A local writer, speaker, comedian, and mother of two has published a memoir of love and loss.
By Maureen Kingsley
This is the most honest thing I’ve ever written,” says El Segundo-based author Kelsey Chittick of her recently published memoir, Second Half: Surviving Loss and Finding Magic in the Missing. The highly readable, engrossing book details the circumstances and aftermath of the sudden death in 2017 of Kelsey’s husband, six-year NFL defensive tackle and one-time Superbowl champion Nate Hobgood Chittick, and pays tribute to Nate’s generous nature and loving spirit. Told fluidly and with candor, unflinching truth, and plenty of welcome dark humor, Kelsey’s story of grief and healing sometimes hurts, sometimes shocks, and, throughout, offers grounded, hard-won wisdom delivered in an intimate, unpretentious way.
“I didn’t want this to be a self-help book,” Kelsey (pictured at top) says of Second Half’s conception. “I hate preachy books. I had tons of serious books about grief on my nightstand and read all of them” in the wake of Nate’s death, she says. She wasn’t interested in writing one of those herself. “I wanted to write down the stories about Nate and me and our life, our kids. Nate’s death. Get those stories down on paper. I didn’t want to forget these stories, but I also didn’t want to carry them around with me all the time, forever.”
Her book began from her own journal entries. A lifelong writer, Kelsey says she has always turned to journaling when life gets hard. For two years after her husband’s death, she journaled, documenting stories, memories, experiences, and feelings. After a while, Kelsey began piecing the entries together, building a timeline, and creating an outline for a book. “I didn’t know how to do it,” she says of writing a full-length narrative. This particular form of writing was new to her, and, with the help of her editors at Legacy Launch Pad Publishing, she says she learned so much about long-form story-telling: moving back and forth in time, maintaining momentum, and showing—not telling—the details of any experience. “I’m most proud of how the writing in Second Half flows through past, present, future,” Kelsey says. “I enjoyed every bit of it,” she says of the writing process. “It felt easy, in a way. There was no pressure, no enforced timeline. It was therapeutic. And it brought me close to Nate.”
Second Half begins a few days after Nate’s sudden death, on a gloomy November morning in 2017. Kelsey is in bed taking account of her circumstances: “12 grief books on my nightstand, seven lasagnas in my refrigerator, two sobbing kids and one dead husband.” From that jarring start, the reader is led on a very human, nonlinear journey: to a moment of joy three months later, then backward many years prior to Nate and Kelsey’s time as student-athletes at the University of North Carolina; forward again to Nate’s football career and eventual retirement; next to the couple’s young adulthood, marriage, and children; then to Kelsey’s solo trip to a spiritual retreat in Jamaica, during which Nate dies suddenly after collapsing at a trampoline park in front of the couple’s two children. She openly describes her immediate departure from Jamaica, her visit to the Harbor UCLA morgue, her lack of preparation for the business and logistics of death. She writes of the life-saving support of her friends and community, the difficulty of parenting her grieving children while grieving herself, and the devastating news that Nate not only suffered a massive heart attack just before dying but was also diagnosed posthumously with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain condition associated with repeated blows to the head.
Through Kelsey’s odyssey of loss, pain, love, and learning, she gains and shares a number of insights and reveals herself to be intuitive, introspective, and capable of growth and healing. Among the countless lessons she has learned about life and human nature in the wake of Nate’s death and while writing about it, she says, is that “people are hurting. People everywhere are alone, isolated. We need community. We want to be good and serve others, but we don’t know how. When we can share our loads of pain, though,” she adds, “we can be OK.”
Facing and processing unexpected, unplanned-for death taught her that we don’t acknowledge and talk about death enough, she continues. “We fear it. Deep down we all fear death, yet we are also terrified of living.” Kelsey has come to see Nate’s death as a moment in time, as opposed to “the whole story” of his life, hers, or their kids’. “Everything in life changes. It is a dichotomy; ups and downs are inevitable,” she continues. Clinging for dear life to the status quo is unhelpful, Kelsey has learned—there is value in letting go.
Truthfulness, insight, and humor are the hallmarks of Second Half and what make the memoir so readable and accessible. The book has been well received, Kelsey says. “I wasn’t expecting the response it has had,” she adds. “I love talking about it. I love to write, and I love to talk with people.”
Second Half is available in paperback and digital format online at Amazon.com. More information about it and Kelsey is available at secondhalfbook.com. Photo of Kelsey and of Second Half’s launch event in El Segundo provided by Kelsey Chittick.