I remember the day my wife Julia found out she was pregnant with our daughter. I remember it so well that it is now the opening scene of my memoir, A Smile for Anna. Valerie Wilman’s memoir Smell the Blue Sky: Young Pregnant and Widowed also begins the day she found out she was pregnant, but it takes a very different turn from there. For the day she found out she was pregnant was the same day that her husband Rob died.
Smell the Blue Sky is a moving and powerful story, of overwhelming grief, gradual healing, and enduring hope. It is a book about a shattered and reconstructed life. A book about finding new love when an old love never quite fades away. It is an eloquent, lyrical, and spiritual tale in which the author slowly picks herself up and takes one step after another until she learns to walk, to run, and finally to dance.
In Part One, titled “Grief Shadows” , Valerie talks about her life in Massachusetts during the first six months after Rob’s death. The grief, the funeral, Rob’s large, loving, but sometime stifling Portuguese Catholic family, and her first attempts to reconnect with Rob through the veil of death.
The stories of meeting with a spirit medium and automatic writing are outside my own worldview, as are her belief in reincarnation and past-life experiences. But Valerie’s powerful storytelling convinces me that she believes it. And that is what’s most important, and what makes the first part of the story so sad and so hopeful at the same time. Even in death, Rob is still an important character. Their “conversations” are the highlight of the first part of the book, and the lessons she learns through her regressions help her from making the same mistakes she believed she made in other lives.
In Part Two, the eponymously titled “Smell the Blue Sky,” Valerie moves to Oregon and Rob slowly fades from a constant spiritual presence to a still-vivid but increasingly distant memory. For her, Oregon is a chance to start over. She attempts to build a new life together with a daughter too young to remember her father and a newborn son that never knew him. She dates, tentatively at first, and she continues to explore various spiritual paths.
It takes her time to heal and time to find the man who can accept her for who she is and can accept that Rob will always be a presence in her life and in any relationship she enters into. Her own refusal to believe that she can be accepted and loved for who she is—a broken, hurting soul—threatens to end the most promising relationship since her marriage to Rob before it begins.
I can not know or even begin to understand what Valerie went through on that horrible day or in the years since then as she has slowly healed and learned to dance again. But I can read her story, and I can recommend it to anyone who has experienced the kind of grief that she has. This book shows that it is possible to survive, to heal, and to live again.
Smell the Blue Sky is available in paperback and ebook format through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other distributors. Check the website for details.