Danger Lurked in the Sweetest Days: Artis Henderson’s ‘Un-Remarried Widow’

Artis and Miles Henderson

Artis and Miles Henderson

Artis Henderson didn’t expect to fall in love with a conservative, church-going soldier training for war in Iraq. As she writes in her elegant and poetic memoir Un-Remarried Widow, “there was danger lurking in the sweetest days.”

Artis’s husband Miles died in a helicopter crash only a few months after their marriage. At twenty-six, she lost her life partner and the future they planned, but her memoir is as much a story of love and hope as it is of grief. With rich sensory descriptions, we enjoy tender courtship and gentle love. We cheer for Artis’s resiliency and courage as she faces lessons in mortality at a young age. We empathize and fall in love with her.

These lessons and passages stayed with me after I had finished this stellar book.

Loss of a life partner feels catastrophic and impersonal, too much for one individual heart to hold. “I remember the news as the underwater well pumped oil into the Gulf and how it seemed arterial, as if the earth itself should collapse from the loss,” Artis wrote. “But the well continued to gush with no sign of stopping. In the same way hurt pumped out of me, slick and black as oil…. I hurt and I hurt and I hurt and still there was more, a limitless tonnage. I knew I could bleed hurt forever.”

Artis Miles2Grief can turn us toward compassionate spiritual practice similar to Buddhist tonglen practice taught by Pema Chodron. Artis remembered, “…somewhere—elsewhere—there were lovers and wives and children whose minds were thick with those men…as mine was thick with Miles. The memories of those men existed even though their bodies lay beneath the autumn fog, and it occurred to me that one day when the details have faded, when I can no longer recall…what shoes I wore or the color of my coat, Mile’s memory will still be in me, fresh and alive and fully formed. I thought of my mother, to whom I had imagined my father was forgotten, and I knew in a way I had never known that she must still carry his memory tucked inside her, just beneath the skin, beating with the rhythms of her own heart.”

Artis Henderson

Artis Henderson

The hurt doesn’t go away, yet life moves forward and we move with it, carrying our pain as we open to new possibility. “I raised the cologne bottle to my nose,” Artis writes. “…here was the indelible scent of Miles. I felt him in a way I had not since he deployed…. I cried quietly with my head bent to my chest as I realized for the first time that the hurt was never going to go away.” Knowing this, Artis turned toward life, the writing career she always wanted, new love, and a seasoned sense of self.

Healing involves both holding on and letting go. “Early after Mile’s death, I asked myself how I would know when I was healed. This is what I decided: when I would not trade everything in my current life to have Miles back. Every new moment, every new experience, every new love. But now I see this for the impossible bargain it was. …I could feel the life I had known slipping through my fingers. Even as I held tight, I let go.”

Thunderstorm over Karoo landscape, Nieuwoudtville, South Africa***

Artis Henderson is an award-winning journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Florida Weekly, and the online literary journal Common Ties. She has a graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Her book Un-Remarried Widow is available at her website and at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. You might also enjoy my review of Catherine Tidd’s Confessions of a Mediocre Widow.

  1. Just from the quotes expressing her fresh grief, I can tell this is an author to be reckoned with. Thanks for introducing me to another new author.

    • Artis Henderson is an exquisite writer, Marian. So many differences in our stories, but I resonated with her writing style, what she learned from her experience, and her love.

  2. What a great article, Elaine. I saw this book on Amazon but you do a much better job in selling it. or did Artis write the piece herself? Either way, the description and photos really make me want to read it. Cheers to you and Artis.

    • Robin, I would give Artis or any author clear credit for an article they wrote and posted on my blog. In this case, I quoted Artis clearly and wrote the rest. I used her quotes to illustrate the themes that spoke to me. Artis generously shared private photos for the article, but the rest was up to me. I’m grateful for her beautiful book and gorgeous writing style. A first memoir getting rave reviews in places like The New York Times. She deserves it. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  3. Thanks for sharing these powerful words. I can’t wait to read this book by Artis Henderson.

  4. Thanks for introducing us to Artis Henderson–I will look for her book.

    • You’ll like it, Lynne. I promise. Her path is much different from yours and mine, but her writing is exquisite and the love uplifting.

  5. Elaine,

    I’m so pleased to see that you’ve featured Artis Henderson on your blog. I read about her book last week and was happy for her with the mention in New York Times. She and her husband were at Fort Hood before he deployed. That’s the post my lieutenant son is stationed at now. He’s due to deploy soon.

    I read a sample of her prose and she is a brilliant writer. I wish her well with her book.

    As I read your blog and studied the photos, I also couldn’t help but think of Mile’s mother and her own grief journey (assuming she is still alive).

    He was so young. When I see him standing there in uniform, I also see my son. And every son or daughter who has answered the call…

    This is one of the themes I write about in my own work.

    Looking forward to your book “Leaning Into Love…”


    • Kathleen, you know the world Artis and Miles lived in. I only know through reading about it. My sons were not in the service and neither was my husband. Yes, I think of his mother (she’s in the book) and of all the mothers, wives, husbands, and kids who have someone overseas. Yes, Miles was just a boy. I wish your son safety. I imagine you’re both proud and concerned as we mothers often are.

  6. It is so beautiful that out of sadness can come such eloquent words. Although we are all familiar with losing a loved somewhere down the line, everybody’s grief is personal and we can only imagine to know it until we ourselves experience it.

    • So true, Debby. Artis is an eloquent writer about grief. It will be interesting to see what she writes next–if she stays with memoir or returns to a more journalistic style. Sending you comfort as you navigate your own grief. Warmly, Elaine

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