain, worry about the kids, and just trying to figure out who I was anymore. Talking about your grief experience is one of the biggest healers, as far as I have learned.

9. You've described yourself as a totally different person from five years ago. In what way?
Yes, I am so different in my attitude about life and the little things. My inner self has changed so much. I'm stronger, more independent than ever, happier, and in a way, more fulfilled, because it's all coming from inside me, the person I have evolved into. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, worrying, analyzing. I don't think I could have become who I am today without having gone through this particular experience.

10. You decided to start dating again. What was that like after being married 20 years?
It was a shock, to say the least. I hadn’t dated since I was 23, and re-entered dating at 48. The world was vastly different. Many of us become wounded in one way or another through life, but some people choose not to leave their baggage behind. For myself, I decided I would not carry excess baggage nor would I settle for less than I deserved in a relationship. It took some real heartache to reach that decision.

11. What do you feel is the most valuable piece of knowledge you can pass along to others on this journey of loss?
Expect life to change, viewing it as growth opportunity. If you remain open to living without shutting down in fear, life will bring you more than you ever expected.

A Journey Well Taken - Life After Loss
Elaine Williams

ISBN 978-0-9801108-0-7
US $13.95
An OnWings Press Trade Paperback