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After the publication of my memoir, Reclaiming Joy, started generating attention on social media, I began to hear from people who found their way to this website. They shared their loss—or their friend’s or mother’s loss—and asked, “Will your book help?” I can’t make any promises, but perhaps the letter I wrote back in 2014 when I first began to plan a book—now the introduction to my book—can help you decide if this is for you or someone you care about.

Nothing prepared me for widowhood. As my husband’s health began to fail, I knew that his early death was likely. Congestive heart failure, if not quite so predictable as cancer, is a terminal disease. I began to pay more attention to business and financial issues, and—out of necessity—I took on some of the chores that had always been on Lev’s “honey-do” list. Nevertheless, I felt completely unequipped for his death and all that had to be done in the aftermath.

Bank accounts, his office and business, the new car he bought just four days before his death, filing for probate, taxes—the list of his responsibilities, which one day were his and the next mine, went on and on. Our adult children were in shock. Despite their dad’s long hospitalization, they thought everything was okay when he came home from the hospital a month before his death. Overwhelmed by their own grief, Lev IV and Peggy could not comfort me. As mom, my immediate task was to comfort them.

When the family began to work with our attorney, accountant, and banker, we realized that all the years of estate planning had focused on taxes. At every meeting, Lev’s attorney assured me, “Nothing will change when Lev dies.” Everything changed. How could it not change? This was April 7, 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession, one month from the bottom of the stock market. I was a week away from Tax Day but knew nothing about income tax preparation. Assets were pouring out the door, and I could do absolutely nothing to stop the bleeding.

That first month I was completely overwhelmed. I had amnesia. I still cannot remember much that was said and done. I lived in a fog. I misplaced everything I set down, including Lev’s wallet with all his identity inside. There were days when I crawled back in bed and pulled the covers over my head. I had panic attacks. My heart raced and I could not swallow. Worry kept me from sleeping. For months afterwards, I repeatedly overreacted out of stress, fear, and exhaustion. Tensions developed with my advisors and my children. I was living a nightmare.

Searching for an eye in the storm that swirled around me, in desperation I turned to prayer and Scripture. Again and again, I read the Apostle Paul’s letter to the poor, discouraged congregation at Philippi—a letter full of love, encouragement, and joy. It became my primer for widowhood. I prayed one prayer, which I still pray, Lord, give me wisdom and discernment and help me protect the family unit.

I looked for role models and mentors. I recalled family stories. I listened to the stories of other widows. I sought the advice of professionals in the field. I read widely and deeply. From all of these, I slowly gathered wisdom, as well as the confidence to believe that life could be good again. In trying to make sense of my experience, I wrote—tweets, emails, letters, Facebook posts, essays. Out of all the writing, the thought of a book emerged—a survival guide of sorts—to help other widows navigate through grief.

Practical advice from Paul’s letter is the thread that stitches my vignettes together, but this is not intended to be a religious book that adheres to any narrow creed. Occasionally I have been explicit about my faith experience; but for the most part, faith is implicit in my story of moving through grief to acceptance and ultimately to joy.

Explore the pages of this primer in whatever way you find helpful, wherever you are in your journey. You can read it through in a day or two. Use it as a daily meditation guide, creating a quiet space in your day to nourish your soul; or check the table of contents to find a chapter that addresses what is on your heart at that moment.

My advice to others, when they lose a spouse, is invariably, Listen to your heart and listen to your body. This is a time when you are emotionally and physically fragile. You will not be able to avoid every uncomfortable task; but when you have a choice, choose what is rewarding and fulfilling, not what depletes you. What works for one person does not necessarily work for another. Your circumstances may be very different from mine. Write your own script.

I hope that by writing openly and honestly about my own journey and by sharing what I have learned along the way, I will help you to see that you are not alone. You are not the first woman to start on this journey. You will emerge from the overwhelming cloud of grief. Life is not over. Make the years ahead good ones.

Wishing you grace, peace, and joy,
Ella Wall Prichard

• • •

Book launch update:

Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows, published by 1845 Books, an imprint of the Baylor University Press, will be released September 15. Ella will speak and sign books at:

  • 3:30 p.m., Friday, September 14, at Moody Library #104, Baylor University, Waco;
  • 3 p.m., Friday, September 28, at Neyland Library, 1230 Carmel Parkway, Corpus Christi.

Visit Ella’s book page to order a book online, read her latest reviews and interviews, and see her schedule of upcoming events.

Thanks for the preorders that made RECLAIMING JOY #1 on Amazon’s best seller list for new releases of Christian books on death and grief.