Thursday, December 17, 2015

Writing Through Grief

 by Sherri Shackelford.
Sherri Shackelford
Grief hides in the most unexpected places. A few weeks ago my husband and I were sitting in a restaurant listening to the waitress rattle off the specials: Cuban sandwich, kettle chips, quinoa salad.

In an instant my throat constricted and tears burned behind my eyes. Barb had introduced our critique group to the Cuban sandwich.  Now Barb was gone and I was crying in the bathroom of a restaurant because someone had mentioned the lunch special.  

I met Barb on August 11, 2007. I’d just decided to become a writer. I hadn’t actually started writing yet, but I’d done my research. I’d discovered Romance Writers of America and my local chapter, Romance Authors of the Heartland. I was terrified at that first meeting.

Barb and Cheryl St.John spotted a new face in the crowd and instantly put me at ease. Within a month they’d invited me to join their Friday Night Critique Group. (That’s a story for another time.) For the past 8 years I’ve spent more than 50% of my Friday Nights with these ladies.

Friday Night Critique Group
We’ve rotated out members, and I’m the writer with the least seniority, but the core group remains.

The very first critique I attended was at Barb’s house. Pages were read aloud and critiques were offered by each person in turn. I was shaking so badly I could barely read my own words. Since that inauspicious start, I’ve published six books with Harlequin Love Inspired Historical, contracted several more, and dealt with all the ups and downs of agents, editors and reviewers.

Barb was there for it all. The good, the bad and the ugly. When I struggled with a proposal on my second book, she said, “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. It’s sophomore book syndrome. You’ll get through it.” Her absolute, unshakeable confidence gave me confidence.
We lost Barb this past September. She’d been ill, but none of us realized quite how ill. Or maybe everyone understood but me. I suppose it really doesn’t matter. We’d been visiting her in the hospital and texting back and forth.

I was grocery shopping when I received the news from Cheryl.
The doctors have told Barb that she needs to put her affairs in order. 

She was gone within 48 hours.
Lizzie, Barb and Cheryl at Writer's Retreat
The year after losing someone is full of ‘firsts’. The first Thanksgiving without that person, the first Christmas, the first…fill in the blank. Everything.

I asked Mary if she’d let me write this blog because I thought if I wrote about how one moves on after a loss, maybe I could move on myself. I thought if I could write about writing through the pain…well, maybe I could write through the pain. That’s the price we all pay as professionals. The world does not stop because we have.

Barb was a fellow writer, she understood the process. We laughed, we cried, we argued, we made up. Until she was gone, I had no idea how intertwined she was in my process. I had no idea how much she meant to me personally. I had no idea how much I’d miss her.

With apologies to Mary, here’s the truth—I don’t know how to write through the pain. I finished up a continuity series with two other writers. I honestly have no idea what I wrote during the final edit. I haven’t gone back and checked. I received a request for a light, comic read I’d begun ages before. I really, really struggled putting together that proposal. But what was I going to tell the editor? Thanks for the great opportunity, but I’m just feeling it? Opportunities are rare in this business.

Click to Buy on Amazon
I’m always honored to be on Seekerville, and I even searched the blog for my own answers. I found a beautiful article by Jane Myers Perrine that really helped me (and inspired the title for this blog). 

I’m slogging forward, one day at a time, one word at a time. During the worst of it, the lovely and talented Julie Hilton Steele asked me how I was doing, and I said, “Not good.” Oddly enough, saying I wasn’t doing good made me feel better. It felt good not having to hide.

I started writing dozens of apologetic emails to Mary that all boiled down to this: I know nothing. I’ve learned nothing. I have nothing to give. Until I finally decided that’s what I can give: My honesty.

Grief is a messy, confusing business that happens to be full of guilt and confusion. All of which takes place while you’re just trying to get through the day.

And while I’m certainly no beacon of learning, knowledge and wisdom--here’s a few tidbits I’ve picked up along the way:

That thing you’ve been putting off? Now is the time. NOW. If people could actually die of embarrassment, I’d be writing this from six feet under. Take a chance. Hit send. Stop making excuses and finish that book of your heart. God put that book in your heart for a reason.

The world forgives you. God forgives you. I said something stupid to Barb in the hospital and I was mired in guilt. My husband said, “She’s known you for eight years. She’s your friend. She knows you say stupid stuff. She knows what you mean in your heart.” Let go of the guilt. We know you. We know what you mean in your heart.  

If you need help in your life right now. Ask. A couple weeks ago, a friend called me after 9pm and asked if I could meet her for coffee. I was in my pajamas. I was without makeup. My hair was, at best, an end of day disaster. I met her.  Here’s the thing: I don’t know if I helped, her, but she certainly helped me. She made me feel important, useful and needed. She asked me for a favor but she gave me a gift.

It’s not too late. I know what you’re thinking: Yes, it’s far too late. No, it’s not. Send a ‘thank you’ note to your high school English teacher, tell your brother you’re sorry you let your mom and dad believe he ran over the downspout. (We all know who *really* ran over the downspout. Sorry, bro.)

People are always saying, “Live like there’s no tomorrow.” To which I reply, “Tell that to my mortgage broker.” I’m not encouraging you to eat butter cookies all day and spend your life savings on a trip to Bermuda. But stop putting things off.

Healing on the inside is vital for getting those words on the page. After you’ve done something that gives you a boost, set a timer. Write for 15 minutes. Then 20 minutes. Build your writing muscles again.

Things get better. They do. It’s not overnight, it’s not magical, but the pain does ease over time.

Say a prayer for people going through a year of ‘firsts.’

How about you? Have you had to meet a deadline when it feels like your world is falling apart? How did you manage? Maybe we can figure this out together!
Leave a comment or any advice you have about writing through grief. All commenters will get their name in a drawing for three copies of The Rancher's Christmas Proposal. Three books, three winners.
Sherri Shackelford is an award-winning author of inspirational, Christian romance novels for her dream publisher, Harlequin.  
A wife and mother of three, Sherri’s hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul. 
Sherri is putting the final touches on three more books for her Cimarron Springs series, and will release all the details as soon as they are available. 


Marianne Barkman said...

Thank you, Sherri for your honesty. You wrote a great post. I'm not a writer, but as a reader I know honesty comes through in your siting and it will be even better. I would love to read THE RANCHER'S CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL!

Marsha Bernabe said...

I agree with Marianne. Your honesty is breathtaking. Thank you for sharing!

Mary Preston said...

Such a heart felt post. Thank you.

Please include me in for a copy of THE RANCHER'S CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL.

Cindy W. said...

Thank you for sharing your post today Sherri. Grief is something hard to go through but I find that if we lean on Him, He will take us through and allow us to heal as we remember all the good times and bad times. When I lost my father (over 30 years ago) I thought I'd never be able to move on, but I did. But you know what, I still grieve for my father sometimes and for the things he missed. He missed walking me down the aisle to my husband, but I know he was there in spirit. He missed his grand kids and great grand kids but I know he's there in spirit. I find that when I'm hurting about anything, I'm taken back to the grief I felt when my father died and it helps pull me through the tough times. It's hard to explain but I guess grief, for me, helps me move forward.

Cindy W.

Would love a copy of your book.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

What a beautiful, heartfelt post, Sherri. And what a beautiful tribute to a great writing group (I only wish I lived in NEBRASKA!!!!) and a wonderful friend.

Life is riddled with curves. It just is. We slow down, and take the curve as needed. And then we head for the next straightaway.

There are times when I've had to separate writing from life, and that has helped. And our emotions can enrich a page... or like Mary, we just shoot someone when we're befuddled! :)

When I was waitressing, or selling wedding gowns, or working at school, or running my daycare, there was nothing but the "three days" for grief. Hairnet jobs don't give you time off... And that taught me a valuable lesson. Probably 80% of Americans have to go to work daily, dealing with all kinds of things life hands out, and it helped me to see that while I was blessed to have a job with some latitude now (writing), sometimes it was actually helpful to have to punch that clock.

Vince said...

Hi Sherri:

I am sorry to hear about your loss and pray that those around you will allow you to grieve in your own way.

It is said that everyone grieves in their own way. I'm older and I know that death does not always come just once a year. I know there can be years where two or three loved ones are missing their 'first' Christmas or Easter.

I've also found that there are so many things that well meaning people can say that, while they sound soothing, are actually very hurtful.

Sometimes meeting these people can be the most painful part of grief recovery. This is why the best book I've ever read on dealing with grief is, "How to Help a Grieving Friend," by Stephanie Grace Whitson.

Stephanie suffered a great grief. Yet so much of her pain was increased by the cliches her friends and associates would tell her. She did not want this to happen to other people in grief so she wrote her book. And what an eye-opening book it is!

Knowing what not to say because a grieving party might find it hurtful adds many dimensions to one's understanding of grief.

For hundreds of years the ancient Romans had a popular saying, "We each owe the Gods one death".

As we lose loved ones so too will our loved ones lose us one day.

What I've learned over a lifetime is this: Be loving. Be kind. Be understanding. Avoid unthinking cliché answers to death, dying and grief. And above all, allow others to grieve in their own way.


Kelly Bridgewater said...

I'm in the season of grief right now. My father passed unexpectedly on Halloween. He was my biggest supporter and the person I would call to mention a book I found or heard about. I would toss story ideas at him. I would read him chapters, and he would give me my feedback. As I attended grad school, he would support me and encourage me. This is my first Christmas without him. Thanks Sherri for your kind words. For my Daddy, I'm going to finish my World War II suspense novels and enter contests with them. God bless! Merry Christmas!

Glynna Kaye said...

Sherri -- I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. There are no easy, one-size-fits all processes to working through grief. It often comes and goes in waves. You think you've gotten through the worst of it and then, out of the blue, it touches you again. When we lose someone we care for, it's as though the piece of US that we shared with them has died, too, and it leaves a big empty hole that only God can fill. And that takes time.

A beloved aunt -- my "second mom" -- unexpectedly passed away at the end of October this year, 4 weeks before my book deadline. I work a full-time day job, so writing time is limited, but although it meant really burning the midnight oil the week of Thanksgiving, I needed to call a halt to writing for several days to spend time with family, to reach out to those who love my aunt, to reflect on the amazing life she'd lived and how she'd impacted my own. She's greatly missed.

Praying for your healing, Sherri. Thank you for sharing from your heart.

Glynna Kaye said...

KELLY -- Praying for you, too, after the recent loss of your father. He sounds like a very special man. He'd be so proud of you for moving ahead with your writing, for getting those novels finished.

Rose said...


I'm sending you cyber hugs. It's hard to write through grief, and unfortunately even when you think you've gotten a handle on it, something happens like your Cuban sandwich that starts it all over again.

I did have to write through grief. It was Lily of the Field, my first inspirational romance novel. My mom died in April, six weeks later the Barbour editor sent me a contract for Lily of the Field. I forced myself to revise that book to honor my mom because she was a quilter and it was all about quilting.

You'll make it through this Sherri. You will. Time helps. The memories that bring tears now will turn into smiles.

Praying for you my dear friend.

Jill Weatherholt said...

What a beautiful tribute you've written to your friend, Sherri. I'm so sorry for your loss. I have a co-worker who's going through his first this Christmas. Last year, he lost his wife, suddenly, only a couple days before Christmas. I plan to share your heartfelt words.

Kelly, I'm so sorry. Reading your comment brought tears to my eyes, as I can't imagine a world without my father. I pray that the happy memories of your father will carry you through the holiday season.

Tracey Hagwood said...

Oh Sherri, please accept my sincere and heartfelt condolences on the loss of your dear friend. I can total sympathize with you. I lost my dad in Feb and my father-in-law six weeks later. They were actually in the hospital at the same time, but I prayed and ask God not to let them pass at the same time as I knew it would be more than I could handle and He was Merciful.

I can totally relate to the lunch triggering your memories of Barb, that's been happening to me all year and at the most unexpected times, most recently while wrapping presents. My family always saves my bows and gives them back to reuse because they can't stand to throw them away know how much time they take to make. As I started sorting through them this year, there they were, tags dangling from ribbons with Papa on some and Grandad on others. I just had to take a few minutes and feel those memories. The loss is bittersweet, painful they're gone but glad they aren't suffering anymore.

I, like you, know nothing really of how to tell someone to manage their grief, only that my experience has been a variation of Robert Frost quote, "The best way out is through" which I take one step further to, the only way out is through.

I think we have to allow ourselves the time to grieve and somehow while we're walking "through the valley of the shadow of death" know that God is with us and won't leave us comfortless.

Tracey Hagwood said...

My sympathies to Kelly, Glynna and each person who has had to say goodbye to a loved one this year.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Thank you, Marianne & Marsha & Mary! We're starting out with the three 'M's today!

Cindy - my mother-in-law passed away when my husband was in his 20s, and we often talk about how much we wish she could have met her grandchildren. I know she's with us in our hearts, but I'd have loved for the children to really know her.

Ruth - you make an excellent point, as always ;) I recall working in the human resources department of a company, and a woman had lost her parents in a car accident. There was an actual discussion about whether her bereavement days could be taken in tandem. Our faith and our personal lives and are work all wrapped up together.

Deanna Stevens said...

Great thoughts today.. I'm not a writer but my father passed on a Christmas Eve so your thoughts touch me too.. My sympathies to all who are missing loved ones..

Sherri Shackelford said...

Vince "Be loving. Be kind. Be understanding." What a beautiful sentiment. I wend back and forth on how much I write about faith and grief, because I know that can be complicated for people. As the poet once said, "The aisles of pain are narrow, and fit only one." Even with God on our journey, grief can be a lonely business. (I will definitely check out Steph's book.)

Kelly I am so sorry for your loss! I'm sorry for your pain. Glynna said what I was thinking so beautifully, I won't try and improve on her words--other than I'm adding my prayers to Glynna's.

Rose, I can't even imagine what that must have been like. One of these days I have to finish reading the book I finished up in September...Knowing you, your mother must have been quite a lady!

Cindy Regnier said...

Such courage to write this post. Thank you Sherri. When my son (he was 24) passed away in 2012, I put all my writing projects on hold and spent about 3 months writing his memoirs. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I knew I had to do it. I could not let any of my memories, good or bad, be forgotten. I needed to preserve them for Randon's family and friends. I forced myself to write, but still spent many hours staring at my blank computer screen. Transferring the thoughts running rampant in my head to the written word was so difficult. But God led me through it and eventually I finished with the knowledge that what I had done was extremely therapeutic,to those who read the words I wrote, but first and foremost, to Randon's mom. My heart is on those pages and baring it like that did wonders in encouraging me to move on. After that grueling session of writing and crying, I wrote one of what I think is my best fiction books ever. It was so freeing to once again be able to write with imagination, make up fictional scenarios, put characters through troubles I knew I was going to solve for them. It was truly a gift from God what my grieving experience blessed me with in the end. I had Randon's story professionally edited because I simply couldn't do it, but it has since blessed many in my family as well as people I've shared it with that also have children with the same affliction Randon had (Prader-Willi Syndrome). God has used it tremendously. Me? I still can't read it, but it blesses me to know it blesses others and simply that it's there. He won't be forgotten.
Sherri, thank you so much. You know what? Writing through grief is different for everyone. What's important is that we do it and walk that path with God in His strength and comfort. Many blessings to you.

Myra Johnson said...

Sherri, so sorry for the loss of your dear friend, and thank you so much for your inspiring post!

The small group we belong to at church was just talking about grief the other night, and one of the things someone said was giving yourself permission to answer the question "How are you doing?" with "Not so good," because grief needs to be acknowledged.

Praying for all who have recently lost loved ones. May God comfort you with only the sweetest memories.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Sherri, as always it is a treat and an honor to have you back in Seekerville.

I'm with Ruth. I want to live in Nebraska just to have all you wonderful Nebraska writers close by.

Hugs to all who are grieving this holiday season.

Vince is correct. We all grieve in our own way.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Jill, my heart breaks for your coworker. I'm keeping up my prayers for those suffering this season.

Tracey, I am so sorry for the loss of your father and father-in-law. I loved your RF quote - the best way out is through. We can try and hide, but there is always a reckoning, isn't there?

Oh Deanna, this must be such a bittersweet time of year for you. I pray for the comfort and family, friends and your faith.

Mary Connealy said...

Sherri this is really beautiful and wise.
Some things there just is no way except to go through them.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Cindy - what a beautiful story! It's what Walt was saying - everybody grieves differently, and every grief is different. We just have to be good to each other AND ourselves!

Myra - I think we feel like we burden people when we say we're not doing so well. When, in actually, it's a gift to someone to be able to say: I trust you enough to tell you the truth.

Tina - I admit I'm blessed - there's a lot of wonderful people here in Nebraska (and Iowa. We'll count our friends over the boarder ;)

Sherri Shackelford said...

It's the old, "When you know better, you do better." Yesterday a friend called and she was having a really difficult time. She was offered a wonderful job, but she already has a wonderful job. There were aspects about each position that were good & bad, and she felt trapped by an impossible choice. I must have told myself a hundred times during that conversation, "Don't try and fix this or solve this. Let her sort through this issue and listen. When I was tempted to offer an opinion, I ate the complimentary bread. I must have eaten an entire loaf.

At the end of the lunch she said, "I'm so glad you just listened. My husband is always trying to fix things or offer his opinion, and I just needed to talk through this."

In my head I was screaming, "I can't believe I actually got something right for once!"

I got it right because I had learned from all the people who helped me through Barb's death.

Dawn Ford said...

I'm so sorry, Sherri! I have written through grief. I try to be honest about it, also. It wasn't pretty, it was pretty ugly. And it took longer than I thought it would to get through and write something that felt good enough for someone to read. Before I struggled with deep, moving scenes. Not that I hadn't had grief before in my life. But this particular incident changed the way I wrote, for the better. So there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Until then, allow yourself to feel and to grow through the pain.

*lizzie starr said...

I have no words, Sherri. Except that I probably shouldn't have read this at work. ;) Love you.

Janet Dean said...

Welcome back to Seekerville, Sherri. Thanks for this honest post. As you say, there are no quick fixes, no easy answers. Loss, death of those we care about hurts. All kinds of crazy emotions are mixed in like that guilt you mention and anger, even fear. We may lose part of ourselves when a loved one dies, but I think we gain a part of the person, too, and carry them in our hearts. You've honored Barb's memory today. God bless.


Sherri Shackelford said...

Thank you for sharing that, Dawn! There's so much different, and yet so much the same, you know :)

*lizzie, I'm glad she's with Jesus, I'm glad she's without pain, I'm glad I have my faith. But I still miss her. Every. Day. Love you too <3

Janet - Barb was a beautiful soul. Witty, acerbic, loyal, smart, caring. Unique.

Sherri Shackelford said...

I feel like I missed a comment from Danica - I was reading on my phone! Faith is so important in the grieving process. I don't know people survive without faith. But I also wanted to be honest about the little bits of crazy that seep through the cracks even when we know God is watching out for us.

Jackie said...

I agree, Sherri. If it wasn't for my faith in God, I don't know how I'd handle grief.

Thanks so much for sharing, and I'm so sorry for your loss.

Cheryl St.John said...

Thank you for this, Sherri. You were one of the people who helped me through the worst year of my life. Because you cared, because you listened. Because you understood pain is real and must be acknowledged.

Like you, the most unexpected things hit me still, and the loss is fresh. Every Nebraska game, every Star Wars commercial, pictures I run across, things someone says. I imagine her laugh or what she would say. In planning my annual Christmas Tree tour for my blog I found one of her previous tour blogs and shared it, because it was so meaningful. Barb was a big part of my life for 25 years. She supported my career in a multitude of ways, shared my faith, understood me and loved me in spite of my shortcomings.

Not that one could ever truly prepare for such a thing, but losing someone so suddenly and unexpectedly adds to the confusion and sense of loss. She was here with us and then she was gone. There was so much left to finish and do and say--and I know that’s thinking in the flesh, but it’s the flesh we’re living in and our hearts that have been wounded.

Having our group has been comforting in so many ways. We share a bond of memories, experiences, support and love that is rare. It’s dependable. It’s reassuring. Barb is with us in those shared memories and experiences.

I’m inspired to be a better friend. I’m inspired to appreciate how much people mean to me, to be thankful for relationships and to acknowledge their importance. God knows and understands our frailty, and I thank Him that His joy is our strength, because we sure can’t do anything on our own. Our hope and trust for tomorrow are in Him.

Cheryl St.John said...

Hugs to *lizzie at work. xoxo

Kathryn Barker said...

Good morning Sherri,

Such a good time of year to talk about grieving. Holidays are are anniversaries and birthdays and, well, every day without a beloved! Thank you for sharing so honestly about losing your dear friend. Praying for the Lord to surround you with His comfort and peace.

In my grief journey, I got caught up in believing that somehow I had to get over this, especially after the first year. And, I felt guilty for still crying at the most inappropriate times.

On my bumpy road to healing, two friends helped me immensely. One was my son's preschool teacher, the wife of a prominent rabbi in our area. She'd call me about once a week. "Have you been crying? Looks like you're trying to hold it together. Don't do that! You don't want to end up like I did." Her advice... "give yourself permission to grieve...don't try put on a brave front." When she was in the turmoil of grieving their four year old son's death, she felt she had to be the good wife of the rabbi and keep her grieving to herself. She stuffed her feelings for years until she ended up having an emotional breakdown and had to be hospitalized. She was determined to let me know it was OK to grieve.

The second person was an older Christian woman I had just met. I always felt guilty for crying about my loss after the first year. Whenever I'd get teary-eyed everyone quickly assured me, "he's in a better place." When this older woman showed me a photo of her son, her eyes misted and she said he'd died. I ask how long he'd been gone. She looked at me and with great compassion said, "Honey, he's been gone twenty years, but I'll always miss him and I'll always cry for him." My whole world changed. I didn't have to "get over" my loss and quit crying. I could cry for twenty years like this good Christian woman if I wanted to. I thanked God for introducing me to her...He knew I needed to know I was not a bad person for missing my beloved son.

The healing journey can't be a virtual road's one we each make in our own way. Thank goodness for friends who walk with us.

Praying for peace and comfort for all of you who are grieving this season.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Sherri and welcome back to Seekerville. I can so relate to your post today. I"ve written through several deaths of family and close friends. This holiday is another first without my brother and we'll be missing other family members also. As you get older, it happens more often. Not very encouraging, but at least you get more experience and wisdom for dealing with it. Hopefully.

As many of you have said, we all grieve differently. And truthfully, I grieved differently for each person who passed. But I've learned to look for the blessings that come along with it. God has been amazing in offering insights and hugs along the way.

I pray for hugs for you also. And all the others who expressed their losses this season.

Cheryl St.John said...

Kathryn, what perfect advice. God sent that woman to you right when you needed to hear that. I think we all need to hear it. We don't have to get over it. The loss has become part of us. We miss those people we lost and don't have to apologize for it. Thank you.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Cheryl, I love this! "God knows and understands our frailty, and I thank Him that His joy is our strength, because we sure can’t do anything on our own. Our hope and trust for tomorrow are in Him."

Kathryn, How amazing that God brought those people into your life at the right time. I have a confession to make: when I was younger, in my twenties, I honestly thought people 'got over things.' It took a lot of time and maturity for me to realize that some wounds simply become a part of us. As someone once said, they are 'carried' with us.

Sandra, I'm grateful for all the wisdom I've gained from people who are willing to share their knowledge and faith! It's truly humbling.

Mary Connealy said...

One of the things I've learned about grieving is we have to forgive.
When someone we love dies we are so wounded, so vulnerable. Little things said by people also hurting cause terrible pain and it's so easy to harbor that anger.

They shouldn't have said that.
We shouldn't have taken it so to heart.

Funerals sometimes begin rifts in families that take years to heal if they ever do.

Forgiveness, I've needed to give it and I've needed to be given it. And all because we are acting and speaking out of so much pain.

Keli Gwyn said...

Kudos to you, Sherri, for tackling a tough subject, and virtual hugs, too. Losing a loved one is tough. Grieving is tough. Going on after loss is tough.

I'm no stranger to grief. My husband and I have lost three of our four parents. Breast cancer claimed my beloved mother-in-law back in 1997 after her fifteen-year battle with that dreaded disease. Five years later we lost my father-in-law to pneumonia/congestive heart failure. My dad, who was a victim of Alzheimers, developed a fatal infection two years ago and died three days after Christmas.

In all three cases, my heart ached. Still does. But life doesn't wait for those of us who are grieving. It goes on, so we must. Not an easy task, true, but a necessary one. We find a way to muddle through the mental fog that has encased us. We plod along despite the emotional chains we're dragging with every step. We survive...somehow. And over time, we heal. But our hearts will always bear the scars. Triggers will bring back a memory and bring on the tears. That's the nature of grief. And that's OK. I've heard it said that those who love deeply, grieve deeply.

Loss is an inescapable part of life, and I believe it makes us stronger. We learn valuable lessons from it--how much others meant to us, how important it is to spend time with those we love, how silly it is to spend our lives putting possessions over people, among others. We also learn that we're stronger than we think and that we can endure more than we thought possible. And we learn that the Lord is there for us to lean on. He knows our pain. It can help to remember the shortest Bible verse: "Jesus wept." We can, too, knowing He's there upholding us and empathizing with us.

As we move through and past the worst of the grief, we can take those lessons we've learned and put them to good use. We can more fully engage with those around us. We can come alongside those who are hurting as we've hurt. And we writers can pour the pain we've experienced into our stories.

I've done just that. My first Love Inspired Historical, Family of Her Dreams, is the story of a widower in the throes of grief and the woman who comes to care for his two young children. Tess is no stranger to grief and sets out to bring healing to this heartbroken family. In my second LIH, A Home of Her Own, loss plays a major role. The hero's mother has cancer. Sound familiar? Yes, I wrote what I knew. Because I've endured the pain that diagnosis causes, I was able to add realism and depth to the story. Even though I know what's coming, there are two scenes I can't read without weeping. But have no fear. I also know what awaits a person who slogs through grief. Because of that, I was able to give James and Becky a very happy ending. =)

To those of you who have lost someone, my heart goes out to you. To those, like me, who have lost someone during the Christmas season, I pray the Lord ministers to you as you do your best to "do" Christmas. May the memories of your loved ones bring you a measure of comfort in the midst of your grief.

And thus ends my novella. Your post obviously struck a chord with me, Sherri. Thanks again for sharing your heart with us.

Sandy Smith said...

Hi Sherri. What a wonderful post. My sincere condolences on the loss of your friend. I want to also send my condolences to the others who have mentioned losing someone special this year. I pray for peace for all of you this Christmas.

I do have a hard time writing or doing anything productive when my heart is heavy from grief or worry. But I actually started writing in the year after we lost our 17-month-old daughter (which will be 25 years in January). I had been a stay-at-home mom and suddenly found myself at home with nothing to do. I had always wanted to write, so this was my time. I actually received my first short story acceptance almost a year to the day after Laura died. Thinking back I'm not sure how I did it. That year was a complete blur. Many times I try to recall something that seems fuzzy and then I realize it happened in 1991 and that is why it seems so vague. Truly without my faith I could not have gotten through it.

I live in Kearney, so hope to meet you sometime Sherri! Please enter me in the drawing for the book. I love Christmas books.

Jeanne T said...

Sherri, first of all, I am so, so sorry about your loss. Losing a friend whose life was interwoven with your own is difficult.

This week, a boy in our high school committed suicide. I can't stop crying for that mama, who probably already bought Christmas presents, and for all of the firsts ahead for this family. I cannot imagine . . . I'm trying to grapple with my own sorrow over this, and I'm many steps removed from the family.

Thank you for your vulnerable post. Your honesty is a balm. We don't always have to press forward full speed ahead. Sometimes, we just need to give ourselves time to grieve and to rest. Not give up, just take a step back for a little while.

Your suggestions make so much sense. Thank you for sharing from your heart and for offering the wisdom you have.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Sandy Wow, writing after the loss of a daughter. But how wonderful to see the blessing of your publication on the year anniversary of her death. That happened to me also. The week my mother died, we received our contract for God's Spirit Within Me. And then it came out the week of my mom's birthday. And inside was a photo of her that we thought had been replaced.

See how the Lord works with each of us? I love all these testimonies. they just go to show you how much He cares, even through the times of sorrow.

Chill N said...

Sherri, I appreciate the honesty in your post. One of my beta readers who became a dear friend, also named Barb, died this year. She was so much like your description of your Barb that for a moment I wondered if it was the same person :-) I had to put aside the WIP my Barb had commented on, but think I'm ready to return to it now -- partly because of your post. Thank you!

Nancy C

Sharee Stover said...

Sherri, your words brought tears to my eyes and your transparency is inspiring. I told a friend that sharing my writing is like standing naked in front of a room of strangers. I think Jen Hatmaker may have said that somewhere...but oh is it true.

As a reader, transparency makes the characters go from two dimensional to three dimensional and right into our hearts. Thank you for your encouraging words.

Blessings to you,

Missy Tippens said...

Sherri, I'm so sorry for the loss of your dear friend. Thank you for sharing some of what you've learned, and for sharing your struggles. I think it helps us all to know we're not alone in our own personal struggles.

Vince said...

Hi Sherri:

When you were writing through your grief did you ever consider that the story you were writing might one day help many other people deal with their current grief?

You write heartwarming Christian inspirational romances. I have found, in times of grief and persistent pain, that reading a favorite theme romance provides a welcome escape into the author's world of romance.

I've just read the first chapter of your "The Rancher's Christmas Proposal" and it deals with grief. Is this the book you were writing through your grief?

I just was going to peek at the first chapter to learn in what year the story takes place. But once I started reading it I could not stop until the sample chapter ended.

I just loved the way you used the heroine's conversation with a lost two year old boy to introduce so much backstory into the narrative with so much sympathy and page-turning interest.

In just a few pages you'd made me fall in love with the heroine while at the same time, as the vicarious hero, made me want to jump into the story and rescue those sweet twins from their evil and abusive aunt. I am now totally invested in your story. Please put me in the drawing but if I don't win, I'll buy it anyway. It will be the perfect book to read this weekend.

Wonderful writing makes me feel good.


J. Hilton Steele said...

Dear Sherri, first hugs, tissues and a prayer for you. I remember when I asked how you were doing. And I was heartened to hear you be honest. The "fine" answer means we are lying to ourselves and others.

I remember crying through the first year my Mom died and still do. I remember starting to write my first book because I needed something to escape the grief of a bad situation in the family and then my critique folks asking why there were so many tears.

So maybe that means I am of no help. But I know this, sometimes, writing through grief is recognizing God gives us experiences to go in our writing. We may have to do a fifteen minute period a day of writing our our grief, pouring it out to the page and to God. Often I find that gets me primed to do the hard stuff.

Peace my friend, Julie

Tina Radcliffe said...

And did I mention how lovely your cover is? LIH did a wonderful job. It's really beautiful!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Vince and Sherri, you're both so smart.

I remember Anna Schmidt writing in her blog "Don't tell me you understand.

You don't.

If you haven't laid your husband, lover, best friend in the grave, you don't understand."

So I learned to be more careful with my words. It's tough, though, because folks are so much more sensitive when they're grieving, and simple words can become unintentional target practice.

Vince, I know you've said goodbye to several folks of late. And three years ago we buried Dad and his two brothers within four months.

It was so hard to watch so much of that generation just disappear.

But now I think back to the joy they brought, the simple family examples, the warmth. None of us will live forever, but I hope people smile when they think about us, after we're gone.

I'd like to inspire smiles. Not tears.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

BTW, Mary won't just smile when I'm gone.


Stinkin' brat.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

What Mary said.

About the sensitivity and careless words.


That's what I meant!

Well done, Mary.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Kelly, I love that promise to your father, to finish and push on.

I would want my children to do that. They would want me to do that. What a beautiful tribute to him that you're not giving up or giving in.

These firsts are hard, but sometimes the fourths, and sevenths, and ninths are hard, too for varying reasons.

I'm proud of you, kid.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Mary - you are so right! Grief makes us terribly vulnerable. I remember a friend of mine lost her brother, and she got in huge fight with another sibling. It took us a while to realize that the heighten emotions were the problem, not the people.

Keli, I'm so glad the blog struck a chord! As I said, I wrote and rewrote a thousand times, and never truly felt as though I had done the subject justice. But so many others have spoken so much more eloquently, that I'm glad I at least tried!

Sherri Shackelford said...

Sandy, I can't even begin to imagine the pain you suffered. I'd love to meet you! We're just a country mile apart :) or thereabouts...Have you ever checked out Romance Authors of the Heartland? We have plenty of long distance members, and writing can be a lonely business!

Jeanne, your community must be grieving terribly. Don't you wish you could wrap the brokenhearted in your arms and make them believe that things do get better? Such an awful way to lose a life.

Chill N - if your Barb was like our Barb, she was definitely a truly special person and friend. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Sharee - Writing is definitely a lesson in exposure. For me, the worst is during the beginning phases. When you're a turtle flipped on its back with your belly exposed. Once the book hits the public, I armor-up and enter the arena. But the old adage - not tears from the writer, no tears from the reader is true. (I can't wait to see you in January!)

Missy - I truly wish I had more wisdom, but I'm grateful for this community and THEIR wisdom.

Vince, You are so kind to say such nice things! And you bring up such a beautiful point. I started reading romance during a difficult period in my life. I needed a happy ending. To think I could help someone else through something difficult - wow - that makes every hour spent writing worth more than any riches.

Sherri Shackelford said...

J. Hilton Steele, You made such an amazing difference during that time! You didn't have to reach out, but you did - and I'm eternally grateful. And of course you're a help! If we want people to empathize with our characters, we have to understand their pain. Putting that on the page takes courage!!

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, Sherri, you have NO IDEA how much you blessed me today, my friend! Call me extra weepy if you will (I am a card-carrying WCDQ -- weepy caffeinated drama queen), but I teared up from the beginning of your post all the way to the end. And in between I laughed, which tells me you have a real gift for evoking a lot of emotion in your writing.

YOU SAID: "I started writing dozens of apologetic emails to Mary that all boiled down to this: I know nothing. I’ve learned nothing. I have nothing to give. Until I finally decided that’s what I can give: My honesty."

I both laughed and cried when I read this because it is soooooo incredibly open and honest and TRUE!! I'm not saying you don't know anything, mind you, I'm saying honestly is one of the greatest gifts we can give, especially in this industry where confidence is as shaky as the publishing world. Frankly, your statement shows just HOW much you do know, my friend, because you are right where God wants us -- the old "in our weakness He is strong" Scripture which so many of us struggle with.

YOU STARTED OFF WITH: "Now Barb was gone and I was crying in the bathroom of a restaurant because someone had mentioned the lunch special." I cannot tell you how much this reminds me of Erma Bombeck's writing -- has anyone ever told you that? What a gift you have intertwining humor with heart and grief!

ANOTHER QUOTE OF YOURS: "The world forgives you. God forgives you. I said something stupid to Barb in the hospital and I was mired in guilt. My husband said, “She’s known you for eight years. She’s your friend. She knows you say stupid stuff. She knows what you mean in your heart.” Let go of the guilt. We know you. We know what you mean in your heart."

THIS is one of my greatest comforts in life -- that God knows what we mean in our hearts -- regarding others, regarding ourselves, and regarding Him. Because God knows if He didn't, I would be drowning in a sea of guilt like so many people do.

"A couple weeks ago, a friend called me after 9pm and asked if I could meet her for coffee. I was in my pajamas. I was without makeup. My hair was, at best, an end of day disaster. I met her. Here’s the thing: I don’t know if I helped, her, but she certainly helped me. She made me feel important, useful and needed. She asked me for a favor but she gave me a gift."

WOW, my friend, beautifully said!! Thank you SO much for the reminder, Sherri -- you are a gift to me today!

Hugs and more hugs,

Vince said...

Hi Ruth:

It always amazes me how hurtful unthinking but well intended people can be when dealing with someone going through grief.

Think of all the untold romances that have as their a theme a hero or heroine who is alienated from God because they lost an innocent loved one after making a maximum prayer effort.

Many times these hurting people blame God for giving their loved one the cancer in the first place and then not listening to their prayers for a cure.

Yet in real life I've heard people say things like:

"Your husband is in a better place. It's all in God's plan."

"God needed your wife in heaven with Him more than she was needed here."

"It's all for the best. You can't see it now but you will some day."

"Is your grief really that strong? I've yet to see you cry." (This one made me the maddest.)

"Six months is too long. It's time to man-up and snap out of it."

"I know just how you feel but your grief has gone on far too long."

"I've buried two husbands, believe me, I know just how you feel."

I've heard all the above in my lifetime. I think the kindest thing to say is something like, "I'm sorry for your loss. Is there anything I can do to help?"


Sandy Smith said...

Sherri, I am in the Nebraska Iowa ACFW Writers Yahoo Group. I did register to go to Wordsowers in Omaha in April.

Vince said...

Hi Sherri:

I started reading romances late in life after having read at least 10,000 novels in various genres. What I discovered in romances that no other genre had to offer was the vicarious feelings of being loved, cherished, desired, handsome, brave, successful, admired, needed, appreciated, honored, accepted and so much more.

Each of the above feelings can be felt by a reader who is vicariously invested in the story. I call these feelings emotional vitamins. People need to feel the above feelings. I think their good mental health depends on this. Yet many frazzled over-worked and under appreciated women do not get to experience these positive feelings.

It's a shame they don't because it costs nothing to show your love and appreciate to your family.

Yet such feelings can be felt as real as long as the romance is being read (played in the reader's mind) and the author has the necessary skill set to do so. For this reason I honor romance writers as being part of the medical health system. You are important people.

It is sometimes asked why romance fans will read a book when they already know it is going to have a happy ending. Well, they don't read romances to find out how they will end. They read romances because they like how they feel as they are reading the stories. Romances are a lot like music. You don't listen to music to learn how it ends. You listen for the pleasure.

Add to the above benefits the extra good Christian inspirational romance writers contribute to the mix and you can see why such authors have a noble calling.

Writing is a lot more than meeting the needs of an editor, it's also a matter of meeting the emotional needs of your readers. Give your readers those emotional vitamins and they will give you their loyalty forever.


Barbara Scott said...

Sherri, thank you so much for sharing your friend with us. She sounds like the kind of person you could curl up on the sofa with and talk writing while eating chocolates.

I lost both of my parents in 2004: my dad March 15 and my mom on Nov. 28. I spent Thanksgiving in bed that year because I had stayed by her side through the night before. I had hardly slept for days. My mother-in-law, the queen of Christmas, had died in July 2003. My husband and I were still grieving her loss.

Even though I grieved, I still had editing projects and deadlines. It was tough. I cried...a lot. This is the first Christmas since then that I really feel like celebrating. Crazy, isn't it? Christmas songs made me cry. Ornaments and trees made me cry. TV commercials made me cry. Even now, I tear up occasionally, but the memories of good times make me laugh. My husband will say, "Remember when your mom would say thus and so?" No exaggeration, she was a real hoot. :)

I pray as you go through this time of loss that the Lord will bless you with happy memories that will ease the pain of losing your friend.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Ahh, thank you, Julie! Now I'm a little weepy. I always want to do the Seekerville ladies justice because you guys have set such a sterling standard!!

Sandy - I will be teaching at Wordsowers! How awesome you're going. There's a retreat in January that doesn't interfere at all with Wordsowers, that's sponsored by Romance Authors of the Heartland in Omaha. Giselle Regus from Harlequin will be teaching on author branding, and Rachel Higginson, a local Indie success, will be giving tips and tricks to success. Apologies for the shameless plug - but I truly believe it's a good opportunity for fellowship & learning. January Retreat

Sherri Shackelford said...

For Sandy: The January Retreat in blue/above is a link :)

Dana R. Lynn said...

God bless you, Sherri. This post really hit home for me. When my brother was killed in a car accident, it struck me how I felt like my world had stopped, and everything else kept moving. Like Ruthy said, I had my 3 bereavement days, and then back to work. Trying to teach while my heart was broken.

Sometimes life is just that hard.

Even now, 20 years later, your post brought tears to my eyes as I remembered that first Christmas, first birthday, etc.

I appreciated your honesty in dealing with such a sensitive, yet necessary, topic.

Thank you!

ebookauthor said...

Dear Sherri, Your words went straight to my heart. Barb could change the atmosphere in a room the moment she walked in. We all will miss her for a long time. I wrote through a year of loss when writing "No Place for a Lady" I deal with the loss of a cherished loved one in that book, The line that came to me during that struggle steadies me even today. It is "Grief is the price we pay for love; and love is worth every tear." She was a special friend. she deserves all the tears we shed for her loss. I hold you in my heart dear one.


Kav said...

What a blessed and inspired post, Sherri. Thank you for writing from your heart. I think I've read this about five times today, along with the comments and have spent the day reflecting and praying for everyone dealing with loss.

It's prompted me to examine my own feelings about my father's death and the division that occurred in my family afterwards. Christmas has been a hard holiday to celebrate since his passing. You've really brought things into prospective so thank you so much for your candidness.

Mary Connealy said...

What a beautiful day of memories and wisdom.

This is a really rich day in Seekerville!

Valri said...

Love Sherri!!!! Love you!!!!! You know I have already read your book and LOVED IT !!!!!! Don't put me in the drawing! Great post though! Have a wonderful holiday!

Mary Jane Hathaway said...

I'm so sorry, Sherri. When I lost my good friend (and the grandma type to my kids) three years ago, it was right before I sold my first book. I hardly remember those days. Well, I remember feeling so awful every time something new would happen and I didn't get to run across the street and tell her about it. She was with me through all the learning, writing, querying, sending out partials, getting rejections... but then she got sick and passed within a few weeks of the actual sale.
I know that Eleanor knows, but I really, really wish we could have had that little celebration over something we both wanted so much!

DebH said...

Hi Sherri
I have no idea how to write through grief because I really haven't ever lost anyone so close or dear to me. I do, however, truly appreciate your honesty in this post, for I know it will help me when that eventual debilitating loss occurs.

I also want to mention that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your books. I have always really enjoyed reading them. Thought you might like to know that.

Now, off to go read the comments...

Just Commonly said...

Sherri, thank you for such a heartfelt and honest post. Grief and how to deal with it is personal, yet it affects those we love. Whatever grief one feels, sometimes it's ok to talk it out and others, just cry - let your tears release the anger and the tension from the pain. Your pain will past, but it doesn't mean you'll forget. The pain I felt for losing my pregnancy and almost my life was real, though I no longer feel the physical pain, I remembered every thing about it. I also remember the prayers and tears and love I received, not only from my love ones, but also God. I realized He was there with me the whole way, even before the loss. Knowing that helped me and healed my sorrows. I'm not a writer, but I understand not being able to do anything and feeling helpless. During times of grief, our biggest comfort is in Him.

Excuse me, I tend to go off tangent. God bless you and thank you for sharing.

As a reader, I would love to read your books. Thank you for entering my name.

Tanya Agler said...

Sherri, I'm so sorry for your loss. A prayer for you and other people who are experiencing loss this Christmas season. This weekend at my RWA chapter meeting, the speaker gave her official bio and then told her unofficial bio complete with her struggles and losses. I think sharing the struggles ultimately bring us all together as we can all relate to grief and loss.

For me, my father passed away in 2013 right after I joined my local RWA chapter. Six weeks later RWA came to Atlanta, and I debated whether to go and I did. The conference was a blur, but I felt like I was doing the right thing by pursuing writing seriously and the conference was a major step toward that.

Thank you for sharing this.

DebH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sandy Smith said...

Sherri, I won't be able to go to the retreat but I appreciate the info. I look forward to seeing you at Woodsowers.

Deanne Patterson said...

Sherri, I a so sorry for your loss. I always feel uncomfortable when someone has a loss. I feel like I won't know the right thing to do or say. Getting over a loss is not easy, it never is. My loss was my grandmother 13 years ago. I believe the best way for you to honor your friend is to keep writing because it will bring back happy memories of the times you have spent together. This is what she would want you to do. Prayers for you being sent your way. May you have many blessings come to you.

Deanne P.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Dana, I'm so sorry for the loss of your brother! The heart doesn't have a sense of time. Twenty days or twenty years, the heart feels the same.

Ahh, Connie! You are so right. Barb brought energy into a room. She was one of a kind.

Kav, the comments are where the wisdom resides, but I'm happy I could be a catalyst for a conversation with so many beautiful, insightful comments. Like Mary said, grief makes us so vulnerable and raw. Sometimes people (myself most included) don't show their best sides.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Mary Jane - of course Eleanor knows - but it doesn't mean you didn't want to share the moment. She was there for the painful part of your journey, of course you wanted to celebrate the success of that journey with her!

DehH, Thank you, thank you, thank you!! That means EVERYTHING. As an author, I can write for a year on one good compliment, and hearing someone enjoys your work...well that's the most amazing praise of all :)

J.C., I am so sorry for your loss. Sometimes people don't realize how much those precious lives are a part of us. People's comments can be unknowingly cruel. I will pray for continued healing.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Tanya, I'm glad you went to the conference! What a beautiful tribute to your father to follow your dreams.

Deanne, I SO understand!!! I am always saying and doing dumb things. Just remember what my husband told me: People who love you know what you mean in your heart <3

Sierra Faith said...

For me writing was a way to get away from the grief. It was a healing process. Sometimes I'd write my feeling out, or write out memories I had.

Carolyn Astfalk said...

So sorry for your loss! Seasons change in life, and it's difficult to accommodate writing to our new "normal." I appreciate that you didn't fake having the answers. We often don't figure it out until we're through it - with plenty of time, prayer, and patience. Have a blessed Christmas!

Carol Ann said...

Sherri, I want to say how sorry I am for the great loss you have suffered. Thank you for writing what is in your heart. Your willingness to be honest with your feelings about Barb and her life is a ministry to all of us. We live on in the memory of others. We make a difference in life even after we are gone because our memory is cherished by those who love us. I think of my grandparents and the legacy of love and faith in God that became a foundation of living for the entire family.
I am so thankful for that heritage passed from them to my parents, to my sister and brothers and I. There is no greater gift one can give to another than the truth of the gospel lived out in daily life. I am thankful for the opportunity to remember them and honor them by choosing to live a Christ-centered life. Having friends who are of the household of faith is such a treasure. I am so happy to know you are privileged to have many Christian friends. What a blessing. Hang a special ornament on your Christmas tree for Barb. Let her light shine for you this Christmas and every day.

Dee LeRoye said...

I haven't read or written much lately, but the word "grief" caught my attention. I suppose the most important writing I've done since November 17 is the obit for the younger of my two older brothers. Only 74, found "sleeping" in his easy warning. Had been out checking his cows earlier that day. I know him better now than I did when he was alive after searching through photos and keepsakes with his only child, a daughter about the same age as our second son, barely past 40. There was an open door, and I walked through it...a captive audience to share the promises.."that you sorrow not, as those who have no hope, for me to live is Christ and to die is gain." Among his treasures we found an autograph book I "gave" him before I could write, so my Mom's beautiful writing gave us the event and the date; Christmas 1952. "Roses are red, and your pants are blue", I added to his book when I finally could print out words: my first poetry? Oh Sherri, your post called for tears to leak out and wet my cheeks. Thank you, oh thank you for sharing.

Jessica Nelson said...

Such a beautiful, raw post. I understand too well.
My brother died in September. I was in the middle of writing a book for LIH, due Nov. 30.
It was a struggle to finish.
The other day someone on the radio said, Rest Easy.
That phrase pulled me back to the photo of my brother that someone had edited to say, Rest Easy, Kid.
I couldn't stop crying the rest of that morning.
I'm so sorry for your loss, Sherri. Hugs.
Thank you for sharing about it.

Kim Louise said...

Sherri, this is such a wonderful post. Thank you. I don't know if you managed to write through your grief. Because of your words, I've managed to read through mine. Blessings.

ohiohomeschool said...

Sherri, I am sorry for the loss of your friend.

Your post is wonderful! It is hard in grief just to move forward. I have had a year of many deaths and sad times. Thanks for your healing words. Thanks for pushing through and writing this post.
Becky b.

Cheryl Baranski said...

What a beautifully moving post.
Cheryl Baranski