Mourning the Past — A Future Blossoms | A Guest Post by Susan Weidener

Today I welcome Susan Weidener, memoir writer and author of Again in a Heartbeat and Morning at Wellington Square. Susan has graciously agreed to share her thoughts on coping with grief and the healing benefits of writing.

Please join me in welcoming Susan to Healing by Writing.

Susan at Longwood

Mourning the Past – A Future Blossoms

By Susan G. Weidener

When Sherrey asked if I would write about my coping skills during the difficult days, months and years after my husband John Cavalieri died – and the benefits derived from writing my story, I admit it felt a bit personal to go down that road again.  But that’s what we memoir writers do – we bare our souls, opening a window into our most private thoughts, desires, and dreams, fears and frailties.

When a woman suddenly becomes head of household like I did, she faces an uphill climb.  I had two sons ages 7 and 11 to raise, a fulltime high-pressure job and a mortgage.  My father, Andrew Weidener, died seven months after my husband.  Dad, like John, had been a guiding light in my life, which up until the time John was diagnosed with terminal cancer, had been fairly smooth and uneventful.  My father’s death rippled out into the larger currents and I began feeling like the survivor of a ship wreck. My mother, who had been diagnosed with anxiety disorders in her mid-40s, could not cope on her own as a widow and needed round-the-clock care.   I became her caretaker, finding the best assisted living facility for her needs, being hands on with the nursing staff, making decisions with her doctors about her treatment for dementia and Parkinson’s, and managing her finances, albeit with the help of a wonderful investment advisor.

I truly believe it is the memory of those we loved – and who loved us – that keeps us moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.  As I wrote in Again in a Heartbeat, a memoir of love, loss and dating again, memories of John and my father helped me realize that the confidence to manage life on my own was due in large part to their belief in me as a woman.

***

I don’t know what propelled me to write about John and our marriage and his illness. I just began one morning at a summer writing retreat in Kentucky.  It must have been a form of therapy, as much as creative expression, because I found it immensely satisfying to begin the task each morning of taking significant events and turning them into narrative form. The year before I had left behind my career at the newspaper and it had been 13 years since John’s death.  The timing was right, which is so important to any writer hoping to find a compelling story.  Your heart has to be invested in your story.

I was really working my way through grief, one painful step at a time . . .  John holding me in his arms, John cradling our new baby, our son crying at his father’s hospital bedside, my own desperate attempts to quickly patch up our broken family by finding someone to love me again.

Writing as a way to heal?  I hadn’t even heard of that or realized I was doing it until I got halfway through my memoir.  Then a friend suggested I read Louise DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing and that was the first time I heard the expression. Her book opened me up to all the possibilities inherent in memoir.

The benefits derived from writing my story were many:

  • It was a way to come to terms with why I hadn’t been a better wife to John at the end of his life.  So a huge benefit of writing is self-discovery.
  • As a friend told me when she read my story – “you were not just mourning John, but mourning your lost dreams, your youth.”   That acknowledgment allowed me to forgive myself.
  • In the months after John’s death, I journaled my thoughts in a small reporter’s notebook.  The notes proved invaluable later when I went back to reconstructing that time for my memoir as they provided a raw look into a wounded heart.
  • Writing is living twice.  It takes us back to those times, to that person and in some ways – and I mean this seriously, it is a form of entertainment.  Writing allowed me an escape from the reality of the moment.  I could go back to a happier time, one filled with joy and expectation as I wrote of the days when I met and fell in love with my husband.
  • I was a journalist at the time of my husband’s death, so writing was something I did on a daily basis and loved to do.  I needed to continue writing after I left the newspaper. By writing a book, I could continue to develop and hone my skills and passion as a writer.
  • Through the testimony that is memoir, we are opened to sharing, making new connections and giving others the courage to write their stories. I certainly found this to be true.
  • By creating a writing group, which became the Women’s Writing Circle, I found the support and validation that writing my story mattered.  This encouraged others to write their own stories and led to new opportunities; editing, become a writing coach and offering writing workshops and retreats.  By mourning the past, a future had blossomed.

* * *

Thank you, Susan, for your willingness to step back once more to a time so painful and share with us what you found yourself capable of doing in order to heal and live again.

Author Bio:

An author, editor and former journalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Susan leads writing workshops and started the Women’s Writing Circle, www.susanweidener.com a support and critique group for writers in suburban Philadelphia. Susan is the author of two memoirs, Again in a Heartbeat, which is about being widowed at a young age, and its sequel, Morning at Wellington Square, a woman’s search for passion and renewal in middle age. Susan is interested in how women can find their voice through writing and storytelling.  Her most recent work appears in an anthology of stories about women’s changing and challenging roles in society called Slants of Light.  Susan lives in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.

* * *

Join with us below to discuss how writing has benefitted
you personally, or ask a question 
about writing, or let
Susan know how her post has helped you
today.

Morning at Wellington Square by Susan G. Weidener (A Review)

When I read the last words of Susan G. Weidener‘s Again in a Heartbeat, I knew I would be picking up Morning at Wellington SquareSusan had shared the story of a blissful courtship and love found under blossoming dogwood trees with a man who loved her more than she had ever imagined possible.  A story of building a family and careers disrupted by her husband’s long and difficult battle with cancer.
I wanted to understand how a young woman with two young sons moves on from the hurt and pain of loss, a loss many of us will never experience, much less so early in life. Morning at Wellington Square is Susan’s honest and moving tale of finding her way through a maze of responsibilities and social interactions as a single, working mom.

Wellington Sq coverLike a tapestry woven from rich and vibrant threads, Susan invites us along as she searches for identity beyond the roles of daughter, wife, mother, journalist.  The book opens 11 years after John’s death, and John and Susan’s son’s are away at college.  Living in their home alone, Susan is aware it is time to map out her journey into a new role.

However, as Susan’s writing shows us by using flashbacks and memories, lives continually build upon memories while anticipating the unknown waiting down the road.

For me, the search for community or, as others might describe it, relationship was the most meaningful and poignant part of Susan’s story.

Having been a single mother with a son in my 20s, the search for relationships, whether with the opposite sex or not, can be like walking through a mine field.  After all, how do we ever know who another person really is?  Is a relationship or community the source we seeking to heal our scars?

Following a testing of friendships and even a move to Arizona, Susan comes home and unexpectedly finds a way to share her gift of creative writing.  One day while driving around she happens upon a bookstore called Wellington Square.  And here she and others gave birth to the Women’s Writing Circle.  These women, through Susan, have experienced a new life through writing and sharing their writing with others.  And through Susan, her books and her blog, Susan shares her experiences as a journalist and writer with the rest of us.

I highly recommend Morning at Wellington Square to those working their way past grief and loss and to those who are looking for a way to heal from those painful emotions through writing.  Susan is a gift to fellow memoirists and other writers.

Again in a Heartbeat by Susan Weidener (A Review)


Again in a heartbeat . . . an ordinary turn of phrase.  We’ve all said it.  Some of us mean it; some of us say it jokingly.

Susan Weidener, in writing about her husband John and their life together, through good times and bad, means those words.  In fact, she uses them as the title of her memoir, Again in a Heartbeat.

Susan’s writing style is comfortable and her story draws you in immediately . . .a  young woman meets the chair of the English department at the military academy where her father had chaired the same department and went on to become dean.  Immediately, the reader is caught up in the potential for romance, a life together forever, and dreams.  Susan writes in an engaging manner of their joys and plans, of their intense love for one another.  Their life together is so believable.

And yet it will come to be a story of love, loss and starting over again.

Soon, Susan and John are happy parents of two sons.  But in the midst of that second pregnancy, something evil and daunting enters their life together, their family.  John is diagnosed with cancer, and this uninvited guest begins to change the course of their lives forever.

Susan Weidener is not shy in sharing her most intense emotions during this time in her life.  In fact, at times the rawness of her exchanges with John are almost unfathomable to the reader.  You ask yourself how could she love him and say that?  But the reader must remember, he or she is not at the center of the story.  The writer is opening a door onto her story, and the reader is allowed a glimpse of what was.

Weidener takes her reader on a journey through serious illness, loss of John, and then to starting life over again on her own with two young sons.  She tells this story with frankness and honesty, and anyone reading her words is soon awash with a sense of hope and promise.  As the title so aptly states, Susan Weidener was willing to do it all over “again in a heartbeat.”

When the reader arrives at the last page, there is no doubt that Susan and John shared an incomparable love for one another, that Susan felt hope as she faced her tomorrows, and that this author has written a guide for anyone who has loved and lost.

* * *

In September 2012, the sequel to Again in a Heartbeat was published.  It is called Morning at Wellington Square, the story of a woman’s search to find herself outside of traditional roles.