By Harriet Hodgson
John and I lived in a retirement community in the heart of the city. We chose the community for its closeness to Mayo Clinic and its many support services. Though we lived here for more than a year, we felt like we were living in a motel. Several months ago, John and I felt so badly we thought we had Covid-19. I called 911 and we took “his” and “her” ambulances to the ED (Emergency Department).
Both of us were tested for Covid-19 and the results were negative. As it turned out, John had advanced prostate cancer. I had cellulitis, a bacterial infection that can be fatal, and was treated with antibiotics. After six days in the hospital, I was dismissed. John stayed a few more days.
Because I had been in the hospital, the retirement community quarantined me for two weeks. It was a serious quarantine. I had to set trash and laundry outside the front door for pick-up. Whenever someone came to the door, I had to wear a mask and practice social distancing. The retirement community didn’t allow visitors and we felt isolated and alone.
“Staying in my apartment is driving me crazy,” a neighbor shared. She wondered if I was going crazy too.
“I’m writing like crazy,” I answered. Because I’ve been a freelancer for 40 years, I was used to working at home. However, being John’s caregiver took up most of the day. But I am a disciplined writer and sheltering at home sparked my creativeness. In fact, I wrote five children’s books.
Covid-19 has increased the need for grief resources. This made me think about how children grieve. For example, teens may turn to peers for comfort rather than their parents. The more I thought about children’s grief, the more concerned I became. With a BS in early childhood education and an MA in art education, I could be of help.
I wrote two books … a workbook for grieving kids ages 5-8 and a workbook for grieving kids ages 9-12. I contacted a grief publisher I had worked with previously and both books were accepted.
My co-author and I finished a leadership book, Ready, Set, Lead! Leadership can be learned, and we think it begins in early childhood. Our picture book is a rhyming poem. The first half defines leadership, and the second half tells kids how to become leaders. We also wrote a companion art activity book.
Weeks passed. I spent more time on caregiving than writing. I knew I had to practice self-care to survive. The grief workbooks are illustrated with doodle art. Though I have a graduate degree in art, I never heard of this art form. What was it? I researched doodle art online and started doodling. To my surprise, I discovered that doodling provided respites from stress.
If doodling helped me, it could help others.
I started writing a book for teens, Grief Doodling: Bringing Back Your Smiles. When I was writing I was almost in a trance. Grieving kids don’t need tomes, they need concise resources. Grief Doodling is the first book I have written and illustrated. My current publisher accepted the book and I contacted influencers—experts who might write reviews. Eight experts responded and their positive words are on the back cover.
Late in November of 2020 I realized John was dying. He knew it and I knew it. Since John was paraplegic and needed more care than I could provide, he was moved to short-term rehab. After two staff members tested positive for Covid-19, John and I were re-tested. John tested negative. I tested positive and was quarantined again. Thankfully, I never developed any symptoms.
At a time when I wanted to see John more, I saw him less. I didn’t see him for a month. Though we stayed in touch by phone, calls weren’t the same as seeing each other face-to-face. John called several times (which was difficult for him) to say “I love you.” Three days after my quarantine was up, John died. I posted a notice of his death on Facebook.
Nonnie Jules let RRBC and RWISA members know about John’s death and many contributed funds for sympathy gifts. The gifts just kept coming—a food basket, cozy blanket, comfort stones, blessing cards for women, musical jewelry box, and more. Every gift sparked tears. I wasn’t alone. RRBC members had my back and were family. I am grateful for their kindness and support.
Life had another surprise for me. Three months before the release date, Grief Doodling received a first place award in the self-help category. I was thrilled and am still thrilled. I had a book trailer made for the book and posted it on Facebook. Advance sales are going well, and I hope the book trailer generates more sales.
One of the reasons I write is to figure things out. I researched end of life care and took notes about the tasks I had to complete before John died. I am hard at work on another book. The purpose of the book is to help spouses and significant others understand the present and believe in a future.
The pandemic is hellish and tragic. All of us know someone who tested positive, gotten the virus, or died. Yet if we look carefully, we can find grace in sorrow. I was able to see the blessings in my life—one-on-one time with John, understanding that every life is a miracle, and writing five children’s books. At age 85 I’m still working part-time, giving Zoom talks and workshops, competing in the book business, and setting goals.
John was amazed at my writing output and often joked, “While you’re up, write me a book.” I love to write and working on a new book gives purpose to my days. I think John would be pleased and proud.
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