Last Kiss: A widower's essay becomes his daughter's short film

  • Donald Westlake of Wheaton and his late wife Helen in their 50s. Their daughter Dawn turned an essay her grieving father wrote into a short film, which she has made temporarily available on dailyherald.com.

    Donald Westlake of Wheaton and his late wife Helen in their 50s. Their daughter Dawn turned an essay her grieving father wrote into a short film, which she has made temporarily available on dailyherald.com. courtesy of the westlake family

 
By Donald Westlake
Straight from the Source
Wheaton
Updated 4/23/2018 2:03 PM

My wife died more than five years ago. We had been married 62 years.

Helen Grace Gum and I began dating at age 16 and we married at age 22 after graduating from Northern Illinois University.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In every phase of our lives, we were partners. When I was in the Army, she gave up her teaching job to be with me. She had her professional life as a teacher and author, I had my life as a scientist, but my friends were her friends and her friends were my friends. We coordinated our graduate college plans so that she received her master's degree from Iowa State University when I received my doctorate.

After 33 years of teaching in public high schools, she taught for another 17 years at the College of DuPage. The last five of those years, I pushed her to her classes in a wheelchair.

We had traveled together extensively on six continents. At the age of 84, she had a stroke and died.

Part of my process of getting through the pain was writing an essay titled Through the Pane. My daughter, Dawn Westlake, a filmmaker, produced a seven-minute, award-winning film based on my essay that has been shown in more than 40 film festivals all over the world.

In the essay, I say, "When you lose a loved one, you can feel as if nothing, and I mean nothing, will ever be the same."

Through the Pane describes my conversion to another way of thinking.

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One day, while sipping my morning coffee, I noticed a spider outside my kitchen windowpane spinning a web in exactly the same way that spiders have spun webs for eons.

Then, I noticed that the cedar branch nearly touching the pane was covered with blueberries, just as it had been all the years we lived in our house.

That meant that soon the cedar waxwings would arrive within days of their usual time, and I would find it exciting to watch them consume those berries.

Clearly, nature was not paying attention. It was moving on as if nothing had happened.

It occurred to me that if I, as a tiny element of this vast world, were to remain in sync, I must move on as well. So, I did.

Last Kiss rose

THE LAST KISS SERIES

Patty & Corey: The Heartbreak.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Diana & Joe: A widow's advice: Embrace bereavement, don't avoid it A Straight From the Source story.

Janice & Joe A story of someday A Straight From the Source story

Janice & Joe Five lessons I've learned so far A Straight From the Source story

Patty & Corey: The Love Story.

Patricia & Tim: A widow cherishes the memories of her warrior A Straight From the Source story

Bill & Marian: A love that lives in dreams A Straight From the Source story

Dennis & Maggie: I reread her letters, I played her favorite songs A Straight From the Source story

Dennis & Maggie: Just Let Me Talk A Straight From the Source story

Patty & Corey: A widow wishes she had asked for one more kiss.

Patty & Corey: A widow's mission to sustain her husband's barbershop.

Donald & Helen: A widower's essay becomes his daughter's short film A Straight From the Source story

Susan & Guy: A widow's guide to dealing with the loss of a spouse A Straight From the Source story

Ted & Donna A widower's plan to count his blessing at times of deepest grief A Straight From the Source story

Fred & Beverly: Unique and Devastating Loss (by Wifeless) A Straight From the Source story

Last Kiss Epilogue: Some widows heal from grief by healing others

Ken & Michele: A widower's story of a loving couple's life A Straight From the Source story

Stories of loss from our readers


For more on the series, please click here.


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