Dorinda Medley reflects on how her husband’s death ‘changed’ her: Grief 'doesn’t go away’

·7-min read
Dorinda Medley reflects on the cathartic experience of writing a memoir. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Dorinda Medley reflects on the cathartic experience of writing a memoir. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

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.

Dorinda Medley is no longer gracing the television screens of Bravo fans everywhere, as she parted ways with the Real Housewives of New York City franchise after appearing on the show for six seasons. But she's continuing to share her story about love, loss and family in a new memoir, Make It Nice.

"My life has really been chapters," Medley tells Yahoo Life. "The chapter in Great Barrington, the chapter going to New York, the chapter marrying Ralph, the chapter of having a baby in London and moving back as a single mom and getting married again and then becoming a widow, and the Housewives."

Her story is one that resonated with many during Medley's time as a reality TV star. For herself, however, the journey of marrying, divorcing, becoming a mother and losing her husband Richard Medley as a result of liver failure in 2011 is one that she'd had yet to fully reflect on — until the world came to a pause because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Here, Medley explains the cathartic process of writing a book about her life — while stationed in the town where she grew up — and how much she learned about herself in the process.

Why write a memoir at this point in your life?

The world was shut down, that happened so suddenly. And I think that there was fear, there was panic and then of course I was on pause from the Real Housewives. So I was up at Blue Stone Manor in Great Barrington, just 10 minutes from my childhood home where it all started. And timing is everything in life. The world had stopped and I figured, maybe it's time to stop and to take a minute instead of always going, going, going, what's next, what's new, to sort of reflect on: How I did this full circle? How did I get to this point?

What did you learn about yourself in the process?

I was able to reflect and kind of really be proud and sometimes sad for myself and happy, and feel shocked about what I've gone through and been able to succeed. And it was a full-circle moment for me. We go out in the world and we start to create and build and have and possess things, and you forget where it all started. So it really reminded me of how deeply important my mother has been in my life and how important motherhood's been to me. It's just a thread in my life, and I'm a big believer in that whole invisible thread.

How was it for you to write about becoming a mother yourself?

I really enjoyed immensely writing about going through the experience of becoming a mother like that. Hannah's older now, so much life has happened since I gave birth, and just that experience of becoming a mother and how it's really affected me forever. And it really does identify me. I may go out in the world and go to appearances and be all these different things to the outside world, but really, at the end of the day, I'm a mom, and it's one of my best jobs ever.

You've spoken before about the death of your husband, Richard Medley. How was writing about it cathartic for you?

I don't think I've ever really expressed fully what it was like going through that time when Richard was passing. People think it's this sort of a "now you see it, now you don't" type of thing, but people don't understand what the process is like. Talking about that process, I had a pit in my stomach. I hated doing that part of the book because I knew if I just didn't talk about it, it wouldn't pain me, and I'm very good at sort of carrying on knowing it's there. But when you have to go back in there and really access it again and talk about it, you're like, oh yeah, that was terrible. And that hurt. And that changed me. And that was a really rough and brave time in my life. I'm really pleased that I got through it with such grace and was able to not only, you know, hold my family through it, hold our finances, hold our spiritual self together, but able to forge forward things my life.

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What do you hope people learn about grief from your experience?

When I talk to people about grief, people tend to think that time heals everything. It really doesn't. What happens is you get bigger, but the grief sort of stays the same. You get bigger, but it doesn't go away.

You seem to move pretty seamlessly through these big transitions in your life. How do you do it?

I think we tend to look at endings as negatives, we look at change as a negative. If I didn't have to go through some of the things that I've been through, even with Richard, I wouldn't be who I am today. Was it difficult? Yes. Comfort is best, comfort is easy. Continuing the same is what we like to do. But sometimes a little change is good. It wakes you up. And I strangely do well during those times. I don't know why I'm like a Monarch butterfly. I do well with the struggle, like a caterpillar before getting its wings. I do okay during that. I don't like it, but I do okay.

We have to constantly go back and fall in love with ourselves and understand the value of ourselves. We apply it. We hope if we're lucky, we teach others and we make the world better because of it. But at the end of the day, you gotta go back to the drawing board and that's good.

How do you get through those tough days?

It's not always easy. You know, I've had my moments. I had one last week where I literally woke up in the morning and I'm like, "Ugh, I just don't want to do this." You just have days, but you kind of regroup, take a sleep, do something for yourself, take a walk and you start again. It's so important.

My mother's cure to everything was either take a run or take a sleep. It's strange and simple, but it works. I think that's why I take a nap every day in my life, because no matter what's going on in the world, I take my nap. Self-care is so important.

What kind of pressure do you face as a public figure to show up in the way that people expect?

I've got this incredible thing, when I'm good, I'm great. When I'm bad, I'm terrible. And I'm very aware of that. If I'm tired and I'm not interested, I stay home because I am fully aware that when I go out that someone's going to come up to me and you have to be able to be prepared for that. I've been on the other side of it, it takes a lot of bravery for these people to come up to you, and you can feel that energy when they're coming up because no one quite knows until they break that wall if you're going to be receptive or not. So I always try to be receptive before they get too scared.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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