Donna Mathiowetz is a speaker on grief and loss. She primarily helps parents deal with the loss of a child. However, she also helps people who want to stand alongside those in their lives who are grieving a loss but have no idea how to help them. Her speaking career allows her to interact directly with those who may need help going through the grieving process. Her book, What Have You Done Since I Left? is her life story. “It’s dedicated to our three grandchildren,” she explained, “because I wanted them to have my story in my words, written down, not someone else’s.” Ms. Mathiowetz called her book a memoir/self-help book because there is so much content about the grieving process and content to help people grieving a loss of any kind.
Before becoming a speaker and an author, Ms. Mathiowetz had a variety of odd jobs. She sold carpets at her husband’s store. He was a contractor. She was a foster parent for special needs children. It was a full-time job that meant doctor’s appointments, surgeries, and many sleepless nights. “I’ve never really worked a 9 to 5 job,” Ms. Mathiowetz explained. “I’ve never clocked in anywhere. I wouldn’t even know how to use a time clock.” She began involving herself in local grief groups about five years after the losses of her two sons.
Ms. Mathiowetz’s experiences with losing her two sons have led her to write this book and speak about this topic. Her son, Tim, went to a high school party at sixteen in 1992. The partygoers weren’t making very good choices, and someone on the premises had a handgun. Tim was shot and killed. A year and a half later, Ms. Mathiowetz and her husband had the opportunity to become parents to a fifteen-year-old boy. An organization that arranges adoptions from a Ukrainian orphanage put this young boy into the Mathiowetz’s care. The boy, named Oleg, had cancer, and the agency wanted him to come to America for cancer treatments that would save his life. Ms. Mathiowetz and her husband took Oleg into their home. Unfortunately, the arrangement only lasted six months before Oleg ultimately died of his cancer. These experiences provided Ms. Mathiowetz with ample content and resources to help people with her book.
Even though she had a robust speaking career and never planned on writing a book, Ms. Mathiowetz was a voracious reader as a child and still is as an adult. “I remember many nights after school that I spent laying on my bed on my belly reading a book,” Ms. Mathiowetz said. “I’ve tried audiobooks, too, but there’s something about having a book in your hand that audiobooks and ebooks just don’t have. It’s not the same.” As a child, she loved Nancy Drew mysteries. “Those were a favorite,” she said. “Now, I like David Kessler. He writes great books about grief and support. I found a lot of inspiration from him. He’s also a speaker.”
When I asked Ms. Mathiowetz about her favorite moment in the writing process, she answered with, “being done.” “It was such a painful time in our lives,” she elaborated, “and it was difficult to rehash. It’s so personal to me. There were some times where I had to walk away from what I was writing because it was so painful to write.” It took her a few months to write. What Have You Done Since I Left? had been in the works for years, but it took a few months for her to write.
As for the message that Ms. Mathiowetz hopes her readers take away from her book, she wants them to walk away with a sense of hope. “I want them to see the hope that they can get past this loss to live again,” she explained. “I want them to have hope for the future. But, I also want them to heal.”
Ms. Mathiowetz is working on another book. Her next book will be an anthology of stories of people who have gone through loss and grief. This can include any loss such as divorce, death, and terminal illness. Through these stories, Ms. Mathiowetz hopes to examine what helped and didn’t help these people in their grieving process.
I asked Ms. Mathiowetz my absolute favorite question towards the end of the interview, what advice would you give to a young writer? She recommended joining a writer’s group, like Women of Words or something like that. “It’s a gathering of all types of writers,” Ms. Mathiowetz explained. “Name one, and we’re all there. There’s something about being in the same room with people who get it. Like, me with my grief support groups. They just get it.” I would love to join a writer’s group. I ought to research this group and see if I can learn anything from it.
Donna Mathiowetz uses her experiences with grief to help others through their pain, which is such a beautiful way to turn a painful experience into something that helps others. Talking to her was so inspiring. Her book and her speaking have helped so many people through their grief. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to speak with her and hear her wisdom. I learned so much, and I hope you did, too.