After 43 years of marriage, Linda Domis’ idyllic life drastically changed. She came home from getting sandwiches to find that her husband had unexpectedly died of complications from surgery to treat his lung cancer.
“My life was pretty close to being perfect—I’m not bragging or anything, but we were very much in love,” Domis said. “He was the love of my life. We used to sing in a band together, that’s how we met.”
Domis and her husband Tim had two sons, four grandchildren and ran two real estate businesses together. The two lived in La Habra but owned a home in Capistrano Beach that they rented out, dreaming of moving there after retirement.
“We bought a townhouse in 2005 and rented it out for years, knowing that our dream was to retire down here, that’s what we were actually planning,” Domis said. “And then the unthinkable happened and I was blindsided. Absolutely blindsided.”
Life was going perfectly, Domis said, until Tim woke up on New Year’s Day 2018 with a bad cough. Six weeks later, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer.
Just four months after his diagnosis, Tim died of complications from the surgery. Suddenly, his widow was living on her own for the first time in her life.
“I was literally living by myself, running this big business by myself,” Domis said. “I lost my best friend, my husband, my business partner.”
In an effort to begin processing the grief she was experiencing, she began looking for books that discuss grief. Many of the books made her feel overwhelmed rather than helping, she said.
“I was just trying to figure out how I could get from day to day and just survive, because people are showing up and I can’t just fall apart,” Domis said. “I’ve got a business and I’ve got an office with 200 people; I can’t just stay in bed.”
The only book that Domis read that she found helpful was Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg.
“I was looking for something to make me feel better,” Domis said. “I liked it because I didn’t want to feel like a victim and I was really starting to feel like a victim.”
Just five days after Domis’ husband died, a friend and fellow realtor’s husband also died.
“Immediately, I started thinking, I have to help her,” Domis said. “It’s almost like this force within me was born that was like, ‘OK, this happened to you, you are not going to be a victim, you’ve got to help other people through this.’ ”
Domis had dreamed of writing a book since she was 10 years old, so she gathered a group of five widows and began working on the book.
“I wanted to be a voice, I wanted to be a source for other people that are going through things,” Domis said. “I think in our generation—I’m going to be 70 in June—there’s really not a lot of voices.”
“So, I wanted to be that person that could be there and share and listen to people and let them know that it’s going to be OK,” Domis continued. “Let them know that it’s OK if it gets really bad before it gets really good.”
In her book, Table for One: Recreating a Life After Loss, published on Oct. 3, Domis delves into the stories of others who have lost loved ones.
The book outlines her friends’ experiences with grief groups, how people grieve differently, dating after loss and warns about being targeted by scammers on social media.
She calls the friends who have also lost their husbands around the same time as her “Grief Mentors.”
“Two of my really close friends that I’ve known for decades, one lost her husband four months before mine, one lost her husband six months before,” Domis said. “I called them the night my husband died and I asked them, ‘Will I be OK?’ ”
Her two friends told her that yes, she’d be OK but that it would be hard.
In the months after her husband’s death, Domis realized she had to start her life over again.
“You mourn, not only the person that you lose, but mourn the life that you had,” Domis said. “So, I knew that I had to make some changes.”
In researching for her book, she came across the concept of “the year of mourning,” Domis said, but “that’s just the beginning.”
“All the firsts are awful, the first Christmas, the first birthday or the first anniversary is the worst,” Domis said.
Since writing the book, Domis feels like she’s found her purpose in reaching out to people who have had similar experiences of losing a loved one.
“One of the greatest blessings for me with this book is that when it did so well, people contacted me that had read it and said, ‘I’d never read anybody where somebody gets how I feel,’ ” Domis said.
That’s why she wrote Table for One, Domis said, because she struggled to find a book that made her feel like somebody else understood how she felt.
What Domis said she hopes her readers take away is that everybody grieves differently, emphasizing not to judge yourself for how you are feeling.
“I want people to know that it’s OK, I want them to know they’re not alone,” Domis said. “People say that death is a part of life, well, it is but it’s the hardest part of life.”
“We all have to go through it,” Domis continued. “What I want everybody to know is when this happens, it’s horrible. Feel every feeling. Your life will change totally, but don’t let that stop you from finding a way to live your best life.”