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Local Author, Widowed At 23, Writes About Grief

Heather Gilion

Grief is something we’re all familiar with, but what happens when the grieving is over? KSMU’s Chasity Mayes reports.

Just eight months before a deadly canoe accident left two young sisters widowed, they were already mourning the loss of their father. In a quest to find peace during a struggle with grief and faith, the Missouri natives have co-authorred a book. “Dancing On My Ashes” is the title. I sat down with co-author Heather Gilion to talk about the grieving process and how she’s learned to live again.

Heather Gilion met the love of her life while she was in college at Southwest Baptist University. She graduated with a degree in communications, and although she loved to write, she never dreamed the loss of her young husband would lead her to become an author.

And now, ten years later, Gilion speaks publicly about grief, and how to live again. She says she might have grieved in a different way at 33 than she did at 23. She says although not everyone is the same, the hurt that comes with death is universal.

“I met a lady at a conference I spoke at and she was in her 80’s. She just bawled in front of me saying, 'I am so bitter, and when you talked about that, that is where I am.'”

Gilion was humbled by being able to influence her elders. And even though she was being healed by those who found peace in her teachings, she still remembers the initial pain of losing her father and husband back in 2000. Although she doesn’t think age changes the grieving process, for Gilion, grieving the losses of her father and husband were very different from one another.

“I really started grieving and I started getting angry, and bitter, and depressed,” she recalls.

Even though she was devastated when her husband died, Gilion says her grief changed when she felt like she was given a choice.

“I felt like God was placing before me this other option: to not live wounded. To not live bitter and wrapped up in the pain. Am I going to choose to live again?”

After she made the choice to push forward and live again, Gilion had to use death to get a new perspective on her life.

“You have one life, you have breath in your body for just so long, and then what? And I felt like I ‘d been given this gift of one life...and how was I going to live it?”

Gilion says her faith played a significant role in her life and her book. She says at her breaking point, she questioned it. When asked about a profound saying on the cover of her book, “learning to love the one who gives and takes away,” Gilion says that statement turned out to be the reason behind the entire struggle.

“I think that to look at God and say, 'You give good gifts and I love you for it,' and for me, learning to love him no matter what, was a challenge but it has been so freeing at the same time.”

Gilion says the grief doesn’t completely go away with time, but it does change. She no longer cries over the death of husband and father, but she misses them both. At times Gilion is taken back by the fact that they’re truly gone.

“There are days when I literally will pick up the phone and want to call James or want to call my Dad and I’m like oh my gosh they’re not here. It’s just I think sometimes because of your love for them they’re still in your thoughts and I want them there.”

ANCHOR TAG: Once again, that was KSMU’s Chasity Mayes talking with local author Heather Gilion.“Dancing On My Ashes” was published in 2009 by Tate Publishing & Enterprises. For more information visit our website: KSMU.org.


Heather Gilion. (Photo by: Brittni Bynum) Photo by: Brittni Bynum Heather Gilion. (Photo by: Brittni Bynum)