This is a touchy subject. Death almost always is… While we may intellectualize the unwelcome fact of it and recognize that it will happen to all of us and those we love, it’s also true that we are never, or rarely, prepared for it. Especially when it strikes at your heart twice. Within six months of one another.
My recent Ladies Who Lunch Conversations guest, Susan S. Warner, got the one-two, gut-wrenching punch of losing her son and, while still reeling; whipsawed when her husband died shortly thereafter.
To help herself and others heal, Susan has written a tender, heartfelt, intimate book about her journey from the depths of despairing grief to one of hope and love.
It’s more than thoughts and prayers…
When you first meet Susan, you are immediately impressed by how comfortable she makes you feel. Like a best friend.
She has a caring, thoughtful, nurturing glow about her.
At the same time, I felt like I wanted to keep her in a kind of protective, gossamer bubble.
After all, Susan lost her 32-year old son David to suicide and then a mere eyeblink of six months later, her husband Michael died of a virulent cancer.
In her just-released first book, Never Say Never, Never Say Always, Susan bravely tells her story of loss and love and the hard work of becoming a survivor; nurturing her relationships ~ and herself.
A telltale moment for me in the book is when she describes taking her daughter Elizabeth to Paris for Father’s Day, a mere eight weeks after her husband Michael’s death, in order to be, in part, anonymous. She wrote that she felt free for the first time. “No one was looking at me with a cocked head and muttering,”I’m so sorry.”
She remarks that it was the beginning of her journey.
Upon reflection, following my videocast Conversation with Susan and after reading her book, I recognize that Susan emanates a special sense of nobility.
With grace, and confidence, she has honed her coping skills, sought answers and expert assistance to manage unspeakable loss, and ignited her survival instincts.
Susan has captured that rare, illusive ability to actually take the love of those we lose from this life and use it. To utilize the love as a bond; a resource.
How does she do this?
She writes, “I will hold them in my heart and make them a part of me. In moving to the next chapter, they will come with me.”
She often states that we don’t move on ~ we move forward.
I think this is key to managing the grieving process.
In Susan’s book, she tells us, the reader, how she struggled with everyone, including herself, to share her emotions and learn how to also manage the personal changes she was sure to experience. Life is not static.
We can’t hold our lost, loved ones in amber.
It’s said that one can’t grieve if we haven’t loved… And so it is that we can learn from Susan that with tremendous love, she managed to survive these paralyzing losses; moreover, to be that “best version of me,” as she describes.
You will revel in her honest descriptions; sharing her emotions, and forging trust in her friends that allowed her to achieve a level of peace and fulfillment.
While there is no right way to grieve, I do believe ~ as someone who has lost loved ones, and as a certified Death Doula, that there are people who have an innate soul when managing grief that we want to emulate when death takes our beloveds.
Susan’s nobility and dignity is “heart-earned.”
In her book, Susan pulls back the curtain.
She presents the double-edged sword of grieving and honoring her son and her husband while also ~ at the same time ~ doing the work of changing.
Of managing her next chapter.
I think we all don’t give the bereaved the gravitas they deserve when trying to balance these two spinning plates. With that process comes guilt and no small amount of resentment.
Susan guides you through her balancing and becoming…
Her book is an intimate road map that will help you or those you love, mourn with purpose and that nobility that will honor those we lost in this life. Susan is a practical and a spiritual sherpa.
In our Ladies Who Lunch Conversations, I was bewitched by Susan’s journey and you will be too. Her honesty is heart-wrenching. No sugar-coating here.
So too is her gift of hope, of resilience, and renewal. While there may not be a happy ending in the fairy tale sense, there is surely a joyful sense of contentment fueled by love.
Yet, the book is so much more than a guide for grieving. One can look to a therapist for much of that kind of assistance. As did Susan.
What I think distinguishes the Never Say Never book, is Susan’s conversational retelling of what she personally went through.
I daresay that all of us can empathize and feel connected when someone we care about (and you do care right away ~ you can’t help but form that immediate girlfriend bond with Susan from the first page) ~ pours out her heartbreak about the death of her son, then her husband, and how she gets through it and copes with the realities of the services, learning to manage finances, observing the “ghosts” of her “boys,” how she and her daughter Elizabeth bond evermore in a special way, and how she starts to date ~ (some of these recollections are hilarious) ~ and how she can fall in love anew ~ with a man and with her first grandchild.
Anyone who has lost a family member, (including a beloved pet), or perhaps even if experiencing estrangement or a bitter divorce, you will find comfort and solace in this book. There is guidance, tips, and counsel, including how she learned “recovery is not linear,” to love herself, and how “curiosity has allowed for so much growth.”
I appreciate how Susan set up the book’s chapters. While the story is told chronologically, Susan takes the time to insert the back story of David and Michael through the prism of her relationship to each of them.
The “Conversation with David and Michael” is a creative assignment in talking to her “boys” across the chasm to the hereafter/heaven or whatever you call it. Regardless, I found the Conversations to be spiritual, confessional, raw, and illuminating. She asks the tough questions of her men.
And the concept of souls traveling in pairs was revelatory… And true, I believe.
I asked Susan how the name of the book came about. From her original But You Get to Go Home, (meaning after the funeral services, guests just “go home"), to Never Say Never, Never Say Always; she reinforced what she wrote in the book: that this had become her mantra.
I took it to mean that she is embracing life with all the gusto she can manage.
She confirmed that but pointed out there are also no definitives. “I can choose a path now, and at another juncture I can make a right turn and change my mind. Kind of - do what I want when I want, with whom I want.”
Sounds liberating and refreshing.
Susan is a very inspiring woman.
We thank you so much for sharing your story and your journey with us at Ladies Who Lunch Conversations (link to View and Follow).
You can also watch the Conversation on my YouTube if that is more convenient.)
Also, during our Conversation, I suggested to Susan that she would be so perfect for online/Zoom book clubs and she readily agreed, saying she’d love that. While Susan has her own Podcast, Susan is Suddenly Single, and has been featured in Newsweek, she very much wants to help others ~ to help you make your own happiness, so if you have a book club, please do get in touch with Susan (or me) to schedule.
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Photos courtesy of Susan.