Matthew Reilly: Lessons of love, loss and embracing life when you're the one left behind.

Matthew Reilly

A little over two years ago, the life of best-selling Australian author Matthew Reilly was turned upside down.

Natalie, his partner of 15 years and a psychologist by training, took her own life at the age of 36 after battling depression and an eating disorder for years. It was early December in 2011, and after being away on a book tour, Matthew arrived home to an empty house.

Just 20 minutes there was a knock at the door. Matthew – who self published his first book at the age of 22 -opened it and found three police officers waiting to tell him about the news about Natalie, the woman he had married in 2004.

About a year after Natalie took her own life, Mamamia published an excerpt from a Weekend Australian article by journalist Caroline Overington about the shock Matthew had experienced when he become a widower at the age of 37.

At the time she wrote:

Matthew and Natalie (photo from the Weekend Australian Magazine)

Sorrow has engulfed him. Reilly and Natalie had been together since they were 18. He had never taken a step in his adult life without her by his side, and then she was gone and in the immediate aftermath of her death he didn’t know what or who he was without her.

And so here he stands in the kitchen of the lovely old home they shared together, a gentle, ghost-like soul moving quietly around the kitchen, preparing a cup of coffee and then softly crying for a loss that is immense and raw.

… Asked what he loved about Natalie, Reilly says: “It’s simply that we were not the same. It is almost that perfect match, in that I would lean forward and she would lean back … She was gentle, and kind, and generous to a fault.”

This week, Matthew’s story was told again – this time on the ABC program Australian Story.

In an episode called “The Other Side,” Matthew spoke candidly about his life with Natalie, what is was like when she developed depression and how his life has changed since that fateful day in 2011.

This is from the Australian Story interview transcript:

My life pretty much fell apart in the days after Natalie died. You go through the first week trying to prepare for the funeral, that’s a, a welcome distraction but she was my everything. We did everything together. We’d done everything together for the previous eighteen years and what I noticed immediately was the sheer stretching out of the hours in the day that I would spend time with her.

That’s what we did and suddenly I’d have days where I’d look at the clock and it’d be quarter past one in the afternoon and I’d think ‘I’ve got ten hours ‘til I’m going to go to bed’. I cried every day for six months. I howled in my car. You can, you can sit in your car with a hat and dark glasses on and howl at the sky and you’re not going to bother anybody and you don’t think you’ll do it but you do and, and what I did, I’d take the dog for the longest of walks that, you know, she’s ever had in her life.

The thing about Matthew Reilly was that he’d lived his entire adult life with Natalie and when she was gone, he struggled with knowing who he was without her. She was the person who encouraged him to write, she was the one who read each of his pages after he’d written them. And without her, Matthew was lost.

More from Australian Story:

Ice Station, by Matthew Reilly

I wondered if I would ever write again. I read some books on grief and grieving. One of them said keep a journal which I did. I could not even think of fiction and I honestly wondered if I would ever write another book again. And I didn’t feel inclined at all to come up with an idea or write fiction. I went on two trips overseas.

I remember reading about Rove McManus and Glenn McGrath and guys who lost their wives when they were young and both of them found happiness again and it was incredibly important for me to discover that it can be done. Now it may take time, but it can be done.

After Natalie died I actually went and saw a psychologist. I thought that would be very good for me and, and he was asking whether I felt angry at Natalie and no, I never felt anger towards her when she was sick and I certainly didn’t feel anger towards her for taking her own life.

The daily torment she was in was horrible to watch. If I do feel anger it’s at, you know, God or the universe for afflicting someone who was the most gentle soul I’ve ever met with such a hideous and awful disease which ultimately made her hate herself.

Eventually life stated picking up for Matthew. In his own words, he “learned to live again”.

Matthew has now found love with a woman named Kate Freeman. They were introduced to each other through Kate’s parents and often play golf together. Today, they’re even considering a move to New York or Los Angeles, where Matthew can explore the possibility of directing a movie that’s adapted from one of his books.

I don’t think I’ll ever recover fully from it. It’ll be with me for the rest of my life but how fortunate was I to have eighteen years with the most remarkable woman and it’s one of the biggest clichés of all but it’s true that you get to a point where you stop thinking about what you’ve lost and you start thinking about what you had and I have. I have accepted that I was amazingly fortunate to get eighteen years with someone like her.

I’m finding myself again and as far as I’m concerned, you know, 2012, the year after Natalie died, will just be a year that I checked out but it’s also a year that I regained my strength. I found my confidence again and I think the future holds more books. It involves me telling more stories. There’s a brave new world in the book industry of e-books. I think that opens the door to writing more shorter stories. And so I’m going to keep writing. I’m going to keep getting up in the morning and sitting down at that keyboard and hopefully, you know, being Matthew Reilly again.

“It’s going to be a different experience writing a book without Natalie reading the pages as I write them,” he said.

“I’ve got to find it. I’ve got to figure out how to do it without her.”

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