Author Kathy Puckett Allen: Processing Grief Through Writing, Interviewed by Grace Olson
The tragic death of Kathy Allen’s son, Bryon, inspired her to write about her journey of grief and ultimately the healing of her broken heart. The book, My Tears in a Bottle: A Mother’s Journey of Grief and Healing is meant to bring comfort to those people experiencing sorrow and heartache, just as God had brought comfort to her.
When Kathy is not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and ten grandchildren. In the summertime, she enjoys gardening. In the winter, she and her husband, Roger, enjoy the warm sunshine of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. She and Roger have been married for over fifty years, and they reside in Minnesota, where they live in a small retirement community.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Kathy Puckett Allen, the author of My Tears in a Bottle: A Mother’s Journey of Grief and Healing. She was gracious enough to take time out of her day to answer some questions I had for her.
Kathy has always been a reader, and when her son died in 1993, many suggested to her that she needed to write her story. She believed that God wanted her to tell the story to help others, but it took her twenty-eight years to write the book because it was very emotional for her to go back and relive the events of his death.
Almost three decades was a long journey to finish her passion project. When Bryon first died, she believed she didn't have to grieve because she was a Christian. Bryon had gone home to be with the Lord, and she just had to get used to that fact. But that philosophy only lasted a couple of months, and then she fell into a deep depression, for which she eventually received help. In January of 1994, she found a little black book in Bryon's things. He used this notebook during his time in the service, but the pages were blank. Kathy was devastated that nothing in the book would give her a glimpse of her dear son. Since the book was empty, she put it away. But in February of the following year, Kathy found the little book again and set it on her table. It was at this time she decided to write in it and tell her son’s story. It took her quite a while, and she prayed to God because, at times, she didn’t think she could do it. Once she prayed about it, she wrote enough to fill up more than eighteen journals. Over the twenty-eight years that followed, she wrote and referred back to her journals numerous times.
Kathy found inspiration through her church and the women's prayer group. The group helped her through the painful process of reliving her son’s death, and they were always there for her. Eventually, she knew she had to finish the book independently and put her grief to rest. She sometimes felt like she was going crazy but found a way to put her misery into something productive—a grieving blanket. She prayed, "Lord, I have to do something. I can't go on this journey and go crazy from thoughts." So, she bought the yarn, a crochet hook, and a pattern. Creating the blanket did help her to focus on something else other than her heartache. And when it was all done, she gave the blanket to her sister. After twenty years, her sister gave it back to her, and Kathy still has it today.
Over time, her faith didn't weaken. On the contrary, if anything, it grew stronger. She didn't always understand God's ways but trusted Him through her sorrow. Kathy explains, “Unless you've experienced it for yourself, you'll never know; it's horrible. It feels like someone reached inside me and ripped out my heart. God just kept healing me slowly, but He put that deep desire within me to write the book about Bryon’s death, so I kept writing and finally completed the book. I'm so excited and so blessed."
Kathy went on to talk about the struggles of writing a book. “You know, for me to be able to sit here and have finally finished the book is truly a miracle. But not even my husband has read it yet. He’s having a hard time reading it because of the unhappiness it brings him. I mean, I’ve read him sections of the book asking him, ‘Oh, how do you like this or that?’, but he’s never actually sat down and read the whole story from cover to cover. My son Bruce was eighteen when Bryon died, and he was in the service as well. He was able to write a chapter that appears in the book. Five years ago, Bruce would not have been able to write about his experience in losing his brother, Bryon. For years he grieved in private, and it was challenging for him, but he was finally able to share his feelings and wrote a chapter for me. It’s excellent.”
I asked her who had the most significant influence on the book, and she chose her sister, Wendy, who was with her through the whole ordeal. During this time, Wendy would go to work in the morning and to Kathy’s house in the afternoon. They would sit on opposite ends of the table, and Kathy would sob. Wendy sat there with her, offering a quiet companionship. There is a chapter in the book called “Kathy’s on a Mission.” Kathy mentioned, “I was always doing something to keep Bryon’s memory alive, and it always ended up disappointing me personally. And I don’t know if I can adequately describe it, but if someone goes through death and has one individual to walk with them, they are truly a blessed person. I would call Wendy as I started to write and ask her, ‘Oh, how does this sound?’ and she’d say, ‘Kathy, it sounds great,’ and she’d be in tears as I read to her. I mentioned her in my book several times and how supportive she was during my crisis. I’m so blessed to have her in my life. She was always there.”
I asked Kathy what the catalyst was for her to publish her book after twenty-eight years. She said, “Well, I have a friend, Carol German, who’d published her book, God Hears My Heart: Learn How God Will Meet You in Everyday Life, in April of 2021. Five years prior, she asked me what my writing process was, but I didn’t hear from her again until she announced her book was published. I have to say I was a bit jealous because I was taking so long. I was stuck, and I didn’t know what to do. Finally, I met with Carol, and she said, ‘I had my book published, and I want to introduce you to my publisher.’ She also helped me by introducing me to her editor, which was the pivotal point in my creative process. I felt that the editor and publisher were bringing closure to something I had wanted and desired for so long. So, finally, this book was going to come to fruition. It was going to be out in the world for people who’d lost a child or family member and to help them understand how God healed my heart. My publisher and editor encouraged me, and it’s been wonderful. Now that I have the finished book in my hands, I’m so proud of it. I'm not proud in a way that’s vain, but proud that God helped me get it written. I’m still in awe that God’s timing is perfect. My ten-year-old grandson Owen read my book, and of course, had lots of questions. But he said to me, ‘You know, Grandma, it’s good that you waited to have it published because all ten of your grandkids got to be in your book.’ I said, ‘That’s right, Owen.’ So, that was an extraordinary moment as well.”
I can tell the way Kathy speaks about the book that it is very near and dear to her heart. So, I asked one final question. When your readers read this book, what message or lesson would you like them to take away? What do you want the book to do for them? “I want them to see that no matter what happens in life, no matter how intense their pain is, don't let go of Jesus. Keep your faith, walk the grief. You have to grieve. I learned that. You have to grieve it, but not as those who have no hope. Grieving helps to heal their broken hearts. I’m always going to miss Bryon. Losing someone is like cutting off your arm. Eventually, it heals, but the scar is still there; you’re still missing your arm, and there is pain. We can talk about Bryon now, laugh, and smile, and it does not hurt like it used to. God does heal the broken-hearted. I want to tell my readers that it’s not an easy journey, but I believe I was open with my pain to the Lord. He stayed right by me through it all and took care of me. He always gave me a scripture to help me through the pain. At first, I didn’t understand, I didn’t want to be a part of the club of people who’ve lost a child, but in the first Corinthians, it says, ‘We can comfort others as we were comforted.’ I want people to be healed and get their joy back as I have.”