How one young widow turned her grief into joy
By Sue Baldani
Losing someone we love is perhaps the hardest challenge we will ever face in life. If we’re lucky, we can comfort ourselves with the fact that the person lived a good long life. But what if that person was taken from us way too soon? How do we come to terms with the additional heartbreak that goes along with that grief?
The answer for Mattie Jackson Selecman was to help others through their pain. A widow at 28, she never imagined losing the love of her life so young, and so soon after their marriage.
“Ben was a very easy man to fall in love with,” says Mattie. “Just talking about him brings a smile to my face. He was one of those people who was just joyful and had a huge personality.”
Ben Selecman, an assistant district attorney for Davidson county, was only 28 years old the day he fell and hit his head in 2018. That head injury proved fatal, and took place only 11 months into their marriage.
“He always said he wanted to live life to the fullest, and the abundant life that God says we can live, and he really did in his own way in his 28 years,” she says.
In order to cope with her grief, Mattie turned to her other love, writing. “My college degree is in writing and my dad is a songwriter and my mom wrote a book. So, it was natural for me to try to process my grief that way and everything I was having to face so unexpectedly.”
Her father, Alan Jackson, is not just a songwriter, but one of the most successful country artists of all time. Her mother, Denise Jackson, is the author of It’s all About Him: Finding the Love of My Life and The Road Home.
Mattie’s written outpourings of grief and hope have now been turned into a book. Lemons on Friday: Trusting God Through My Greatest Heartbreak, will be available on November 16 via Harper Collins. “Truthfully, I didn’t start out intentionally writing a book, but at one point I realized this could have power to help people who also feel crippled and stuck in their pain, in their tragedies and their losses,” says Mattie.
What also gave her inspiration for sharing her story was another book that helped her cope. “I always loved C.S. Lewis and he wrote a small book called A Grief Observed after he lost his wife to cancer,” she says. “I was reading that pretty soon after Ben died and I had this very poignant moment when I thought, ‘Someone out there really knows what I’m feeling right now.’
“I felt so seen in that and it just put words to the chaos that I felt inside. So, I thought, what if my story and my heartbreak and hope and questions on paper can do for someone else what it did for me?”
The title and subtitle of the book reflect her strong faith, and is what she attributes, along with her family and friends, to getting her through the worst of her grief.
“Lemons on Friday was from a metaphor that came into my head,” says Mattie. “I remembered the saying to make lemonade out of lemons, and I remember feeling like what more bitter, sour, awful and unwanted thing could have happened to me and being helpless to make something good out of it. It’s about my journey of surrendering that bitter and sour tragedy to God and knowing he was the only one who could make it sweet. The Friday part is the acknowledgement that if we’re true believers we don’t really live on resurrection Sunday, but instead are living on crucifixion Friday, feeling helpless and wondering how long we’re going to have to hurt until our Sunday comes.
“That’s the focus of the book. How can I be honest about the heartbreak and the pain I’m in, and how do I also hold tight to the fact that sweet days are coming, that Sunday is coming?”
Some readers who preorder the book will gain access to Racing the Dark, a song Mattie co-wrote with her father. “The song was very unexpected,” she says. “It wasn’t something I intended to do, but last fall at the very end of the most serious quarantine, I wrote the lyrics. I love writing but I had never written a song, so I sat down and wondered if I could. I thought it couldn’t be much different than writing poetry and I had grown up around music so I knew how songs were structured.”
Racing the Dark is a story of the loss of a marriage and one that is closest to her heart. “I wasn’t trying to write Ben’s and my story – it wasn’t about us – it was about a wife losing her husband and battling the desire to run away from the pain and then eventually having the strength to come back knowing that the only way she can begin to heal is not to run from but face the dark.
“My instinct is to power through and stay busy and push down the pain, but the Lord has reminded me in very tough ways that you cannot do that.”
Sharing her story and her talents is allowing her to heal her own pain, and hopefully that of others. “If I’m able in some small way through this book and my story being published to make someone who doesn’t have faith or who doesn’t have that support system feel like they’re not alone in their pain, then that’s my greatest hope.”
Mattie is also helping people in another way. Two months after Ben died, she and Brooke Tometich launchedNaSHEville, a company that designs and sells clothing, accessories, and more that also focuses on giving back to local nonprofits.
“We wanted to do something that celebrated Nashville – we’re Nashville natives – and something that celebrated women in a way that was inclusive, positive and faith based,” says Mattie. “We are a for-profit business, but we give back to nonprofits to support the people in these organizations doing the really hard work. We give them a percentage of all of our product sales, and before COVID, we did a lot of fundraisers for different nonprofits in town serving one of three missions.
“Before Ben passed, he helped us build out our mission against human trafficking,” she says. “As an ADA for the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office, he worked a lot with the trafficking courts there and just had a heart for it.”
The company also focuses on helping orphans and widows. When they first started working on NaSHEville, Mattie and Ben were married. The accident happened a month before they planned to launch so they pushed it back a little. All of sudden, Mattie found herself as the woman representing the widows in the company.
“I’m so grateful to see that his death and all that I have been through help others get through their own hardships,” she says. “Helping others is the greatest way you can heal and bring joy back.”
[Box 1] To order Lemons on Friday, go to https://www.amazon.com/Lemons-Friday-Trusting-Greatest-Heartbreak/dp/0785241272. The book is available for preorder now, and some readers will have the opportunity to receive Racing in the Dark, a song cowritten by Alan Jackson and daughter Mattie Jackson Selecman.
[Box 2] Racing the Dark – a special offer for those preordering
“Dad put a melody to it and I was so honored. All you want as a kid is for your parents to be proud of you, and it was really fun because it was never something I imagined doing with him.”
[Box 3] NaSHEville
To find out more about NaSHEville, go to and https://www.nasheville.com/ or follow on Instagram at @ NaSHEville.
Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.