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“From Hell to Happiness”: Chris Cooper on Love, Loss, and Writing as Healing

June 13, 2018

Chris Cooper‘s wife, Jenn (AKA Coopdizzle), died of metastatic breast cancer in December 2016. Just 34 when she died, Jenn spent her final stage of life documenting her cancer journey on Facebook and in a series of YouTube videos (in the video she recorded for Death with Dignity National Center Jenn declared her support for death with dignity and urged lawmakers in her home state of Texas to pass assisted-dying legislation).

Devastated by the loss of his wife and mother to his two young sons, Chris struggled to find a way through his grief. Inspired by Jenn’s willingness to share her story, Chris started the blog Coffee with Coop, “as a way to help others relate and to help others in similar situations cope, and learn how to move through grief and back into happiness by sharing my own experiences.”

What started as a humble Facebook page evolved into a website and blog that became a vital forum for Chris and his online community to talk about love, loss, and moving forward after a loved one dies from a terminal illness. That community also encouraged him to write a book. Countless drafts and cups of coffee later, Chris completed From Hell to Happiness: How to Heal When Your Loved One is Terminal.

Chris Cooper with family

Part memoir, part self-help guide, the book is both a loving tribute to Jenn and a resource for people who find themselves struggling to find hope in the wake of a loved one’s death.

We asked Chris about the process of writing his book and how it has contributed to his own healing process.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

*

Death with Dignity National Center: When did you decide to write a book?

Chris Cooper: I remember the first time I actually opened a Word document and started typing the prologue.

But the decision to write a book was more of a process than a moment. Jenn was probably the first one to encourage me to write a book, while she was still alive. Others did as well, namely family and friends. After I started Coffee With Coop on Facebook, that community also encouraged me to write a book, because they enjoyed my posts on that page so much.

So it really took a lot of encouragement for me to believe I could write a worthwhile book.

It wasn’t about the potential income at that point. I was just excited at the possibility of writing and publishing my family’s story. I struggled through writing the prologue, then didn’t type anything for a couple of weeks.

For some reason, I can’t tell you why, I decided I should give it another go. So I opened my document and picked up from where I left off. But after that point, I began to add to the manuscript almost daily, typically working for 1-3 hours a day. I was on fire, and I banged out the rough draft, which was over 100,000 words, in just one month.

Death with Dignity: Did you have a specific goal in mind while writing the book?

Chris Cooper: My goal for the book is the same as my goal for my blog and Facebook group. I struggled for about a year and a half, dealing with the grief of Jenn’s cancer mostly on my own. My hope is to make the road easier for other people who are in the same situation I was in. I want to offer caregivers, widows, and widowers hope, that life can be good again, even if they can’t see it right now.

For me, having a mentor who had been through this before, who was living happily now with a new family, that was game changing for me. It opened my mind to the possibility that one day we would be happy again, even without Jenn. From that seed of possibility sprouted this new life, which has been wonderful for myself and the boys.

Most of the book is about offering guidance, a path through hell. They say it’s easier to walk a path that someone else has already walked before you. So the book offers my story as a sort of step-by-step —this is how we helped our kids, this is how we coped and got through this—in hopes that it will make the journey easier for others by giving them ideas for handling their own grieving process.

Death with Dignity: What did you discover about yourself—and remember about Jenn—as you were writing the book?

Chris Cooper: As I was writing the book, the biggest discovery I made about myself was just that I love to write. There were some very challenging parts to type out, but most of the time I was enjoying the process of letting everything out and getting it on paper, so to speak.

Once you’ve written enough, it starts to become as natural as breathing. I would sit in front of the computer, stare at the screen for a few moments while I collected my thoughts, and then my fingers would just move on their own. I had a rough outline of each chapter to go off of, but no details. The details just came on their own.

As far as what I remembered about Jenn while writing the book? I actually struggled in many cases to remember certain details about what happened, or how things happened. It was as if my trauma brain had locked away many of the details at some point along the way to help me maintain my sanity, or perhaps to help me move on and rediscover happiness sooner. I’m not sure.

Writing about those few years definitely dug up some difficult memories, but I think that was for the best.

Death with Dignity: How has writing the book contributed to your personal healing process?

Chris Cooper: It has definitely helped me to continue processing everything that’s happened. It helped me to remember so many things I had already forgotten. That’s so important, because I want to remember all of it, good and bad. It also helped to reinforce some of the life lessons I picked up along the way.

When you get far enough away from trauma, it can be easy to forget some of those things, like how to really value and treasure each moment, how to not take your loved ones for granted, or the drive to live your life to the fullest.

Some parts of the book, like Chapter 9: End of Life, where I talk about the last three week’s of Jenn’s life, including the moment of her death, were extremely difficult and emotional to write. I think it got to the heart of my grief and trauma and helped me to process that time more than I had already.

I also hope the book will help my sons cope when they’re old enough to read and comprehend everything in the book. I want them to understand how hard we tried to keep her here, that we did absolutely everything we could. I’ve told them that countless times, but I think reliving it from my perspective, learning details they didn’t know before as children, that it might offer them some level of comfort to know we really did every single thing we could.

Death with Dignity: How can people connect with you to share their own experiences with loss and healing after a loved one’s death?

For anyone who is reading this, I want you to know that I’m here if you would like someone to ask questions of, or even just someone to vent to. You can find me at CoffeeWithCoop.com or message me directly through my Facebook page, Coffee With Coop.

I also host a couple of communities, which I would love for you to be a part of. One is called Coffee With Friends, which is a general grief support group full of amazing people, and another community-based one around the book itself. Just type in the name of the book on Facebook and it should pop up. It’s a public community where you can discuss the book with other readers who enjoyed it.

I hope to hear from some of you soon, dear readers, and may you be happy and well!


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