Title: Shannon’s Gift: A Story of Love, Loss, and Recovery Author: Nate Bennett Genre: Grieving, loss, love story Publish Date: June 1, 2014 Publisher: Booklogix Event organized by: Literati Author Services, Inc.
~ Book Synopsis ~In this raw, emotional memoir, Nate Bennett shares the blog he maintained to work through his grief over the sudden loss of his wife Shannon. He is surprised and comforted to discover a vast virtual community of support. His blog posts—alternately poignant and of dry wit—eventually attracted tens of thousands of hits and a following from readers who hadn’t known the couple. This unique book gives the reader a window into the starkness of a widower’s grieving experience in real time. What comes through in virtually every post is his love for Shannon as he weaves in vignettes from their life together, chronicling their love story and his efforts to recover. And in the end, with the support of his virtual community and the strength he was able to draw from remembering Shannon’s wishes for him, he finds love again.
About the AuthorIn the fall of 2011, Nate lost his wife of 26 years in a shocking turn of events. She’d just had an outpatient procedure on her shoulder and the doctor sent Nate to get the car to bring her home. In the next few minutes, things went terribly wrong. Shannon collapsed, never to recover. After more than a week in a critical care unit in pursuit of a cure, Nate honored Shannon’s wishes and had her life support discontinued and she died shortly later. Nate’s book, Shannon’s Gift, is the result of the blog Nate kept during Shannon’s hospitalization and after her death. Initially, the purpose of the blog was to keep friends and family informed of Shannon’s condition. Quickly, though, the blog became Nate’s catharsis and a way to stay connected to a web of supporters. After the sudden loss of his wife, Nate was surprised and comforted to discover a vast virtual community of support. His blog posts – alternately expressing poignancy and dry wit – eventually attracted tens of thousands of readers and a following from people around the world that didn’t even know Nate or his wife. The unique book gives the reader a window into the starkness of a widower’s grief in real time and a look at how social media has changed grieving in today’s world. In the end, with the support of his virtual community and the strength he was able to draw from remembering Shannon’s wishes for him, he finds love again. While Nate is new to the personal memoir genre, he is co-author of two management books, "Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO" and “Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals.” Both are books published by Stanford University Press. Additionally, his research has been published in respected scholarly journals such as the Academy of Management Review, the Academy of Management Journal, Psychological Bulletin, and the Journal of Applied Psychology. He has also published in many widely read resources for managers including the Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek.com and Forbes.com. Nate Bennett is a professor of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University in the summer of 2012. From 1999 to 2012, he was on the faculty of the business school at Georgia Tech, where he most recently held the position of the Catherine W. and Edwin A. Wahlen Professor of Management. From 1999 until 2010, he served as associate dean and then as senior associate dean. Prior to Georgia Tech, he served on the faculty at Louisiana State University. While at LSU, he served at times as the management department’s Ph.D. program coordinator, department chair, MBA program director, and associate dean. Nate holds a BA in sociology, as well as a MA in Social Research from Tulane University. He earned his Ph.D. in Management from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He resides in Atlanta, GA.
Author’s Social Media
Tell us about Shannon’s illness.
Shannon suffered from mitochondrial disease – or mito as it is known to the victims, friends, and family of those afflicted. A mito patient’s mitochondria are not effective at “producing the power” that cells need to function and that organs need to thrive. It is relatively rare; something like 1 in 3,000 are affected by it. Its cause is not well understood, there is no truly effective treatment, and there is no cure. On the other hand, mito is critical to understand because the cellular function that mito patients lose is though to play a role is an entire constellation of conditions, including ALS, autism, and Parkinson’s.
Shannon was diagnosed in her early twenties, around the time that we were married. Her primary concern was whether or not she would pass it on to any children. At the time, she was advised that the greater risk was to her health in carrying a child to term. She was undeterred; we married and had two very healthy boys.
During her 20s and 30s, mito was really on our radar. That approach made sense because there wasn’t a treatment that was anything beyond a hope and a prayer – and because the best doctors could tell her was that she either would either (a) experience a slow descent caused by the unavoidable and untreatable cumulative effects of mito or (b) die of some other natural cause before mito had a chance to hurt her. She did try things that were thought to help, such as co-enzyme Q10 and L-carnatine, but all she could tell they were doing was creating unpleasant side-effects. Mito was out of sight and out of mind.
In her 40s, the signs of mito’s impact began to appear. Her vision – never great – got worse. Ocular myopathy, droopy eyelids, etc. She had problems with digestion. She started to have problems chewing and swallowing. She hardly ever complained. What she was was afraid of what she saw coming – an active mind trapped in a body that couldn’t function.
She was spared that future by her death. After she and I dropped our youngest at College, she finally underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery as an outpatient. The doctor came to tell me about the success of the procedure and sent me to get the car. Unfortunately, all the years that all of her systems were not being properly “fed” with energy caught up to her. Though she had awoken fine from the procedure, recovery was too much for her and she collapsed while I was driving around to pick her up. She died 11 days later and the blog started.
What lessons did you soul learn from your experiences in dealing with Shannon’s illness?
Shannon’s illness has become relevant only because it led to her death. While she lived, we felt we had no choice but to ignore it. That strategy worked for the first 20 years of our relationship. For the last years, we learned to work around it. So in the end - and not to parse words - I am not sure either my soul or I learned anything from dealing with Shannon’s illness.
Her death – that’s another matter entirely. Though again, as I reflect on it the lessons really came not from her death but from trying to get better.
1. I learned that Bob Marley was right, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.” I think that really requires no further explanation.
2. People are capable of incredible kindness. It’s hard to let them be kind to you because it reminds you of what happened, but you must.
3. I was reading a novel and a character had a line to the effect that “there is no past, if there was we wouldn’t need sorrow” or something similar. It’s a good line. Losing Shannon will never be in the past.
4. Never leave the house without kissing and hugging. While the odds are in your favor, the chance you take a pass on could be the last chance you get. I nearly took a pass on my last kiss with Shannon. If I had, that would hurt so badly now.
5. It would be great if there were a way for people to gain the perspective on “what matters” that losing Shannon gave me. How much time and energy we waste fretting over people’s words and actions that just don’t matter. Don’t ask if the pain of the loss was worth the gain of perspective.
What is the one thing you want readers to know about your book?
I think the most important thing for me when it comes to what readers should know about the book is that the book is honest. I read a lot both for work and for fun and most all of what I read isn’t real – instead, it has been carefully sculpted from something real. It isn’t that the content isn’t honest – it’s that the author has manipulated the content so that it is smoother, sleeker, and prettier than what is real.
Shortly after Shannon died and the blogging began, I looked up an old acquaintance from high school that I knew (thanks, LinkedIn) worked in the publishing business. I told her about my blog and my hope that it might one day become a book that would help people through grief. She had a great piece of advice to me – she told me that I had to be very clear about what I was promising the reader and that then I had to keep that promise. I received very similar advice from my psychiatrist, although his reasoning was different. He reminded me that if I wasn't able to stay true to the facts of the situation, I effectively cheating in my effort to get well.
So from the beginning, I have made certain that I was honest. During the effort to get the blog in to print I resisted editors who wanted me to change the book – the most ridiculous admonition being to turn it in to “Widowerhood for Dummies.” Readers need to know that if they can handle the book, they will truly know what it is like to be crushed, to have no choice but to find a way to get better, and to begin to do just that.
What would the theme song for the book be?
It would be hard to pick a book as the theme song, although music played a huge role in my recovery. Lyrics helped me – lyrics hurt me. The blog is full of references to music that Shannon and I enjoyed together – and how that music creates an even sharper feeling today now that she is gone. Shannon and I went out to hear live music at least once a week – once the kids were beyond sitters, anyway.
Three artists ended up mentioned the most – Bruce Springsteen, Michael Franti, and Shawn Mullins. Springsteen lost his long time friend and band mate, Clarence Clemmons, just before I lost Shannon. He was open about his grieving and about how he was trying to move on – that made his music special to me. Michael Franti had just released an album called “The Sound of Sunshine.” I didn’t know it until I fell in love with them, but he wrote most of the songs in the hospital as he recovered from a brush with his own death. That made the songs matter more to me. Shawn Mullins is, to me, an enigma. His songs are amazing and why he isn’t better known is a mystery.
The saddest part of the role that music played is that I couldn’t afford the royalties I would have needed to pay to mention lyrics in the book. But it really helped me understand what masterful poets some musicians are – sometimes, it’s that they were able to write true words about things they never had to experience. Other times, it’s that they had the ability to find solid ground to write true words about something they were struggling to overcome.