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Who wants to read a book about grief?

23 Feb

Caregiving and death are topics often avoided in modern conversation. It’s much easier to stay busy, push down our feelings and focus on conducting our daily lives than to talk about these stressful and emotion-laden experiences. Also, in the face of deep loss, we can tend to believe that to “get over it” would be to dishonor the dead. Often, many years later, people are still hurting and carrying destructive feelings—staying “stuck” in the infancy of their grief.

The truth is, not only is it okay to talk about caregiving and death, by doing so, we can allow our grief to mature and, eventually, actually finish it. This allows us to move on with our lives in a healthy way, gaining new wisdom and strength through which we can actualize our dreams and visions in the world, all the while honoring the person who has transitioned out of this realm.

Hydrangeas on Porch illustration by Linda Santell

Hydrangeas on Porch illustration by Linda Santell

Seasons of Letting Go: Most of what I know about truly living I learned by helping someone die is a collection of autobiographical essays inspired by being my mother’s caregiver in Kentucky in the years leading up to her death in 2012. It explores the emotions of caregiving and grief, chronicles my transition to a new life in Western North Carolina and details my process of letting go so that a time of healing and self-actualization could replace sadness and loss.

HOW IT ALL STARTED

For several years in the late 2000s, I lived alternately in Costa Rica and New Brunswick, Canada, as the partner of a kayak tour operator I met through my work in ecotourism. Feeling that I’d found the love of my life, I was swept up in an international experience full of adventure and romance.

Back in the states, my mother was approaching 80 and becoming weakened by the combination of a leaky heart valve and a chest wall damaged years before by a radical mastectomy and cobalt radiation. I realized that, in order to be true to myself, I needed to transition away from the exotic life of travel, and back to what I felt was a much more mundane existence: living with my mom in my old hometown of Winchester, Kentucky.

I started a blog so that I would not lose touch with my writing or my large network of friends and travel industry colleagues. What began as simply being around to lend a hand morphed into the role of caregiver—and the blog became an outlet for stress and, eventually, a way to come to terms with my mother’s passing.

Flash forward to late 2015. By now I had moved to Asheville and was talking one night with one of my new friends who had also experienced a loss. She was working through her grief in a yearlong photography project—and I suddenly realized I had done the same thing through my blog. In effect, I had already written a book without knowing it!

The light over the Appalachian Mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina paints the sky with the setting sun.

The light over the Appalachian Mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina paints the sky with the setting sun. ~Joye Ardyn Durham

Seasons explores the universal emotions that surround losing a loved one. It begins by traveling through the psychological landscape that marks each season in the initial year of grieving—a process that began for me even before death, with caregiving.

OUT OF CONTROL

When you are taking care of a person who can’t get better, everything you do or try to do is in vain. You realize “I have no control,” and “There is no way to succeed.” Along the way, a larger understanding sets in: “There is no right way to do this. I am not here to save the day. I am here to love.”

I learned the most important life lesson through taking care of and losing my mom, who, as it turned out, was ultimately the love of my life. I learned, finally, to let go.

Hydrangeas detail by Linda Santell

Hydrangeas detail by Linda Santell

With inspirational quotes, song lyrics and literary references sprinkled throughout, the book is not only my personal account of loss and grief, but also a universal meditation on hope and spirituality. The essays are accompanied by stunning nature photography, colorful illustrations and graphic design elements that take the reader on an introspective journey of healing.

Not everything in the book is about death and sorrow, doom and gloom. There are chapters about following your bliss and meeting fate halfway, so that you can realize lifelong dreams for yourself, both personally and professionally. One chapter is especially for cat lovers!

Buy the book on Amazon.

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A book of comfort and joy

11 Dec

editor-column-ff2My father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly upon his retirement when I was in my mid twenties. Among the condolence letters my mother received was one that read, “I’m so glad you have your daughter with you. I’m sure she is some comfort.”

The year following my father’s death I reverted to a teenage attitude and was more a source of turmoil than comfort, storming around wallowing in my own grief with little thought to my mother’s own suffering. But, because our relationship was one ultimately based in unconditional forgiveness, even during the storm, we understood one another.

The phrase “some comfort” joined a cadre of ongoing “inside” references laden with meaning in that secret world where our respective senses of humor intersected—a world of allusion and sly glances that no one but us fully understood.

Some of you bore witness to this world. You were part of a group of close friends and family I kept updated during the last year of my mother’s life. Now, with you in mind as a central audience, I have compiled a group of 12 essays I wrote beginning just before my mother died and flowing through my last four years, chronicling how the wisdom gained through being there for my mom’s death has given me a new lease on life.

Seasons of Letting Go is a book of comfort and a book of joy. It is my gift to you. I hope you will all enjoy it this holiday season and on through Epiphany, which was my mother’s birthday, and the day I wrote the last chapter, a year ago. Click this link to order.

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The Book is Available Now!

10 Dec

I am excited to announce that you can now order Seasons of Letting Go on Amazon.com!

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From the time I began the blog that spawned this book, I had all of my large network of friends in mind as my audience. If you know me at all, whether through the travel industry, as a Facebook connection or as a friend, there is something for you in these 12 essays and 92 illustrated pages.

If you have experienced a loss, this book is especially for you. Yet, although it came to be through the event of a death, this book is about life and living it to the fullest. Happy Holidays!

I’ve written a book!

26 Nov

“When are you going to write a book?” has been an oft-asked question throughout my life. An English major who always focused on language, won awards for papers in college and worked consistently in communications, ironically I never really gave the question much thought. My flip answers ranged from “probably never” to “when the time is right.” But privately I considered the prospect highly unlikely. I believed I would only author a book if it somehow occurred “organically” due to some (as yet unforeseen) passion for a topic that would naturally and effortlessly lead to composing an entire epistle.

S.K. Schuetz, 2014

S.K. Schuetz, 2014

A little over a year ago, I was visiting a friend who lost her brother not long after I lost my mom. We were reflecting on the various ways one brings creativity to bear on processing grief. Sarah showed me a series of photographs she had taken over the course of an entire year, exploring the ups and downs of journeying through life while learning to accept loss. I shared that when I returned to Kentucky in 2010 to live with my mother, I started a blog so that I would not lose touch with my writing. What began as simply being around to lend a hand morphed into the role of caregiver—and the blog became an outlet for stress and, eventually, a way to come to terms with the death of a loved one.

While speaking with my friend and seeing her wonderful work, a realization rose up majestically from my subconscious like a giant sea turtle I once encountered while kayaking that had been lying invisible, yet grand, just below the ocean’s surface. I knew I had written my best essays as blog entries during the year of my mother’s death. Why not publish them as a book to honor her life and help others dealing with loss?

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S.K. Schuetz, 2014

I asked Sarah if she would read the four essays I had in mind and, over the next several weeks, we communicated about the ideas. Sarah noticed that the dates I wrote the essays created a seasonal pattern: June 2, 2012; August 9, 2012; October 4, 2012; January 9, 2013—Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter! This pattern provided me with my title: Seasons of Letting Go. Like Sarah’s yearlong photography project (some images shown here), I had a year of essays.

Upon further reflection, I found on my blog site eight other essays that would fit in well following the first four about caregiving and grief. So the concept became a collection of 12 essays, presented in three parts, each containing four chapters. I had already written a book without even knowing it!

That is when the fun began. I set the goal of “doing” the book during the entire year of 2016. Though my 12 essays were already written, I had to edit them—but that was really no big deal. The intention now was to make this a creative experience by involving friends and colleagues who would bring their artistic abilities to the project during an entire year—and I would project manage. I told everyone involved: “There are no hard-and-fast deadlines or production schedules: Just have fun!”

And, you know what? We pulled it off! The book is now at the printer and, when it is available, you will be the first to know. I’ll write another blog about the creative souls who worked on the project. So please, stay tuned, and if you don’t already follow this blog, please sign up in the upper right hand corner so you will get updates about Seasons of Letting Go: Everything I know about truly living I learned by helping someone die.

Post Script added Dec. 10: The book is now available on Amazon.com.

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Graphic design and layout by Trish Griffin Noe | Cover image by Joye Ardyn Durham

S.K. Schuetz, 2014

S.K. Schuetz, 2014

S.K. Schuetz, 2014

S.K. Schuetz, 2014

Sarah and me.

Sarah and me.