One local author wants to use his grief to help others.
Paul Meese, Longmont resident, wrote the book 19 Days: One Man’s Guide Through Grief. He chronicles the first year of his journey after his wife, Ruth, suddenly passed away and, how he learned to move through the process and cope with the anger and emotions. All proceeds of his book will go to the Ruth M. Meese Memorial Scholarship through the Front Range Community College Foundation to support women in manufacturing.
Ruth M. Meese passed away on January 14, 2019, after 19 days in the hospital in a battle with leukemia.
She’d suffered a stroke in 2000, Paul explained, but had otherwise been in good health.
She went to see doctors quarterly to make sure everything was still fine, and in November of 2019 all her tests showed a sudden turn for the worse.
Ruth went to the hospital on December 19 for bone marrow tests, only to discover two weeks later that it was leukemia. Paul would later memorialize those 19 days in the title of his book.
After he retired in July 2019, Paul embarked on a road trip to see his daughter and grandchild in Wisconsin before a return to the family’s summer house in Michigan. After Ruth passed, Paul had started reading a book called Blue Highways by William Least-Heat Moon, a travelogue about the backroads of America.
“The blue highways are not the interstates on the map, so I thought that’s what I’m going to do. I need the time to clear my head, I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere. Usually it’s a two day trip back to Madison, and then another day up to Michigan. I’m just going to go whichever way the wind blows, with a little bit of a plan,” Paul said.
Paul visited Dodge City, KS and learned of the western history there, stopping to visit the world’s largest ball of twine and other interesting spots on his journey east. On his way to visit the Field of Dreams in Iowa, he got caught in heavy rains in Missouri. He recalled being on a county highway with a road closure and hitting a spot where the road disappeared into floodwaters. Turning around, he saw a farmhouse with floodwaters up to the second story.
“I had the thought that there is this family going through a grief process, not the same as I was, but in essence they lost everything,” Paul said. “I thought about what they would have to do to challenge that and get over that hurdle and get back to their lives.”
That moment would become key when writing the book. Paul returned from the road trip in mid-September, to a house full of memories.
“Ruth was everywhere and it was overwhelming,” Paul said.
He started seeing a counsellor, who was impressed with how he’d managed his grief.
“She said I was handling it so well I should write a book and I kind of blew it off. The counsellor pointed out that there were so few resources for men and grief, she said ‘If you told your story I guarantee it would help other people,’” Paul said.
Paul noted that with the timing of the book, and writing it during the pandemic, added some poignancy to it. He hoped that it could help with the collective grief people were feeling.
“My goal in writing the book has always been one thing, that if it could help one other person it would be worth it,” he added.
Paul jokingly referred to Ruth as the girl next door, but only for the summers. Ruth’s family had the summer home next to Paul’s family in Michigan’s upper peninsula. Together they raised a son, Ryne, and a daughter, Keelin. After living in Michigan, Wisconsin and California, Paul and Ruth settled in Colorado around 2013.
Paul and Ruth were both active in their community. Paul was on Longmont’s Art in Public Places committee for six years, he’s still an active member of Longmont’s Rotary chapter and currently sits on the board of the Longmont Humane Society. For fifteen years, the pair helped raise seventeen puppies to be guide and support animals across three different states.
“When our daughter (Keelin) was in sixth grade, we were living in California,” Paul recalled. “I was working from home at the time. She walked into the office and said ‘I want to raise a puppy to be a guide dog, here’s the flier, mom and Ryne (her brother) said it was okay.’”
“Ruth was there for a couple of the transfers, and she was always worried that the puppy would get attached to you, but somehow the dog knows,” Paul said. “And when they’re with their forever person the dog goes right to them, and it's an almost immediate attachment. So that was what really brought joy for both of us, knowing that we were truly changing lives.”
Paul started working at Front Range Community College, or FRCC, as chief human resources officer, and Ruth took a job as a manager and admistrator at the college under then vice president of the Boulder County campus, Linda Curran.
A year after Ruth started, FRCC received a $25 million grant as part of a nine school consortium to establish machining programs in colleges throughout Colorado. Ruth was the one to manage the grant funds and work with coordinators at the other schools. At the end of the five year term for the grant, only $100 was returned to the federal government due to Ruth’s skillful management, according to Curran.
“Ruth was key to the (FRCC’s) Center for Integrated Manufacturing,” said Ryan McCoy, executive director of the FRCC Foundation. “She made sure all the is were dotted and the ts crossed, and made everything work perfectly.”
Ruth retired in 2017 intending to be a full-time grandmother, as their daughter Keelin and her husband Alex were expecting. Ruth spent some time back in Wisconsin after her granddaughter was born. Paul planned to retire in the summer of 2019, so that the two of them could enjoy adventures together. In October of 2018, the family celebrated the wedding of Ryne to Kathryn in the family’s summer home in Michigan, not knowing it would be the last time Ruth would be in one of her favorite places.
The book came together relatively quickly, Paul said. He had some help with editing and proofreading from friends and family, but the whole labor of love is self-published through Blurb. Writing it helped him confront his grief head-on, while also helping to carry on Ruth’s legacy.
“It was cathartic to go through the process. It’s not easy and I have no idea how many times I had to stop because I couldn’t see the screen through the tears, but that’s part of the process,” Paul said. “There are trigger points and moments and it takes everything you have to get through it. Grief doesn’t go away, you just learn that it walks next to you instead of being a non-entity, and as it walks next to you, you begin to accept it and understand it.”
The Ruth M. Meese Memorial Scholarship supports women in manufacturing, and both Meese and McCoy confirmed that there have already been two recipients. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go directly to the scholarship through 2021.
“The fund is already past $15,000 and has had well over a dozen contributions so far,” McCoy said. “Our goal is to get the endowment to $25,000 so that it can continue in perpetuity. Paul and Ruth were a big part of the FRCC family and we love them dearly. This allows Ruth’s legacy to live on and Paul can share her story with the recipients.”
Correction: Ryne and Kathryn Meese were married in October 2018. Article has been updated with this information.