Thursday, December 30, 2010

Books of the Month

I've decided to list books I've read each month on the last Friday of the month. I want to see how many I read in the next year. December's won't count, but I wanted to mention them anyway. You'll see that my reading tastes are eclectic. I read fiction, non-fiction, poetry, books on widowhood and grief. Some are book club choices--I belong to two book groups, but one reads only short stories. Some are what one book club member calls Guilty Pleasures. Others are just topics I find interesting. So here's my list for December:

12 Secrets for Healing by William Hablitzel, M.D. He's the kind of doctor you'd like to have and his stories about his patients are inspiring.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. This isn't a newly released book. I picked it up at a book swap and really enjoyed it. The setting, an island in the Pacific Northwest, is beautifully described; it's a character in itself. This book is a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, a love story, and a study of prejudice. I recommend it.

God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter by Stephen Prothero. A professor of religious studies, he asks his first year students to invent a religion. He discusses each of the eight religions in terms of its view of mankind's problem and that religion's solution. Interesting. One of the reviewers on Amazon remarked that it was a Reader's Digest view of religion. Maybe so, but I enjoyed it.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. His magnificent story of a brutal murder in Kansas and the two killers who committed the crime.

Cry of the Giraffe by Judie Oron. A Young Adult book based on the true story of a young Jewish girl in Ethiopia and how she made it to Israel.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Quotes for the New Year

Many people look forward to the new year for a new start on old habits. ~Author Unknown

No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left. It is the nativity of our common Adam. ~Charles Lamb

New Year's Day is every man's birthday. ~Charles Lamb

Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. ~Hal Borland

New Year's eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights. ~Hamilton Wright Mabie

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. ~Oprah Winfrey

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

Please Visit Cheekyness

Check out to see Su's end-of-year blog awards. Hint: There's one for widowsphere.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Interview with Susan Berger, Author of The Five Ways We Grieve

Susan, would you begin by briefly describing the five ways of grieving you mentioned in your book.

The five ways of grieving represent the different responses of survivors to losing their loved one. I named them:

1. Nomads are characterized by a range of emotions, including denial, anger and confusion, about what to do with their lives. In the acute stages of grief, most grievers are Nomads. If they do not go through the necessary process of grieving, they may develop complicated grief based on unresolved issues related to their loss. Unlike the other types, Nomads have yet to find meaning from their loss and create a sense of purpose for their changed lives. They lack a clear identity. The nomad’s challenge is to find an “post-loss identity” that will help them heal from their loss and align with one of the following ways for successful grieiving.

2. Memorialists are people whose main goal is to preserve the memory of their loved ones by creating concrete memorials and rituals to honor them. These range from buildings, art, gardens, poems and songs, to foundations in their loved one’s name. Nowadays, survivors create websites and other media to perpetuate their memories. They maintain connection with their loved one by integrating them into their life through these activities. I found that this is one of the most commonly adopted identities for survivors of loss.

3. Normalizers work to create the kind of life they either lost or wished they had. While they are guided by their loss, their main concern is the quality of their present and future life -- for themselves and their family. They appreciate that life is finite. Their values and priorities reflect their desire for “normalcy” and a good life. Normalizers place dominant priority on their family, friends and community. Normalizers who create new families through adoption after tragic loss of children, spouses who love being married and remarry to recapture that love and security, and adults who replicated their childhood dreams through their own families are examples. Many survivors choose this path for healing.

4. Activists have an increased awareness of the time-limited nature of existence, along with a desire to make a difference. Hungry for intense and varied life experiences, they are oriented primarily toward the future, striving for meaning through the positive impact they can make on people and the world. Their values and priorities are directed toward making this world a better place for all people, improving the quality of life, and sharing their hearts and minds with others. Often they devote themselves to contributing to the issues or causes that resulted in their loved one’s death. Some write books, enter public service, and join professions that help others.

5. Seekers look outward to the universe and ask the universal questions about their relationship to others and the world. Typically, Seekers experience their loss as a catalyst for spiritual or philosophical inquiry into the meaning of life. They tend to believe that humans are intended to fulfill some specific purpose in life, often acknowledging transcendence between this life and other forms of reality. Seekers value connection with each other, the natural world, and the Divine (however defined). They explore the mysteryr of human experience on this earth and the universe. While a less prevalent Identity, Seekers find comfort in belonging to groups or practicing lifestyles with others who share their spiritual beliefs.

What do you think is the greatest influence on our grieving style?

There are many ways in which individual characteristics influence the way their survivors grieve. After losing a loved one, nothing will ever be quite the same. I think our way of viewing ourselves and the world are changed, too.

I found four significant ways that influence a survivor’s grieving style. I call them ‘The Four Pillars of Identity.’ Survivors change their perspective in the following ways:

1) They become aware of their own mortality. Most people begin realizing that life is not a permanent condition. They begin thinking about their own mortality.

2) They become aware of ‘time’ and the fact that ‘time’ is a precious commodity.’ If everyone dies, we had better use our time wisely. They may have a sense of urgency to ‘hurry up and get as much done as possible, because you never know when your time will end.”

They also consciously and unconsciously develop a primary orientation to time: past, present, or future.

The past: For example, if they focus on the past and cannot move forward, they might become Nomads, who haven’t been able to accept and work through their grief. Those who choose to remember their loved one through their memories of them in the past can grieve successfully by preserving their loved one through various kinds of memorials: foundations and buildings, songs, poetry, photo albums and websites. These are Memorialists.

The present: Normalizers and Seekers learn to live in the moment, appreciate that we cannot change the past or predict the future. We can live in the present, “smell the roses, “ because it’s all we really have.

The future: Those who are oriented to the future often want to make things better for others, motivated by how their loved one died. They join a cause to improve the quality of life, perform a service in the helping professions – so that the future is better than the past or present.

3) Their priorities and values often change. Love and compassion for others is often heightened after losing a loved one. Family may become more important. Work may become less important. Saving money for a “rainy day” may override spending every penny you have. You may have valued your independence, but now choose to develop relationships with others that offer connection.

4) They view their relationship to the world differently. How they see themselves in the world, where they fit may shift. Some become more ‘family-oriented, some get involved in a group or organization that is dedicated to curing a disease, or offer a sense of belonging they lost when their loved one died. Some view the world more cosmically, understanding that our humanity is a small element in the universe.

Do you believe that bereaved people adopt one particular way of grieving that continues throughout life, or do (or can) we change from one to another?

Based on my research and clinical observations with many of my patients, I believe that the different combinations of the ‘four pillars’ create a ‘dominant identity” for most survivors of loss. However, life is not static. Crises could upset one’s established path in life, circumstances change. Individuals evolve based on their experiences over time. This is why I believe that grieving is a lifelong process. For some, the ways they were affected by loss reinforces their sense of identity. Others may shift from one identity to another due to important changes in their lives.

What is most important to me is that survivors know they have choices for how they define themselves after loss. Regardless of the path they take, my hope is that survivors will find a new and fulfilling sense of purpose for their lives.

The holidays are often the most difficult times for those grieving a loss. Do you have suggestions for the various types on how best to manage during the holidays? Or if you have general suggestions, that would be helpful, too.

If you have lost a loved one during the year, I think the five patterns of grieving I described in my book suggest some ways you can find comfort amidst your feelings during the holidays.

• Memorialists can preserve the memory of their loved one by lighting a candle, writing a poem, listening to some special music, or continuing a family tradition in honor of that person.

• Normalizers like to gather family and friends together as they always did when their loved one was alive. In this way, they sustain the memories of the ways they enjoyed being with their loved one during the holidays.

• Activists want to contribute to others as a way of giving back or paying forward. You might feel good about volunteering in activities that relate to your loved one’s death – a hospital, hospice, or charity that was with you in the last days of your loved one’s life.

• Seekers may turn to spiritual thoughts. You may want to spend some time in contemplation at your church, synagogue, mosque or temple. Join with others in your spiritual community connect with nature, pray, meditate, think about what is important to you in life and pursue it.

If you don’t relate to any of these ideas, create your own way to find comfort. Above all, be with others who understand your grief.

Why do you think some are better able to cope with their grief and move on? I don’t mean “move on” as in “get over it;” more as in to re-engage with life, perhaps on new terms. Is it the style they adopt? Something in their own nature? Their other experiences of coping? I ask that because I think the fact that I had a serious accident when I was in college (third-degree burns) and I realized I could overcome all that involved, has given me strength to face other painful situations such as the loss of my husband.

You have developed a great insight, Thelma, about what helps people adapt to significant challenges, such as loss of a loved one. The previous experiences one has and how they met these challenges can contribute to a person’s coping ability. Personality factors such as tending to be optimistic rather than pessimistic about life, having the a “glass half full vs. half empty” attitude can also influence how people cope.

Those who have difficulty often have what we call ‘complicated grief.’ For example, the relationship the survivor had with the deceased can be critical. If they had a dependent or distant relationship; if they had “mixed feelings” or unresolved issues with the person who died; if they wish they had handled things differently before the person died. They may very well have trouble re-engaging with life. They may get “stuck,” due to feelings of anger, guilt, or sadness, unless they can resolve these issues. Often professional help is needed in these situations.

Finally, survivors who have had depression, trauma, or anxiety during their lives may experience loss more intensely. They may experience “multiple losses” involving an accumulation of loss experiences that influence their mental health, and capacity to adjust.

Do you think that sudden, unexpected loss is hardest to deal with, or perhaps watching a loved one who has a long-term progressive disease?

Losing a loved one is painful however it occurs. One of the key differences between these ways of dying is the survivor’s ability to say “goodbye.”

When a person dies of a long illness, the family has the opportunity to assure that their loved one gets the best possible care and is spared any unnecessary suffering. They also have time to prepare, to say “goodbye,” “I love you,” or to share concerns and resolve differences previously not settled. A prolonged illness can offer time to make end-of-life plans and to think about the practical things that have to be done, such as financial affairs, living arrangements, even day-to-day living. Sometimes this advantage is overlooked due to denial

When a death occurs suddenly, preparation is impossible. The element of surprise compounds the inevitable shock a survivor feels. This is often prolonged because of many questions: How did my loved one die? Did they suffer? Who was responsible? What will be done? Accidents and sudden death, such as heart attack, also make it impossible to say “goodbye.” Suicide often brings the survivor additional guilt or responsibility. Violence of any kind raises further questions of finding justice which can prolong the grieving process, as these deaths must go through often lengthy and stressful court procedures.

Survivors of sudden loss may fall under the criteria of “complicated grief.” Joining a support group may be helpful; but often therapy is required.

Thelma, I have enjoyed responding to your excellent questions. I hope they will be helpful to your readers. Thank you. Susan

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Annual Christmas Day Movie

In our family the Annual Christmas Day Movie is an Event. When the whole family was still home, it generated weeks of discussion before we finally chose The Movie. Since Ralph died, one or both of my children has gone to the movie with me to keep the tradition alive.

Some of our best choices have been Schindler's List, Shakespeare in Love, Tootsie. Some of the worst, at least in my opinion, have been Avatar (I hated the story and the big blue people; even the special effects didn't impress me) and Sweeney Todd (great music, but too gruesome--grinding up people and eating them? Come on!)

This year we made a great choice: True Grit. I liked it even better than the original. The little girl was amazing. Even the music was wonderful.

When we first began going to the movies on Christmas Day, we thought we'd come up with our own individual solution to the "What do Jews do when everyone else is celebrating?" problem. Since then I've learned that a movie and Chinese food has become a Jewish Christmas Day ritual. Not religious, of course, but cultural. Why Chinese? Because Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas. If you never eat Chinese the rest of the year, you do on Christmas--sort of the way you eat matzah balls on Passover even if you don't like them.

Anyway, it was a fun day. And I'm grateful to my children for keeping our family tradition going.

See True Grit. Even if you don't like westerns, you'll enjoy this one.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thursday Review:

The winter solstice is over, the darkest day of the year has passed, but for many of us, all these winter days are dark. Did you ever notice that all winter holidays revolve around light--the star in the East, the eight-day miracle of light, the yule log. Since the dawn of time, human beings have craved the light.

This week's review, however, is about darkness--the final darkness. If you've lost a loved one, you've experienced that, but how much thought have you given to your own final moments and how you want to face your own end? As we end this year and begin thinking of New Year's resolutions, you might want to visit I happened upon it recently and learned that their goal, or mission, is to have everyone consider the following five questions:

1. How much/little medical intervention do you want if you have a terminal condition?

2. Where do you want to die? At home or in the hospital?

3. Do you have someone you trust to communicate your preferences to medical personnel? Could this person describe how you wish to be treated?

4. Have you appointed someone to advocate on your behalf?

5. Have you completed a medical power of attorney, living will, or advanced directive?

I've read the questions and pondered them. I realize I need to talk more to my children about my wishes for treatment at the end of life. I know from the story about how this site began, that the organizers believe that dying at home is the best option, but I don't want that for myself. I think the burden on my family would be too great to cope with, and I think I'd prefer to be somewhere where medical personnel were available, like in a hospice. I'd really like to hear opinions on that. Ultimately, everyone's wishes are right for them.

Maybe it's because I'm getting older (I once read a book called Coming into the End Zone--that's where I am in life. Well, I hope not yet, but I'm trying to be realistic) here. Anyway, no matter what your age, these are things to consider, especially now that we're on our own.

On a brighter note, have a good and peaceful weekend, and in spite of the dark, may you find some light in these winter days.

With love, TZ

Monday, December 20, 2010

Quote for the Week: Why Books Make the Best Gifts

Thanks to She Writes for the reasons below to give books as gifts:

Books don't break until you love them so much their spines collapse. And even after that happens they don't get shorter.

Books don't get lost. If you read a book it's yours forever, no matter what happens to the pages it's written on.

Books don't come in the wrong size, or in the wrong color, or with batteries not included. (That's your eReader -- not the book!)

Books don't judge their readers. But books invite the kind of judgment that elevates the discourse, and that sometimes changes the course of things altogether.

A lot of presents say more about you than they do about the person you give them to. But a book speaks for itself.

I think books are the perfect presents. Most years I spend as muuch on books as on clothing. And often I give myself a special holiday gift book from my wish list. But not this year. Alas, I gave myself a toilet. Mine died and flooded the bathroom, so now I have a new, shiny white toilet (elongated shape) and no new books. ):

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Remembering Our White Christmas, Our Final Christmas

Christmas Eve, 2004: Ralph was home from the hospital. He'd done his time in isolation, responded well to the chemo and the leukemia was in remission. He was even driving again. We were hoping one of his siblings would be a good match for a stem cell transplant. We were "cautiously optimistic" about the future. On that December day Ralph went for blood tests while I drove over to Blockbuster to rent a movie. As I got out of my car, a white flake fell on the sidewalk. A man heading for the store stopped and together we stared at the sky. More white flakes. It was actually snowing. In Houston!

I called Ralph on my cell. "Guess what. It's snowing."

"Yeah," he said. "Everyone is at the windows, staring out."

The snow fell all day. I drove over to the Galleria to wander through the stores, enjoying watching last-minute shoppers, Christmas music, the hurry and then the gradual slowing of this last day before the holiday. When I got home, snow was still falling, and it continued through the evening. At midnight we looked outside to see our front yard a lovely white and the snow still gently falling. We put on jackets and ran outside, holding hands, drinking in the beauty of the only white Christmas in Houston history.

It was our last Christmas together.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thursday Review: 12 Secrets for Healing by William Hablitzel, M.D.

I'm not a doctor and probably most of you aren't either, so why am I featuring this book? Well, because in the Forward to this book, Dr. Ken Mapes suggests that these 12 secrets are applicable to everyone, whatever their roles in life. Everyone, he says, can take these rules to heart and become a healer.
Here, then are Dr. Hatlitzel's 12 rules along with my comments on some of them:
1. Start your day in silence. Easy for me; I'm alone. And I don't enjoy morning noise. But he suggests you take a few minutes to close your eyes, relax and enjoy the quiet. That calm feeling will be with you as you move through your day.

2. Listen. It's hard, isn't it, to really listen to others, but often it's the greatest gift we can give.

3. Take time for others. Hablitzel suggests you should never look at your watch during an encounter with someone.

4. Treat everyone as though they were friend or family.

5. Remember the power of touch. For those of us who are widowed, we know the pain of the lack of touch. Even a handshake or a pat on the shoulder can bring healing and joy to someone.

6. Forget your ego. He talks about the arrogance of some professionals. During Ralph's hospital stay we met many of them but we also met some of the most compassionate doctors and nurses. Whatever your job, keep your ego out of it.

7. Dare to believe in miracles, especially true for doctors and other health professionals.

8. Embrace the unknown. Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know" when you really don't. No one has an answer for everything.

9. Be alert for energy. Negative thoughts lower your energy, so try to be positive when dealing with others.

10.Trust your intuition.

11. Treat each encounter as if it were your last. Make it count.

12. End your day with silence. I often fall asleep with the TV on--not a good idea according to Hablitzel. We're exposed to way too much noise in our lives. Turn the volume down.

If we use these secrets when we interact with others, won't we also help heal ourselves?

I'm Guest Blogging Today...Come and Visit

Today you can find my guest blog on Chandra Hoffman's blog. My topic is A Writer's Meandering Path, about my writing life.

And by the way, while you're there, check out the trailer for Chandra's book, Chosen. Looks great!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Quote for the Week

Christmas gift suggestions

To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.
Oren Arnold

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Favorite True Christmas Story

A guy named Bob May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty

apartment window into the chilling December night. His 4-year-old

daughter, Barbara, sat on his lap quietly sobbing. Bobs wife, Evelyn,

was dying of cancer. Little Barbara couldn't understand why her mommy

could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dads eyes and asked,

"Why isn't Mommy just like everybody else's Mommy?" Bob's jaw

tightened and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of

grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob's life. Life

always had to be different for Bob. Being small when he was a kid, Bob

was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to

compete in sports. He was often called names he'd rather not remember.

From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in. Bob did

complete college, married his loving wife and was grateful to get his

job as a copywriter at Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression.

Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived.

Evelyn's bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and now Bob

and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the

Chicago slums. Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938. Bob

struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn't even afford to

buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn't buy a gift, he was determined

a make one - a storybook!

Bob had created an animal character in his own mind and told the

animal's story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. Again

and again Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling.

Who was the character? What was the story all about? The story Bob May

ceated was his own autobiography in fable form The character he

created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character? A

little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose.

Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on

Christmas Day. But the story doesn't end there. The general manager of

Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May

a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book. Wards went on

to print, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and distribute it to children

visiting Santa Claus in their stores. By 1946 Wards had printed and

distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, a

major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print an

updated version of the book. In an unprecedented gesture of kindness,

the CEO of Wards returned all rights back to Bob May. The book became a

best seller. Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, now

remarried with a growing family, became wealthy from the story he

created to comfort his grieving daughter

But the story doesn't end there either. Bob's brother-in-law, Johnny

Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph. Though the song was turned

down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore , it was

recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed

Reindeer" was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling

more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of "White

Christmas." The gift of love that Bob May created for his daughter so

long ago kept on returning to bless him again and again. And Bob May

learned the lesson, just like his dear friend Rudolph, that being

different isn't so bad. In fact, being different can be a blessing!

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Instead of a review today, I'm posting trivia: some facts, some questions I'll answer the questions in the Comments section. Feel free to add some trivia of your own.

Cats sleep longer than any other mammal, an average of 16 hours a day.

The divorce rate among New York marathon runners is twice the national average.

Men speak about 2,000 words a day; women, 7,000.

An average beaver can cut down 200 trees a year.

The first commercial Christmas cards were printed in 1846.

Joel Poinsett, ambassador to Mexico, introduced the first poinsettias to the U.S. in 1828.

When Yale and Harvard played football in 1955, who scored the only touchdown?

What are the only 2 words in English that end in gry?

What do you call a group of apes?

What do you call a group of chickens?

What bird migrates the longest distance of any animal?

In what country was the real St. Nicholas born?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holiday Wishes

Whether you celebrate



or Kwanzaa,

May the lights of the holiday shine upon you
And bring you peace and joy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Special Review: On the Doorposts of All Our Houses by Donna Siegel

Let me start with a disclaimer. I know Donna Siegel. She and I are fellow members of the Houston chapter of The Transition Network.

But that's not why I chose to review her book. I'm reviewing it because I loved it!

It's the classic immigrant story. Her parents left their small Eastern European communities to come to America. One family ended up in Nebraska, the other in Iowa. Sounds like, as Ashkenazic Jews, they'd have been fish out of water in both those midwestern states. But they managed. And so did Donna. Structuring her story around the many houses she lived in, Donna shares her childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, from early marriage when women were expected to stay home and manage the house, to divorce and independence. Only in America could the daughter of immigrants end up in a high rise condominium in Houston and become an author.

She took tap dancing lessons, dreaming of becoming a Jewish Shirley Temple. She learned about the workings of her Iowa grandfather's fish market. She and her peripatetic family moved to Chicago where she joined a high school sorority and began writing skits, a talent that would carry over into the rest of her life.

She met the handsome prince that every young girl was supposed to meet in those years, married him, gave birth to three children, wrote more skits, learned to cook...but didn't live happily ever after. At least not with him--she has led a pretty darn happy and fulfilling life without the prince.

With insight and wit, Donna takes us along on her journey. This book will make you laugh. You'll cheer Donna on during every step of her life, and by the time you finish, you'll agree with me that, although she didn't become Shirley Temple, she's a star in her own right.

You can find On the Doorposts of All our Houses on Amazon.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

I recedntly read Room by Emma Donoghue. Short-listed for the Booker Prize, it is a story that stays in your head long after you put it down. Without revealing too much, I can tell you it's written from the viewpoint of five-year-old Jack, a boy who has never known a world beyond the small room where he and Ma, his mother, are imprisoned. Here he spends his days unaware of the world outside, which he believes is an imaginary place in the TV. Here he sleeps at night in a wardrobe, shielded from the visits of Old Nick, his mother's rapist and jailer. A grim premise for a novel, right? But Jack and Ma make the most of their tiny world, and they love each other unconditionally. And then---

But you have to read to find out what happens. Suffice it to say, it's fascinating and thought-provoking. Put it on your holiday wish list; take time to read it. You won't forget Jack or Ma.

You may wonder, and I asked myself, why did I choose to review this book, which has nothing to do with widowhood? Well, maybe, in a way, it does. Often in this new, unwished for life, we, too are prisoners. Of loneliness, of grief, of fear. Our "rooms" are small; our bundaries are tight. Breaking out--even taking one small step--into a new life may be scarier than staying inside. But I believe we have to try. The new world we enter may seem unfeeling, unfriendly, but it can be wider and more fulfilling.

Do Jack and Ma try? Read and find out.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Quote for the Week

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the gray window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colors,
indigo, red, green
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

John O'Donohue, Irish priest

Saturday, November 27, 2010



Do you ever dream about the one you've lost? I do. This piece, written a couple of years ago, is about my favorite dream of Ralph.

Last Tuesday night, as I often do, I dreamed about my husband. The dreams are usually of his absence, the longing to have him with me, the breadth of the chasm that separates us.

But in this latest dream he appeared beside me, his face unlined, his body firm and his eyes alight with happiness and humor. He looked nothing like the gaunt, frail man with white wispy hair and hollow eyes who had lain unmoving in his hospital bed for so many months. This vibrant man looked thirty years younger than he had even in the days before leukemia took over his body and his life.

Amazed by his sudden presence, I blurted, “What are you doing here?”

“I came for a visit. I wanted to be with you for a little while.”

“Where have you been?” I asked.

“In the other world,” he replied.

A Jewish woman who was married to a man raised an evangelical Christian, I longed to know what Ralph’s heaven was like. A pure white world filled the sounds of angels’ harps? A green Elysium where the Good stroll among flowers, a misty place where souls dwell unbound from earthly cares? Whatever it was like, I knew we wouldn’t be together there. When we married, he abandoned Christianity and, although he didn’t convert, he became nominally Jewish. But as his condition worsened and death loomed, he returned to the religion of his boyhood and died a Christian once again.

“The other world is nice.” A typical Ralph response. He’d never been especially verbal, preferring to communicate with actions rather than words.

“What do you do there?”

“I drive a bus.”

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A bus? This wasn’t my vision of heaven, nor, I imagine, many other people’s either, regardless of their religion. I imagined Ralph at the wheel of a lumbering yellow school bus, but the idea didn’t make sense. In life, he was a computer specialist with his own business, and bus driving, as far as I know, was never one of his career goals. Perhaps in “the other world” you don’t get to pick.

“I enjoy driving,” he continued. “I like honking the horn. If you ever hear a bus honking, you’ll know it’s me.” He hugged me. “I won’t be visiting you again, but you can call me.”

“How?” I asked, but he had disappeared.

The next morning and every day since I thought about the dream and what it might mean. On Friday when Gabriella my nine-year-old granddaughter began talking about her beloved Popo, I told her about the dream.

Her brown eyes widened. “Popo is sending you a message.”

I don’t really believe in communication between the living and the dead, but I had been thinking the same thing.

“Nana,” Gabriella said, “every time a bus honks, we’ll know Popo is thinking of us.”

Remembering that dream--and every school bus I pass evokes that memory--makes me laugh and cry. If you have a dream you'd like to share, please leave it as a comment.

Sweet dreams,

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Turkey Day

No Thursday review. Instead it's over the freeway and through the traffic I go-- first to my daughte's boy-friend's house for lunch, then to my son's for dinner. No sleigh--no snow. It's Texas after all.

On Thanksgiving, I can be sure of the following:

Dinner will start later than scheduled.

There will be way too much food at both meals.

Of all the guests, I will probably be the only one interested in watching a football game.

Since the meals aren't at my house, I won't have any leftovers. Hooray!

I will miss Ralph. When I get home, I'll be lonely for him but thankful for the day spent with friends and family.

And here are some lighthearted Thanksgiving quotes:

What we're really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving? ~Erma Bombeck, "No One Diets on Thanksgiving," 26 November 1981

An optimist is a person who starts a new diet on Thanksgiving Day. ~Irv Kupcinet

On Thanksgiving Day, all over America, families sit down to dinner at the same moment - halftime. ~Author Unknown

Thanksgiving is America's national chow-down feast, the one occasion each year when gluttony becomes a patriotic duty. ~Michael Dresser

The funny thing about Thanksgiving, or any huge meal, is that you spend 12 hours shopping for it and then chopping and cooking and braising and blanching. Then it takes 20 minutes to eat it and everybody sort of sits around in a food coma, and then it takes four hours to clean it up. ~Ted Allen

The thing I'm most thankful for right now is elastic waistbands. ~Author Unknown

Monday, November 22, 2010

Quotes for Thanksgiving Week

From Quote Garden, a site with quotes on everything you can think of, here are some to inspire you this Thanksgiving week:

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice. ~Meister Eckhart

Remember God's bounty in the year. String the pearls of His favor. Hide the dark parts, except so far as they are breaking out in light! Give this one day to thanks, to joy, to gratitude! ~Henry Ward Beecher

Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day. ~Robert Caspar Lintner

Thanksgiving comes to us out of the prehistoric dimness, universal to all ages and all faiths. At whatever straws we must grasp, there is always a time for gratitude and new beginnings. ~J. Robert Moskin

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

And here's my favorite:

We give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way. ~Author Unknown

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Here Come the Holidays

Thanksgiving already? How did it sneak up on us? Actually it didn't; it came with a bang. The day after jack o'lanterns and witches vanished from the shelves, Santas and Christmas ornaments appeared. Within a few days the malls were decorated and Christmas carols were playing. Too early for me, when our Houston thermometers were still pushing ninety. One of these years they'll probably start Christmas on July 5.

By the time the holidays arrive, we're innured to them. Or we're depressed from all the messages that say, "Be joyful! Celebrate!"

Being joyful and celebratory is tough in the widowsphere. The holidays don't feel right any more, with your spouse missing. No one to gripe to about the high prices and crowded stores, no one to share a glassw of egg nog with in front of the fire. Even with people around, we feel alone.

It's normal to feel sorry for ourselves in the midst of other people's merriment. I'm pretty sure it's okay to cry and to have a long (one-sided) conversation with our absent spouses. But we might also want to add a thank-you for all the good times we had together and a promise not to ever forget them.

Since Ralph died, I've spent my Thanksgiving Days with my daughter-in-law's warm and welcoming family. It's not the same. The turkey isn't a Ralph-cooked one and his jalapeno dressing is missing. But I do have fun, and this year my granddaughter's birthday, the 26th, is the next day so we'll be celebrating that, too. I wish her Popo could see how she's grown; she's a feisty 12-year-old, still as chatty as ever, who makes videos with her American Girl dolls and has 1000 subscribers on YouTube (Eat your heart out, Nana.) She's made the leap to middle school. No boyfriends yet, although she confesses she's been asked. Ralph would be proud of her. She was the last person he asked to see before he died, and his doctor made special arrangements so he could leave the transplant floor and say goodbye to her.

This year I'm thankful for my family and friends, for the work that still fulfills me (How can anything be more satisfying than teaching a child to talk?), for my two cuddly cats, for learning new things, and for making it through to another Thanksgiving.

And to all my friends in cyberspace, may you stay upbeat during the holidays and think of the good things in your lives.

With love and thanks, Thelma Z

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Website Review: Renaissance Artist

I first met Susan, a true Renaissance artist, through her beautiful blog, The Art of Grief. Like me, Susan is a widow and like me, she mourns her lost love. She turns her grief into art. She's a talented artist in many mediums. If you visit her website, you can see her memory quilts, sock art and other textile creations. Each memory quilt is a memorial to someone who has passed away. Each is a personalized work of art.

Being a doting grandmother, I was drawn to Susan's embroidered jeans. I bought a pair of jeans and sent them to her, and here's my granddaughter Gabriella, my favorite person in the world, in her new jeans. And below is a close-up of the embroidery on the leg.

I've also discovered Susan's lovely photographs on Flick'r at abandonedsoulsphotography. I ordered three tree pictures that spoke to my heart--one in spring, one in fall, and one during a winter sunrise.

Please visit Susan's sites, including her blog, . I'm sure you'll be as impressed as I was.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quote for the Week

“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief -
But the pain of grief
Is only a shadow
When compared with the pain
Of never risking love.”
Hilary Stanton Zunin

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thursday Review:

is a website for widows
of every kind--young widows with and without children, gay widows, straight widows, Christian widows, Jewish widows, boomers, seniors, remarried widows. And widowers as well. There are lists of books, suggestions for the holidays, answers to all sorts of questions a widowed person might ask. Check it out. It's well worth your time.

And The Winner Is...

I wish for a do over.

All the memoirs were heartfelt. I wish I had more books to give out, but I don't so I numbered the memoirs, put the numbers in a bowl and drew one out. Please stop by to claim your prize.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Quote for the Week

"To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die." ~ Thomas Campbell

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Widowhood: What's Next? Input Requested

Two years ago, as a fairly new widow, I taught a couple of courses called "Going It Alone: Resources for Widows and Widowers." Not a grief group, it addressed all sorts of resources for widowed people to access as they began their journey through life without their spouse. I talked about books, financial resources, maintaining health, managing those nagging jobs around the house that you didn't have to do because s/he did them, cooking for one, activities that might be interesting, ethical wills, and making a bucket list.

Now I'll be teaching the course again. Now I'm a more experienced widow, so I have more to add. But is it right? Is it enough? I'd very much like input from readers. What would you expect in such a course? Any resources you think are useful for widowed people?

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Still want to write a six-word memoir? Contest runs for two more days.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Readers' Memoirs of Widowhood

Here are the 6-word memoirs posted by readers.

Left behind; must find own way.

It is Painful. Scary. Lonely. Unwanted.

Tested by fire, surviving by love.

I wish for a do over.

Not what I planned for us.

Life is short. Make it count.

Miss everything about us, my love.

Gotta kill my own bugs.

I love hard and mourn harder.

Six words? Can't touch my loss.

He is gone; I am here

So lonely, he shoud be here.

I'll not let death define me.

I'd do it all over again.

It's not too late to post yours. I'll be drawing a name for the book on Wednesday next week.

Houston Chronicle Features Bernice Dickey

Congraulations to Bernice Bright Dickey, author of My #1 is Still My #1, who was featured in this week's Belief section in the Houston Chronicle.

Check my archives to read my review of her book and later interview with her.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thursday Review: Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen

"Everybody is a story," says Dr. Remen early in this insightful and inspiring book. "When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories...It is the way wisdom got passed along. We may need to listen to each other's stories once again."

A physician, therapist, and survivor of chronic illness, Dr. Remen passes on those stories that we used to tell each other aloud.

Her book is divided into six sections: Life Force, Judgment, Traps, Freedom, Opening the Heart, and Embracing Life.

I have owned this book for many years and have given copies to friends on special, life-changing occasions. I re-read it while Ralph was hospitalized, and it gave me courage. I re-read it often.

Highly recommended

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Hope you'll drop by Susan Katz Miller's blog to see her interview with me. She's at


“Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don't vote.”
William E. Simon

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Widowhood in 6 Words

Widowhood isn’t for sissies. Stay strong.

Emulate Tim Gunn. Make it work.

Better the widow than the deceased.

Lost my partner, what’ll I do?

Death snatched my love. I’m lonely

A piece of my heart's missing.

Husband fixed everything. I’m a klutz.

Miss having someone to argue with.

Navigating Widowhood Ocean, I’m seasick.

Wake at night, hug my cat.

Seeking handsome elderly widower. Any takers?

Have a 6-word comment about widowhood? Add it here.
If you're not a widow, add a 6-word life lesson.
I'll add your memoirs to the blog at the end of the week.
I'll draw names after 10 days. Or maybe we'll have a vote. Winner gets a copy of a 6-word memoir book.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday Review: Without by Donald Hall

I ordered "Without," Donald Hall's tribute to his late wife, Jane Kenyon, for two reasons: first, because Jane was a victim of leukemia as my husband was and second, because I love poetry. Poets say so beautifully what I feel but can't express: the beauty of love, the pain of parting, and the tenderness of memory.

These poems begin early in Jane's illness:

Why were they not
contented four months ago because
Jane did not have

I remember thinking that. Why didn't we appreciate every moment he was well? Because we didn't imagine what lay ahead.

Here's another bit from a hospital stay:

Daybreak and nightfall,
he sat by his wife at the hospital
while chemotherapy dripped
through the catheter into her heart.

From her deathbed:

"Dying is simple," she said.
"What's worst is...the separation."

The final poems are letters written to her after her death:

I cannot discard
Your jeans or lotions or T-shirts
I cannot discard your tumbles
Of scarves and floppy hats.
Lost, unfinished things remain
On your desk, in your purse
Or Shaker basket. Under a cushion
I discover your silver thimble.
Today when the telephone rang
I thought it was you.

Buy this book. It will speak to your heart.

Monday, October 25, 2010

2 Quotes for the Week by Helen Keller

"What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Surviving Widowhood with Help from Friends

Are you stressed? Silly question. Aren't we all?

If you're grieving a loss--spouse, parent, child--your stress level may be especially high.

But here's the good news. One of the best ways to lower stress is to connect with friends.

A recent UCLA study found that under stress, women release a higher level of oxytocin, a hormone that helps counter stress. In fact, it buffers the fight-or-flight response to stress and encourages women to "tend and befriend," which causes further hormone release and has an overall calming effect.

A study at Harvard Medical School found that people who have friends live longer. Women who have a close friend are more likely to survive the loss of a spouse without suffering physical impairment or loss of vitality.

In short, friends help us live longer and better.

I know this to be true. When Ralph was ill, friends met me for lunch, bought my groceries, dropped off food, listened to me cry. In these past five years they've brought me comfort and strength and eased my way along my journey through the widowsphere.

So, my dear friends, I can't thank you enough for what you've brought into my life. With some of you, I've sat around a dining room table and we've shared our deepest feelings about death and dying. Some of you have laughed with me, listened to my stories about Ralph. Others of you, like me, are reading junkies and we've spent evernings sharing our opinions on everything from bizarre short stories to literary classics. With some of you, I've indulged in old-fashioned cattiness sessions (I'm not naming names here, but you know who you are). Each of you has guided me, cared for me, cried with me. Because of you, my life has become whole again.


If you're grieving, I challenge you to reach out to a friend this week. New friend, old friend--doesn't matter. Have a cup of coffee together, take a walk, watch the sun rise or set. Face-to-face is best but even if you reach out across phone lines or into cyberspace, that's a start. Then come back and share your story here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thursday Review: Website: Grief's Heart

Thomas Attig, an internationally acclaimed expert in bereavement and grief, is the author of two books on grieving, How We Grieve and The Heart of Grief, He tells us that bereavement and the grief that accompanies it, affect every aspect of our beings--physical, emotional, social, spiritual, behavioral. Our self-concept, our life story, is forever changed by our loss. In grieving, we relearn our world in every area of life. We learn a new self-identity, but we also find ways to relate to the one we've lost. His books are "heavy" reading, but his prfound understanding of what grief means and how we respond to it is eminently practical.

He views each life as a web of relationships--to objects, places, people, God. When one strand of that complex web is broken, the others are affected. Our spouse's tattered robe, the chair he sat in to watch TV, the music he played on the car radio, the restaurant where we celebrated special occasions, the children we raised together, our friendships, our plans, our dreams--all are reminders of what will never be again.

Attig's website, Grief's Heart (unfortunately, I don't have the symbols needed to link to it, but you can Google it)has excerpts from his books and other writing as well as video of his newest work.

Most important, he invites readers to share their grief stories and will post them on his site. Those of us who blog know the value and the emotional release of writing our experiences. Attig respects those experiences and gives us the opportunity to share them with others.

Here is a site that offers something to all of us who inhabit the widowsphere. I highly recommend that you visit it and partake of Attig's wisdom and comfort.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Quote for the Week: Letter from Michael to Ralph

Ralph and I married when our children were small. My children, Lori and Michael, were nine and seven; Bryan, Ralph's son, was five. Our children grew up as a family. On Friday nights we always watched "The Brady Bunch" and remarked how much like them our own family was.

Michael wrote the letter below to Ralph and read it at his funeral.

Dear Ralph,

It is hard to express myself right now with spoken words as I tend to get very emotional when I come to visit. So, I thought I would write you this letter.

Although I have called you by your first name all of my life, I have always seen you as my father. You were there for us from almost the beginning and stayed with us through all our birthdays, special holidays, graduations, and every milestone in our lives. This has continued with Gabriella and Marco. You have taken the role of their one and only grandfather. They will never forget you for that. And neither will Monica and I.

I just wanted to thank you for helping me grow into the man, husband and father I am today. And for being a fine husband to my mom, father to me, Lori and Bryan, and grandfather to Gabriella and Marco. You have had a major impact on all our lives and we will always love you and appreciate everything you have done for us.

You asked if Gabriella would remember you. I don’t see how she could ever forget you. None of us will.

Thanks for everything Dad/Grandpa.



Friday, October 15, 2010

Remembering Ralph: March 1, 1940--October 16, 2005

On a bright October day in 2004 Ralph was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. He fought a valiant battle against the disease but lost. His journey ended on another sunny autumn day, October 16, 2005.

On this fifth anniversary of Ralph’s death, here are some things I remember:

He was an optimist. When the doctor told him bluntly, “You have a 95% chance of being dead in five years," he saad, “Well, somebody has to be in that other 5%. Why not me?”

He loved computers and never went anywhere without his laptop. I often felt we were a menage a trois—Ralph, the laptop, and me.

He saw himself as a problem solver and named his computer business Solution Providers.

In the hospital, he set up an office in the corner of his room and kept working through the chemo.

He was a math whiz but a poor speller. On our first date, on Valentine's weekend, he brought me a card with my name misspelled: T-h-e-m-a. He did learn to spell my name correctly, but he often called Gayle, our office manager, to check on spellings of words in his business proposals.

He adored our granddaughter Gabriella. The last thing he did before starting his hospitalization was to carve a pumpkin for her for Halloween. The last time he left his hospital room before he died a year later was to have a final visit with her. Because children were not allowed on the bone marrow transplant floor, his doctor arranged for a special wheelchair to take him down to the lobby so he could say goodbye to Gabriella.

Although he often said, “They’re just cats,” he loved his pets, especially Hal, the beautiful, striped cat he found in a drawer in our garage.

His favorite pet as a kid was a crow named Blackie, who stole clothespins off the neighbors' lines.

He was a great cook, often inventing recipes (unlike me, who always follows them to the letter.) On Thanksgiving he always cooked the turkey, and each year we were required to say, “Ralph, this is the best turkey you’ve ever made.”

He liked hot food, the hotter the better, and along with the turkey and regular dressing, he always made jalapeno dressing, too.

He was interested in politics, followed every campaign and even on his first full day in isolation in the hospital, which was also the day of the 2004 Presidential election, he badgered me about going to the polls.

He loved to tease, especially his sister Karen. One year at a computer show, he had a picture taken, then had it cut into a jigsaw puzzle and sent the pieces to Karen as a birthday gift.

He liked raising plants and made me promise I would not cut down the Monster, his enormous split-leaf philodendron that gobbled up more than half the space on our patio. I haven’t.

He could repair anything, from computers to cars, which is why I never learned to fix things around the house.

His favorite radio shows were “Car Talk” and “Prairie Home Companion,” his favorite TV show “Monk.” I have never been able to listen to or watch any of them since he died.

He encouraged and supported me in everything I undertook.

He was a good friend, a good husband, a good man, and I miss him. He was the wind beneath my wings.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Interview with Bernice Bright Dickey, Author of My #1 is Still My #1

First and foremost, how are you and Miriam doing now?

Miriam and I are thriving now where we were only surviving the accident before! She is a fourth grader enjoying her friends and playing soccer.

Are you still working in the school system or are you a full-time minister?

I am in ministry full time now, I do educational consulting for districts as opportunity permits as well as traveling doing speaking engagements and book signings for My #1 Is Still My #1!

You wrote this as a journal during that first hard year after the death of your husband and daughter. What prompted you to publish it?

I was prompted by God to share my grief journey and recovery process with others to inspire them to believe that they can (will come) through their own pain victoriously just like I did. They are not alone, there are answers and they will make it through their crisis.

Tell us about the process you went through to publish.

I self published my book because I wanted to control the content and integrity of the book as God directed me to write it.
It took me five months to develop the manuscript and it was published in three days!

What kinds of feedback have you gotten about the book?

Many who have read the book have shared that they have received a breakthrough in their grief journey and they have been released from the stress of being stuck in their grieving process. They are grateful to know that someone else has gone through tragedies, came through them and lived to talk about it to share with others as an encouragement.

Is there another book in your future?

I have many other testimonies to share of God's Transforming Stories in my life and the lives of others. My family wants me to write about their experiences of loss and devastation as Hurricane Katrina survivors. Ministers and Pastors' wives have asked that I write about our role in ministry with our husbands so that others can really understand what we do for effective ministry to go forth.

Since this is a widows’ site, tell us a little more about the rest of your grief journey. How has it gotten easier over the years?

Initially, I really didn't want to be labeled a widow. If I was a widow that meant I was accepting the fact that my husband was dead and had left me alone to raise our daughter. I didn't want the title because I didn't want to be a single parent. As the years have passed, I realized that the job I was avoiding (being a single parent) was the same job that I was doing very well according to observers. I have finally accepted that I am single and raising my daughter alone (for now) and I've been doing it for quite some time. It hasn't gotten any easier because Miriam is growing up and is going through all of the stages that kids go through. I have decided to be fully present mentally as well as physically in order to help her become all that God has called her to be. He saved her out the accident for a reason and He has trusted me with this special parenting assignment and I will do my very best to make Him proud of His trust in me!

Many bereaved people have some sort of ritual to commemorate the loss. Do you?

Miriam and I celebrate my late husband and daughter's birthdays with cake and ice cream. Our loved ones live in our hearts and we cherish their memories and include them as often as treasured moments allow us to. We acknowledge their spirits in every celebration we share stating that if they could be present physically they would be front and center for us.

I don't commemorate the date of the accident because I choose to focus on their lives rather than the date of their deaths. I do recognize how many years have passed when the date comes around but I choose not to dwell on it.

Thank you for sharing your pain and recovery. Best wishes for the future.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Quote for the Week

Life is an echo. What you send out comes back.
Chinese Proverb

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My Ongoing Battle with Technology

I have learned a new word: dystechnia. I don’t know if it’s a real word, but it should be. In fact, it’s a synonym for me.

Technology is beyond me, plus it keeps changing. As soon as I learn something, it’s out of date. My granddaughter said, “Nana, nobody uses e-mail any more; it’s too slow.” Ow, that hurt. “What do they use?” I asked. “Skype.” I didn’t have the courage to ask, “What is Skype?” Anyway, I think I sort of know—something like a telephone connection with pictures. Or maybe not.

I have a confession to make. I use my cell phone…to make phone calls. I don’t text, I don’t take pictures. I don’t have an IPhone with all the neat little apps or an IPad either. I don’t require instant info. I figure I can get the weather by looking out the window, and I can wait for other stats and stuff until I get home. I don’t feel a need for a constant connection to Everywhere.

I don't use Twitter. I can't imagine anyone wanting to know my whereabouts or my random thoughts in 140 characters. Besides, isn't tweeting for birds, not people?

I do have a GPS, which I don’t always trust, and my kids gave me a kindle for my birthday, so I’ve made some strides, but I have a long way to go. I doubt I’ll ever get there, wherever “there” is.


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