Look for my memoir on 10/10/17.
I wrote a book. I have an agent. Now, I realize, I must market myself so that when the book comes out people will want to read it. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, sometimes, but don’t really know how to draw an audience. Then I talked with Sandy Smith of Smith Publicity, and within an hour I had new insight about myself, my book, and what I can offer in terms of relevant and interesting conversation that will draw readers to my site.
How did you honor your lost spouse while forging a relationship with your new husband? How did your children celebrate Father’s day? How does one approach a grieving person without intruding? Sandy fired one question after another. This was my life she asked about. How did I manage these things?
I never thought about it, but I did manage these and many other things that had to do with life after losing a spouse, and I wish I had a place to turn then. But there was no internet and no community, so I forged ahead as best as I knew how, and learned much in the process. Now I know I can share with a larger community of readers who may also be wondering how to navigate life after the death of a loved one.
Thank you to Sandy Smith, who has the amazing capacity to see how a book fits into the world of readers. I hope to make her proud.
September 11, 1977
The first anniversary of my husband’s death loomed ahead. As soon as the calendar rolled around to September, the dread began to build. I needed to plan something to get me through that day. I didn’t want to share it with family. My grief felt different and I needed to look at it, be with it, feel it.
I sat in the gazebo looking over Northport Harbor and watched sailboats glide past. I envied the people on those boats, carefree and idle on that summer day, and longed to share their sense of abandonment. I wanted a respite from the despair that had overshadowed everything since Brian’s death.
The weight of the last year still felt palpable. The NYPD presence, their jarring 21-gun salute, the American flag precisely folded. The unanswered questions: Why wouldn’t the Bomb Squad tell me what happened to one of their own? How did the bomb explode? My little boys and night terrors about their daddy getting blown up like Wylie Coyote. I needed just one day away from it all.
By the time I left to pick up Chris from pre-school, I had devised a plan. I would rent a boat, pack a lunch, and spend the afternoon adrift on Long Island Sound.
The young man at the boat rental suggested a rowboat. I had no sailing experience, and I felt his reluctance as he untied the boat from the dock. He seemed to want to row the boat for me, both for my safety and the boat’s, but let go after I assured him I’d be fine.
Putting the oars into the water that morning, I felt Brian’s presence more strongly than any time in the past year. It was wrapped around me as tightly as the orange life jacket the rental guy insisted I wear. A few months before, I’d gone to a fortuneteller on a whim. She told me I had a guardian angel on my shoulder. “It’s my husband,” I told her. “I feel him too.”
I had never rowed a boat by myself, but somehow I managed to row out to the middle of the Sound. I pulled in the oars and floated aimlessly, letting the soothing motion of the water lull me. I did an emotion check – I wasn’t afraid or sad. For the first time in a year, I felt calm.
As I ate my fried chicken lunch, I noticed a speedboat coming toward me. It was far enough away so that I knew it would not hit me, but I held on as the boat began to rock. When the salt and pepper slid into the water, I laughed at the irony of Jimmy Buffet, searchin’ for his lost shaker of salt, then the shock of cold water replaced humor with numbing fear. The wave that capsized the boat had looked like a ripple until it hit my tiny craft.
I sank down into the darkness before the life jacket pulled me back up and fresh air filled my lungs. I flapped around trying to grab on to something, anything, but the boat was too far away, and my feeble attempt at swimming sent me in circles. So I stopped and floated on my back, and watched lazy clouds drift by like I didn’t have a care in the world.
It was only a few minutes before the speeding boat circled around and came back to help me, but in that time I found the serenity I was searching for. I was ready to take back my life.
That was forty years ago. Now my sons have children of their own. I entered the halls of Stony Brook University for the first time that year and earned degrees in literature that allowed a college-level teaching career of twenty-five years. I changed laws for police widows and founded an organization for survivors who had the same questions I had once asked. I wrote my memoir, the story of my humble beginnings in the South Bronx, the bomb that killed my husband, and the relationships that had hijacked my life.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if Brian had lived. Would I have pursued my education or become an outspoken activist? Perhaps, but growth takes fortitude, determination, and, the ability to gather strength from tragedy.
A thousand people were at the gravesite. I sat in one of the folding chairs surrounding the coffin, my little boys by my side. As we listened to the NYPD bagpipe band play a slow rendition of Danny Boy, I thought of Brian and Eddie on lawn chairs in the yard, their cheeks puffed while they practiced the pipes for the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the kids dancing around, laughing when Brian clowned, making his eyes bulge, his face purple.
Finally, the Air Force fired a parting shot, a three-volley salute into the hushed crowd, and a formation of fighter jets left a plume of white cloud while one lone bugle player played taps. I watched two police officers pick up the flag over Brian’s coffin and begin to fold, each crease precise. When they put it in my hands, I stared down at the stars until they blurred.
In the last few months I have received a half dozen notes from Croatians who have offered their sympathy and best wishes. It has been almost forty years, and yet people from that gentle country have found their way to this page to let me know that my loss has not been forgotten. My heartfelt thanks to those who have taken the time to let me know I am in their thoughts.
My love affair with Alyson Richman’s books began with A Mask Carver’s Son, a story written in simple and beautiful language and steeped in 20th century Japanese culture. The reader comes to understand the absolute respect demanded of the son and the craft he chose to continue, using his own interpretation. The mask carver’s son stayed with me long after the book’s last page.
Ms. Richman’s calming voice and graceful words again beckoned me in The Swedish Tango, a story of political ambition and upheaval, its outcasts and their perseverance, characters intertwined yet separate, as they claw their way toward restoration.
And then The Last Van Gogh, which is told through the eyes of the delicate Marguerite, in love with a master we know will break her heart. It is the immersion in 19th century France that brings the story alive and allows the reader an insightful look at the artist and the demons that torture him.
In The Lost Wife, Alyson Richman brings together two worlds, Auschwitz, its history and horror, the lives of the talented artists who survive by their wits, and the story of love, between two innocent children in wartime, between families, prisoners, lost love, and finally reunion in spectacular form. Daisy Ridley will star in the soon-to-be movie of The Lost Wife.
Ms. Richman has invited us into the living room of countries such as Japan, Chile, Sweden, France, Germany, and Czechoslovakia, and most recently Italy, in her book, The Garden of Letters. It is the richness of these geographic forays that most entice this reader, as I know I will discover yet another world laid out before me in Technicolor.
New York City, 1880. We are along side Simon Morely, as he navigates a city he’s known all his life, only it’s one hundred years ago and anything north of 59th Street is a remote part of the city where sleighs glide through snow-covered streets and horse-drawn trollies traverse Broadway. We are amazed when he finds the arm of Statue of Liberty plunked down in the middle of lower Manhattan, and walk along the streets known as Ladies Row where the stores boast sample garments, to lanes reserved for Gentleman’s habadashiers. We follow Simon as he solves a murder mystery, and reveals the unexpected villain. I want to read it again, and again, to immerse myself in the city I grew up in before it was glass and concrete.
Welcome Kathleen Murray Moran to our family of authors!
Tell me a story, my daughter would say when I tucked her in at night. I began telling stories I had forgotten until that moment. In the telling, they became real again. I reimagined my mother’s kindness when I lost my husband, the sister who transformed words on the page, the meals of left-overs my mother brought home from Horn & Hardart we feasted on when I was a child. As I told stories, I saw them happening again and I wrote them down, scene by scene, and the stories became a memoir.
It is a story about endings, my husband’s death at the hands of terrorists who hijacked an aircraft and left behind a bomb in Grand Central Station, and the explosion that snuffed out his life at age 27, leaving me a widow with two young sons, and the story of a beautiful hijacker who gained my friendship through her letters and asked me to foster her release from prison. And, it is the story of beginnings. Of how I picked up the pieces of my life scattered by that bomb, cobbling together a future for myself and my children, and met the man who eventually renewed my faith in love. It is also the story of how I helped to turn tragedy into action as one of the founders of Survivors of the Shield, a New York City police widows organization providing social, economic, and emotional support to surviving spouses of police killed in the line of duty, and how in small ways the challenges of life bring about the greatest gifts.
In 2014 an excerpt of my memoir, The Widow and the Hijacker, went viral on Salon.com, coming in as the #3 story of the year. 2015 brings another top rating, this time for the NPR Snap Judgement Podcast, which The Atlantic rated one of the top 50 podcasts.
Here’s what they said:
“Unforgiven” by Snap Judgment
There’s a moment in the first 20 minutes of “Unforgiven” that will make your blood run cold. The theme of the episode is forgiveness, and the first act chronicles the correspondence between two women, a widow and the wife of her husband’s killer. Great documentary storytelling has long had a home in the world of podcasting, and Snap Judgment regularly surpasses typical cocktail-party anecdotes with its sweeping narratives. But “Unforgiven” pushes the show to new heights, layering in surprises and drilling down to the hard questions about how far the reaches of grace should extend.
The Widow and the Hijacker is being shopped by a Hollywood production company. Updates to follow.