In late 2012, when we knew my wife, Monica, had only a short time to live because of uterine cancer, people began asking me if I planned on writing a book about widowhood and grief after she passed away.
I told them no, explaining that I didn’t know enough about those topics. It was about a year after her death that I realized I had been through a crash introductory course on the subjects. I still had a lot to learn, but I did know a thing or two.
Then a moment came when I heard television commentators discussing an upcoming recorded interview with actor Liam Neeson. As you may remember, his wife Natasha Richardson died of a traumatic brain injury in 2009. In 2014, he was promoting his latest movie and when asked about her, he described how grief still impacted his life.
The commentators seemed startled. My immediate thought was, “Well, duh.” That was quickly followed by the realization that his words would have surprised me only a few short years ago. Of course Neeson was still deeply affected.
That was when it dawned on me that I didn’t want to write a book about widowhood and grief for those who are experiencing it themselves, but I came up with a book that would help friends and family members get a glimpse of what those early days, months and years of grief can be like.
Fiction seemed the best way of doing that in a way that was more inviting, and less intimidating, to the reader. The result was a novel titled “Mildred Nudge: A Widower’s Tale,” published on the second anniversary of Monica’s death.
It has been gratifying that some who have read it tell me they have a deeper appreciation of what a parent or grandparent went through. What a friend or family member is going through. There’s a newfound sympathy and understanding.
At the same time, I now better realize how little I know about so many other tremendous hardships people go through: the death of a child, marriage that ends in divorce, the loss of a job that results in the loss of a home, drug addiction, chronic illness or pain. The list is long and varied.
I want to stay “blissfully ignorant,” but I also want to be better at sympathizing and offering support.
That’s one way of looking at a recurring theme in Pope Francis’ messages to all of us: Look around, become more aware of others who are hurting. Find ways to walk with them and talk with them. Simply, and not so simply, be with them in times of sorrow.
Bill Dodds writes for Catholic News Service.