Mattie Jackson Selecman, daughter of country star Alan Jackson, opens up about healing after her husband's sudden death

Mattie Jackson Selecman, daughter of country star Alan Jackson, opens up about love and loss in her new book. (Photo: Courtesy of HarperCollins)
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The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

After less than a year of marriage to the love of her life, Ben Selecman, Mattie Jackson Selecman found herself a widow at age 28 when he suffered a traumatic head injury following a sudden fall in 2018. But she's determined not to let the tragedy define her. In her new book, Lemons on Friday — out Nov. 16 — the daughter of country music legend Alan Jackson details the grief process following Ben’s untimely death and reveals how she moved forward in the face of an uncertain future

“When fundamental parts of our lives are lost, when people and things we thought we’d never lose are suddenly gone, it’s natural to want answers,” writes Jackson Selecman. “Why did this happen? Who’s to blame? What could I have done differently? And for many of us in the aftermath of life-shattering change, we also want to know, where is God?”

A certified sommelier with a degree in creative writing from the University of Tennessee, Jackson Selecman opened up to Yahoo Life about the power of journaling, learning to heal and the importance of paying attention to mental health every single day.

Has writing this book helped you move through grief?

It was never my intention [to write a book]. The way I knew how to process sudden tragedy and grief was to write. It’s a passion of mine anyway, but there was more permission to be more honest on paper than with myself and the people around me. For a while, journaling and prayer were my two safe outlets. I took my hands off the reins and saw what came out.

Did the book come about through your journal entries?

After my husband passed, I was gifted books on grief but it felt like a prescription that could never be cured. Those didn't seem to be what my heart wanted. I came upon a book by C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, a memoir about losing his wife to cancer, and that was the first time that I saw other people put words [to] and thought the things I was feeling. It was a real empowering thing for me — it gave me relief. I thought maybe my grief and my journals could help others who are hurting, the way the C.S. Lewis book helped me. From there, I went back and looked back at the last year of journals and started working.

What’s your day-to-day approach to mental health?

Up until losing my husband, I don't think I was as nearly tuned into my mental health as I should have been. I was 28 when he passed — I was still young and had not experienced a lot of hardship — and sometimes you need to hit a speed bump to really pause. If I'm going to take inventory, what does that look like for me? [Ben’s death] was a catalyst for me and it forced me to examine the tools I have, know when I need to rest [and] unplug, or know when I have the energy to create and push forward.

Do you have any small self-care rituals to help you reset?

Definitely! If it’s a nice day, I need to be outdoors, play some music and just be in the presence of nature. For me, that’s a big part of my family’s life and it was a big part of my marriage. Being outdoors slows me down, and seeing the way nature is so reliable and cyclic, to me, is a huge reminder that there’s someone bigger than me in control. I see that a lot in nature. On a non-spiritual level, I love cooking. I realized through my grief that having a small sense of creative control — like cooking or doing a puzzle — gives me a sense of stability.

Do you have a go-to dish?

I’m a repetitive cook so I do the same handful of dishes every week. When I need new energy, I’ll try a new recipe and go to one of my cookbooks [laughs] and write a grocery list and challenge myself to do something different. It feels mentally and physically rewarding and helps me reset.

What brings you joy?

My list is long — I love flavor, I love to cook. If I pair wine with a great dish, that brings me such joy. Being outdoors and the peacefulness that's there — and music! I don't play or sing very well but even on down days, those slow ballads bring the joy back. Someone else has felt this too and this is what the feeling sounds like. And my people — they always fill me up!

What stresses you out?

I like to run efficiently, so when things get out of order or when I feel like I’m not giving my best self to a project, I have a hard time keeping a good attitude. It’s not about things being perfect; it’s about efficiency. I’ve learned to slow down, though, and that’s been hard, but it’s a rhythm that is healthier.

Well said! What’s the best advice that you carry with you?

I remember being afraid of moving into new chapters of life when I was younger. My dad told me, “Every chapter is different but no chapter is bad” — and that I carry with me. Even in the season I’m in now, which feels unfamiliar with all the question marks, even with that, I don't want to cling to the last chapter because there could be good here.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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