In a way, this post began several years ago. We don’t always see things clearly as they happen. At least I don’t. So I’ll just share my story. It is a story of new beginnings.
Tom and I made the decision to retire on a December morning in 2011. His surgeon had just told us the circumstances leading to his recent quadruple bypass were genetic.
“Your cholesterol is fine,” she said. “Your blood pressure is great. You eat right and exercise. This was all genetic. It will happen again.” I stole a glance at Tom. His expression was grim at best.
“I can’t say when it will happen,” the surgeon continued. “It could be a year from now or twenty-five years from now, but it will happen.”
“Then I choose the twenty-five years,” I piped up. That got a smile from Tom.
“You’re doing everything right,” she told him. "Just keep it up."
As Tom and I left the surgeon’s office, we made the decision to retire early. He had to turn sixty first. That would be the following September. The earliest date he could leave his job was October of 2012. I taught at a college operating on a semester system. By the time we got into our car we had tentatively set our retirement date for December 31, 2012. One year. It wasn’t set in stone. We still had to pray about it.
By the second week in January 2012 we were confident this was God’s plan for us. Tom spoke to people at his work. I spoke to the dean at my university.
“When I retire I’m going to fish and golf every day,” Tom announced. “What are you going to do?”
Good question. I could fish and golf… but not every day. I considered teaching an online class or consulting. I didn’t know what I would do. I prayed about it.
One February morning I woke up with a clear picture of what I would do when I retired. “I’m going to be a published author,” I told my sweet husband.
He didn’t cast a bit of doubt over my decision. “You can do it! What are you going to write?”
Another good question. I had published education pieces in professional journals. I had written children’s stories for my students as an early childhood educator. Continuing in either direction would have made sense. “I think I’ll write a novel,” I told him.
I used my week of Spring Break, to draft a business plan for writing. I then started writing the novel and researching writing conferences. I honed my skills by completing self-imposed writing exercises. I attended the Write-to-Publish conference in Wheaton, Illinois for two days once the semester ended. There I attended workshops, networked with other authors, agents, and editors, and pitched my book to Eddie Jones of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.
One Saturday evening in early August I received an email confirming one of the stories I had written as an exercise had been accepted for publication in Chicken Soup for the Soul. I went to bed happy. The next morning I wanted to show Tom the email, but when I opened my email account I not only had the email from Chicken Soup for the Soul, but a new message from Eddie Jones. It was a contract to publish Breathing on Her Own.
I spent the next few months teaching my final classes at the university, finishing my novel, and making plans to move to Florida for the winter. Tom and I enjoyed two wonderful winters in Florida. He didn’t golf and fish every day, but enough to make him happy. He bought a fishing boat the first year. The second year we bought a used truck camper and pretended we were young enough and agile enough to climb into the bed above the cab of the truck without a worry in the world.
Tom continued fishing and golfing. I continued writing every day. I wrote a second novel set in Door County, Wisconsin. My third book was about a widow who found her way back to living a full and happy life after losing her husband to cancer. The fourth one focused on a teacher caught in the middle of the “sandwich generation” scenario, caring for her mother while juggling a husband, and son at home. The fifth book I drafted was a romantic suspense where the main characters are in their early twenties.
In my spare time during those first two years of retirement, I published another story in Chicken Soup for the Soul, had a couple of articles published in The Lookout Magazine, wrote for Home Health Aide Digest, and began work on a nonfiction book tentatively titled Write it on the Doorframes. It is a book on Christian parenting.
Breathing on Her Own was released in March of 2014. Tom was as excited as I was. We had a party in Florida. We had another one in Ohio when we came home in June. It seemed 2014 was turning out to be the best year ever. We decided to sell our Ohio home and downsize. While we were downsizing our living space, we upgraded our camping space and bought a used fifth wheel camper. Life was good.
I purposefully did not even try to publish any of my other books. My publisher said it takes nine months to a year for a first book from an unknown author to “grow legs” and build an audience. Tom and I discussed a timeframe. The plan was to leave for Florida November 1st. I would spend November and December polishing the second novel. We would be in Florida in February of 2015 when the Florida Christian Writers Conference takes place. I would have the book ready to pitch to Eddie Jones or another publisher at that time. It was a plan.
October 29, 2014 was a beautiful sunny day. In a few days we would be heading back to Florida. After lunch, Tom headed out for his daily bicycle ride. I headed to my computer to work. A few minutes later I received the call telling me Tom had an accident.
Tom’s tire went off the pavement, throwing him into a tree.
Yes, he was wearing a helmet.
No, there was no one else involved.
Two hours later, my precious husband of forty-three years was pronounced dead. Though it wasn’t announced, part of me died that day, too.
Losing Tom has been the most difficult experience of my life. I find comfort in knowing it was his time. I have every evidence of it. The Bible tells us our days are numbered and that our life span is determined before we are even born. (Psalm 139:16)
I looked at my success in writing as a gift from God. God knew when Tom would leave this earth. He knew I needed something to do. A purpose. My writing provided all of that. However, I was stuck and I couldn’t figure out why.
I managed to keep my blog going. I piddled around with my books. Some needed tweaking while others needed some serious revision. “I should be publishing these!” It was the voice in my head. The voice telling me I was letting God down by not doing what he commissioned me to do. The same voice telling me in some way I was letting Tom down, too. The voice of disappointment.
Two and a half years after Tom’s death I made the decision to move to a different house. Downsizing had been our plan anyway. Moving is both physically and emotionally exhausting. The process, though, brought with it more than fatigue. It brought clarity.
I came to realize I needed those first couple of years to mourn -not to publish. I needed that time to heal. And I came to understand that the books I had drafted were indeed a gift from God. He had given me those so I would have a place to start when I was ready to return to my writing. I’ve since forgiven myself for not publishing any novels during that difficult time of my life. And I’ve now given myself permission to enjoy a new and different life. A life that honors God…and Tom.
I’m listening to a new voice. It is the voice of courage and determination. It is the voice of New Beginnings.