I have come to believe that life offers us some heroic stories that can form and shape us into better people. The bad news is, seldom are these stories the happy ones. Most often they are the hard ones, filled with pain and struggle. I wish it wasn’t that way, I wish we could just learn the deeper truths and just have fun. That that is not the call of the hero in fiction, and not the real path in life.
Over years of working on people’s stories, I have found that the struggle is truly the biggest gift, and that truth can be stranger than fiction.
My life was blessed for the first three and a half decades. I was a ‘normal person’ – I had the ‘normal worries’ - about weight, hair, career, fitness, having fun, friends, family, money and annual holidays. I married a dreamboat of a man and had two perfect children. I wrote all about my life, kids, sex and dreamboat husband in magazines. Hey I even wrote two books about it.
Great person. Awesome life. Funny writer. Bestselling author.
My journey with grief and loss was about to begin.
It started when my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer a few weeks after his 38th birthday. I was 34, and we had two young children aged three and five. It was like a huge and powerful train just slid off its tracks and the damage was catastrophic. In the fallout that followed I had a breakdown and lost my business. I missed the email that I was required to re-pitch on one of my biggest contracts - and they awarded it to someone else.
It was the start of a decade-long nosedive.
My husband fought heroically for four years. It was a battle he could not win.
"Write about it Sarah," everyone said during those long four years. But I couldn’t. I didn’t dare. I didn’t want to.
Then life threw more my way. During the last month of his life, things went nuclear. Why? In a crazy turn of events (due to a low immune system from stress) I got the flu. Within 48 hours I was in a coma and fighting for my own life, on a life support machine. I was in a coma for 18 day during which I had
multiple near-death experiences.
I fought my way back from other worlds and other dimensions, and back to this life. I woke up.
Three days later he died. He was 41.
"OMG you HAVE to write about it," everyone said.
But I couldn’t.
I crawled forward, a single mother sheltering two young children. We were all damaged. I had no real space to grieve or heal, I had to learn to walk again, talk again and then get on with the job of being a mom, being strong, being a survivor. I had to get up each morning, make the lunchboxes and do the school lift. I cried a lot and lost all my hair.
"Write about it," everyone said. But I couldn’t.
Both my children were filled with a deep fear of life itself. My entire world had changed, inside we were broken, but on the outside it all just looked the same. Same house, same car, same friends. We tried the conventional stuff like grief counselling and psychology, but I knew I had to do something more radical.
I did the most improbable thing, I pulled both of them out of school on a whim and we all moved to a small Greek island where we lived for four years.
In the small, quiet, safe place we started to heal. I entertained everyone with my stories of village life. I wrote a blog that got thousands of followers.
"Write about it, "everyone said.
But I didn’t want to.
I wasn’t ready.
I wasn’t sure it was the right time.
Four years after my husband died and I fought off death - I found a lump in my breast. That very word I had run away from for so long had landed again in my life. CANCER. This time it was in my very own body, the one I had just rebuilt. It was four years after cancer had taken my husband.
I was 41 and again, I was facing death. I felt such a profoundly deep sadness and grief that this was my fate. This was what my children had to face. By then my daughter was just 13, my son 11.
So many thoughts raced through my head.
My children will be orphans.
I am going to die.
"Now you simply have to write about it," friends said. But I didn’t want to.
Instead I closed ranks. I got quieter. I didn’t tell many people and I prepared to die. I wrote my will, letters to the children saying goodbye. I recorded videos for their 18th, 21st and their future weddings. All the things we never did when my husband was dying. I wanted to do the right thing.
But at the same time life just kept moving on. I went through all the treatment, lost all my hair (again), my will and almost my soul on chemo.
During my fight with breast cancer in 2016 my friend Emma called me up, “make something good come of it,” she told me.
I knew then I would write about it.
She didn't even say the words.
It was starting to brew. I just had to make sure I lived long enough.
In the meantime, I worked on so many of your stories to make them come to light, and to get published. Over 150 of them are published and in bookstores. And more to come.
I am going to write that book in 2021. I don’t really care who reads it, or if it gets published at all. I am going to write it to record the journey, to honour my own path and to remember it before it gets lost. I could not have written it before, because the story wasn’t finished you see.
I think that story is now finished. I have looked at death, played with it and made friends with it. I no longer fear it.
It is my way of closing that decade. I am ready for a new story now.
My way, like so many other storytellers who have lived through the centuries, is to record and share my story. I told this story many times in social gatherings, to friends and to strangers.
But we must tell them because storytellers have a calling, and that is to share broader than our circle.
Do you have a soul stirring story? One that can shine the light for others, give them hope, give them a chuckle or give them a script to follow.
I am going to write this book this year. Who’s joining me?