Kelly McMasters, author of The Leaving Season, was living in the country in a beautiful rural setting, had opened up a bookstore, and was raising her children. This was the life of her dreams, except her marriage was unsustainable.
She made the difficult decision to close her bookshop, leave her home, leave the country, and leave her marriage.
Every leaving is a beginning and Kelly needed a community, friends, and a network of trust to help her grow through it.
She moved with her children to a small apartment in suburbia and learned that while she was waiting to get through her list of things that would make life perfect again, her children were actually experiencing their childhood. They were making memories in the home she had created, even if it wasn’t the home of her dreams.
Her advice is to find communities of support; you can’t do it by yourself. And don’t be afraid to let people see you fail; the only way to build community is to be vulnerable. She only wishes she had done it sooner.
Former English literature professor Priscilla Gilman, author of The Critic’s Daughter, tells of losing her father multiple times in her life. First, when she was 10, her parents split up and she lost him in her daily life. She lost him as a stable, reliable parent figure when he had financial issues and struggled with depression. When she was in her early 20s, he had a heart attack and five years later he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He died in 2006 when she was 36.
These multiple losses were heart wrenching for her. Literature and her sister (and best friend) helped her get through it. Also, writing about her father and attempting to find him through writing helped her get through it.
Priscilla Gilman learned that people are complicated. There are always people in our lives that we look up to and put on a pedestal—like parents, teachers, mentors—and then we discover things about them, see them struggling. She stresses the importance of attempting to recover a sense of the person—even with their flaws—with a deeper love.
Gilman’s advice to anyone going through something similar is:
Try to remember and hold onto the person when they were their truest, most essential self.
Incorporate the person in your life (play their song, make their favorite dish, share stories about them with people in your life, and more).
Allow yourself to feel the full extent of the sadness in your loss. If you postpone grief, it is still there. See a therapist, talk to loved ones who knew the person, write about it, meditate, whatever will give you care and support.
Anjum Coffland describes going through a divorce and her husband killing her two teenage daughters Tiffany and Brittany before shooting her in the legs and then killing himself. After the murders, Anjum went into survival mode and gets through it day by day. She pushes herself in hopes that she will be with her girls again one day. She advocates for changing gun laws so that it is not as easy for someone to get a gun when they are going through a divorce and in an upset state of mind. She believes that one phone call could have saved her family. She acknowledges that it takes time to heal and encourages anyone going through something similar to keep going, keep pushing. “Don’t give up on yourself,” she says.
Florence Williams, author of Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey, describes meeting her husband on her first day of college. Thirty-two years later, he said he wanted out of their marriage. This unexpected midlife heartbreak sent her reeling physically, emotionally and existentially. As a science writer, she researched what was happening to her and how she could heal. What she learned guided her to a three-part recovery, resulting in post-traumatic growth.