Great Barrington Author Explores Grief, Discovery After Husband’s Death In Debut Book
On Saturday, a Great Barrington, Massachusetts author will release a book written in the aftermath of her husband’s death.
September 9th, 2015, is a night that is etched into the memory of Beth Robbins. As she writes in her debut work of creative nonfiction, “A Grief Sublime,” everything changed.
“Police lights in my driveway, flashing red lights," read Robbins. "I’m in my pajamas. It is 10 at night. The glass of white wine on the coffee table is untouched. Steve is hours late. The lights flash red. I think, don’t answer the door. I hear a car door slam, and then another. Two men are on my porch. They are under the light from the porch. They are outside my screen door, under the golden light from the porch, the red lights that flash from their car. And they see me. I turn to stone.”
Her husband, Steve Meyerowitz, was driving home to Great Barrington from a business meeting in Danbury, Connecticut when he was involved in a fatal collision. He was 65. Robbins – who teaches English and Drama at the Berkshire Waldorf High School – was hurled into a nightmare.
“I in a sense, lost everything," she said. "I mean, it’s not completely true, I’m blessed. I have children and all of this. But I lost the life I had been counting on that was my life. I thought I had my life partner with me. It was a sudden, shocking absence in my life. Steve and I were together more than 30 years, and so basically, in a sense, I grew up with him.”
On the advice of a friend, Robbins started keeping a journal to provide herself a respite from the pain.
“I was both journaling with myself, creating a dialogue with myself, and I was able to express what I was feeling without holding back anything," said Robbins. "And also I was able to dialogue with Steve, and I was having really what I realize now is a conversation with him after he died.”
Through fragments of memory, quotes from her favorite Romantic poets like Keats, and reflections on her own transformation through grief, something larger began to form.
“I started to write what I thought was going to be a work that would honor Steve," said Robbins. "I wanted to write a book that somehow gave him – I guess, in thinking about it, I didn’t use this phrase then – a continued existence. I wanted everyone to know Steve and how amazing he was.”
An innovator in the world of juicing and raw foods, Meyerowitz was known as Sproutman and wrote a dozen books on the subject. He was an avid pilot and gifted pianist, writing songs for their three children.
“He was sort of out of time in a certain way," Robbins told WAMC. "He did his own thing. He created his own life based on the things that mattered to him. He was honestly – and this is not just a grieving widow memory – he was one of the kindest human beings in the world. And this is something that I know to be so not because of us but because of what other people have said and the way they reacted to him.”
Almost a thousand people attended his funeral.
Robbins says the title of the book – “A Grief Sublime” – gets into the complex mixture of pain and gratitude that she discovered.
“Something that is sublime is awesome or amazing and beautiful, but it also has a meaning where it’s a transformative experience and something that’s sublime allows you to somehow touch on something that’s almost god-like or divine,” explained the author.
With Meyerowitz’s death, Robbins discovered herself as an author and rediscovered the love that drew her to her husband all those years ago.
“In a second, I would return these gifts to have the accident not have happened," she said. "But the truth is, it did happen, and this is what I’ve got. And so I’m finding these amazing gifts within this unbelievable loss.”
The book has taken on a life of its own. Robbins founded her own company, Keats and Company Publishing, to publish it, and a film version where she plays herself is in production. Robbins enlisted her friend, actress and fellow Great Barrington resident Karen Allen, to be the voice of the audiobook.
“I had history with them. I was at Steve’s funeral, the gathering that she writes about in the book, so I had a real connection to it," Allen told WAMC. “I read the book two or three times, made some small notes. I sat and had a couple conversations with Beth about it and then we just went into the studio and I just let it take me where it took me. I tried to impose myself upon it as little as possible and just allow myself to sort of find her voice as much as I could.”
Robbins plans to continue pursuing her new calling as an author. While she prepares new projects, her first book will be one of the silver linings of her husband’s death.
“This experience of gratitude which people speak about a lot – which I always intellectually got, of course, why we should be grateful for all the things we have in our lives – but I’ve now experienced gratitude in a really profound way," said Robbins. "I will never not know that, what gratitude really is.”
The release party for Beth Robbins’ “A Grief Sublime” is at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts on December 7th.