Waking up to a harsh new reality one does not want to face can be brutal enough. Learning to accept that reality and begin to transform it, step by painful step, into a new life of passion and purpose takes guts, grit and gumption. It also takes patience and perseverance.
And when the dust begins to settle, if one is also willing to examine the situation in search of a personal truth (or two) gone awry, the road requires much courage and candour.
Thankfully, the process of writing can help one discover those truths—uncomfortable as they may be.
But why bother learning from loss? Because the difficult life lessons hidden within a seemingly senseless tragedy are quite often the key to a better future.
Ever since I was seven, my dream was to become a writer. For many years I also wanted to become a vet but a disastrous couple of years in the sciences at college nipped that in the bud. Writing, however, was my passion.
In practice, I never did much in the way of actual writing. No, no. I just talked about writing, dreamed about writing, fantasized about how my life as a successful writer would look and took many courses on how and what to write, all the while accumulating an extensive array of excuses as to why I couldn’t write at any given time.
By the time 2000 rolled around, I was thirty-two and had been out of university for seven years (I did eventually graduate, just not in sciences). My husband, John, and I had been married for four years and he’d been a police officer for the same amount of time. Since graduation, I had done a variety of clerical jobs and had wound up working as a civilian for the same police department as John. I was a report processor and took incident reports from officers over the phone.
In the summer of 2000, I remember being in my cubicle one day and feeling a profound sense of security—I mean, besides the fact that I was working in a building filled with cops.
By that point, I’d been doing the job for over a year so was familiar with the process. The occasional call would still come in that threw me for a loop but for the most part, the stress level was manageable.
I remember thinking that summer day how safe I felt in my little cubicle. I was cozy and comfortable. There was of a cup of coffee and a yummy treat sitting on my desk. I was looking forward to going outside for a little walk on my one forty-minute break (during a ten-hour shift).
Oh yes, I thought to myself, life is good! I know this isn’t exactly my dream job of writing. But it is sort of writing…I mean, I’m writing the narrative sections of police reports, aren’t I? Well, okay, the officers dictate the exact words to me over the phone and I just type them in but…
If I could go back in time, this is what my fifty-year-old present self would say to that sound asleep thirty-two-year-old version:
Hello! Earth to Maryanne… you’re not just in a cubicle, sweetheart, you’re in a CAGE! Wake up!! What’s wrong with you? You’ve fallen asleep at the wheel…what happened to writing a book? Making the world a better place? Starting a business? Do you honestly believe you’re HAPPY sitting in a cubicle for forty hours a week, taking dictation over the phone? That’s NOT writing; that’s TYPING.
Secure. Manageable. Safe. Comfortable. Familiar. Those were the words I was describing my work with. That alone should have been my wake-up call. But it wasn’t.
Now don’t get me wrong: there is absolutely nothing wrong with the job of report processor. Like everybody else, I was doing the work to pay the bills. Fair enough. But when I wasn’t working, was I doing any writing—or taking any steps, for that matter, towards achieving my supposed dream of becoming a writer?
Nope. What I was doing in my down-time was complaining to John about having to work at a clerical job instead of being able to stay at home and write. And then, since that didn’t seem to be happening any time soon, I began to tell myself that my clerical job was good enough.
Or maybe it was time to have a baby?
Well you know what? If we lie to ourselves long enough, we’re going to start to believe our lies as truth.
Until, that is, a brutal wake-up call blows that lie right out of the water and we have no choice but to see it.
On the afternoon of Thursday September 28th, 2000, I was back to whining to John about my habit of procrastinating on my writing.
We were at the dog park and I said, “I am so scared I am going to wake up twenty years from now and still not having finished writing a book.”
He turned to me and said, “You’re probably right about that, Maryanne…just as long as you know that will have been your choice.”
Ouch was my first thought. Jerk was my second.
By that point we’d been together twelve years. That’s a long time to listen to someone talk about their dream of becoming a writer—yet doing very little in the way of any actual writing. John knew what it took to achieve a dream; it had taken him eight years to become a police officer. I watched him every step of the way. In contrast to me, he had done very little talking and far more doing. The more challenges, setbacks and rejections he faced, the harder he tried.
After the dog park, John had a nap before getting ready to go into work at 9 p.m.—his first shift back after our vacation. I dropped him off at work and went home to bed. I promised myself—again—that I would wake up early the next morning and do an hour of writing before going into my job at 7 a.m., which would be my first shift back.
But when my alarm clock went off at 5:00 the next morning, what did I do?
The usual. I reached over and pushed the snooze button. I don’t want to wake up. I don’t feel like writing. I don’t want to go back to my job either. Why do I have to type police reports for a living?
Ten minutes later, the alarm went off again. I pushed snooze. I don’t want to get up. I can’t write today. I’m too tired…
Ten minutes later, the alarm went off; snooze was hit. I am SO anxious! I don’t like my job. I don’t want to go back there.
And nor would I. For during that exact same time-frame of me pushing snooze, John was lying on the lunchroom floor of a warehouse, dying of a brain injury. He had responded to a break and enter complaint at a warehouse and was searching the mezzanine level for an intruder, when he stepped through an unmarked false ceiling and fell nine feet into the lunchroom below. There had been no safety railing in place to warn him—or anyone else—of the danger.
The complaint turned out to be a false alarm; there was no intruder in the building. My wake-up call, however, was devastatingly real.
I was a thirty-two-year old widow entitled to receive my husband’s paycheque for the rest of my life. As a wanna-be writer, this was a dream come true. As a woman in love, it was a nightmare from which I could not awaken.
Death took my soul-mate; life got my attention.
I never returned to the false security of my little cubicle at the police department. Despite its cozy feel and safe surroundings, I knew it was the most dangerous place to go back to. And thanks to my newfound financial situation, I didn’t have to.
Instead, a mere two weeks after John’s death, at long last, I finally sat down to write what would become A Widow’s Awakening…and soon realized that writing about his death, including the difficult life lessons in store for me, was the lousiest job in the world.
There were landmines—emotional, psychological and spiritual—everywhere I turned. And there are no breaks, forty-minute or otherwise. Wherever we go, so does our grief.
It took me many years and an ocean of tears to get the manuscript (and me) where it needed to be for publication. But I did it. And the process of writing the damn thing probably not only saved me, it showed me the path out of grief.
Writing is certainly not the fastest way to move on after a significant loss—but thanks in part to all the damn rewrites, it is very thorough.
About the author:
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. She is the executive producer of the documentary, Whatever Floats Your Boat…Perspectives on Motherhood. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to subscribe to her inspiration blog, sign up here. Maryanne lives on Vancouver Island, Canada.
About A Widow’s Awakening:
Discover the true meaning of love…
Do you believe in soul mates? What if the death of your soul mate meant the birth of your life-long dream?
A Widow’s Awakening is a fictional account based on the true story of a young woman’s struggle to come to terms with the death of her police officer husband who died in the line of duty.
Engaging, powerful, heart-wrenching, and at times humorous, this honest look at the first year of a widow’s grief captures the immense difficulty of learning how to accept the unacceptable while transforming loss into positive change—and is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
Read the First Three Chapters of A Widow’s Awakening
Praise for A Widow’s Awakening
“The rollercoaster ride of early grief is accounted for with complete candor; her unflinching approach makes for a compelling, although sometimes uncomfortable, tale.” — Kara Post-Kennedy, Heart and Humanity Magazine
“A Widow’s Awakening expresses the gripping pain of losing someone you love, tragically and unexpectedly.” — Robin Chodak, Grief Coach and author of Be Gentle with Me, I’m Grieving and Moving to Excellence, A Pathway to Transformation after Grief
“…a hauntingly beautiful story of enduring love, overwhelming heartache and discovering resiliency…a must-read for anyone who has lost someone they loved and struggled to find their way in the aftermath of tragedy.” — Sharon Ehlers, author of Grief Reiki
“…shares a heartbreaking loss with honesty.” — Cindy Kolbe, author of Struggling with Serendipity
Available Formats & Purchasing Information
Hardcover: 978-1-64397-051-6, $26.95
Softcover: 978-1-946848-99-4, $15.95
Ebook: 978-1-947727-66-3, $7.99
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