Sep 11, 2015


My first husband John and I met at a bar in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. After our first date—skating at an outdoor rink—we fell madly in love. Over the years, our date nights revolved around dinners at fancy restaurants, movies and dancing. That was our dating life of the 1980s. When we were in our thirties, we enjoyed the finer things in life— quaint bistros, local bars, concerts and traveling.

In the early 1990s, we moved to rural Afton, Minnesota, a town of less than three thousand people. We embraced the ambiance of the coyotes howling at night, raccoons raiding the birdfeeder and the evening sound of the wind in the trees. The quiet, slow pace of small town America became the life for us.

When my husband, John died suddenly in June of 2000, I was devastated and came close to selling the house and moving back to the city. Thankfully our attorney convinced me to stay for at least a year. During the years that followed, I dealt with mice invasions, plugged gutters, lawnmower maintenance and water in the basement.

The first winter as I cleared snow out of the driveway under the stars with the Murray snow blower, I missed John more than ever and longed for our chamber concert nights and dinners at the elegant hotel in downtown St. Paul. I had no desire to date, I just wanted the love of my life back.

After six years alone, in 2006 at the age of fifty-eight, I met my husband, Allan, on He had recently been widowed. Based on the information we shared in our emails, I decided he was worth checking out. We met at Mama Maria’s Italian restaurant in Hudson, Wisconsin. The evening of our date, with my stomach rolling around, I gripped the steering wheel and drove across the St. Croix River bridge. Nervous and all dressed up I slid into the booth. He smiled and presented me with an apple for the teacher. He had earned an “A” plus in my book. Then at the end of the date, he surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. As I drove home, I thought he seems like a nice guy.

On the dates that followed,  we went to movies, out to dinner and enjoyed meals at my place—he brought his special homemade chili. On Saturday nights we even went to church together. Eighteen months later and after six sessions of marriage classes—even two people with sixty-six years of marriage between them can learn something new— we said, “I do.”

In the eight years we’ve been married, our dating life has mellowed and so have we. I guess the passage of time and life's challenges does that to you. Living in rural Minnesota, we occasionally grab a hamburger at one of the quaint restaurants in down town Afton. There are only two dining options, so it’s not a tough choice. Other times we invite friends over for a casual meal. Occasionally, for a special date, we’ll buy tickets to a play or concert. In the summer, we especially enjoy the free evening performances in the park in Hudson. Sometimes we’ll even make a special trip to Selma’s ice cream parlor in Afton and split a double scoop of ice cream.

It seems the older I get and the longer we live in this serene country setting, the less it takes to make a date. Over supper one night, I asked Allan what he wanted to do for Valentine’s Day. He replied, “Well, we could burn the brush pile, that would be a hot date!” What a guy!

Life has it's ups and downs, take each day as it comes and keep the flame of hope and love burning in your heart.

Read more about my widow journey in my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal  Endorsed by the Open to Hope Foundation, the global Women For One organization and the American Widow Project.

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Jul 15, 2015

The Path of Grief Led to Places I Never Imagined

I never imagined fifteen years ago when my husband died suddenly at the age of 54, that I'd be a published author. It's a path I always wanted to follow and over the years we were married, John encouraged me to keep going. For several years I hosted a writer's group at the house which helped push me forward. Then when I went through my master's program for a degree in Curriculum and Instruction, John was behind me a hundred percent.

 After he died in 2000, I filled notebooks with the painful loss. Those notebook entries were the inspiration for my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal. The book's helping other widows and widowers find meaning in life again. After publishing Twenty-Eight Snow Angels, I moved in a new writing direction. I filled notebooks with ideas for a novel. At a writer's conference in California, I read out a few pages of a draft of a WWII novel. With the constructive feedback from the people in the group, I came home excited to write a book. After three years of researching, writing and lots of starts and stops, my debut novel was published in July, 2015. Courageous Footsteps is a young adult historical novel, set in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. The story was inspired by a Japanese family that lived across from me in Minneapolis, Minnesota when I was a child.
As deep as that initial grief was and how dark life seemed, eventually the grief softened. With support and help from others, my life slowly found its purpose and direction. I carry the memories of my loving husband with me and always will. allowfullscreen>
Courageous Footsteps

Feb 19, 2015

A Widow's Quest to Rebuild Her Life


When my husband, John, died in 2000, I struggled to figure out who I was and where I was headed. I loved John deeply and could not picture my life without him. As I worked through the years of loss I made a lot of decisions—some worked, some didn’t. I took on a new job, joined a variety of groups, traveled alone, spent time with family and reconnected with my faith. Living alone offered me a great deal of independence, but deep inside me, I missed sharing my life with another person. The following excerpt is from my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal, a book that’s bringing hope and inspiration to others.

In October 2006, I continued my quest for independence, my best friend from high school and I went to a Christian women’s retreat in Alexandria, Minnesota. My friend had spent several years alone after her divorce. I considered her an expert on the independent life. During the four-hour drive we laughed and talked about the joys and challenges of the single life. All weekend I participated in activities focused on strengthening my faith and nurturing the female spirit. During our quiet meditation times my mind kept floating back to my friend Paula’s dating comment.
            My five years alone had renewed my connection with God and opened my eyes to a future filled with new opportunities. Yet there was something about eating pancakes alone in a bar on a Saturday morning that made my lonely heart ache. When I arrived home from the women’s retreat, I flipped on my computer and signed up for Under my caption “Teacher Ready To Kick Up Her Heels,” I answered the profile questions. Even after five years, marking the word widow pierced my heart. In the section about myself I wrote that I enjoyed spending time with those I love, sharing candlelight dinners and spending time outdoors. I described my perfect “match” as someone who was physically active, found joy in each day, and liked to travel. I ended the description with  “Life was made to have fun, are you ready?” Waiting for “winks” to show up in my Match mailbox, I wondered if I was ready.
            For the next few days I spent my evenings snapping photos of myself with my new digital camera so I could post them on my profile. I fixed my hair, put on some makeup and picked out a few outfits for my photo shoot. Then I piled a few books on top of John’s leather chair and positioned the camera on top. Clicking the auto shoot timer I quickly slid onto the piano bench and smiled into the camera. I flipped through the images on my camera and ended up picking a photo my friend had taken of me earlier in the summer. Later that night after reading my evening Bible passage, I prayed for God’s guidance. I asked Him if there was someone who would be a good fit for me, to please draw that person to me. If not, I asked Him to give me the courage and strength to live alone.
            The next night I tried uploading the photo onto my profile. Having recently purchased a new iMac, I figured the upload would be a breeze. I followed the dating site’s photo directions, but nothing was happening. Frustrated, I called the help number in California. A young man’s voice answered. After I explained the problem he asked if I had dial up or wireless. When I said dial up he assured me that was the problem. All I had to do was follow the directions on the site and wait a LONG time. He warned me not to touch the computer while I was waiting, and he’d call me back when the photo appeared on the site. Twenty minutes later he called and congratulated me on my successful upload.
            Every night after work I rushed home to check for “winks.” A few appeared in my mailbox, but none of their profiles really excited me. After adding more photos to my profile and two months of only a trickle of “winks” and a disastrous date with a guy who considered sitting on a dock with a six-pack of beer and a fishing pole a luxury vacation, I told my sister I was ready to stay single and live alone for the rest of my life. With only a month left on my subscription I decided that when the subscription ran out, I was done dating.

Diane Dettmann is the coauthor of Miriam Daughter of Finnish Immigrants. Her grief memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal, was selected as the runner-up in “The Beach Book Festival” awards. She has presented her writing at local Barnes & Noble stores, libraries, history centers, bookstore events, and at international immigration conferences in Turku, Finland and Thunder Bay, Canada. Diane is currently working on a post WWII novel, Courageous Footsteps, that will be released in spring of 2015. Book information is available on Diane’s website:

Feb 3, 2015

Cemetery Reflections


I didn't make it out to my husband's grave last year or even the year before. A few weeks ago, I finally decided it was time to take the long trip to the cemetery. My navigation system, Garmin Girl, got me there without any wrong turns unlike so many of my other trips since my husband died in 2000. Arriving at the cemetery, I parked the car in the general vicinity of John's grave. Then with my box of tools in my arms, I trudged up the path passing graves grown over with weeds, reminders of loved ones forgotten. The sun beat down on my back as I unloaded my shears and knife and said "hello" to John. I decided to edge his parents' stone first. The knife slipped easily into the moist ground as I sliced away the overgrown grass and brushed off the dried mud from the marble surface.

When I finished his parents' stones, I moved onto his brother's and his aunt's. Then I sat down in front of John's and mine. As always it seemed strange to see my name on the stone with my birthdate followed by a dash and a blank waiting for the day my life ends. I hoped it would be a long time before that blank was filled with a date. I remember the day John's mother and brother sat with me in the drab old cemetery office picking out the stone, I never thought I'd remarry. So the "Together Forever" on the double marble stone made sense. Now fourteen years later and remarried,  I'm not sure the double stone makes sense. Over the years, I realized when you're deep in grief life doesn't make sense. You just make decisions the best you can and try to keep going.

When I finished edging our stone, I gently swept it off and sat on the grass on John's grave. In the intense July heat, sweat poured down my neck and cheeks as I told John I still missed him and always will. I assured him I was fine, thanked him for all the wonderful years we shared and wished we had been given more. After saying a short prayer, I packed up the tools and climbed in the car. As I drove home, there were no tears streaming down my face. Instead I was filled with a sense of peace and acceptance. I thanked God for pulling me up out of the depths of grief and moving me forward.

Moving through the devastating loss of my loving husband was not easy. It took energy, daily work, support from others and the gift of time. In 2011, I published my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal.

"A deeply moving account of a journey through grief that provides comfort and hope." Melissa

Order a copy in paperback or e-book at

Dec 3, 2014


The following piece is an excerpt from my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal. It's about facing my first Christmas alone after my husband died in 2000. My sister drove through the snow, to help me put up a small tree a neighbor had given me. 

I looked at my sister, “I can’t do this, Mary. It’s too hard.”
“We don’t have to trim the tree if you don’t want to.” I looked at the tree and thought about all the energy I had already invested in getting the tree in the stand. I figured it was too late to stop.
“Let’s keep going. Maybe once it’s decorated it’ll put me in the Christmas spirit.” Mary reached into the box and pulled out the strings of multicolored mini-lights.

We figured two strings would be more than enough. As we stepped around the tree, my sister draped the lights up and down the branches. The tree was so small that we decided to hang the lights and decorations mostly on the front side of the tiny tree. Besides, no one except the deer could see the back of the tree. With the lights draped on the branches, we hung the silver and blue balls John and I had purchased at Target for our first Christmas. Then we each took the family ornaments one at time and strategically placed them in safe places on the tree. The oldest family ornament was tarnished gold ball laced with tiny antique beads that our parents had purchased for their first Christmas during World War II.

Every year this special ornament had received the sturdiest branch. I gently hooked it on a thick branch at the top of the tree next to Angie, The Christmas Tree Angel, another antique that had been at the top of our family’s tree forever. As I stared at the old ornaments, I could see my siblings and me sitting on the living room floor at my parents’ home, opening presents one by one with Christmas music playing on the record player and reused wrapping paper and ribbons scattered all over the floor.
With all the decorations dangling from the branches and the gold garland in place, I filled the small metal stand with water and carefully arranged the new tree skirt with some gold stitching and the fringe along the edge my sister had made for me.

“Mary, the new tree skirt is perfect.”

“I had some of that satin material left over from a dress I made and figured it would make a great tree skirt. Well, should we turn off the lights and see how the tree looks?”

I walked over to the polished brass light switch and pushed the light off as Mary clicked the tree lights on. The tiny tree garnished with gold garland sparkled in front of the window.

“Oh, it’s beautiful.” I tried to swallow my tears, but the tiny droplets filled my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. “Thanks Mary. I appreciate all you’ve done for me. I wouldn’t have made it this far without you.” She told me I was a strong woman and that John would be proud of me. Standing in the kitchen, Mary pulled on her snow boots and coat. We wrapped each other up in a long hug. Before leaving, she suggested I join them for Christmas Eve. Not wanting to impose any more than I already had, I told her I would watch the weather forecast and think about it.

Read more of about my first Christmas and other challenges I faced along my grief path in my book, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels, at in kindle and paperback. 

Thinking of everyone who is facing that first Christmas after the death of a loved one.