2 August 2021

Coolac woman's pilgrimage through grief becomes a book

| Edwina Mason
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The sudden death of her husband Ian left Julie Willersdorf a widow, with eight of her 11 children still living at home on a farm near Coolac. What started as a journal chronicling that first year after his death is now a book, released last month. Photo: Supplied.

A Coolac woman’s year of journaling after the shock loss of her husband has resulted in her story being chronicled in a book released last month.

Julie Willersdorf said when she sat down to write about the grief and anguish she experienced after her husband of 34 years suddenly collapsed and died, the process took her just one month.

Julie describes Beloved as a cross between a memoir and a journal, not only documenting that first year of grief but her shared thoughts and learnings. Photo: Supplied.

It was just a routine day at work – albeit stinking hot – when livestock contractor Ian Willersdorf died, collapsing due to heart failure, as he was drafting sheep with his son.

Despite 50 minutes of efforts to revive him, Ian passed away leaving Julie with 11 children – eight of them still living at home – with the youngest aged just six.

There was also the stock contracting business and a small farm to manage.

In the years following his 2013 death and as the milestone anniversary loomed, Julie said she always planned something constructive to mitigate the pain and sadness, which she says can hit you more when unprepared.

“I just didn’t want to be grabbed out of the blue,” she explained.

“So for the first anniversary of his death I planned to put together a folder of photos and memories shared by people who knew Ian – especially for my children,” she explained.

Beloved was released last month. Photo: Supplied.

“But that ended up being too hard because most of the photos were on a computer, had to be sorted and had to be printed out and added to the folder – so it didn’t happen.”

But what did emerge from her efforts was what she describes as a cross between a memoir and a journal, not only documenting that first year of grief but her shared thoughts and learnings.

All this was loaded into a website that allowed her to publish this memoir.

“Because I had a friend, Jenny Glazebrook, a published author living in Gundagai, who helped edit it, after one month I had a very crude, rough book, printed from my own printer and sewn together by hand.”

This tiny effort, and the very learned and encouraging crop of writers and published authors dotted around her, put Julie on a trajectory that landed her in writers workshops and festivals where feedback led her to take it a step further to publishers.

The result, titled Beloved, was launched in Gundagai on June 26, 2021.

Beloved isn’t just a story of grief – it draws on the spiritual side of Julie’s story which could be termed conversations with God.

It’s not the first time God has talked to people and that has ended up a book, but for Julie her interactions demonstrate just how much strength, resolve, learnings and answers arise when life’s complications are handed over to a higher power.

“I have a total belief in God – not just that there is a God but that he helps me through everything,” she said.

“And he made himself more real during that time than ever before because he was always there to pick me up when everything fell apart.”

“When I’ve asked questions and struggled, he will provide the answers,” she explained.

Julie says Beloved is a book for anyone – not just those who believe in God – but also for those who seek answers. Photo: Supplied.

Even the book title – originally My Beloved – left Julie in a quandary. Her publisher had suggested it be called Beloved, telling her that it would take at least two years to be published.

Julie, impatient, started leaning toward self-publishing. But after a sleepless night at a writers conference, she attended a session where discussion came up about emotional baggage and attendees were encouraged to pick up tags with words written on them.

“I returned to my seat and turned over the label and the word on the other side was beloved,” she said.

“I just couldn’t believe it and from that moment I knew I had to go with the publisher”.

She says the answers to her questions are sometimes not obvious, but more often than not will reach her on top of her mountain – as she terms it – which is the top of a hill on her property where she often seeks solitude.

Julie says it’s a book for anyone – not just those who believe in God – but also for those who seek answers.

Today she still lives on the farm, home schools and is grandmother to 20 grandchildren.

She says her growing brood will possibly be the subject of another book– if she gets around to it – “Me? Eleven Children: You’ve got to be kidding!”.

Beloved is available online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble and from Julie’s website www.createdbyjuliew.com.

READ ALSO Lisa’s very personal quest to understand grief

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