NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 5, 2013

Adjusting to a 'new normal'

With book, Salisbury widow aims to help others face grief

By Angeljean Chiaramida
STAFF WRITER

---- — Even a strong woman can lose her way when death takes her husband, leaving only grief to fill the void once filled by the love of her life.

Darkness enveloped Constance Wilder when her husband, Larry, succumbed to a four-year battle with melanoma in 2002, at the age of only 61. The struggle back for Wilder was arduous, taking her years to get comfortable with the new person she’d become after the skin cancer took her “other half.”

“One reason you feel lost is you’re meeting a new person, because the construction of your life has changed,” said Wilder of Salisbury. “It doesn’t matter who the person you lost is, a huge part of your life has blown apart, and the person you were becomes a foreigner to you. Even though you don’t understand yourself because you’re grief-stricken, you have to trust yourself. The only thing left is to trust your instincts.”

For Wilder, the journey back to a rewarding, albeit, different life wasn’t easy and took her longer than she expected. But through the pitfalls and windfalls of those years, the 67-year old mother of two grown children fought to regain her footing.

At Wilder’s core is a person who “sees the glass as half-full,” even in her darkest hours, a trait she shared with Larry, a perpetual optimist right up until the days before he died.

The journey to what is now her “new normal” fills her new small book entitled, “Above & Beyond Wellfleet, A Memoir About Welcoming Life After Loss,” published recently by her own publishing house, Tiny Tomes Publications.

As desperate as Wilder was 11 years ago when her husband died, the resulting book isn’t maudlin, nor one that spouts profound philosophies. The thin volume is merely 73 pages, distilled down from four notebooks Wilder poured her soul into after Larry was gone.

Written with short sentences, concise paragraphs and tight, brief chapters, “Above & Beyond Welfleet” is a speed read that can be finished in less than two hours. The final result was not an accident.

“That was very deliberate,” Wilder said. “In the early days of grieving you can’t take on too much. I wrote the book because I wanted to help; I didn’t want to preach. I intended the book to be something you could keep on your bedside table, to summon in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep. I call them the night terrors.”

Wilder knew of a similar book that helped her in just that way, she said. Her nightstand volume was “A Grief Observed,” by C.S. Lewis, the 160-page companion she referred to often, to this day.

“Grief has no expiration date,” Wilder said. “People want you to get over it, and you want to get over it. People ask you how you’re doing and they want you to say, ‘Fine.’ But the real answer you want to give is: ‘I’m really, really awful.’ But, don’t become impatient with your grief; it comes in waves. Others need to be patient, but ultimately it’s up to the grieving person to find out what to do.”

For Wilder, that included selling the Cape Cod home she and Larry lovingly restored for their retirement and packing up and settling in Newburyport to be near her children. Now in Salisbury, Wilder lives in a condo and revels when the light shines in, bouncing off keepsakes, making her think her late husband’s essence is sending the sunbeams.

Writing saved Wilder. It started from the moment she put pen to paper on the horrible night when she realized her husband would soon die. The solace it provided is not surprising for an English major from Elmira College, who became the spokeswoman for New York’s city of Rochester and county of Monroe, prior to opening her own small communications consulting firm.

“I was used to writing for others,” Wilder said. “I always felt I had a book in me, but I needed someone to tell me I could write.”

When she received that confirmation at a writers’ workshop two years ago, Wilder set to it. She sought the help of a freelance editor and found it with Newburyport’s Joni Vetne.

“I’m picky about what I edit, and that book means a lot to me,” Vetne said. “I was very happy I had a chance to read it. It was an eye-opener. It’s an awesome love story. I think that they were a rare match.”

Vetne said she’s never experienced a loss as profound as Wilder’s, but she still finds the book useful and thought-provoking.

“She knew she needed to take care of herself,” Vente said. “The way she downsized her home, handled her finances.”

For Wilder, the book is meant to enable those crippled by grief, to give them not only a way to go on, but also the permission to mourn and heal as well.

“The major sentiment I want to convey is that, although you’re lonely, you’re not alone,” Wilder said. “The worse thing you can do is ask ‘Why?.’ That keeps the wound fresh, and you need every ounce of energy to pay attention to what your instincts are telling you to do. They’re buried, but they’re there. You have to give yourself a job.”

Copies of “Above & Beyond Wellfleet” are available at Jabberwocky and Book Rack and in local libraries. For more information visit http://www.tinytomespublishing.com or contact the author at connie@tinytomespublishing.com.