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The Author Speaks

Jacquelyn Mitchard: In My Next Life

Best-selling author writes about starting over at age 56

I.

Just over a year ago, we lost all our money.

The other day, as I was looking up ways — I'm not kidding — to use leftover toast, I realized that my husband and I, and our nine children, had survived a full cycle of seasons. No longer did I wake sweating, my heart bashing my ribs, certain that I was dying and not convinced that this would be a bad thing. It took every single day to come to grips with the grief and to plan my comeback. The grief was easier. What lies ahead is so hard that even right now, it brings tears to my eyes.

See also: Slang 50 plus should drop.

For this is my second comeback.

Sixteen years ago, when I was barely 40, my first husband died, horribly. I was left with a future broken, four young kids and no life insurance. Through 16-hour days, I wrote speeches, ad copy, even warning labels, and a year later, astonishingly, the novel Oprah Winfrey chose as her first book club pick. More books followed. I married a younger man and, through birth and adoption, we had five more kids — the youngest now just 5, born from a long-frozen embryo. Secure in our emotional and financial ability to give, we adopted two daughters from Ethiopia. The same week, the money theft broke over us. No one would have blamed us for changing our minds about the adoption. And anyone would have chosen little Marta, a 6-year-old cuddle bunny. But something in the eyes of Merit, then 11, defined the name of the orphanage, Miskaye, which roughly means "the lost one."

The wrong done us was grievous, but two wrongs didn't make a right.

Mitchard

— Photographer: Virginia Sutherland/Courtesy of Jacquelyn Mitchard

Long story short, a con man posing as an investment adviser named Trevor Cook convinced my husband not that we would get double-digit investment returns, but that we might fare reasonably well in the punishing stock market. In 2007, not many people had heard of Mr. Ponzi or Mr. Madoff. Cook could do 20 years in federal prison: but his thousand victims face a life sentence. People often wonder if Chris and I have one double-digit IQ between us, for we must be stupid, and greedy too. My husband looks away. But I ask, are you absolutely positive that your dentist didn't get the diploma on his wall from a website?

II.

On that last best day, Chris and I were on Cape Cod, watching our little boys running through the sprinkler, the slanting sun painting rainbows above them. Then Pam called. Pam has worked with me in my home office part-time for 14 years, Her voice was so strange that I immediately assumed there had been a tragedy with one of the older boys, who wasn't with us. Rob is still alive but come right away. When Pam said, "All your money is gone," there was a tap of relief before the room began, literally, to spin.

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