Life After Breath – When Widows Can’t Remember to Breathe

Deb’s Dozen: Keep breathing and learn how you can help other widows breathe too.

Susan VandePol has written a gem of a book in Life After Breath. In its pages, she has bared her soul to help you who now follow her path. You women who loved, and still love, husbands who have died—you whom the world now calls widow. Susan writes from her heart and her great love for her Lord and Savior. She endeavors to give hope to you who now feel at your most hopeless. She provides sustenance to you who may have forgotten to eat in your grief.

Susan talks to the inner depths of you who are swallowed up in grief at your losses. She tells you with certainty that you are not alone—He has promised never to leave you or forsake you. He has experienced great loss and great grief. He will bear your burdens and lift them up if you will but let Him do so. We all should remember those verses from the 23rd Psalm, “… Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me …”

Susan writes, “As a widow, you have been called for a great and unique purpose. Because of what you have suffered, you know that His grace is sufficient and His power is perfected and strong in you weakness and limitations. The power of Christ rests on you, dwells in you, and steadies you. He is your hope, and He will not disappoint you.” You do not grieve without hope.

Through deft use of word definitions and Scripture, Susan leads you through the grieving process—from the first days when you felt you could not breathe—to the days when sorrow has loosed its hold on you and you can again breathe deeply. She has walked the path and has come out stronger on the other side. Through story and personal example, she will teach you that you too can do the same.

I am not a widow—and I can’t bear the thought of the day when I might become one. But Susan’s book spoke to me anyway. You see, I lost my mom a few years ago and there was the tearing and grief in my spirit about which Susan writes so eloquently. My mom lived with us for the last few years of her life and we grew ever so close. In some ways, we’d traded places—I now cared for her as she once cared for me. I had regrets, but Susan taught me “if you are carrying the burden of regret, the cure comes with its abandonment.” And also I was to “honor the one you have lost in godly grief, not in regret, because godly sorrow leads to repentance and produces life.” I realize that I had never truly given Mother to God—she was truly His all along, but I didn’t want to give her back. And truly, I can now see that she is in a much better place, whole and healthy and happy beyond measure. And I can rejoice in her happiness and truly find joy in remembering who she was and all she gave to me.

Life after Breath is indeed just that—a way to come through the darkness into the light and breathe again. If you are a widow, Susan’s book will be a God-send to help you navigate the dark waters of your grief and arrive safely at the shore. If you are grieving for any reason, Susan’s book, though written specifically for widows, will help you understand and heal from the wounds life has given you. I recommend this book highly—five stars. Life After Breath: After Her Husband Takes His Last Breath, and After She Tries to Catch Hers.(Morgan James Faith)

When I spoke with Susan earlier this year I asked her why she wrote the book–why this topic. She said that the topic chose her. She thought she’d be writing about a teaching God had given her years ago about women and the art of speaking wickedness to ourselves, not others. This had been her favorite topic to teach. She didn’t want to do this topic. She didn’t want to self-publish. However, God had other plans–she feels it’s quite the miracle how it happened.

She says she’s learned so much about herself in the process. She’s learned she had something to say that could help hurting widows. She learned that she, as a widow, had a calling to help other widows discover their callings. She learned she could come alongside those in pain from losing their husbands and help them work through their feelings. In fact, she’s having her first retreat for widows this fall.

She comes from a mixed family: her dad was a Russian Jew and her mom an Irish Catholic. Her family was quite dysfunctional. Her mom was an alcoholic and her one brother has “no need for God, but he will.” Susan was saved at a little Christian coffee house called “Jonah’s Place” in the ’70s revival in California. Her parents divorced. She married Bob Ortega in 1981. One month after her daughter, Jennifer, was born, her mother committed suicide on Halloween. The rest of her story is in Life After Breath.

Susan loves sports, reading, horses, bike rides with her husband, gardening, birds, fireflies, and creative house spending. She’s a social introvert although you wouldn’t know it to talk to her. Her favorite books of all time are C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken, and all the Dick Francis mysteries. My kind of gal!

Her formal bio states that Susan VandePol is known for the Families of the Fallen protocol Susan VandePolfor fire departments and its partner protocol, Life After Breath, for churches. “The protocol is now being used across the country and endorsed by experts in the fields of grief, crisis, trauma, suicide prevention, CIR, PTSD, and CISM. Susan is certified in grief, crisis, and trauma counseling; grief coaching; master life coaching; individual crisis intervention; victim response; amd basic and family mediation.” She is a frequent speaker at women’s retreats and conferences as well as various firefighter and church events. She homeschooled Jennifer, Samuel, and Benjamin and now lives in Michigan with her second husband, of whom she says she “shamelessly manipulated into falling in love with her.” To learn more about Susan and the Life After Breath protocol, go to or You can follow her on Facebook or e-mail her at

Morgan James Publishing gave me a copy of Life After Breath in exchange for my candid review.

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