It’s an honor and a pleasure to introduce my lovely and talented friend Kim Julian. Kim, the widow of PGA golfer, Jeff Julian, is one of the strongest women I know. Eight months after Kim married Jeff, the love of her life, her husband was diagnosed with ALS. Her heartbreaking memoir Golf Widow tells their story.
Interview with Kim Julian
I’m currently a gypsy. A year ago, after Tyler left for college, I gave up my apartment, moved everything into storage and headed to Tennessee where I spent a month with my brother in Chattanooga. I completed my memoir during my stay and also began an intense job hunt as both my book project and my raising a child project had come to an end. A year later, my search in Boston continues and has expanded to Chattanooga, TN, and Springfield, MO. I’m spending time in all three places until I get an offer. I’ll go where the job is and I’ll know that is where I’m supposed to be. I trust the process.
I grew up in a small town in southwest Missouri, a.k.a. the Bible belt. I was raised Methodist and converted to Catholicism as an adult.
I love to write but never dreamed I’d end up writing a book. My grandmother wrote poetry, and my father still does. Now that my son is in college and he aspires to be a writer, I think we’ve proved nature over nurture! I hope to dedicate more time to my writing as soon as I’m working again and living in one place.
I love thought provoking independent films and the New England Patriots. I workout or find a way to be active every day. I love to hike, practice yoga, and snowboard. My most recent interest is Brazilian Jui-Jitsu.
I plan to obtain my masters in psychology in the not too distant future so I can have a clinical practice specializing in bereavement, as well as counseling soldiers who have come back from war.
Would you please describe your book in your own words? Please tell us something we couldn’t find out by reading the book description.
Golf Widow is about sacrifice, on so many levels. Sometimes we simply need to be where we are. Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to sulk, and lick our wounds. ‘I’m Third,’ sometimes needs to be ‘I’m First.’ Writing Golf Widow brought me pure catharsis.
What would you like readers to take from your memoir?
I hope my memoir offers a better understanding of how we’re here to help one another, without neglecting our own needs. And, a reminder that God is not the one who gives us hardship; He gives us the strength to make the sacrifices that are necessary to overcome hardship. He gives us the courage to rise to the occasion and grow, and become a better person, which (I feel) is what we are here to do.
Golf Widow deals with the very difficult subject of caring for a dying spouse. It must have been terribly hard to write. What inspired you to share your story?
It was just a knowing. The emotions a caregiver experiences are so complex I felt it needed to be addressed. Before I realized that I could actually write, I hired a co-writer who, conveniently, was represented by a large agency. I would write and submit my work five or ten pages at a time, and he would edit what I’d written. After a few months, my work was no longer in my voice; the project was going in a direction that instinctually didn’t feel right, and wasn’t conducive to my goal. So I severed the relationship, cut my losses and started from scratch, and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
You write so honestly. Did the writing bring back memories? If so, how did you deal with them? Was there any particular memory that troubled or encouraged you?
Writing the book actually forced me to grieve and it was the best thing I could have done for myself. I always ran two or three miles on the treadmill before seeing my son off to school so that I would be ready to sit down and write as soon as he was out the door.
When I began feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of giving up, I would often recall the conversation with Tyler in the car when he asked me why Jeff, who was good, had fallen ill and why couldn’t it have been someone bad instead. Finishing what I’d started was my cross to bear. I had to keep writing. I had to reach caregivers who desperately need validation, and tell them, ‘You’ll be okay.’
Parts of this book – Jeff’s declining health – must have been brutal to write. How did you maintain the necessary distance to push through?
The first draft was full of holes. I would write a chapter that was descriptive and well written followed by a chapter where I had rushed through and digressed to ‘telling not showing.’ A very talented mentor of mine pointed this out and helped me see that I was subconsciously avoiding certain memories. I began tackling all of the holes and would be so emotionally exhausted after writing that I would often have to step away for a few days. On two different occasions, I couldn’t write for three months or more.
I would write, often from eight o’clock in the morning until late at night, without leaving my desk even once. It would flow so easily that I would lose track of time. I would suddenly realize that I felt hungry and had to pee badly and then notice the clock and be shocked that I’d been sitting there for 12 hours (followed by wondering if Tyler had had dinner and finished his homework). What an amazing experience that was!
Many scenes are intensely personal. Was it hard to open up, knowing strangers would read the book?
It never occurred to me that anyone would want to read it. I just knew that I had to write it and hoped that I could reach just one person who might benefit from my willingness to be open and honest. I would say it was more difficult knowing that people I know and love would be reading it. My biggest concern was how Tyler would feel about my opening up about his biological father, and how my mom and especially my dad would feel about the parts involving pre-marital relations.
How did your family and Jeff’s feel about the project? How did your and Jeff’s sons feel about you writing about their dad?
I’m still in touch with Jeff’s father, and his cousin Terri, but they haven’t taken much of an interest. I think it’s still too painful for them to consider reliving it. My parents, and my brother were extremely supportive, emotionally and financially, just as they were when Jeff was alive. It’s funny; both sides have given the exact same interest in the book as they did in Jeff’s care.
Tyler was nonchalant at first, as if I were working on a scrapbook. Two years into it, he began taking an interest. I involved him by occasionally asking him for advice. It was Tyler who insisted that I somehow add, ‘business in the front, party in the back,’ in chapter two when describing the stereotypical trailer park. Any time that I spent with Keegan was focused only on him so he never even witnessed my pecking away on the keyboard.
Were you concerned about the reactions of any particular person or people you mention in the book – Jeff’s sisters, for instance? How did you handle this?
I wanted to leave the sisters completely out of the book but they played such a vital role in the dynamics at the end of Jeff’s life including them just couldn’t be avoided. I had two main concerns; conveying their involvement in a graceful manner while avoiding a negative impact on the book, and, how to protect myself from a libel lawsuit.
Were you tempted to gloss over character flaws? If so, how did you overcome the temptation? How did you feel about this?
I felt that any deviation from the truth would make the story less affective. I was so concerned with not sugar coating anything and being so open in order to get my point across that I wasn’t at all tempted. When it came to Tyler’s biological dad, I was very hesitant to show who he really was because I didn’t want it to reflect poorly on Tyler. Again, his actions played a role in where I had been and what I’d been through during my first go at marriage, it just couldn’t be left out. Tyler was very understanding and had no problem with the end result.
What was it like to write about yourself? Did you feel exposed?
It was a bit odd writing about myself, but I can’t say that I felt exposed. It actually felt good to expose everything, cleansing even.
It can be hard for memoirists to shape their story. Would you please tell us how you found your ‘story’ and decided what to put in and what to leave out?
I was fortunate enough to be taking a few writing courses at Boston College just as I was finishing my first draft. I was in a writers group with another classmate and our professor so I had access to very talented people who read, critiqued, and encouraged me along the way. The manuscript was originally twice as long and included what happened for the first year following Jeff’s death. There were two story arcs, so the suggestion was to shorten it, and possibly write another memoir. I kept the work that we cut, so, technically, I’ve already started book two.
Did you ever get stuck? If so, what do you do to get yourself moving forward again?
On one occasion, I didn’t write for almost six months. In order to get moving again I had to be patient, step away and put it out of my mind. Then finally one day a memory came that triggered a desire to write it down.
It’s normal in a memoir to fudge certain facts. Most of us can’t remember whole conversations verbatim, for example. How did you handle that line between truth and fiction?
There are definitely memories that are more vivid than others, and I suppose that depends on the significance of the memory. The conversations that took place in the book were used because they were vivid and are as close to verbatim as they can get. The most challenging part for me was the chronology. I have always kept a journal, which proved extremely helpful in piecing things together. My family was helpful here too.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given about writing? The worst?
The best: A wonderful writer once suggested that I join a writers group because I would become a much better writer through the process of critiquing someone else’s work, and she was exactly right!
The worst: That I needed a seasoned co-writer to accomplish my goal.
If you were to give one tip to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Find your writing space – a place where when you go there, you write. After preparing a little nook with a desk right next to the window, mine ended up being the kitchen table. Sometimes you don’t pick the space rather, the space picks you.
What are you working on now? Can we look forward to another book by Kim Julian?
At the moment I’m dedicating a lot of time to finding a job. Once I’m working and have finish promoting this book, I will definitely work on the second. Due to the level of dysfunction that occurred following Jeff’s death, the next one might be disguised as a work of fiction.
About Kim Julian and Golf Widow
Kim Julian earned her bachelor’s in psychology at Boston College, where she was an Elizabeth A. Strain Scholarship recipient and is a proud member of the Alpha Sigma Nu Honor Society. She was honored with the Lou Gehrig/Catfish Hunter Humanitarian Award and was a Massachusetts State Lottery Friends of the Fairway honoree. Due to her advocacy at home and in Washington, D.C., she is well known in the ALS community, and continues to offer guidance and support to other caregivers, patients, and their families.
About Golf Widow
Kim Julian’s life was coming together beautifully. A devoted single mom and Branson performer, she found the love of her life when she met Jeff Julian, a towering PGA tour player. Caddying for Jeff, she became integral part of the PGA world. What Julian did not know was that their fortune as a family was about to become brutally upended.
Eight months after the wedding, Jeff was diagnosed with ALS. For the next two years, Kim battled conflicting feelings of guilt, anger, and grief, while addressing a societal expectation of smiling self-sacrifice. This tender, disarmingly honest, and wry memoir, shares their story.
That sounds like an amazing journey! I really appreciate the part about the in-laws. I had a similar problem when writing my book. I wish her the best!