Early in our marriage, Rob and I discovered that we enjoyed working together on writing projects. In college, Rob had studied English, and I had majored in communications. We both loved the written word and hoped to build communications careers after college. As husband and wife, we developed a great writing relationship.
In our 20s, when Rob worked as a journalist, he encouraged me to freelance as a stringer for a local newspaper. He taught me how to structure a news article; and while he wrote for Christianity Today, I covered town parades and high school graduations. Rob taught me interviewing skills, and I learned how to take shorthand notes that would make sense hours later when I sat down at my computer to write. I wasn’t particularly interested in journalism, but my little checks helped supplement our income. Before I knew it, I was a better writer and had a solid bank of clips.
On the childless weeknights of our early marriage, Rob and I would head down to the local coffee shop, grab drinks and spend the evening on our side by side laptops editing and writing. A penniless newlywed, Rob accepted every freelance project he was offered. If he couldn’t complete all the work himself, we’d divide his assignments between us.
On those nights, Rob and I wrote and edited countless articles, email newsletters, and advertising copy. An adjunct speech instructor at our local college, I showed Rob how to craft a tight thesis and how to structure an argument. He wrote my headlines; I wrote his deks. He wrote articles; I copyedited. We critiqued and edited each other, and our regular interaction with words made us both better at our work.
Though our communications careers took different shapes over time, Rob and I always enjoyed talking about writing and working on projects together. I edited both of Rob’s books and helped him write cover letters for job interviews. He reviewed my work email drafts and shaped strategic communications plans I wrote. No piece of writing ever left our home without two sets of fingerprints on it.
When I left my communications job two years ago this month in anticipation of our cross-country move, Rob encouraged me to begin thinking of what I’d like to do in this next season of my life. He told me to dream big and take the time to discover where I might best use my gifts. Maybe try something I’d never done before. Neither of us could have ever imagined this next season would be one without him in it.
As I have returned to writing and begun rebuilding my career since his death, I miss Rob’s fingerprints all over my work. He was so good at what he did. I draft a crisis communications document, and I miss his feedback. I get stuck on a paragraph, and I wish I could hash it out with him sitting on the sofa beside me. I have found friends to offer a second opinion or a solid edit, but none compare to this man who knew me so well he could complete my sentences.
Hidden toward the end of one of Rob’s books, there are a few sentences that I wrote for him. In a late draft, he was struggling with how to put his thoughts into words. We sat down together, and he talked it all out. “Want me to take a stab at it?” I asked him afterwards. He handed me the laptop gratefully. When I passed back his computer, Rob read my words, smiled and said, “That’s exactly what I wanted to say. Thanks, honey!”
To my surprise, those sentences made the final cut. When I look at them on the page, they don’t stand out. Any editor knows that’s exactly as it should be. My words blend seamlessly with his together on the page. The writer and the editor working hand in hand, creating something beautiful. His words, my words, our words. So much like our life, every part woven together.
After 17 years of writing together, I have realized that every word I ever write will be in some way because of Rob. Whether I tell his story or my own, whether I write an article or design a communications plan, Rob will be in all of those words because he is a part of me. Our collaboration for all of those years gave me this beautiful lasting gift, his words forever with mine.
These days, I miss Rob every time I see my words in print. Each time I send off a completed project, I cry. The person I most want to share this with — my editor, my co-writer, my husband — is gone. Rob used to tell me that he didn’t know what he wanted to say until he’d written it down. Maybe this will be the same for me too. As I write, now in his absence, perhaps I’ll discover what I want to say, who I want to be. In my words, I know I’ll always find Rob there too.