Eileen Robertson Hamra is the author of the new memoir Time to Fly: Life and Love After Loss. She lives in Chicago.
Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir?
A: I was one of those people who talked a lot through my grief, about the person I had suddenly lost—my husband and the father of our three children. I believed this was one way to keep Brian’s spirit alive, and every time I shared stories about my experience, people said, “You have to write a book.”
I started writing things down in a journal two months after Brian died, and from that rough and rocky starting point to now, I’ve questioned myself and my motives plenty: Why am I writing this book? What do I know? What do I have to share?
I told myself that if the memoir-writing process was therapeutic for me alone it would be worth the effort. After all the hard work that went into it – I do hope it helps whoever needs it.
Q: Your book deals with the tragedy of your first husband's death and the aftermath for you and your family. How difficult was it to write?
A: In short, writing about Brian’s death and everything the kids and I experienced was very difficult. I underestimated how emotionally challenging it would be.
In order to write authentically and to render scenes palpable on the page, I had to fully set myself back in time. I had to become present to what I was thinking, feeling, and doing from December 22, 2011 onward, and a lot of those memories are ones you don’t want to think about any more.
But in reliving certain stories of the past, stories that still do color our present, I healed even more. I took several stabs at writing this memoir, and know now that some distance was required—some time to digest and process all I had experienced and learned.
By the time I began to put my focus on this iteration of Time to Fly, at the start of 2018, I didn’t even know that I needed to heal more. So, although revisiting the past was not always easy, it was worth it.
Q: What do your family members think of the book?
A: Not everyone has read it yet: I was selective sending out ARCs (Advance Reader Copies). Those who have read Time to Fly tell me they’ve learned things they never knew about Brian and our life together. They have laughed and cried.
My kids gave me their blessing, but they’ve had a really hard time reading it. Even though I think they appreciate the fact I put these stories down, some of the passages hit too close to home.
Brooke, who wrote the prologue, told me she can’t get past the starting chapters. She’s promised she’ll read through to the end, in her own time.
An interesting note: With the feedback my family and a few friends have given me, I’m seeing so clearly what a mystery we can all be to one another, while alive, and certainly, after death and in grief.
Nobody knew what it was like for me to suddenly lose Brian, and obviously, other than a general sadness and longing, I couldn’t know what it was like for anyone else.
Everyone’s perspective is important, valid, unique, and useful. There is no comparing whose grief is more profound. And if I was a jerk in my grief, or ever, maybe whoever I was a jerk to will understand why after reading this book.
I hope those who read Time to Fly, people close to me and absolute strangers, will love it. I hope it sparks more talk of Brian and all the good he brought to the world. And I hope it brings about healing.
Q: Can you say more about what you hope readers will take away from your memoir?
A: First, I hope it brings more healing. In grief, even with offerings of love and support, we can feel “abnormal” in the way we are mourning. We can feel so alone.
My hope is that my memoir brings those who need it a sense of “Oh, thank God, I’m not the only one to … fill in the blank.”
For example, you are not the only one who fears she will be judged for wanting to take off your wedding ring “too soon”; you are not the only one who wants to scream at the next person who says, “Everything happens for a reason.”
I also hope readers will take away the message that anything, at any moment, is possible. We cannot control events, but we can control what we say about them. Story is life and story is actively opening us up to possibilities we may not even have been aware were open to us.
Finally, for readers who knew Brian D. Robertson, I hope it sparks more talk of him and all the good he brought to the world.
I live in the present, but I think it’s important to keep memories of our loved ones alive. Talking about those who are gone helps with healing, and creates peace and connection. Legacy matters, and I hope to keep it activated and actionable.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m currently evolving my business and engaging in philanthropic work in Chicago.
My main focus right now is supporting people in Chicago who are dealing with trauma. I’m collaborating with the American Heart Association and with Conscious Capitalism on economic development projects that will impact inner-city youth and families. I bring my yogi and mindfulness training to the table, and I invest.
In terms of creating more buzz around Time to Fly, I’m maintaining a blog and scheduling a book tour for the fall of 2020. Plans for all of us have of course changed due to Covid-19, and I’m trying to be creative in many regards.
Wherever my story, my experience, and my heart fits and makes a difference, I want to be there. Whether speaking, working in an advisory role, or making an impact investment, I am game.
And while I’m not working on another book at the moment, I do have an idea for one in the back of my mind.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: As the date for getting my memoir into people’s hands approaches, I am becoming acutely aware of how grateful I am for the opportunity to say thank you to those who got me through the singularly most challenging period of my life.
The Time to Fly book tour is really going to be a Thank You tour. I’m looking forward to publicly acknowledging all of the people who have made such a difference in my life.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb