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Q&A with Maryanne Pope – author of A Widow’s Awakening

Maryanne Pope

Maryanne Pope

Q: What has your life been like since that fateful September day, back in 2000?

A: I would say my life since then has been a pretty incredible journey. In the early months and years, I found it very difficult – emotionally and psychologically. I was trying to come to terms with John’s easily preventable death and figure out my new life…how to honour John, remember the past, learn the lessons, accept that the future would be very different from how I’d imagined it to be and then figure out how I wanted to live my new life.

So much changed so fast that it took me a couple of years to sort out how best to proceed. I knew I wanted to write – and I did start writing very soon after John’s death – and I knew I wanted to work with the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund to help raise public awareness about the importance of safe workplaces. But figuring out how to do all that – while trying to heal a broken heart – took time.

Practically speaking, after John’s death, I had a financial freedom that was extraordinary. Because I was entitled to receive his paycheque for the remainder of his career and then his pension for the rest of my life, plus my house was paid off because of mortgage insurance, I could literally do whatever I wanted to with my life. But right from the get go, I had a very strong sense that with freedom comes responsibility. So I pretty much became a workaholic…partly out of guilt and partly because working was how I coped with all the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that grief brought to the surface. Plus writing helped me process and understand all that I was experiencing.

In addition, because of the rather unconventional life path I found myself on, I had to learn how to set – and enforce – healthy boundaries with the dozens of people in my life. Eventually I also had to learn how to set boundaries for myself.

Unfortunately, however, other than sharing my life with my two beloved dogs, Sable and Soda, I wouldn’t say there was a heck of a lot of fun or joy in my life until about three years after John’s death. There were blips of happy moments – mainly when the possibility of a romance with a new guy presented itself – but the deep joy and contentment that I now experience on a daily basis wasn’t there.

Q: They say that time is a healer, do you agree?

A: No. I would say that time softens the initial pain of the hurt and eventually dulls it. But I think the really deep healing comes from doing the difficult inner work of coming to terms with whatever one needs to deal with. This is not a fun process and I can understand why many people avoid it like the plague. Grieving tends to bring all sorts of uncomfortable emotions, thoughts, beliefs and past experiences to the surface.

For me, John’s death was like being in a near-fatal car crash where I suffered massive internal injuries but wasn’t lucky enough to die. That kind of hurt – a wounding of the soul – doesn’t heal overnight…and it didn’t heal without an awful lot of TLC – from myself and others.

Q: When John was alive, he made it clear that he didn’t want children, while you were of a different opinion. Have you made peace with being a non-parent?

A: Absolutely. I am so glad now that John and I didn’t have a child together. And I am even more glad that I didn’t decide to have a child after his death. Both before and after he passed away, I really struggled with the “To be or not to be…a Mom?” decision. In my mid-40’s I finally realized that although my path was not meant to include raising children, I was meant to fully explore the possibility…as I think by doing so – and coming out the other side – is where the peace comes from.

If I had chosen the path of motherhood, then I would’ve had to sacrifice way too much: my freedom, time, money, energy, dreams, writing and travel. There are only so many hours in the day and years in our lives…it’s up to us to choose wisely – and responsibly – how we spend them.

I absolutely love my life now and my days are spent doing what brings meaning and purpose to me. As an example, I would be angry and resentful if I had to spend hours of my day now driving kids to their sports and other activities. I love children and have lots of fantastic kids in my life – but I wouldn’t want the job of parenting them.

My path is that of a writer. I need plenty of time in a day on my own to think, to dream, to write, to create, to walk and to rest. It was only when I finally took the time to really look at how I love to spend my days that I was able to accept the fact that all dreams require sacrifice – so I best choose wisely.

Although the decision to have a child with John was ultimately made for me – both by John not wanting a child and his sudden death – if I really wanted to become a mother after his death, I could have done so. But I’m very glad I didn’t.

Q: In the book, you fell in love with one of John’s colleagues after his death. How is your relationship with him now?

A: We have not been in contact for about a year – which is his choice. We kept in close touch for years and despite my best attempts at trying to get him to at least try a relationship with me, that never came to pass. We remained very close friends for years after John’s death and his friendship meant the world to me. But I think the time came when we needed to go our separate ways for awhile and not remain connected. I love him dearly and think of him often but I suspect it is probably healthiest for me not to have him in my life at this point. It’s funny but I have always got the sense that although he hasn’t given me what I wanted from him – on some level, his decisions have always had my best interests at heart.

Q: How has your relationship with John’s family evolved?

A: We remain very close. John’s Dad died of cancer 5 years after John’s death. I have no doubt it was linked to grief. John’s Mom and I remained very close and she passed away, also from cancer, 18 months ago. I stay in touch with John’s sister and brother and their families. They are family to me, as I am to them – and we all make the effort to stay connected to some extent.

Q: Your own family proved quite a support in the aftermath of John’s death. How has their attitude toward you developed?

A: In the early years, they watched me like a hawk. They were worried sick about me. But they didn’t try to intervene in my decisions and they supported whatever decisions I made – even the bad ones. I don’t think the path I have chosen – writing about John’s death and working so closely with the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund – was necessarily a path they would have chosen for me. But right from the get-go, they knew I was going to do what I was going to do…and all they could really do was stand back and watch, cheer from the sidelines now and then, and just hope to God I didn’t blow through too much money. Mostly, however, they just want me to be happy…so if I’m happy, they’re happy.

Q: Do some people still feel sorry for you?

A: No! Especially if they know me well. I live a pretty charmed and blessed life. I do what I want to do, when I want to do it and with who I want to do it with. In the early years, I think people felt very badly for me because I was so damn sad – despite my best attempts to hide my sorrow. But now that I’ve created a new life I love by learning how to transform lemons into lemonade, I would be very surprised to hear that people feel sorry for me. They may wish for me to meet someone special to share my life with…but after spending time with me, I suspect they might not be quite so convinced that will magically make me even happier.

Q: You are the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund, can you tell us a bit more about it?

A: You bet. The John Petropoulos Memorial Fund (JPMF) was started shortly after John’s death by several of his police recruit classmates. The JPMF is a Canadian charity that educates the public about why and how to make their workplace – and the roads – safe for everyone, including emergency responders. The JPMF has produced five 30-second TV ads that have aired over a million times on TV and on-line, as well as a 10-minute safety video, entitled Put Yourself in Our Boots. The ads and video can be viewed on-line at www.jpmf.ca.

In addition, JPMF speakers, myself included, deliver workplace safety presentations to companies and other organizations, schools and conferences in Western Canada and elsewhere. We are finding these powerful presentations really resonate with audiences, thereby increasing the chances that a person will actually take a moment to look around their workplace to see if it is safe for everyone, including an emergency responder…and if not, to make a change so that it is.

Q: On a personal level, will you marry again if you had the chance?

A: I highly doubt I would ever get married again. Famous last words! I can totally see myself falling in love again and having a heck of a lot of fun with another guy. I’ve certainly had some fun with a whole mishmash of men since John’s death – mostly short-term flings. But meeting a man that I really get along with and would want to share my life, dreams and home with is proving to be far more challenging than I thought.

A few months after John died, my Dad said to me: “Don’t fall in love with love…but be very careful of spending too long on your own, as it will become very difficult to share your life with anyone again.”
This is exactly what has happened! I have created a life that I love and learned how to be happy on my own – without a special guy in my life. So now I am in the situation where if I am going to get serious with a guy, he has to really add value to my life. I have no need to settle.

So we shall see what the future holds. But I must confess that no one is more surprised than I that I am so damn happy as a 48 year-old single woman

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: Well my plans for the future and how the future actually unfolds are probably two very different things. I’ve learned that over and over again!

But my immediate plans for the future are to keep on writing books, blogs, screenplays and playscripts. I will continue living in my cute little bungalow by the sea in Sidney on Vancouver Island with my dog, Sadie, where we go on daily walks to the beach and hikes in the woods. And I will keep on traveling…I’m on the plane now to San Diego, in fact!
I’ve got to the point now where I am living my dream life…I love waking up in the morning and doing work I believe in. My life has meaning and purpose. I have balance…lots of walking, yoga, dancing, reading, watching movies and visiting friends and family.

What else the Universe has in store for me is a mystery…but whatever it is, I hope it’s fun. And I have no doubt there will be lots more life lessons to learn

Maryanne’s book is available on Amazon.

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