Then You Stay: A Review of Artis Henderson’s “Unremarried Widow”

The Military Spouse Book Review

reviewed by Simone Gorrindo (Army)

When Andria first asked me to review Artis Henderson’s debut memoir, Unremarried Widow, I was hesitant.

I’d been wanting to read the book for some time, but the cliché is true: that knock on my front door really is my worst nightmare. There’s a dark corner of my mind where that nightmare lives, a place I try my best to avoid, and I knew that to read Henderson’s grief would be to go to that place and stay there for a while. And parts of Henderson’s book were painful to read – I wept when the casualty officers informed her, in standard cold military language, of her husband’s death; when she discovered a video of him among his things that he’d intended to send her before he died; when she took off her wedding ring for the first time. But, mostly, I felt awe…

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This year, we climbed up our tree to cut it down- A Christmas tree story.

Every year we cut down a tree. I love everything about it:  the adventure of selecting a tree, the company of friends, different crazy memories that it brings, and of course, the sweet smell of pine that fills the room for days.

Where ever Christmas finds me, I manage to cut down a tree, and have had many ‘tree’ adventures cutting down trees with family and friends in Tanzania, Kenya, USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand.

There are so many great memories surrounding this tradition and am I happy to say that I have never once had a ‘fake’ Christmas tree in my house. This year was no exception.

Mum and Dad waited until we got here (Arusha, Tanzania) to begin the Christmas festivities, and that included the cutting of the tree…

There was however, something very different about this years tree, and that was how  we cut it down.

There are two giant fur pines in our garden. They were grown from seedlings and used many years ago as Christmas trees in pots in our house, when they out grew the pot stage, we planted them in the garden to be allowed to reach the sky, as trees should.

Before we arrived, Dad said that we were going to cut down one of the trees from our garden. I had no idea he meant one of these giants, and, not the whole tree, just the top half.

This year, we had to climb our tree to cut it down.

=) Well, when I say we  I mean Matt, but I felt very much part of the experience.

We stood at the bottom and looked up, up, up. It was so high and hidden in scrub that I strained my neck to see the top.

“What do you mean we aren’t cutting down the whole thing?” I asked.

“Your Dad said I should just climb up there and  cut down the top” said Matt.

“Umm. Ok. How are you going to get the saw up there?”  I said.

“I’ll just tie this string to my ankle, climb up, then you can tie it on when I’m up the tree” Matt replied.

And so it began.

He climbed up through the scrub, scrambling over spindly twig like branches (that looked as if they would snap any second). There was lots of grunting and scraped up arms and legs, unacknowledged by Matt. He is a very tough kiwi bushman this husband of mine. “Ok, you can tie the saw on” he said,  as he reached a limb high above ground.

I tied it on, and it swung through the air. Sawing began. Dad appeared and we talked through the logistics of getting the top of the tree down without breaking it, or Matt.

We watched, a few minutes later there was a giant CRACK, and the whole tree shook like a metronome. DOWN  the top fell. Matt clung to the trunk to avoid being flung from this newly created catapult. I was a little nervous.  Everything went still again, and he slid back down the tree.

Covered in sweat, dust, and leaves, there stood the tree cutter, official hero of the hour, and fortunately un-maimed by tree or saw. (Neither Dad or Matt had been worried about this, but I have an over active imagination, and the WHOLE time he was up there they discussed various tree loping accidents involving injury or death…really!?!)

Unfortunately, the tree did not fare quite so well. The top had snapped in its fall. But, with a little ingenuity, some  rope, and a splint, we tied it back together and it is now standing proudly in our living room, giving off a glorious scent, and making everything feel Christmassy and beautiful.

We decorated it later that evening.  I wrote:

I think of my sister, her husband  and little boys,  my brother, and his wife, and I miss them right now. I think of Matts family and wonder what they are doing, I think of Christmases that I will spend with them in the future, and of new memories that will be made.

I wonder if I will be home again for Christmas any time soon. I savour every minute and sing joyfully with my parents and Matt while we decorate the tree. I think of Jesus, his birth, and love celebrating the fact that he came, and the joy every little part of remembering this brings. I love that he gave us this season to celebrate, even if it wasn’t really with a tree, well, not  a tree like this one, I love to remember, and am content. It is a beautiful tree, and  another great story.

This year, we climbed up our tree to cut it down.

=) Haha! What fun!



Dearest friends,

It’s hard to believe that it has already been 10months since we waved goodbye from our wedding car! Marriage is such a gift, and life since has been quite the adventure!

Predictably, our time in Christchurch began rather shakily.  After much time, and prayer we managed to find a cute little cottage house. We looked at over 30 houses before finding it! With many houses destroyed through quake damage, it was much more difficult to find something safe and affordable than we had expected. We were thankful to find it!

Matt settled into his study right away, and I started doing some writing while also continuing to recover and have more medical tests and treatment. We found a wonderful church, that we absolutely loved, which really built into our beginning months of marriage.

Matt stayed VERY busy with grad-school, but we still managed to make time to enjoy lots of community events and the outdoors. We had fun celebrating our anniversary on the 4th of every month, and, on a meagre budget, managed to get to Lewis pass, Arthurs pass, Mt Cook and lots of other beautiful places in the South Island. New Zealand is gorgeous! Everywhere you look, there is something else to  “ooo & aah” at!

Matt did exceptionally well at grad-school and finished right on time. After staying in ChCh a little after his graduation, AND experiencing our first snow, he got a job in Coromandel….

So….we packed up the car and off we went!  Although we loved our stay in ChCh, when the time came, we were ready to leave. What with the cold descending in upon us, and earthquakes visiting us every couple of days or so, it was getting a little tiring.

The road trip up was a LOT of fun. Highlights being a visit to a seal pup colony, and following hundreds of dolphins on the inter-island ferry crossing.

Suddenly, we found ourselves in the North Island. This meant being closer to family! Hurray!

Coromandel is gorgeous. We have been so fortunate to have a lovely little home with a sea view and have loved all the outdoor adventures that Coro has an abundance of. Matt has settled in well to his new job teaching yr. 7. They LOVE him! Who wouldn’t though? I continue with my writing and gradual recovery.

Now…we are about to embark on another adventure and are heading across the seas to visit my home in Tanzania for the holidays. SO exciting!  We can’t wait to spend Christmas with my parents and have a wedding celebration with TZ friends.

We thank God for his faithfulness to us through this year and pray a blessing on your lives. We hope that you all have a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS and a WONDERFUL holiday season!

Much love to you all,

Matt & Kirsty

The creative.

“But the great artists like Michelangelo and Blake and Tolstoy- like Christ whom Blake called an artist because he had one of the most creative imaginations that ever was on earth-do not want security, egoistic or materialistic. Why, it never occurs to them. “Be not anxious for the morrow”, and ” which of you being anxious can add one cubit to his stature?”

So they dare…not to be pressed and duty driven all the time. They dare to love people even when they are very bad, and they dare not to try and dominate others to show them what they must do for their own good. For great and creative men know what is best for every man is his own freedom.”

Brenda Ueland, If you want to write, p. 26


“My very dear Sarah”- A letter to his wife on the eve of battle.

“ Major Sullivan Ballou, a volunteer in the Second Rhode Island Regiment, to his wife a week before the bloody Battle of Bull Run in Manassas… from Camp Clark… July 14 1861. Excerpts  from the letter appear below.

‘ My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days-perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more…Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me-perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. It I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness…

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights…always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again…

Major Sullivan Ballou was killed in the Battle of Bull Run.”

Jerry Jenkins, Writing for the Soul, p.101-102