At a screening for Be Here Now last April, the documentary Spartacus: Blood and Sand star Andy Whitfield made in 2011 to chronicle his cancer battle before succumbing to the disease at the age of 39, his widow Vashti was on the verge of staying in the sadness of the images flashing before her and reliving those moments when she was struck by a new sensation.
"It's like somebody grabs you by the throat and squeezes so hard and it's so painful," Vashti tells WHO, "but then, within a split second, connecting with the whole audience and going back to thinking, 'Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why did we, Andy and I collectively, do that?'"
When the answer came to her, that she wanted to share what she could as an individual, mother, friend and person and give back what she could to others who may be going through the same thing, "that catapults me back in the present," Vashti says. "Carrying the loss or the grief doesn't serve me or anybody else, and now I have the capacity to be able to let that go. Five years on, I can."
Now Vashti Whitfield, 43, a professional facilitator and mother to son Jesse, 11, and daughter Indigo, 9, has shared what she has learnt about grief and creating new experiences in her memoir Spartacus and Me: Live, Love and Everything in Between, co-written with Sue Smethurst (Simon & Schuster, rrp $32,99).
Vashti says, "I have absolute clarity that writing that book was about, at 43, with things starting to go south, drawing a line in the sand and putting to rest any stories or stuff that I was holding on to, or insights I was missing. I felt like it was a real gift to be able to give some value to other people because the value I got from it was extraordinary."
Sam Maydew, who guided Andy Whitfield's acting career and was an executive producer of Be Here Now, says Vashti has already been a huge source of healing for others by appearing in the documentary. "The heart and soul of this movie was the bond and love between Vashti and Andy and their kids," he says. "They were not going to let this cancer ruin all their moments together. They had to fight for those moments and live for those moments so that if Andy didn't survive, Vashti could look back and think about how close they all were as a family."
The book is a continuing reflection on Andy, her kids and her future. "Hopefully I can share something insightful and a little bit funny and moving," she says. "Then I feel I am honouring my legacy. It’s the life I get to live. I’m doing something with what I've got, even if it's sharing my little old story."