A Widow’s Guide to Becoming a Handyman | Susan Huehn | ISBN 9781948509435 | $21.95 | 316 p | Trade Paper | Grief, Memoir, Love, Relationships | October 2023
A Widow’s Guide to Becoming a Handyman is both poignant and funny, chronicling a concurrent journey through grief and learning to do home repair.
Part grief memoir, part immigrant story, and part how-to-guide. A story of premature death and emotional wreckage that uses the narrator’s old house as its foundation. Grief is as palpable as a hammer hitting a nail and doesn’t come at all the way a reader might expect as the narrator methodically cares for her quirky old farmhouse’s many needs following her husband’s sudden death: a leaky roof, rotten windows, mold, along with frozen pumps and pipes. The narrator repeatedly tries and fails to order grief into a linear process with five distinct stages, but instead finds grief to be as disorganized and messy as the garage and sheds full of tools left by her deceased husband.
He, from former East Germany; She, from a small town in south-central Minnesota. In alternating chapters, this memoir chronicles their transatlantic love story, as well as resentments and moments of forgiveness in their relationship.
High and Mighty Early Praises:
“Susan Heuhn’s book is a big-hearted and artfully-crafted memoir of passionate love, sudden loss, and messy grief set in a farm house restoration project. Readers whose anguish hasn’t followed the stages of grief in blueprint order will appreciate Susan’s DYI-ing of her emotions and renovations after the premature death of her husband, Klaus. I love memoirs that interrogate and challenge accepted norms: this book gives us all space to rethink the grieving process.”
—Nicole Helget, author, The End of the Wild
“The unexpected death of a spouse presents life-altering questions about what to keep and what to let go. Through stories, photographs, and family recipes, Huehn’s memoir repairs a life nearing collapse from the weight of grief. Memories resist sentimentality to reveal the strain and humor of building a life with a partner. Whether navigating life in Germany as a young wife and mother, entering the emergency room where her beloved lies, or lifting the surfaces of her old farmhouse to understand two decades of her husband’s quirky renovations, Huehn brings her training as a nurse to each new understanding of grief and healing. Like her journey to fix the old farmhouse and occupy it fully, this memoir is a one-of-a kind, empowering response to loss and a life in progress.”—Diane LeBlanc, Director of Writing, St. Olaf College
“This is a compelling and candid love story about a cross-cultural romance. It’s also an immigrant story, which carries the remnants of war and loss, and the difficult work of bridging very different temperaments. Finally, it is a beautifully written eulogy to Klaus, whose abrupt death left his wife and their children bereft. A seasoned nurse, and educator, Susan felt competent at work but ‘unmoored with sorrow’ and unsure at home. Her endearing, yet eccentric husband, who had no experience building a house, enthusiastically tore the entire roof off theirs, and it remained that way for months. When he died, his improvised, makeshift house projects, left her with a run-down old farmhouse, a crippled septic system, and equally crippling self-doubt. Yet she responds to ‘the assignment fate’ had given to her, with courage and pluck. This is a wonderful, memorable read.”–Julie Neraas is a spiritual director, ordained minister, former professor at Hamline University, and author of Seeing the Sacred: A Year In Snapshots
“A Widow’s Guide to Becoming a Handyman will warm your heart while also, gently, breaking it. Susan Huehn takes us on a tumultuous and chaotic journey of love and grief that is both tender and transformative. Telling the story of her marriage and her sudden, unwanted widowhood, she reminds us that the work of love is always, necessarily, also the work of repair. Her candor, vulnerability and wisdom make this a grief memoir that is as much about self-discovery as it is about healing from traumatic loss.”
—Karen Hering, Trusting Change: Finding Our Way through Personal and Global Change and Writing to Wake the Soul
“Susan Huehn’s story of love and loss set in Germany and a German-American Minnesota town, is honest, intimate, and emotionally powerful. Alternating chapters take the reader back to youthful love and yearning and forward to devastating grief, while reflecting on the evolution of a transatlantic relationship. The crumbling farmhouse home becomes a metaphor for the challenges of the marriage, the dreams, the setbacks, the frustrations, and ultimately forgiveness—of herself and of her partner. A great read!”
—Susan Bartlett Foote, Professor Emerita, University of Minnesota, author of Crusade for Forgotten Souls: Reforming Minnesota’s Mental Institutions 1946-1954. Winner of the 2019 Minnesota Book Award
Susan L Huehn is an Associate Professor of Practice in Nursing and Department Chair of Nursing at St. Olaf. She lives on a hobby farm outside of Northfield where she tends herself, a flock of chickens, and her three children.