Kim Murdock is a writer and editor who’s made it her mission to help those dealing with the loss of a loved one, particularly a spouse. After becoming a widow at 42, she didn’t want people to tell her how to heal or that everything happens for a reason. She just wanted to know that her feelings were normal.
She spent years working with a grief counselor and joined a young widows group, becoming good friends with many widows and widowers. In gratitude to these widows and widowers who helped her, she decided to pay it forward and support others suffering a loss via her book, “Feeling Left Behind: Permission to Grieve.”
Her book was named a finalist for the Book Excellence Awards in the grief category and a finalist for the Colorado Authors’ League award for the nonfiction category (cookbooks, travel, self-help, and health and fitness).
A Denver native, Kim has an MBA from the University of Denver and a BS from the University of Colorado.
The following is an interview with the author.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
What inspired you to write this book?
After my husband died, I realized our culture is not adept at handling grief. Well-meaning friends, strangers, and family couldn’t understand what I was going through; they wanted me to return quickly to happiness and to be okay. But that’s not reality.
The reality is that grief hurts and isn’t a quick process. I searched for grief books and discovered only books that told me how to move through the loss, how to thrive again, how to be happy again, and how to put the loss behind me. I appreciated those ideas and books, but I knew I’d survive the loss. What I wanted was validation that my feelings were normal. I wanted to know I wasn’t alone in my grief.
I worked with a grief counselor who assured me my feelings were normal, which helped me more than any suggestions on how to heal. My sister-in-law lost her husband five years before my husband died; she also validated my feelings and affirmed that my experiences were the same as hers. Another friend’s wife died four weeks before my husband died, and we periodically got together to discuss our shared experiences (experiences non-widowed friends couldn’t relate to).
Finally, I joined a young widows group, where I became good friends with other widows and observed that their feelings and experiences were the same as mine. During a walk in Washington Park with one of these friends, I mentioned some negative thoughts I was having. My friend said, “That’s why I like being with you. You tell the truth. We all feel the same way but don’t want to admit it.”
That is when I realized I had to write this book. Someone had to tell the truth about grief and help widows and widowers know they aren’t alone—even when grief and the associated feelings and truths can be ugly.
Although I wrote the book to help other widows and widowers, I also had a somewhat selfish reason. My husband was a model of health and physically active before cancer ravaged his body. I could not understand how or why he got cancer and died. Writing this book was a way to honor him and to give meaning to his death. If I can help other widows and widowers, he didn’t die in vain.
I had no way of knowing that less than seven months after I published my book, a pandemic would hit the world. Behind each of the 350,000 Americans who’ve died from COVID-19, there are friends and family left behind who are now dealing with the pain and grief. Cancer, heart attacks, strokes, accidents, and other causes of death have also continued to claim lives, so I hope my book can offer a little support.
Put this excerpt in context. Why did you choose it and what else should the reader know?
I chose this excerpt because it demonstrates how much our lives change after a loss and how grief accompanies us at every turn. The grocery store seems like such an innocuous place. Its purpose is utilitarian—to provide us with food—and we all go there. Often just part of errand day or routine schedules, grocery shopping is not worthy of much thought other than the specific foods to purchase. Yet after a loss, the grocery store can bring unbearable pain and heartache for grieving spouses. I read an article where a widower said, “That first walk into Safeway nearly broke me.” As my excerpt shows, my first trip to the grocery store nearly broke me, too. Standing in the aisle at my store, the store where I’d shopped for years and felt at home, triggered crushing pain and sobbing.
Food often accompanies memorable events; it also represents the routine moments in life—such as nightly dinners—that disappear after a loved one dies. This is particularly true after losing a spouse or child who lived at home. We can no longer purchase their favorite foods. Instead, we see these foods as we walk the aisles, knowing we’ll never purchase those items for them again. Also, we now may be purchasing food for just one person—and cooking for one—rather than two. That hurts.
Many widows/widowers may not even be accustomed to going to the store. My husband and I routinely went to the store together, but in many households, only one spouse shops. Therefore, the surviving spouse faces a new challenge: navigating the grocery store for the first time. This can overwhelm a person who’s grieving. Other spouses may feel guilty at the store because they can now purchase food they like that perhaps their spouses disliked.
While I don’t discuss mealtimes in this excerpt, the grocery store ties in with meals. Dinners alone at the table spark agonizing pain for many widowed people. A friend told me that after her mom died, her dad sat in silence every night at the table as he ate dinner alone. He was miserable. Since my husband’s death, I’ve eaten dinner on the couch accompanied by the television and my cats. Eating at the table without him and our nightly chatter would’ve wrecked me. Some surviving spouses choose to eat at restaurants or standing up in the kitchen—anything to avoid eating alone at the table.
Before my husband died, I wouldn’t have expected the grocery store to be a bomb waiting to catapult me into deep grief. But I now appreciate that the grocery store (as well as the pharmacy, farmers’ market, and other stores) is a big trigger for widowed people. Not every grieving widow/widower doubles over and cries at the store, but I think it’s more common than we realize.
Tell us about creating this book; any research or travel you might have done, other influences on which you drew.
Not long after my husband died, I told a friend that I missed telling my husband about my day. She suggested I write him a letter every night telling him about my day. Those letters became a journal where I captured my feelings and experiences.
Much of my book is drawn from those journals and is based on my experiences. However, where appropriate, I also incorporated the feelings and experiences of my 12 widowed friends. When trying to arrange the chapters, I sought advice from some of these widowed friends. What topics did they consider most important and, therefore, should come first in the book? I also sought advice from my grief counselor to ensure I didn’t miss any important topics.
Where appropriate, I also included stories from Queen Victoria’s widowhood. I had seen an exhibit on her life and learned she got the moniker “the widow of Windsor.” I researched her life and included excerpts from “A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death that Changed the British Monarchy” by Helen Rappaport.
Queen Victoria was monarch of a vast empire and had anything she wanted at her disposal. Yet, the death of her husband and resulting grief changed her. Her feelings and experiences were the same as mine, showing that grief crosses social and demographic boundaries.
What were the biggest surprises you faced, or difficulties you encountered, in writing this book?
I had considered writing this book for so long and recognized it was important, so it was not difficult to write it. Rereading my journals sometimes brought pain as I relived the experiences. The biggest surprise or difficulty I faced, however, was not writing the book; rather, the greatest difficulty has been marketing it.
Like many authors, I hoped I could write the book and be done. However, there is an entire business behind selling a book—social media, advertising, book launches, etc. That was an unexpected and unwelcome surprise.
Walk us through your writing process. When and where do you write? Do you need music, or do you prefer silence, etc.?
Usually when I write, I’m in my office (converted from a bedroom); sometimes I need silence while other times music helps. Because of inflammation in my hands that is exacerbated by too much typing, I dictated much of this book while sitting at my dining room table.
When I started the project, the crabapple tree in my front yard was blooming, and I drew inspiration from its beautiful pink flowers. Of course, my cats periodically walked across the keyboard or interrupted the process. They’ve been a part of my grieving journey, though, so that only seemed appropriate.
I wanted the book to be casual because it is meant to be a friend that will sit with you in your grief. Sometimes I speak more casually than I wanted the book to be. Therefore, between that and the inaccuracies of dictation software, I had to clean up much of the manuscript.
What’s your next project?
Currently, I have no plans to write another book. I am, however, considering turning this book into an audio book. I’m trying to decide if I should narrate it or hire a narrator. It’s such a personal and vulnerable book that I think I should narrate it. I have no experience with audio books, however, so I’m still on the fence.
NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect an answer in the Q&A that changed when the originally planned excerpt was changed.