Tricia Williford has now been without her husband, Robb, for more than 600 days. Not that she’s counting. Robb Williford died just before Christmas two years ago after being stricken with streptococcus pneumonia with complications from sepsis. He was 35 years old and left behind two young sons—Tucker and Tyler—and his wife, who began chronicling her life as a new widow just days after her husband was cremated.
Her blog, which has a new site, shares every part of her adjustment—from first days of elementary school, to Robb’s birthday, to simply getting through a rough morning. Now, Williford, who I profiled in 5280 last year, has signed a two-book deal with WaterBrook Multnomah, an imprint of Random House’s Crown Publishing Group. Her first book is tentatively titled And Life Comes Back and will be released in January, 2014. Her second book will be released the following year. “It’s become what I call a ‘tragic irony,'” says Williford, who once was a schoolteacher but moved into writing and editing when her husband was alive. “It’s tragically beautiful and beautifully tragic. It is both of those because it’s my dream [to have a book published], and it always was. So here it is, but it was a high price to pay.”
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Williford lives in Highlands Ranch, and she talked to 5280 on Tuesday about her book, blessings, and dating.
“My story initially was about my first year as a widow, and I was told that [that kind of book] would be too sad for too long. No one would commit to that. People don’t want to put themselves there emotionally. So now I’m taking it from six months after Robb died. It’s when I got my tattoo. From there, it jumps around chronologically. There’s a lot about the beauty before Robb’s death, then the darkness, and now the rebuilding. It’s really a memoir about overcoming the worst thing possible.”
“I look back at my journals [before Robb’s death] and things that I wrote. It was like, ‘Just give me something to say. I don’t want to write a beach novel that women take with them for mindless reading on their vacations. I want to write something that matters.’ I had no idea what I was asking for.”
“It’s been 600-plus days since he died, and it’s still a matter of deciding what to do the next day. Maybe that should really be the title of the first book. ‘The Next Day.'”
“I dreamt about him the night before last. I haven’t dreamt about him in a long time. And he said, ‘I’m here for tonight, but I’m going to die again in the morning.’ So we had this great evening of conversation. It was like a real-time dream where I was sitting with him and talking with him and telling him, ‘Here’s what’s happening. There’s this book deal. Here’s the dates they have in mind. Here’s what I’m thinking about writing about.’ But then, when morning came, he died again. And it was just how he died before. I had to watch that and live that again. It was kind of a tradeoff. I got to be with him for a night.”
“One of the things that I struggle to balance is the emotional toll of this writing. To write it over and over is to revist the trauma. I’ve learned to stop writing just before lunchtime so I can be emotionally engaged to pick up my kids at the end of the day. I need a really wide margin. If I don’t allow for that, it’s like a day of deep depression. Every time that I revisit it, I have to resurface again. Especially if I’m writing about the happy times. Some of this is about just the four of us at the dinner table. To immerse myself in it is to remember how great it was.”
“Both boys are in school now. I had two boys who had to go in through two different entrances [on the first day of school], and somebody was going to be without someone to take their picture because, ‘I’m on my own, guys.’ We’re going to do our best.”
“Tucker, in his class, made this booklet, and it was called ‘My Dad Is….” It was all these things about Robb. Somehow, I thought he would make it about my dad because my dad has kind of stepped into that role. Tucker had to write all these sentences, like ‘My dad is as strong as an ox.’ All these pictures were of Robb with his red hair. I said to Tuck, ‘Who did you draw here?’ He looked at me like, ‘Where is the disconnect? It’s my dad.'”
“The kids’ grief is changing, and I can see that they have more questions now. Tyler was only three when this happened, and now he’s five-and-a-half. They remember things I can’t remember. Tyler asked, ‘Did Daddy do this thing with his fingers?’ And he was tapping on the table, and that’s exactly what Robb would do when he ate. I was like, ‘Yeah, buddy, he did.’ Tyler was in his high chair when he saw that. And he remembers.”
“My children bless me. They bless me.”
“Tucker said to me, ‘I think we need to start asking God for our new daddy.’ Tyler said to me one day, ‘Mommy, I know you are going to marry again. I know that you will. And he’s going to love you so much, Mommy. And he’ll play football with Tucker, and he’ll read books to me. You know I love my real daddy, but I’m ready for a new one.’ Tucker said the same thing. They have this clear vision of what our family is going to be, but they always add in there, ‘You know I love my real Daddy, but there’s going to be a new one.'”
“That’s gotten me thinking. I feel like I grieved Robb well. I feel like the heavy lifting of the grief is behind me. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love him, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t have difficult days that break my heart all over again. But I’m writing a book, and I’m getting out of bed, and I’m raising my boys, and we’re doing this thing.”
“I’ve been on a couple of dates. Nothing I’m interested in pursuing anything further, but it’s good. It’s been on a number of levels, that I can feel that again. It’s good to think that someone can feel that towards me. I’m very open to it now. I would love to find love again. I would love to have a partner again. I’d like to have dinner conversation with someone again. I’d like to raise my kids with somebody who they can love, too.”
“It took me awhile. In fact, in the beginning, I was very offended by anyone who made any advance toward me. I just felt like, ‘I’m married. What on Earth are you thinking?’ It was actually my counselor who had to say, ‘OK, actually you’re not married. And he is not a bad person if he finds you attractive.'”
“On July 22, we would have been married for 12 years. I was traveling that day. I was by myself. I’d just been with my brother in Orlando. I was coming back, and I’d cried and cried and cried for a good part of the morning and just remembered my wedding day and the places we’d been. And then, somewhere on the second flight, my heart shifted, and it was like I had cried and then I just didn’t anymore. I discovered that the songs I was listening to weren’t breaking my heart anymore: They were causing me to think about the next person and to think about what love might be waiting for me and what future might be waiting for me.
“I discovered on that day that I’m done grieving. Eighteen months later, I did it. There’s been a breakthrough where I just feel like I can lay that down and there’s no guilt. I still honor him. I just don’t think that I was born to be sad forever. I’m finding joy.”
Follow 5280 senior staff writer Robert Sanchez on Twitter at @milehighrobert.