I am beyond thrilled to share with you all my interview with author Heather Wallace Rey. In her most recent book, Faith, Grief & Pass the Chocolate Pudding, Heather shares intimately her journey through grief and reflections on her life since the passing of her father, offering insight and tips affecting a grieving heart.
“Grief is intensely personal, and every person is entitled to grieve their own way, in their own time. I hope beyond hope that you never experience the level of stress while grieving that prompts your mind to wander separate of your body causing you to wear lingerie in public. Unless public humiliation is something that helps you cope. In that case, have at it!! I’ll let you borrow my robe. Because of my own moments of public humiliation, I now think very carefully before even considering judging anyone else’s life or grief story. The past four years have made me much more capable of listening to the stories of others, without any judgement. Today, at the end of this book, I wish I could be writing a conclusion to grief.”
Her book is uniquely written and sprinkled with humor, offering the reader an open and honest account of matters of the heart. Heather discusses many topics, shedding light on significant issues associated with grief, leaving your heart satisfied and encouraged.
Comical and uplifting, this book will be sure to comfort your soul and reassure you that you are not alone in your walk through grief.
What made you want to write this particular book?
I have always wanted to write a book, but – when it came to this particular book – I’m not sure I chose it. It may seem strange but, in some way, this book chose me. I actually tell a story in the book about a moment where I was grieving and went to a bookstore to find a book about grief that would make me laugh, and make me feel like I wasn’t the only person in the world that became crazy, due to grief. I never found that book and, in talking with a friend, she suggested that maybe I couldn’t find the book I was looking for because that book was somewhere inside me. In the scheme of things, I don’t think most authors – given the choice – would choose to write a book about grief. I know I wouldn’t. I just started writing everything down that happened with no real desire to get published – and took the book to Kinko’s and had it spiral bound, so I could give it to friends who were grieving. The publishing part was just a happy accident that came after the fact.
What were the most challenging parts for you in writing this book?
There were two really challenging parts of writing this book – the first was re-living some of the things that happened. I wrote this book over a period of about 3 years, starting the week after my Dad passed away. Some of the things that I wrote as I went along, came out very easily on paper right as they were originally happening. Re-reading them, however, was a completely different experience. There are things that are humorous, looking back, but there are also moments that are still so raw and hard to talk about that having to read and re-read them was a little gut-wrenching. I actually put the book away for about 6 months, because it was just too hard to re-live it during certain times of my life. The other really challenging part of writing this book was losing someone else I really loved during the process: my business partner and co-author. Grief brought us together and, ultimately, my grief and my pain and both of our stubbornness drove us apart. Having a secondary loss of someone who has supported you and loved you through some of this process is something that I’ve read about, but it doesn’t seem quite as impossible as actually living through it in person. Grief turned me upside down until my life was almost unrecognizable and just when I thought it was getting better, everything around me started crashing in. In a time where I really needed to be my own hero, I just didn’t have the strength. I relied on someone else to be my hero through grief – someone that was, himself, grieving, and that was really unfair to both of us. What grief taught me was that a secondary loss brings back all of the pain of the first loss times ten and it was really hard to stick with the book throughout that secondary loss.
What do you want people to take with them from your book? How has your life changed since?
The things I’d most like people to take away from my book are three-fold: First, I hope that my love for my Dad, my fond memories of him, and my co-author’s love for his brother, Jamie, and his fond memories of Jamie shine through. Secondly, I really hope that through my book others are able to laugh a little – there are some parts of my grief that were really terrible but also kind of ridiculous and funny – and finally – I pray every day that every person who is experiencing grief always knows that even when they feel the most alone and the most crazy – they are neither alone nor crazy.
Since writing this book, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with others about grief, speaking to groups about grief, and telling my story. Ultimately, I think I had to lose some part of myself in order to start to piece myself back together. I relied on the strength of others to help me to learn to be brave and to be strong, and to tell my story without being ashamed of all that I went through. Grief didn’t just re-define me – it helped me rebuild some parts of myself that had been broken even before I lost my dad.
How has your faith evolved throughout your life? How did impact your grief journey?
Up until the point where grief “broke me,” I have always considered myself a very faithful person. There again, faith often came relatively easy to me – I was raised in a church, and I have worked on a church staff for most of my adult life. I’m not sure that the concepts of God and faith were things that I ever questioned very much. I believed because I was raised to believe. Through grief, my faith has been tested in a number of situations and seemingly around every corner. I think when you lose someone that is very close to you, it levels the playing field. There are people who might say that because you earn your living at a church, they have expectations of you that have to do with faith. There are people who expect that if you teach others about faith, that your faith is solid in some way they can’t understand. Grief levels the playing field of faith – it can test your faith, no matter who you are or what you formerly believed. What I learned is that working at a church didn’t better prepare me for a crisis of faith, any more than working at an airport, or a grocery store, or a real estate office. I was subject to the same doubts about God and faith and loss that any other person would be. I think that having a crisis of faith related to grief was even a little worse, because people so desperately needed me to continue to be faithful during my own grief, that I often felt like I was living a lie. Grief made me more susceptible to being hurt by others who had expectations of what a “grieving Christian” should look like. I think a grieving Christian who works at a church looks just like anyone else who’s ever been through grief. Processing my grief through a lens of faith has just made it clearer that grief doesn’t care where you stand economically or socially or faithfully – it takes all those things about you that are the very worst and magnifies them by about a million. My faith didn’t get me through grief – my faith pointed me in the direction of people that would help to make my grief more manageable. I survived, and continue to survive, based on the really good and faithful servants that God has given me to walk this journey with.
Do you have a favorite inspirational quote you would like to share?
One of my favorite quotes in life is “What lies behind you and what lies before you are tiny matters compared to what lies within you.” This is a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that I have always loved, but has become especially poignant throughout the grieving process because I am a person who always believed that you could be defined by your past or present actions and grief has proven to me – over and over – that my past and present actions are just a miniscule part of the really important things that make up the “real me.” Grief changed the way that I acted, some of the time, but it couldn’t take away all the things inside me that were really good – it just put some of them on hold for a little while.
What is your favorite memory of your father?
I have lots of favorite memories of my Dad, but some of my all-time favorite memories of him involve the “field trips” that we took together – some of them included my younger sisters as well, but some of them were special times that I shared just with him. He took us to museums, to movies on Thanksgiving Day every year, to the Scottish games, to the Renaissance Festival (King Richard’s Faire), to parades, and encouraged our love of music, movies, and museum studies.
What, if anything, have you found to be helpful in your grieving over the years?
I have found a few things that have helped me through grief. One is a group called “Faith and Grief” which is a faith-based support group with a scriptural model that is offered at a number of churches throughout the US. (Their website is http://www.faithandgrief.org) This group helped me find my voice, and helped me tell my story. Another thing that has really helped is keeping a gratitude journal. Making time to sit down every day for at least 5 minutes to write about all the things that I’m thankful for and taking that time to see all the blessings in my life makes such a big difference in how I view every day. Another thing that has really helped me is being able to participate in a number of grief retreats: getting to meet new people and hear their stories and support them and have them support me has been so beneficial and such a great growing experience. Mo-Ranch Conference Center in Hunt, Texas (near San Antonio) offers a number of these grief retreats.
For those new in their grief journey, what words of advice would you offer?
I’d like to give credit to my friend, Audrey Lanham, for a piece of advice that she shared, given to her by her stepmother while she was grieving. Audrey told me that we should “treat ourselves like a baby bird” in the early stages of grief. As I look back, I was terribly impatient with myself during the early stages of grief and I wanted every part of my heart and my soul to be fixed, right then. I had impossible standards for where I wanted to be from day to day and I often didn’t give myself the grace or space to grieve when I needed to. I think giving yourself grace is often the most difficult part. For those new to grieving, I think the words “treat yourself like you would a baby bird” is one of the best pieces of advice anyone could offer. Being gentle and kind and patient with yourself and giving yourself grace and space and allowing yourself to feel whatever you need to feel – giving yourself permission to fall apart when you need to isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a way to rebuild your strength so you can “fly again” (or be yourself again) as soon as possible.
What will you be working on next?
I am currently working on writing a number of articles for magazines, and doing some speaking around the country, as well as doing some book signings around the Midwest for the remainder of 2017. My next book, “Parent of the Year” is coming in December 2017. You can find up to date information on where to hear me or where you can pick up copies of my books at www.passthechocolatepudding.com.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Linkedin: Heather Wallace-Rey
Book Links: www.griefdiaries.com (Co-Author: Loss of a Parent) (Author: Faith, Grief and Pass the Chocolate Pudding)
Goodreads: Author Page – Heather Wallace-Rey
Heather Wallace Rey
Thank you Heather, for sharing your heart with us and your deep compassion for helping others.