While I'm starting over with my blog and web presence, I think it's important to acknowledge the most difficult form of starting over I faced in my professional and personal life: the death of my wife, Kathryn Bosher, from cancer in 2013. I hope this will be useful for anyone else facing such a challenge.
During the most demanding and vulnerable part of my professional career, I have been a widower with a young son (now almost 7), living about 500 miles from my nearest family member. I chose to keep the job and live in Blacksburg because I wanted some stability for my son. We had lived in 4 cities in the 2 1/2 years since his birth in order to balance our dual careers (Philadelphia for my career, Rome for her career during a sabbatical, Blacksburg for my career, and back to Evanston for her job) plus the upheaval of our seeking medical care. I had a job (I was in the first year on the tenure clock upon Kate's death) and also didn't want to make any rash decisions about redirecting my life or starting another career. Basically, I stayed with the plan I had been on for the last ten years, accepting the geographic and cultural change as a tradeoff for personal and professional continuity.
On the plus side, I was able to purchase a very nice and well-located house for my son and me, more or less the dream home my wife and I had always wanted, and I did not really have to worry about where my next paycheck was coming from for five years. I also fulfilled the life goal of publishing my book, which will come out in the fall. On the negative side, I basically knew no one outside my department colleagues, and had no friends. Kate and I were the type of people who made a handful of friends over the years and then kept them, and they were scattered across the country and the world. In pursuing our careers, we had no community to lean on. In addition, I had no help with child care or around the house, other than the help I was willing to pay for in the form of nannies/sitters and cleaning people, and a visit by my parents each year.
All of this was easier because we had gotten a pretty generous life insurance policy. I can't emphasize enough how important this was. The discussions Kate and I had had beforehand boiled down to her idea that, whatever happened to one of us, money should not be another worry on top of it. And it wasn't. We also got a will after she was diagnosed with cancer, and that was also helpful in settling her affairs. It was difficult to take any of those steps and envision the worst when we were still in the flowers of our lives, but it was worthwhile.
I know some people who, after life upheavals such as the dissolution of a marriage or a death, returned to their hometown in order to be closer to family or friends. This was not a serious option for me because my career work is fairly specialized and I'm sure I bought into the idea that being a history professor is too important to leave. In addition, the life that my wife and I had chosen was about leaving our hometowns in pursuit of a new community that was not defined by our parents' choices or familiar landscapes. I have questioned this, for each of us individually and for us together as a family, whether we might have been better off setting down roots at the expense of our chosen careers, and I can't see how it would have worked for us. The ideal we sought was a setting that was cosmopolitan and had community, and had jobs for us. We were still seeking it. But I cannot imagine that we could have chosen a city over a career, reasonable as that choice may have been for many others. And so I kept playing our strategy.
In the next posts, I'll discuss how I tried to (re)build our social lives, and then how I re-thought my work.