KATONAH, N.Y. – In a book of letters to her beloved husband, Al, Marilyn Pellini, a 49-year resident of Katonah, wrote her way through the grief that followed his shocking death in 2011.
“I started to write the day after he died because I was so angry and I just had to find some kind of outlet,” she said. “You can’t even look into a grief counselor, you can’t move—I felt paralyzed, so I began to write and I just kept writing and writing and writing.”
A former teacher, Pellini was a president of the Katonah Village Improvement Society, the local PTA and the Women’s Civic Club and has always been proud to call Katonah home.
She and husband saw their two children succeed as a doctor and a lawyer and were enjoying their four grandchildren. The golden years for the couple were underway when tragedy struck.
Al Pellini went out fishing alone, as he had done for decades, carrying his bag and wearing his wetsuit, in hopes of catching another big one. He had, in fact, been recognized as a standout fisherman when in 1984, he caught the second-largest striped bass in the world, caught from shore and weighing in at more than 64 pounds.
“At first the part that was so difficult was that in some way, I kind of blamed myself,” Marilyn said. “If I had stood up to him and said you’re not leaving unless you take a friend—I told him something can happen out there.”
It was on Cuttyhunk Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, where he swam out that fateful day and was assumed to have drowned. He was 71 years old.
Marilyn, a vibrant and active community member, tried everything she could to deal with the loss of her husband of 48 years. She attended grief groups, went to a grief counselor, a psychiatrist, even put together “dine-out” groups to help lift the darkness that hung over her.
“You can even understand having a baby if you haven’t had one,” she said. “But this, I don’t think anybody could explain it until you have to go through it.”
She continued her handwritten, heartfelt letters to her husband for many years and eventually compiled them into a self-published collection titled, “Dear Al, A Widow’s Struggles and Remembrances.”
A native of Providence, R.I., and graduate of the University of Rhode Island, Pellini hopes that anyone who is going through a similar experience will find comfort in reading these letters and will relate to various stages of grief: anger, sadness and loss that follows the sudden death of a loved one. Daily tasks like taking in the mail, cooking for one and coping with the holidays, she explained, can be difficult and painful. She offers hope and emphasizes the importance of finding the company of others.
“Don’t sit home—you’ve got to be with people who will let you talk, those who will be empathetic, sympathetic and offer a helping hand,” Pellini said. “Many people are not willing or are not attuned to someone else’s problems because either they’ve got enough of their own or they just don’t get it.”
Finding humor in the face of grief has helped this reluctant widow navigate her awkward new reality, which included the world of dating. She joked that after trying out dating services, she discovered a few things about the available men her age.
“Either they are dead or they have just returned from Machu Picchu and are on their way to Mount Everest to climb for the first time—I have nothing in common with them,” Pellini said.
Despite these obstacles and some health issues, this tenacious author is now inspiring others by sharing her story at meetings, church groups and other gatherings. Pellini said she really wants other widows and widowers to know that they are not alone.
“I’m really doing this because I have read all the grief books in Katonah, I have read all the grief books in the Westchester County libraries and I have read almost all that I could get my hands on in Barnes & Noble,” she explained.
“I had one woman who bought my book and called me to say thank you and that she doesn’t feel half so crazy anymore,” she said. “If that’s the only thing it does, I’ll take it.”