After my husband died, hundreds of people came to see me to offer sympathy. After several hours I excused myself from the living room where some still were gathered. I just couldn’t shake another hand or shed another tear because I was exhausted. I fell across my bed as my son Andy came in to check on me. He wanted to know how I was doing. I swallowed hard and replied, “Right now I’m starving.” I asked him if he would go down to the dining room to make me a plate of food from the banquet laid out by my friends on our dining room table. He disappeared and returned moments later with a silver platter. As he sat the tray in front of me, I realized that he had brought me a tray consisting entirely of homemade brownies. I smiled at him as I reached for one of them. He told me that they were really good. It was one of those moments I can never forget. Eating brownies from a silver tray with Andy was a bitter sweet moment of grief. Grieving makes you hungry and why shouldn’t I eat a whole plate of chocolate brownies!
I decided to lift up clumps of velvety green moss growing around the roots of the pine trees providing shade on a steamy afternoon with my sister. I was making carpet for the playhouse we were making during our breaks while working at our large logged barn for flu-curing tobacco. The bright “Kermit the Frog” color added cheer to our earthy living room made from branches, twigs, tobacco sticks, potato shaped rocks, and old boards that we found scattered around the dusty road and area surrounding the barn. As we worked, I was constantly thinking of ways to add to our elaborate home under the pines. My mind drifted from the heat and harsh conditions and inspired me to keep going in spite of working long hours as a little girl.
Growing up on a tobacco farm in a place called Clover gave me the perfect setting for my imagination to wander wildly. Climbing apple trees and pretending to fly planes, digging holes to make swimming pools, putting on plays behind sheets draped over the swing set, crawling underneath the quilting table and grabbing pieces of chalk to draw with, dressing up our cats and strolling them as our babies in the old cane stroller in our attic, collecting clay from the creek to make an assortment of items, playing dress-up with the old clothes found in my Grannie’s trunk, or adding more squares of fuzzy moss to our playhouse could occupy me for countless hours.
As I grew older and recognized that more and more was being demanded of me in helping run the tobacco farm, I began to study harder in school to make certain that I would never work that hard physically again. While getting my grades up and juggling my working schedule, I placed my playfulness on hold until I was enrolled in college. My flair for creativity shifted to writing college essays. For me, an education meant freedom from farming. I would be the first person in my family to go to college. My father had quit school in eighth grade to make certain his family kept their family farm in spite of his dad’s failing health. His strong work ethics had been instilled in me and led to my academic success.
While striving to be successful, I began to listen to others’ voices more than mine. This desire to please others would ultimately leave me feeling less than capable to choose a career path where my natural gifts for creativity would flourish. In spite of a strong desire to be a professional singer, I became an elementary school teacher. Teaching first graders was good for me because I could make up lesson plans and decorate the classroom using my vivid imagination and artistic tendencies. Seeing children struggle with learning led me to becoming a school counselor for a few years.
My priorities shifted when faced with colon cancer at forty-one. Sitting still for 16 chemotherapy treatments gave me the impetus to journal. I realized that choosing to live fully meant being myself. The little girl who found soft velvety green moss emerged with her strong voice and creative ideas once again. My passion for helping others and vision for inspiration pushed me into faithful actions towards ministry.
Finding my sweet inner creative child was a gift that quickly faded. Just as I was learning to play again, my husband died while playing basketball with our younger son and other boys at school. The irony of this life-changing event threw me into a depression. While the pile of grief books began to resemble the self-help section at a bookstore, I wondered if I should write a book sharing stories drawn from this tragedy.
Thirteen years later while flying home from Montana, the woman seated in front of me turned around and said, “You should write a book.” I was stunned to hear her say the very words that had been rolling around in my head like a hamster on a wheel since losing my husband. During the long flight, she had heard me sharing stories that can’t be made up with the passenger seated by me. In introducing herself to me, she handed me her business card.
Upon arriving home, I decided to do a Google search on Laura Munson, the author named on that card. My heart raced as I wrote her a note inquiring about the Haven Writing Retreats she leads in Whitefish, Montana. Two months later I boarded a plane heading to Montana seeking the keys to writing that book. Under the tall pines draped in snow, the soft green velvety moss emerged on a sunny afternoon and a little girl found her courage to share her stories. Listening to one’s heart opens the doors to creativity!