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05/04/2022 08:30 AM

Dianne Coyle: Taking Time to Reflect

Madison artist and author Dianne Coyle wrote A Widow’s Spiritual Journey: Prayers, Reflections and Meditations for the Everday Catholic not to offer instruction, but the grieving move through the process. Photo by Ben Rayner/The Source

To say that grief is complicated is something that seems a bit obvious. As we all grieve and process the loss of loved ones in our own unique way, local author Dianne Coyle has compiled a lifetime of reflections on this topic in her new book, A Widow’s Spiritual Journey: Prayers, Reflections and Meditations for the Everday Catholic, not as a guidebook, but as a larger map to find one’s way past the darkness of grief.

Dianne is a longtime Madison resident having moved here with her husband Ray in the 1970s. She and Ray operated the Ray Coyle Gallery, a stained-glass shop in several locations in downtown Madison for many years. However, when Ray passed on in 2008, after a devastating cancer diagnosis, Dianne says she found her path through the grief and to healing from her experiences working with those close to death and from her relationship with her god.

“He lasted only six weeks after his diagnosis, so it was a lot to try and process for the both of us,” says Dianne. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, but God let me know.”

Dianne says she has been writing poems and reflections on her beliefs since she was a child and began to more formally codify a journal as she grew into adulthood. (Dianne even wrote for The Source for many years, penning the column, “Dee’s Corner.”) Over the years, she passed along some of these writings in an effort to help those close to death, and those loved ones left to absorb the overwhelming grief, anguish, and anger felt when those we cherish are taken away.

Dianne has had a strong relationship with St. Margaret’s Church, where she went from reluctant parishioner to her position as a sacristan and serving the parish as a Eucharistic minister and funeral assistant.

Dianne said her experiences as a liaison for homebound parishioners and her belief in prayer not only helped those making the transition to the next life with an ease of the mind, but the process also made an impact on her and her faith.

“I also hold the title of Eucharistic minister and I do visit people who are homebound. And what happened along those lines, and this is in the book, and I ended up being with five or six parishioners in a short period of time who died while I was with them or shortly after, and that was a deeply moving process,” says Dianne. “So, the book is a collection of things that I have written over a very long period of time, and it’s a real assortment of things. The title is A Widow’s Spiritual Journey, and that’s really what it is. It takes into account the things I experienced after losing my husband and what I call the ‘dark night of the soul.’ It is that time when everything within you feels dark, and it is not a good feeling, to say the least. Through my contact with a couple of other priests, I was able to shift from being focused out to being focused inward and my relationship with God. And that is when things really moved on from there. But it wasn’t until I moved into the position of sacristan that I had a real clear awareness of where I was supposed to be.”

At the urging of family and friends, Dianne says that she had made a half-hearted attempt to try and find a publisher several years ago, but when COVID hit, she put that aside to focus on the church. However, just recently upon the recommendation of the church’s pastor, she sent out an inquiry to a publisher and had a book deal within a week.

“This book just kind of evolved. I wasn’t anything I consciously sat down to write,” says Dianne. “It’s ultimately focused on how we go from grief back to a more normal life, and that transition along the way. It’s not an overnight experience. There are a lot of books out there on grief, the how-tos about grief, and there really isn’t any. Everybody’s different, everybody processes things differently, and everybody approaches things differently. Everybody is in a different place when it comes to grief. I think the book gives them a variety of paragraphs that they can flip through and simply read what they want. It is not a solid continuous text. There are bits and pieces.”

The book is already receiving great praise from a number of sources, hailing her book as ‘a journey that will resonate in every reader’s heart’ and from author and lecturer Elaine Mott, “…I was taken with Dianne’s ability to evoke compassion, encouragement, and a sense of one who is there to give support. Her work is worth sharing with the world.”

“The response has been great so far. In fact, when I told some folks down at the church that I was going to publish the book, when they heard the title…they couldn’t wait to get their hands on it,” says Dianne. “They were really waiting for this book.

“I think what it will do is to fill a void,” she continues. “We don’t think we need a technical handbook on grief; we know it very well. This is a book, I hope, that will help you get from one spot to another. It’s not just one particular theme, but that’s what makes it interesting. There are no steps, it is about the evolution from grief back to a more normal life, and you can’t do that in one step.”

Dianne is also an accomplished artist and musician, having dabbled in both areas over the course of her journey. Though she finds solace in those endeavors, she still finds the most comfort in her writings and reflections on her relationship to her faith.

“The art part of it came along when Ray and I got married,” says Dianne. “One Christmas he gave me a gift certificate for arts supplies and an easel. I said, ‘I don’t know how to paint!’ He said, ‘Yes you do!’ So even though that was news to me, I really took to it and enjoy it.”

Dianne has illustrated other author’s works and also illustrated her current book as well.

Dianne will be signing copies of her new book at St. Margaret’s Church at 24 Academy Street in Madison on Mother’s Day weekend, Saturday and Sunday, May 7 and 8. Dianne will sign books after the 4 p.m. Mass on Saturday and after the 8, 9:30, and 11 a.m. Masses on Sunday. All are welcome.