Tosa author Mary Lou Bailey recently wrote a book – published by Milwaukee’s own HenschelHAUS – on one of the most difficult experiences anyone can face: the loss of a loved one. We got in touch with Bailey to hear her take on the grieving process, and how she discovered her inner strength.
Why did you decide to write I Am My Own Rug?
I lost my husband of 24 years very suddenly. I wrote these words between August of 2007 and August of 2009. I planned a few; most just poured out of me as I learned to live a different life.
A month or so after Simon’s death, I started consuming “widow/loss of spouse” articles, books, web sites and chat rooms. I devoured them. I was not alone in this agony, which helped, and I cried and cried and cried. This lasted several months. And then somehow, one of those days, I was reading more, and I just had to shut it down, shut off the blogs, close the page and throw away some of the materials.
I started to hear a voice in me trying to talk above the despair. This is bad, but it happened. And now you have two choices: Look behind or go forward.
And so I wrote this book. This book is not a “how to,” with 300-some pages on dealing with details, or 100 pages on the “Phases of Grief.” This is not a blog about “how sad I am and will stay sad.” That seemed to be all I could find to read. This is a glass or two of wine book that will give you a glimpse of 24 months. Some tips, some anguish and some smiles. 24 years of marriage, balanced with 24 months of loss and growth.
What inspired the title?
A few months after he passed, someone in a very different context told me the rug had been pulled out from under his feet. I nearly exploded with anger. His rug was small, and inconsequential. I realized, in that moment, that there is no proverbial rug under our feet. And on that day, I became my own rug. And that was it. As simple as, and clearer than anything I had read so far.
What was the most difficult part of the writing process?
The writing part wasn’t difficult. What was difficult was being brave enough to publish it, being brave enough to talk about it and trying to help others.
What do you hope your readers take away from the book?
Thankfulness, for having the person they lost be a part of their lives.
I learned that sadness can and must be a part of our life, yet we must focus on strength, moving forward and even, on occasion, laughing. I want others to understand and know that there will be moments, hours and sometimes days they will feel stronger. Those days are like an awakening. Inside yourself, you feel the rock, the foundation, the fight, to be what you used to be: to be alive. It starts in small moments, but it is there.
Can you describe what it was like to work with the book’s illustrators, Steve Gramling and Joe Perez?
This is one of the most amazing parts of the book coming together.
The first artist is Steve Gramling. Steve was one of Simon’s best friends, mentioned in the “Mountains” story. Longtime friends, together they summited Mt. Rainier at 14,411 feet in Seattle and Mt. Aconcagua, 22,842 feet, in Argentina. In between, they and others climbed about a dozen of the Colorado 14’ers. Steve was with Simon in the mountains when the first symptoms appeared. They had reached the Summit at 12,550 feet, and Steve truly got Simon down from the Pawnee Pass in Colorado. Steve was a rock for me, and has always loved painting. He was gracious to let me pore over his work and choose what I wanted. A donation from all his works of art will go to the Leukemia Society.
The second artist is my adorable, slightly feisty new father-in-law, Joe Perez, who is 83 at the time of this writing. Known more for being a coach, he was also the Appleton East High School art teacher for 47 years. He is accomplished in many styles of painting and drawing, metal and wood sculptures and jewelry. In art, he had painted the progression of my life of those 24 months, years before ever meeting me. All works with his art will come with a donation to the Joe Perez Scholarship Foundation.
How did you feel when you found out that HenschelHAUS wanted to publish the book?
Very happy and nervous!
What’s next for you?
I have started speaking at engagements and hope to help people through this time. I have also created a “Custom Event” idea, where proceeds after a talk may go to a charity of choice. I would like to look into partnering with/creating a high school program with art and English classes, to create a young adult version.