PORTLAND, Maine — Writing has always provided a rhythm to Diane O’Brien’s life. She’s been the Lincolnville town correspondent for forty years, first writing a column for the Camden Herald, then the Lincolnville News, and now online as part of the PenBay Pilot. Her column, which normally covered town meetings, bird reports, and the occasional moose sighting – took on a decidedly different tone two years ago.
Diane and Wally O’Brien were married for 46 years, together for 50 – when Wally was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. The only way she knew how to cope – was to keep writing.
“He passed away in January of 2017 in a room – in that front room with all of us here, all of us around … he was ready. This room was packed with people waiting to go in and see him. Climbed up on the bed, hugged him… told him they loved him… it was quite amazing and he was just completely accepting of what was happening. It was really a gift to all of us.”Wally O’Brien had been an educator all his life, a beloved fixture in this tiny midcoast town.
The very next morning after he died, as she had always done, Diane filed her column. She shared that Wally had died and touched on other bits of town news. And each week, she found that writing about what she was feeling was helping her to adjust to her enormous loss. Column after column, week after week, she grappled with an overwhelming sense of grief, and with life on her own.
Each week, the column would begin with her most vulnerable thoughts, reminiscing about Wally and their marriage, a very public progress report about her grieving process. She felt a measure of guilt, as though she could not just keep pouring out her grief to her readers. But friends – and strangers – encouraged her.
“We’re all gonna deal with grief, and how do you go on – can you actually have a day when you wake up and you feel…normal again? Or hopeful – is that ever gonna happen? Yeah, yeah you do. But it took …that is what people I think wanted to hear,” she realized.
These columns continued, and as she approached the anniversary of Wally’s death, she decided to turn he writing in to a book. She gathered a year’s worth of columns and self-published “Half of Every Couple: When Death Ends a Marriage – a story of love, loss, and Maine”. The topic may be universal, but the setting for the book is decidedly her home town. The townspeople of Lincolnville will recognize themselves in the book – this close-knit community has played a vital role in her healing.
And while working through her grief in a bit of a public forum, she got encouragement from friends and strangers alike. She’s learned a lot about being vulnerable, and open to change – and honest about what she felt.
“First, you’ve got to grieve. You wail, you scream. You walk around your house. Just saying ‘where are you? Get back here?” It’s visceral. It comes right out of you.”
Diane continues to write, and believes that staying active is helping her to adjust to life without her husband. The two of them loved to garden – growing their own food was a big part of their life together. “All of a sudden you have a lot more time on your hands and what you have to do, I think, ..you have to rebuild yourself… I’ve heard this wonderful description … think of a garden. That is in full bloom and then the garden dies, fall comes. And it’s compost piles. The garden is gone, the form is gone. The body is gone. But that compost – the memories – is the things that made him who he was, and who he was to me – is here. It’s not goin’ anywhere. It’s …he’ll never be back again, but – I’ll never be the same.”
“Half of Every Couple: When Death Ends a Marriage” is available on Amazon and Lulu.com.