Thank you, Robert, for your time once again in speaking with us. I have read your book, "Grieving a Soulmate", and once again, my sincere condolences for your loss of your loving wife, Jeri.
RO: Thank you, Gary.
PBR: This book is quite a change from the previous book, "Death with Dignity", where you took on the end-of-life system. Which book came first?
RO: "Grieving a Soulmate" came first.
PBR: So it was after "Grieving a Soulmate" that you chose to take on the political and regulatory issues of self-assisted suicide, as this was a subject that played so heavily in your own ordeal.
RO: I wrote a very complete chapter on death and dying in "Grieving a Soulmate," but I felt that I had just scratched the surface. There was a lot more to that story. "Death with Dignity" is really an expose on how we die in America today. You get "the good, the bad, and the ugly." As you know, the system is broken in many ways.
PBR: I found your ability to break down to manageable issues the elements of such a complex emotional situation quite amazing. I refer to the methods and reasoning you used to cope with the loss of a loved one. Would you say you have the Napoleonic strategy of “divide and conquer” as your fundamental way to explain your conclusions?
RO: Yes, the loss of a soulmate is a truly devastating experience. I was suffering from red-hot pain that seemed to come in waves. The "grief bursts" just kept coming and coming. I was almost incapacitated; I could barely function. I found that dealing with the grief in its entirety can be totally overwhelming. In my computer science days, we dealt with complexity by breaking it down into manageable chunks. So I tried to break down the grief into categories or "buckets." I learned how to recognize my grief bursts and assign them to buckets. Later I devised methods for eradicating the grief in each bucket. Once you pop a grief burst it never seems to come back. I measured my progress by tracking the number of daily grief bursts. Yes, it is "divide and conquer." You mentioned Napoleon, but this is the first time I've seen this technique applied to grief. Each of us will have our own triggers that produce grief bursts; and each of us will develop our own buckets. In my case, there were five buckets: 1) the flashbacks of the last days—the trauma of watching Jeri die, 2) survivor's guilt—I was alive but Jeri wasn’t, 3) she’s gone forever—the yearning cycle, 4) self-pity—I would have to recreate my world without her, and 5) the deep existential questions: where did she go? what was her life all about? My buckets can serve as templates for others.
PBR: I had made my judgment within my review as to who I felt the book will most benefit, but in your own words, who do you feel this book is best intended for?
RO: Each grief has its patterns. Grieving a soulmate is different from grieving a child or grieving a parent. This book was specifically written to address the specifics of soulmate grief. Note that not all spouses are soulmates, and not all soulmates are spouses. The loss of a soulmate results in the breaking of innumerable adult-to-adult bonds that are in fine working condition at the time of death. It's like losing half of yourself. In some ways, two people have died.
PBR: Now that the book is completed, if you had to add additional thoughts to it not previously stated, what might you consider adding to the “next revision” – should it ever happen?
RO: There is no next version. This was my window to write about death and grief. It takes a very special frame of mind to deal with these almost-taboo topics.
PBR: What, if any, has come as a surprise from those that knew you and Jeri as a couple, when they read this book?
RO: I guess they are surprised that I am still alive. Jeri and I were fused together. They all miss Jeri, and the book may have helped them grieve. Incidentally, most of my friends are now much more aware of their own mortality.
PBR: The chapter on the “Surfer’s Funeral” was very memorable. Does your mind wander back to that event often?
RO: I swim every day to the spot where her ashes are spread. The ocean is Jeri. I feel that I'm one with her when I'm in that spot. I never fear sharks because Jeri is there to protect me. Many Hawaiian beach boys feel that way about the ocean: they feel their ancestors will protect them.
PBR: Is there anything else you’d like to take this opportunity to say to those that may be considering buying your book?
RO: Reading this book won't bring your soulmate back. It's just a way of sharing my grief with you. It's about grieving my Jeri, not your soulmate. I hope that grief theorists will note that soulmate grief is very complicated. They need to do a better job addressing the specifics of this grief. The literature does not tell us what to do about soulmate grief. Laissez faire is not a good option, and stages and phases are only descriptive. There is no "grief work" that I am aware of. I wrote this book to share with you what I learned, and what worked for me. Hopefully, it can help you, too. If it helps, pass it on to others. The proceeds go to to hospice: I'm not trying to benefit from Jeri's death.
PBR: Very well. Again, our personal thanks for your time, and we wish you success with all of your books.
RO: Thank you, Gary, for your excellent questions.