Featured Widow/er - Sal Gentile Faces Grief Head On

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Sal Gentile has always been a spiritual person but doesn’t consider himself a particularly religious one. Often people confuse the two. He isn’t really a church goer but has been a seeker on a spiritual journey since his 20’s, his bookshelves filled with the work of thought provoking authors. So it’s no surprise when Lisa Wright, author of Why Go On: Connecticut Residents Bring Dark Days to Light, decided to include him in her book about 20 people who give new meaning to the words, “overcoming adversity.” 

“I was drawn to the sense of hope in Sal’s story. He employed a mix of fearlessness, gratitude and perseverance to survive the worst of times,” said Lisa. “Throughout his journey he dug deep into the caverns of his grief and reemerged lighter, wiser, and capable of living fully again. He’s truly an amazing person.”

Dealing with my grief was a curiosity to me,” says Sal. “I knew I had to face it head on, and try to make sense of the loss I was feeling. I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to explore this.”

Sal Gentile and KetSal married Ket in 2004 when they were both 40 years old. She was very gregarious and he was a quiet type. She was a successful graphic designer and he worked for a commodities trading firm. Ket was devastated when they couldn’t have children despite trying the newest medical procedures. But it was during a routine colonoscopy that a “small cancer” was found. She went through chemotherapy as a precaution and during a re-test, the cancer had spread to her ovaries. While dealing with the sadness of not having children, and back to back surgeries, they learned that the cancer had spread further to her liver. During the last five weeks of her life she couldn’t eat and Sal stayed by her side. They were together 12 years and married about half that time. In June 2011 Ket lost her life at the age of 46. 

“I used all my spiritual power, affirmative prayers and invited people at church to pray for her. I know I did everything I could,” says Sal. “We did everything possible to help her heal.” But after Ket died, he stayed home alone for three weeks, finding that experience of isolation “unbearable.” He says, “I was in a fog, not even thinking...in shock. I was in a really rough state.”

He finally surfaced, finding hospice support groups helpful with the first chance to talk about how he was feeling. He recalls he was the only man there and the youngest of the group. Someone at his church suggested he see a spiritual medium and he did, reaching out to Catherine Crowley at Mystics by the Sea in Milford, CT. His spiritual nature left him wide open to possibilities that he thought might help his grief journey. He thought a spiritual intuitive might help him connect with his lost love.

“Ket’s spiritual nature was there before I got out of my car,” said Sal about his first visit. “The medium said things no one else could have known. The things I needed to hear. It made me certain it was her (Ket).”

The medium suggested he had been there to provide Ket with something missing in her life. She came from a large Vietnamese family that he says did not have enough love to go around. Sal gave her unconditional love for the first time in her life. “She wanted to know I was okay. This lifted the guilt and heavy emotions I was feeling. I knew she was a difficult person to live with, but I loved her no matter what. This is when I really started to deal with what was going on.”

He began journaling and even went to an acupuncturist who said he was holding the grief in his chest and was feeling unbearable pain. He needed to let that go.

A month after Ket passed he discovered her diary, that she started writing a year and a half before she died. He had encouraged her to write about her cancer, but never knew she had been doing it. Wanting to know and at the same time afraid to read it, he forged on and read her words. “It was unbelievable. It destroyed me to read about the pain she was going through. She was conversing with her inner spirit about her wounded soul.”

He realized he needed to turn it into a book, which Ket confirmed through the medium, to receive some recognition she had never received in her earthly life. “That diary came from her soul,” said Sal. “So I ended up pouring out my grief working with this diary and writing. That’s what helped me deal with my grief, reading her diary, going to the medium, doing my own journaling. But I just didn’t want to move away from the grief. Sometimes I found myself facing it head on, and other times I ignored it, until one moment it sneaks up on you. I went back and forth between those two extremes. I would just go home and cry forever. And I wrote and wrote.”

To add to his situation, he had lost his job after she died. One night after New Year’s Eve, he was in bed talking with Ket and asked her for help.

“I need a job. I need to move forward. I need to meet someone. And what about this book you wanted me to write? I want answers and I want them now!”

Two days later he found a letter from Ket’s best friend from high school in his mailbox. Gladys hadn’t seen Ket in 10 years and Sal had never heard Ket mention her. She had letters from their college years and offered to get together with him. He called Gladys and they became friends and he got to understand his wife in a new way through those letters.

Daniella & SalDaniella & SalThe letters, his own grief journey, Ket’s story, and music inspired him to finish writing the book. He discovered Ket’s family was upset by some things he wrote and he decided not to publish it at that time. He didn’t want to hurt her family. He settled for getting his story out through being a part of Lisa Wright’s book.

Six months after Ket died he decided he needed to Tango, the dance that had brought him and Ket together so many years ago. Meeting at a New York City Milonga, (a gathering to dance the Tango), they danced several nights a week and romance blossomed over two years.

“It was a beautiful way to meet. People see Tango as a sexy dance but the important thing about it is the embrace, moving as one, moving in rhythm...a beautiful spiritual thing. I felt like I needed a human touch to heal,” said Sal. “I started taking classes again, not with the intention of meeting someone, but I needed that touch, that connection. The Tango was one of the most healing aspects of my journey. It was powerful for me.”

He decided to try dating again and a year and a half after Ket passed. He met Daniella. They dated and he pushed her away...Twice...He had been out of work a year and a half and in a really bad place, having blown through his severance pay and was in jeopardy of losing his home.

Sal went back to reading his spiritual books voraciously. “I needed to get myself spiritually right. I started reading, Joel Goldsmith. I wanted to go deep into these books. I started meditating again.” He would absorb and reflect on some of the reading, meditate on it and listen for guidance. “I did that every day until I felt my consciousness turning around. I felt deeply connected to my source within me. I knew I had to change the inside for anything good to happen outside.”

Sal Gentile and DanielaDaniella & SalHe and Daniella maintained a friendship as he continued working on his book. He just wasn’t ready to move on. She helped him deal with his grief. He revisited the journals and letters but it didn’t affect him the same way a year later. Time had changed that. In 2014 he told her he wanted more than friendship and was ready to move forward.

“I knew I needed to be all in, or nothing. I had a moment one day, where I just knew my life was changing.” He received a job offer, and earlier this year, he realized Daniella was just perfect for him and he proposed. A wedding date has not yet been set.

“Gratitude propelled me forward while I was meditating, reading and getting myself together. I gave thanks for everything, the house I lived in, the shoes on my feet, my family, the life I had with Ket and Daniella. I know what got me through and it had nothing to do with effort, but going inside and connecting and feeling a presence, intuition and guidance, and that’s ultimately how I got out of that place. Ultimately, it’s spirituality that gets us through whatever challenge we are facing.

“I feel good about the fact that I faced my grief in every possible way and didn’t sweep it under the rug.”

That spiritual medium once told him, “Time does not heal. Love heals, when you are able to open up and love somebody again.”

Feature - Jewelry

feature headerThose beautiful rings, chosen with such anticipation and care, were exchanged on our wedding day. To us, they represented the promise of love that would last forever. To the world, the ring was a sign that we were “taken.” 

IMG 1793So now what... It seems that of all the decisions about what to keep, and what to let go of, the question of the wedding ring is the most emotional. Removing the ring feels so wrong, but wearing it doesn’t feel right either.

We have some choices:

  • Keep wearing the rings as we always have. There is nothing wrong with wearing the rings as long as they provide comfort.
  • Put them in a safe. This just seems silly to me. But if you have removed them, and they’re sitting in a jewelry box, be sure to have them insured.
  • Give them to our children or grandchildren. They are, after all, a continuation of our marriage.
  • Redesign them and enjoy every day or on special occasions.

Here’s what I did:

The platinum from my engagement ring was melded into my son’s bride’s wedding band.

My diamond was joined by the birthstones of my children and made into a necklace.

My wedding ring acts as a frame around a tree. (We love trees) The disc in the back is engraved with words from our song.

My jeweler has offered to make 2 earrings from my husband’s wedding band.

If you have done something interesting with your wedding ring, please send in a photo, and we’ll post it here next month.

In His Honor – Debbie Pausig Re-Invents Herself After 17 Year Affair With Huntington's Disease

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For 25 years, Debbie Pausig was a patrol officer and later a detective with the North Haven Police Department. The challenging work she did there might be considered a breeze, compared to her 17 year experience, caring for her husband Perry, who had Huntington’s Disease. HD is a lesser known fatal, inherited, genetic disorder causing the breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It results in the progressive loss of mental and physical control and has no known cure.

“HD is known as the quintessential family disease because every child of a parent with HD has a 50/50 chance of carrying the faulty gene. Today, there are approximately 30,000 symptomatic Americans and more than 200,000 at-risk of inheriting the disease,” according to Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA).

Debbie Pausig book coverDebbie is someone who believes in commitment and when Perry first started showing signs of the disease at the age of 33, she didn’t know it would be the beginning of a 17 year “affair,” that culminated when he died at the age of 50 in 2008. She shares a heart wrenching and enlightening account of their journey in a book titled, An Affair Worth Remembering – with Huntington’s Disease – Incurable Love & Intimacy During an Incurable Illness. She wrote it to both honor her beloved husband and to increase awareness of the little known disease. She continues today as an advocate and speaker to raise awareness of a disease that had become so much a part of her life and his death. 

Perry and Debbie met in college, married, and adopted two children from Lithuania, Daniel and Katherine. Their 29 years of marriage sparkled with a love that was only intensified by HD. Perry’s mother died at the age of 53 from the progressive disease that has associated behaviors often mistaken as drunkenness. Symptoms include personality changes, mood swings, impaired judgment, slurred speech, an unsteady gait and involuntary movements. This is such a problem that police are often involved, unaware of the disease, and the HDSA has put together Law Enforcement Tool Kits for training police agencies, as well as one for HD caregivers.

Inspired by a Career Day visit from an FBI agent when she was 15 years old, Debbie became a police officer at the age of 21, until several shoulder injuries and subsequent surgeries, combined with caring for Perry, put her out of commission. She retired from the force in 2005. She was 46 years old and Perry’s condition was deteriorating rapidly.

“My unconditional love for him continued to grow stronger throughout all the stages of HD,” writes Debbie in her book. “When an intimate sexual relationship was no longer possible, the relationship deepened. I looked into his eyes as I spoon fed him, making sure he did not choke. I held his hand and sat next to him feeling the energy of his presence….It was an ‘I will take care of you till the end of time trust.’ This was truly an ‘incurable love and intimacy during an incurable illness.’” He died in her arms.

“I lost him seven years before he actually died,” said Debbie, referring to the disease that had taken over their family’s life 24/7. “My 40’s was a blur. It’s a progressive disease. I miss his playfulness, his smile. He was an amazing dad. I miss my partner, someone to enjoy life with. I miss the opportunity to grow old with him.”

Debbie’s new life began at 50 when she re-invented herself. Remarkably, a scant two months after Perry passed, she was asked to facilitate a bereavement support program at St. Francis Cabrini Church in North Haven. She felt called to respond with a resounding “yes.”

“I had been grieving for so long during the course of HD, that his death was well expected. I knew there was something that I could do for others. I knew the suffering that I had gone through and I knew that others didn’t need to suffer the way I did. To guide others along their journey was an important part of my healing as well. The timing of it was perfect for me.”

She became a New Day facilitator and Minister of Consolation for the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford and decided to pursue an educational background to support the grief work she felt called to embrace. With and an undergraduate degree in law enforcement and a masters degree in public administration under her belt, she pursued a Master of Family Therapy degree from Southern Connecticut State University and became a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional and Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement. 

“I wanted to formalize the work I was doing with background training,” said Debbie. “This was significant. It was shaping my future. I love, love, love to learn. Anything I can apply to my life, or use to help others on their journey, is a priceless tool.”

In 2012 she opened her own private practice and loves the diversity of the work she is doing now. She enjoys counseling as well as presenting workshops and speaking on topics she is passionate about. Debbie presented caregiving programs earlier this year at Mercy Center in Madison and continues advocacy work for Huntington’s disease. She facilitates HD support groups for the HDSA, and is a workshop presenter for the Connecticut affiliate of the HDSA. Last June she was invited to be a workshop presenter at the 30th National HD convention in Dallas. (See a video of Debbie’s workshop at debbiepausigmft.com/2015-hdsa-natl-convention-dallas-tx.php) “That was so exciting. I’m thrilled to be in a position to give others hope. And everything I do that is related to HD, is in Perry’s honor.”

“I wrote my book because there was very little awareness about Huntington’s Disease. I wrote it as a spouse survivor. I wanted other families, doctors, researchers, therapists, to know these people need help. This is a unique situation. It affected my whole family system. I needed someone to understand more.” The book, now available as an e-book, helps to give HD families a voice.

About surviving and re-inventing herself, she suggests that people find their purpose in life like she did. “Find your purpose, find your bliss. I think that’s what has guided me. My purpose is to help others. We do get better. We do heal. We never forget, but we do heal.”

Debbie Pausig’s book, An Affair Worth Remembering With Huntington’s Disease: Incurable Love & Intimacy During an Incurable Illness is available on Amazon.com.

Poetry - Alaska (For Danny)

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My memories are not as pristine as the white sprawl
of that expansive place. The vaulted dome of sky
almost pushed away the closing in of dread.
Yet looming loneliness huddled in its painted valleys;
the peaks too high to climb, the air too thin to breathe.

He was dying in Boston while that eagle soared
between the mountain folds, while humpback whales
breached off the bow of our ship.
When the blue glacier cracked, spilling
monstrous shards into the sea, I felt
a terrible falling in my bones. I have grappled
with not being where I should have been;
for his lack of needing me.

But he insisted that we go. When we returned,
we folded ourselves into hospital chairs,
mother and son, side by side, through days and nights
right to the end. We made that final decision
too awful to ask of us. Our bond was stronger than faith.
I hung on the life line. Now I know
this was his desire: to tighten the fibers of our knot
so I would not be lost.

I have pushed myself up over the waves.
I can swim untethered now with my face in the sun.
The knot might loosen now and then
with the vagaries of the years, but it tightens
if we pull from either end. I look
at the photo of us rafting down that river,
paddling for life through the melted glacial rapids.
I grasp the meaning of that journey.

The distance remains vast, but the waters flow inexorably.
The sadness comes when I remember he cannot hold
your baby boy. So tie a knot with your own son.
Tend it for a lifetime, and when there is need,
tighten it fiercely.

Mary Buell VolkMary Buell Volk is a Connecticut native living in Old Saybrook. She is the administrator for the Design Department at the Yale School of Drama. Mary’s poetry has been published in Mad Poets Review, Connecticut River Review, Avocet, The Guilford Poets Guild 20th Anniversary Anthology, and the last five volumes of Caduceus. In 2012 and 2013 she won first place in the Acton Public Library’s poetry contest. Mary is a founding member of the Connecticut River Poets. Recently she has published a collection of her poetry, Here After, with photographer Carin Roaldset.

Humor - Poor Widow Me - Are We Survivors Really That Needy?

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Last night I dreamt my late husband was sitting next to me wearing a dark suit, blue shirt and tie. Talk about “all dressed up and nowhere to go…” 

Jimmy hadn’t aged a bit. I was just about to ask him what moisturizer he uses, when I opened my eyes, shook away my sleep and sat up knowing he’s been gone for ten years. He’ll always be 56.

dreamstime m 47447673I’m on the fast track to turning 66 and believe me, very few 56-year-old men would date me unless his name is Quasimodo. Hence, I’m too old to date my dead husband. That realization shouted out how long a decade is.

In my dream I kept playing with his beard. The thing is Jimmy never had a beard. Mickey, my boyfriend, does. I pet it often. I woke up wondering what that meant. I didn’t tell Mickey, afraid he may think that I’m thinking about Jimmy as I touch his beard. I’m not. It was just a stupid dream.

Or was it a sign? I stopped looking for signs ever since, well, ever since years went by and I never got one. Early on my nephew Chuck saw his Uncle Jimmy twice a week.

Once I walked in the house and he said, “You just missed him.” Occasionally, he’d have a message from Jimmy. “He doesn’t like this green color you painted the kitchen...He liked your hair better before you cut bangs...He wants to know why your screen saver isn’t him.”

I’d say, “Chuck, your Uncle wasn’t all that critical in life. As a matter of fact, if I rearranged the furniture and dyed my hair purple he may not have noticed. I have a feeling these feelings are yours!”

Every so often I’d get a compliment. “He’s very impressed that you learned how to pay your bills on line,” Chuck would relay. That one was actually a two in one accolade because bill paying was Jimmy’s department and my computer skill stopped at turning it on.

As any widow or widower knows, honing new abilities is necessary. We adapt because we must. We drag out the garbage cursing the full stretch of the driveway and back. We fume because we didn’t sign up for this. We look up to heaven, “I’m getting older, but you wouldn’t know about that! You and I used to bounce from the car at a rest stop. Now I’m stiff and creaky after a 20-minute ride. I hobble to the Ladies Room and barely make it.”

As Bette Davis said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.”

Life gives and takes. Poor Jimmy missed out on the joy of being with our grandkids yet he doesn’t have to deal with play dough in his hair. Does he see the humor in this? Does he see us at all?

When the ceiling fan fell, our one year old had just crawled away. Did he protect her? Maybe, but where was he when I left my phone in the cab?

Some report they find shiny pennies on their nightstand and out of nowhere white feathers float about. Aren’t those “universal” signs? How did that come to be? Are we survivors that needy? I wave away that “nonsense” and yet, there’s something familiar about that Robin Red Breast who edges closer than the rest.

Could Jimmy possibly be an inanimate object? Did he turn himself into a tube of lipstick so we could sort of, kind of kiss?

Sometimes my dog Tony, a little guy who only barks when the doorbell rings, stares at the wall and wags his tail. He barks and barks. There’s no sudden swish of cold air they say arrives with spirits, but I give Tony a treat so he’ll bark and alert me next time. And, maybe next time I’ll see Jimmy and it won’t be in a dream.

Parenting - Uncovering Feelings Through Sand Play Therapy – A Powerful Tool for Healing Grief

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There are still some things that never change in our constantly changing, hi-tech world. Things like the pure joy on children’s faces as they play on the beach, equipped with nothing but buckets and shovels—and an endless supply of water and sand.

sand therapySandplay therapy, based on the psychology of C.G. Jung and developed by the Swiss psychotherapist Dora Kalff, arose from this simple concept of spontaneous play and how it can be a powerful tool for tapping into the psyche’s natural tendency to heal itself.

Sandplay therapy is a non-verbal therapeutic modality and trained Sandplay therapists can help people get in touch with their grief in nonverbal ways when talking about it feels too difficult or painful, and for a child, traditional talk therapy is developmentally challenging.

“Sandplay is an effective intervention, particularly for issues for which words are not enough, such as grief and loss,” says Jill Kaplan, president of Sandplay Therapists of America.

“Sandplay helps honor and illuminate the client’s internal symbolic world, providing a place for its expression within a safe container,” she says.

Florence Sarigianis, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Orange, Connecticut understands “when a child struggles, a parent struggles ten times more” and she regularly incorporates Sandplay therapy techniques in her sessions with families because it helps connect them with each other and their feelings.

Sarigianis started doing this work about eight years ago after going back to school, earning a BA in Psychology- from Rhode Island College and a MFT (degree in Marriage & Family Therapy) from Southern Connecticut State University. She says one of the classes she took was using Sand Tray and Play therapy and she immediately gravitated to it.

“I was amazed by what information came out when I did it myself,” she says. “I keep learning more and I’m always using it.”


Sandplay therapists all have their own styles of working, but the materials are basically the same: a box, sand, sometimes water, and miniature objects that include representations of all parts of life and fantasy. In addition, building materials are available to make unique items when needed.

Sarigianis uses a wooden box that’s about 3-inches high, 18-inches across, and 30-inches wide that she fills with at least a few inches of fine sand. The objects are key to the therapy and Sarigianis has quite a collection.

“I have collected an eclectic group of figurines, animals, scenery—trees, rocks, houses—and other objects that are categorized and grouped in bins,” she explains.

She says she tries to have a balance of objects for clients to choose from. For example, she has both a white unicorn and a dragon to represent opposites—Yin and Yang.

If Sarigianis is working with a young person who is grieving, she may ask, for example, “What does sad look like?” and encourage the individual to look at the objects he or she is drawn to and without thinking too much, put them in the tray.

“The only direction with the sand tray is there’s no judgment, no right or wrong, no rules,” she stresses. “The sand tray has this way of putting the unconscious into the conscious and so I watch, observe, more than speak. After they finish, I may ask them if they want to tell me about the tray and ask certain things like ‘I noticed you have these two different kinds of animals in the tray.’ Basically, it gives me information. [Feelings] play themselves out in the tray.”

heart sandGood Acting Out

“This is a good venue for younger children because they don’t know always what they’re feeling or how to express it,” Sarigianis says. “And it gives them a safe place, and I’m that safe person who can hold it for them.

“Play is healing,” she adds. “If someone shows anger in the tray, it’s their way of getting anger out of themselves.”

Other helpful aspects of Sandplay, Sarigianis notes, is that she emphasizes to clients that this is their tray and will ask if there is something they can add to or take out that will make them feel better.

“They may not feel they have control in their own life, but they can feel like they have control in their tray,” she says.
Sarigianis says she does Sandplay therapy with families as a unit and it can be very enlightening as well as open up a dialogue between the parents and children.

“I ask them to each choose something that represents themselves and they put it in the tray. What they pick and where they put it tells you something. For example, if someone puts themselves on the outskirts that dynamic will show up in the tray.”

Sarigianis recalls working with a 12-year-old girl whose sister died before she was born and was struggling with feelings of guilt knowing her sister had died and she was alive.

“Her parents didn’t know how to handle it,” Sarigianis says. “They all came together, and by doing things like the sand tray, the girl began to open up a little more…it helps give parents insight into what a child is going through.”

Sarigianis also points out that sand play therapy is an age appropriate support system.

“You have to deal with grief age appropriately and [sand play] may make it easier to gauge where children are in their grief process,” she explains.

If a child’s father died, she will notice such things as whether the child put a father (figurine) in the tray, and if so, where in the tray? Or if he wasn’t placed in the tray what does that say? Was he buried in the sand or put near a figure representing the child? These, she says, are all indicators of how the child is feeling, and how much he or she is thinking about the parent.

“Using the sand tray might help someone see a way to more forward who is stuck in their grief or just a place to place their grief,” Sarigianis says.
“Kids don’t even think they’re having therapy.”

More information about Florence Sarigiani’s practice is available online at www.therapywithflo.com.

The Sandplay Therapists of America website offers a directory of Sandplay therapists throughout the nation. Visit www.sandplay.org.

Widow/er of History - Katharine Graham – A Widow's Truth Topples Nixon and Earns a Pulitzer Prize

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When Katharine Graham’s husband, Philip Graham, publisher of The Washington Post, ended his life, Katharine went to work. Thinking she would just keep the Post in the family until her children could take over, little did the shy housewife know she would face off with the government and bring the Post into a new era of investigative journalism by doing what she thought was right—printing the truth.

Katharine Meyer Graham BookAt 80 years old, Katharine’s truth also earned her a Pulitzer Prize for her best-selling 1997 autobiography, Personal History. Katharine said, “I don’t suppose that I meant to tell everything to everybody. But once I sat down to write my story, I tended to be frank and open. I wanted to be very truthful. I wrote it the way I saw it, and the way the research [went].”i The book was praised for her honesty about her husband’s struggles with mental health, her changing views on a women’s role in society, and major news events that affected the direction of the paper.

Katharine Meyer Graham was born in New York on June 16, 1917, and moved to Washington, D.C. soon after. Katharine’s father, Eugene Meyer, made big money on Wall Street and bought the struggling Washington Post in 1933 when Katharine was 16. Katharine went off to Vassar College, transferring two years later to the University of Chicago. In 1939, she went to work at the Post editing letters to the editor. She met Philip Graham, a lawyer and a clerk at the Supreme Court, through mutual friends. The two married on June 5, 1940. They suffered immediate tragedy with the loss of their first baby (due to a hospital accident), but went on to have four more children.

Although the Post had made strides in circulation and advertising under her father, it was still losing money every year. Wanting a successor to the paper, Katharine’s father offered it to Philip, who was 30 at the time. After some thought, Philip accepted the work. Soon thereafter, Katharine’s father left the paper for a position as president of the World Bank. Philip was named publisher at age 31, and from 1947, he, too, struggled to make the paper profitable.
In the meantime, Katharine took full charge of home matters, handling everything so Philip could concentrate on the high demands of the paper. In addition to the stress of the business, Philip also battled undiagnosed manic depression before proper drugs were available or advised for it. Although he admitted himself into a psychiatric hospital, on a weekend out in August 1963, he killed himself with a rifle at their Virginia home.

Katharine was widowed at 46 with four children, the oldest 20. The family’s political connections were such that the funeral took place in the Washington National Cathedral with President Kennedy in attendance. Kennedy sent her a note telling her how helpful Philip had been to him since his arrival in Washington. Jackie Kennedy wrote Katharine an eight page letter – “one of the most understanding and comforting of any I received.” ii

Of her new widowhood, Katharine wrote in her memoir, “Left alone, no matter at what age or under what circumstances, you have to remake your life…Always in my mind was the climax of the years of secret struggle with Phil’s illness, the shock of the suicide, the loss, and the eternal questions about why and what next.” iii

A month after his suicide, Katharine went to work. She was elected President of The Washington Post Company on September 20, 1963, and set about learning the business. In her mind, she would just observe, remaining a “silent partner” until her children could take over. “I didn’t understand the immensity of what lay before me, how frightened I would be by much of it, how tough it was going to be, and how many anxious hours and days I would spend for a long, long time. Nor did I realize how much I was going to enjoy it all.” iv

Though Philip and her father had discussed their work at the paper with Katharine, she felt overwhelmed without Phil’s guidance. “Though I had learned a great deal from him, I still felt insecure making my own decisions.” v But one thing Katharine did know—she had inner strength gained during her last demanding year with Philip when forced to bear all the burdens of home.

(L-R) President Richard Nixon & Katharine Graham(L-R) President Richard Nixon & Katharine GrahamKatharine finally realized she just couldn’t lead the Post the way Philip or her father had done. She could only do the job in her own way—whatever that way turned out to be. In addition to her outstanding staff, she knew she had another, very important asset—her passion for the business. “I cared a great deal about the company…It’d been part of my whole life…” vi

Katharine wrote in her memoir: “What I essentially did was to put one foot in front of the other, shut my eyes, and step off the edge.” vii

Some of her simplest new duties terrified her—having to speak before groups. “I was asked to go down and say “Merry Christmas” at the company lunch…I practiced making this speech saying “Merry Christmas” in front of the children, because I’d never said anything in public.” viii

Katharine was named publisher of the paper in 1969. In the early 70s, Katharine would have to do a lot more than say, “Merry Christmas.” In 1971, while the federal government fought against The New York Times to prevent publication of the “Pentagon Papers,” which contained secrets about its handling of Vietnam, it was up to Katharine as publisher to decide if The Washington Post would publish these papers—something her editors urged her to do, citing it was their duty to inform the public of the truth. The government felt publishing them was contrary to the “national welfare.” Her lawyers, fearing retribution against the company, urged her not to publish them. Katharine stated in her memoir: “Frightened and tense, I took a big gulp and said, ‘Go ahead, go ahead, go ahead. Let’s go. Let’s publish.’” ix

kgraham1Soon afterwards, The Washington Post reporters relentlessly covered the Watergate break-in, despite the threats made against the paper and Katharine herself. “I made a lot of speeches defending us during Watergate…I was trying to explain that we were reporting a story, that we weren’t after the administration, and that it wasn’t our intention to do them in. We were following the footsteps of the story...” x

Revelations forced the resignation of President Nixon. On Friday, August 6, 1974, The Washington Post reported: “Richard Milhous Nixon announced last night that he will resign as the 37th President of the United States at noon today… After two years of bitter public debate over the Watergate scandals, President Nixon bowed to pressures from the public and leaders of his party to become the first President in American history to resign.” xi

Katharine was becoming known as one of the most powerful women in the country. She felt privileged to have such a unique connection to Washington’s history, but knew it came with heavy duties. Her father had always taught her “that with privilege comes responsibilities…” xii

When she spoke years later at C-SPAN on February 16, 1997, about her life, she summarized her role at The Washington Post: “…the Post has the power to inform people…I never see stories before they get in the papers. I have the power to pick an editor or publisher that will do the job well, and that is my general mode of thought. But after that, they have autonomy…I have more responsibility than power.” xiii

She said, “[Today,] you have to influence events by giving people information by which they can make decisions…” xiv

At the age of 83, Katharine, who never wanted to stop work entirely despite retiring from The Washington Post Company nearly a decade earlier, decided to compile articles and memoirs by others into the book, Katharine Graham’s Washington, where she stated: “I have been connected—either indirectly through my parents, or directly—with more than a third of all the presidents who have served the United States…I have ‘known’ sixteen of them. Even I was awed when faced with the facts.” xv

Katharine died at the age of 84 as the result of injuries sustained in a fall on her way to a bridge game. On July 17, 2001, The New York Times reported: “Katharine Graham, who transformed The Washington Post from a mediocre newspaper into an American institution and, in the process, transformed herself from a lonely widow into a publishing legend, died today...” xvi

Katharine now lies with her husband, Philip Graham, at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

This article is an excerpt from the new book by Lisa Saunders, After the Loss of a Spouse, Henry VIII to Julia Child. Available on Amazon.com.

BERGER, M. (2001, July 17). Katharine Graham, Former Publisher of Washington Post, Dies at 84. Retrieved from New York Times:


Biography.com Editors . (2016, March 8). Katharine Graham Biography . Retrieved from The Biography.com website :


Graham, K. (1997). Personal History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Graham, K. (1999). Katharine Graham. In B. Lamb, BOOKNOTES: Life Stories (p. 238). New York: Three Rivers Press, Crown Publishing Group, National Cable Satellite Corporation.
Graham, K. (2002). Katharine Graham's Washington. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Katharine Graham: A Life Remembered . (2001, July 17). Retrieved from NPR: http://www.npr.org/news/specials/kgraham/010717.kgraham.html

Katherine Graham 1917-2001. (2001, July 17). Retrieved from The Washington Post : http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/20/AR2006032000789.html 

Kilpatrick, C. (1974, August 6). Nixon Resigns. Retrieved from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/watergate/articles/080974-3.htm 

[i] (Graham, Katherine Graham, 1999, p. 333)
[ii] (Graham, Personal History, 1997, p. 337)
[iii] (Graham, Personal History, 1997, p. 339)
[iv] (Graham, Personal History, 1997, p. 340)
[v] (Graham, Personal History, 1997, p. 340)
[vi] (Graham, Katherine Graham, 1999, p. 337)
[vii] (Graham, Personal History, 1997, p. 341)
[viii] (Graham, Katherine Graham, 1999, pp. 337,338)
[ix] (Graham, Personal History, 1997, p. 450)
[x] (Graham, Katherine Graham, 1999, p. 337)
[xi] (Kilpatrick, 1974)
[xii] (Graham, Katherine Graham's Washington, 2002, p. 4)
[xiii] (Graham, Katherine Graham, 1999, p. 338)
[xiv] (Graham, Katherine Graham, 1999, p. 336)
[xv] (Graham, Katherine Graham's Washington, 2002, p. 5)
[xvi] (BERGER, 2001)

Nutrition - Summer Strawberry Delights

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Summer is the season for all things strawberry and in June the “pick your own” fields are brimming with home grown delights.

While fresh berries, warm from the sun are a perfect breakfast or snack, to me they need something extra to elevate them to dessert status. A scoop of ice cream is nice, fresh whipped cream is delicious!

These three strawberry recipes will certainly make your summer a whole lot sweeter.

Serves 4

Pavlova, which hails from New Zealand, is a perfect warm weather dessert because its light and airy, doesn’t heat up the kitchen and uses sweet juicy fruit like summer strawberries.

You can also whip up this dessert in the evening, as it only bakes in the oven for an hour at 200° F and then sits in the oven overnight.


3 large egg whites (use fresh eggs and separate)

1 cup superfine sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tsp. lemon juice

Medium size carton whipping or double cream

1 lb. of fresh strawberries, raspberries or favorite summer fruits, hulled and washed


1. First preheat the oven to 200° F. Prepare a piece of parchment paper to make one Pavlova: trace a nine-inch round using a plate. If you wish to make individual rounds then allow about 2 inches per meringue. Place parchment paper pencil side down on baking tray.

2. In meringue, the size of the sugar grain makes a difference, so superfine baker’s sugar gives a better result. If you only have regular granulated sugar in the house, then grind it in your food processor or blender to break it down into finer crystals.

3. Take a large mixing bowl and beat the 3 large egg whites with a pinch of salt on medium high speed until peaks form. With the machine still running, slowly pour in 1 cup superfine sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Be sure to mix in the sugar on the sides of the bowl until the meringue forms stiff peaks. Once the sugar is all in, blend in 1 tsp. lemon juice by hand.

4. Spoon the meringue into the center of the circle on your parchment paper and using a flat spatula spread the meringue into an even layer over the circle. Then either pipe a rim around the circle or place even size dessertspoon next each other to form the rim, giving each a small swirl to finish.

5. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 1 hour. At the end of the hour, turn off the heat and leave the Pavlova to cool for at least another hour or preferably overnight. This dries out the meringue leaving it firm and crisp.

6. When cold, transfer carefully to serving plate, and fill with whipped cream and sliced or quartered strawberries immediately before serving.

strawberry triflesQuick Strawberry Trifles
Serves 4

If you would like dessert but are in hurry, think individual strawberry trifles; these are quick to make and come to the rescue time and time again. These are a nice answer for a casual summer evening with friends or a nice sweet treat if you are on your own!


2 cups cake (or crumbled cookies or brownies)

2 cups fresh strawberries or summer fruit

2 cups whipped cream


Layer the cake, fruit and whipped cream in glasses, creating several layers. Chill and serve immediately.

Individual Summer Puddings
(Adapted from Good Food magazine)
Serves 2

This is a British recipe, inexpensive and a great way to use up summer fruits, fresh or frozen. It’s easy to make too and requires very little actual cooking!

summer puddingINGREDIENTS

1lb. mixed berry, fresh or frozen (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries)

2 tablespoons sugar or to taste

Zest of 1 lemon

Sunflower or canola spray to grease dish lightly

3-4 slices of sliced white bread, crusts removed

4 individual teacups or custard cups

Saran wrap or other cling film


1. Tip all the berries, except a few strawberries, into a saucepan. Sprinkle the sugar over the berries and stir. Set over a low heat and cook until the sugar has dissolved and the fruit has started to release its juices. Increase the heat, bring the mixture to the boil, then simmer for 2 minutes until the fruit is soft and the juices are deep red. Quarter the uncooked strawberries and stir into the berries along with the lemon zest. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the fruit in a sieve keeping the juices to one side.

2. Meanwhile lightly grease 2 large teacups or custard cups and line with cling film. Using a pastry or cookie cutter cut out 2 circles of bread to fit in the base of each cup. Cut another 2 circles and strips the same height to cover the inside of the cup to the top, each one overlapping to hold the fruit filling in place.

3. Pack the strained fruit into the bread lined cups, keeping aside a little fruit and the juices to pour over the finished dessert. Fold down the bread and seal top with a circle to fit the cup. Cover with cling film and push down firmly with the palm of your hand. Place in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours.

4. When ready to serve, whip the cream until thick. Turn out the puddings onto serving plates and top with the reserved fruit and juices. Serve with the whipped cream. Sheer summer enjoyment!

Social Media - Becky McCoy Shares Stories of Hope and Healing in Weekly Episodes of Her Podcast

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Becky McCoy recently launched a podcast titled Stories of Unfolding Grace.Becky McCoy recently launched a podcast titled Stories of Unfolding Grace.Where some might think the Internet is hindering face-to-face communication, Becky McCoy, a Niantic, Connecticut resident, is using the newest technologies to connect people in powerful and meaningful ways.

McCoy recently launched a podcast she calls Stories of Unfolding Grace, which, for those unfamiliar with podcasts, is essentially a radio show to which listeners can subscribe and download from a website or stream online to a computer or mobile device.

In each weekly episode (airing on Thursdays) McCoy interviews someone who has suffered a serious loss, ranging from death and divorce to loss of one’s physical and/or mental health to loss of one’s job, one’s home — even one’s confidence.

At only 29 years old, McCoy is an expert on loss. Her father died from cancer in 2012 at 52 — eight hours after her son Caleb was born. Her husband also died of cancer just over a year ago, a month before their daughter Libby was born.

But rather than cutting herself off from a world that has been so harsh and unpredictable, McCoy has chosen to reach out and help others who are hurting with the tools and courage and wisdom she has gained through her own experiences of grief and loss.

“I think what caused me to start this podcast is I have experienced a lot more grief than people my age, as well as people my mother’s age. I think I have the ability to start the conversation about what it’s really like,” she says.

McCoy wanted to make the theme of the podcast about the many kinds of loss in addition to the death of a loved one.

“I’d been blogging my experience of being widowed, losing my dad in my mid-20s, losing a place to live, not having a place to live,” McCoy says. “I also have an anxiety disorder. So I’ve experienced all these things and feel like all these different life experiences have a grief component to them.

“I want people to understand that grief is a universal thing,” she continues, “so I chose to keep the topic very broad so people can find an episode they can directly relate to, and even if the loss is different, the experience may be the same.”

She stresses that she wants people to know “no matter what you’re dealing with, you can make it. No matter how bad it gets, you can keep going.”

Becky McCoy with her children Caleb and Lilly at Easter. Becky McCoy with her children Caleb and Lilly at Easter. Her story unfolds

The reason McCoy says she chose the title Stories of Unfolding Grace for the podcast is that she tends to use the word “grace” a lot and in Second Corinthians in the Bible it says, “Not a day goes by without God’s unfolding grace.”

“I know other people can connect with that idea,” she says. “Think of unfolding a red carpet that just keeps going and going like there’s almost an endless supply of it. We don’t always see the good things until we unfold something, and then they show up.”

McCoy belongs to Shoreline Community Bible Church in nearby New London (CT) and finds that faith is a central component to her healing.

She also writes for the online On Coming Alive Project that was launched in February 2016 by another young mother, Lexi Behrndt, writer and founder of Scribbles and Crumbs, based in Florida. After her 6-month-old son Charlie died of a congenital heart defect, Behrndt created her project in an effort to help others who have endured suffering, along with 72 contributing writers.

“We actually just happened to be working on very similar projects at the same time,” McCoy says, “and got involved in what each other (was doing) — it was coincidental and really cool. It’s great to see it going viral and really neat to be involved in this giant collaborative project”

McCoy studied dance and physics in college and has a graduate degree in physics, but personal writing wasn’t something she did in her previous life.

“Writing as a form of expression was never on my radar,” she says. “I’m so grateful for the outlet of writing. It’s giving me a chance to connect with people in a way I never could have before (although) I write firstly for myself; not to build a fan base or gain other people’s approval. But I’m really glad that the way I’m processing can be helpful to other people.”

McCoy points out “hard things will happen. No one is immune. No one lives a full life without having something really difficult happen.”

The best advice she says she can give people going through a tough time is “surround yourself with a community of people you trust. So when those bad things do happen, you have people who love you and are willing to take care of you. We were really blessed to have a special group of people around us that were willing to help.”

She also thinks it’s important to realize that everyone handles their own situations in unique ways.

“How I dealt with the loss of my husband is different than how someone else would and that’s OK,” she says. “We need to give people the space to grieve. Lots of people like to give advice, and that’s just not helpful. I really appreciate that people don’t know what to say. You don’t have to have a perfect response for every situation.”

McCoy has come a long way in her grief journey in a relatively short time, but she doesn’t think that makes her stronger than anyone else.

“What people don’t realize is that we get to choose how we respond. I have just chosen not to let these situations ruin me,” she notes.

McCoy says she’s been interviewing guests with incredible stories for the podcast and is “excited to see how this project creates a community of people who are determined to live well, even when it’s not easy.”

To Listen:
New episodes of Becky McCoy’s podcast Unfolding Grace and information regarding ongoing submissions can be found online at www.BeckyLMcCoy.com or by searching #UnfoldingGrace on any social media platform. She is also a regular contributor to www.scribblesandcrumbs.com.

(The original version of this story appeared in The Day on 4/6/16 and is reprinted with permission.)

Spirituality - Traditions of Chakras – A Modern Strategy for Getting in Balance

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Complementary and alternative medicines are increasingly common and include modalities that are often rooted in ancient practices modified for modern times. They may include Reiki, healing touch, Craniosacral therapy, qi gong, vibrational healing and many others, all promising to make us feel better. The commonality among these practices is that it is all energy work, and when we talk about that, we inevitably hear about chakras. So what are chakras and why do we care? More importantly how does an imbalance affect us, and why do our chakras need to be in better balance and harmony? 

Joy GaffneyJoy GaffneyThe chakras are energy fields represented at various points of our bodies. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, Chakras are “any of several points of physical or spiritual energy in the human body according to yoga philosophy.” The word comes from the Sanskrit cakra, meaning wheel, and was first used back in the 1800’s.

The 4 Bodies

  • Joy Gaffney has been doing energy work for more than 15 years. She says we are made up of four bodies, all connected in one:
  • Our mental body – our thoughts and perceptions.
  • Our spiritual body – how we think of ourselves in respect to our source (God) and how we came into being. It is the spiritual essence of who we are.
  • The physical body
  • The emotional body – how we handle our feelings when brought into an emotional situation such as conflict, loss, or any experience where emotions come into play.

The 7 Chakras

There are seven major chakras that each effect different areas of the body running from the base of the spine to the top crown of your head. Gaffney describes these energy fields as wheels that are spinning at whatever rate they need to and are all different like fingerprints with each individual. “There is nothing out there in this world that does not affect the chakras at some level,” she says. “Every single thing will affect our chakra system. It’s part of who we are.” And for that reason it’s helpful to understand what they are about and how to keep them balanced. The chakras are not only within our bodies but can be felt approximately 4-6 inches outside the body. She explains the different chakras this way:

  • The root chakra resonates and is usually identified by the color red. It is located at the base of the spine and represents our foundation and how we feel about ourselves as a human beings.
  • The second chakra or sacral chakra, resonates and is identified by the color orange. It is located just below the navel and is all about the feminine if you are a woman or masculine if you are a man, as well as our creativity and emotions.
  • The third chakra or solar plexus, located below the center of the rib cage, resonates and is identified with the color yellow and is our power or will center, having to do with how we project ourselves out into the world. It is related to how we use our power.
  • The fourth chakra is the heart chakra which resonates and is identified with the color green and is located at the center of the chest. It is the heart center of love. It has to do with how we think about ourselves and others with love as human and spiritual beings.
  • The fifth is the throat chakra located at the throat, and resonates and is identified with the color blue, and when it is more developed it helps us with the ability to step into our spiritual intuitive selves. It is about how we express and experience ourselves in life, how we handle conflict and difficult situations. It is our self-expression tool.
  • The sixth chakra, or third eye, ties into the mental aspect of self and resonates and is identified with the color purple. Located between the eyebrows, it is about how you see yourself in truth and how honest that assessment is. It helps us take responsibility for changes we need to make, and gives us greater awareness of our abilities, and the ability to see ourselves honestly. The more honest we are the more clear the third chakra will become.
  • The seventh chakra, or crown, is located just above the top of the head and is identified as white. It is the chakra that relates to the spiritual self, not in a religious way but rather a connection about who you are and where you came from, with awareness and increased consciousness that there is something greater than us out there. While all chakras are important in their own way, Joy says the crown chakra is particularly important and very powerful because it is all about life force coming through you.

Each of the chakras affects a particular area of the body, as well as the organs in those areas. When we experience an imbalanced state in any of our chakras, our bodies may respond through a variety of physical disorders as well as nonphysical problems that manifest because of that imbalance.

For example if we have an imbalance in our throat chakra we may experience physical disorders such as thyroid problems, sore throats, neck pain, but we may also find ourselves experiencing excessive talking, arrogance, being manipulative or conversely being timid or shy. When in balance, we can articulate our needs more clearly; we can be good speakers and feel inspired by our creative gifts. On her website JustJoyousOne.com, Joy explains each of the chakras and the associated disorders that can manifest due to imbalance.

“We know when something is out of balance or the chakra is spinning slowly when we have pain in that area that the chakra is governed by,” says Joy. “If we have a sore throat, maybe something needed to be expressed. If we have a headache, maybe we had thoughts filled with judgment. It is a barometer for us to tell what is and isn’t in balance, like a gauge.”

With the heart chakra it is all about how we attach to other people in relationship. If we lose someone we love dearly, our attachment to that person is so strong and we think their love dies with them, so we may crunch our hearts closed causing the heart to feel as if it’s broken. One example is when we hear of one spouse dying and the other follows shortly after because the heart chakra slows down when they are heartbroken. We heal by coming into awareness through talking with other people about what that relationship meant, only to realize that we are all connected even after a loved one is gone.

“We are all seeking some kind of balance, all seeking inner peace,” says Joy. “Our chakra system is always in flux. We continually work on ourselves in a conscious, mental, emotional and physical way in order to find peace with whatever comes into our lives. There will always be difficult situations coming up. However, we can take responsibility for this fully and more consciously. We can take responsibility for our response. We can choose. Conscious awareness of handling situations will directly affect how balanced we are in our chakras.  If we are not conscious then we might react with more emotion and find it more difficult to recover from the situation that caused us such distress. Honesty and awareness within one’s self are our greatest tools to bring us into balance.”

Joy Gaffney is a licensed massage therapist, Reiki master teacher, craniosacral therapist, intuitive, medium and paranormal investigator. She can be reached at (860) 917-0825 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Expressive Arts - Why Storytelling Matters

Carolyn Strearns

Kevin Brooks & Laura PackerKevin Brooks & Laura PackerThe National Storytelling Network defines Storytelling as “an ancient art form and a valuable form of human expression…Storytelling is the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination. Storytelling, as a part of many art forms is often interactive, uses words as well as gestures, movement, expressions. It presents a story and engages the audience.”

“It’s that connection you get with people. You go on a journey together,” says award-winning storyteller Carolyn Stearns. “People come up to me afterwards and tell me how much a story has touched them. It’s like magic!” Carolyn’s performances are unique every time. She incorporates voice changes, physical action, theatrics, and engages her audience, working with hundreds of stories including traditional folk tales and historical folklore that are her favorite. She serves on the board of directors of the Connecticut Storytelling Center.

“I think storytelling is very healing. When you share these stories of loss, you have someone invested in carrying it forward. The more you tell it, the easier it is to tell. It breaks down barriers and inhibitions, and opens you up to discuss feelings. In listening to stories as well… we feel alive. It is the human condition to think we need to struggle alone. But in listening to others, we get perspective.”

Peg Donovan agrees. She is the preschool manager at the Connecticut Storytelling Center and has been telling stories for 15 years. “When people hear a story they connect with it on a certain level. The actual telling of stories can be cathartic. I lose myself in the telling of a story. I’m transported.”

Laura Packer has been performing storytelling for over 20 years. She frequented a weekly storytelling venue in Boston where Hugh Morgan Hill, better known as, Brother Blue, a legendary Cambridge storyteller, inspired her and other artists. After attending a couple of years, she met storyteller Kevin Brooks and a friendship blossomed and eventually more. Although their storytelling was different, their craft was at the heart of their relationship. They were both very involved in the story telling community and storytelling was a big part of their relationship. They were part of each other’s creative process. In 2009 when Brother Blue passed away, Kevin and Laura stepped up, leading the way to continue honoring what Brother Blue had created.

In late January, 2014 Kevin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Two months later he was gone. Life insurance couldn’t heal a broken heart, but did allowed Laura some time, and she had 10 months before she had to think about working again.

She wrote letters to him every day and was journaling through her grief. She talked to him on paper, asking questions and talking about story ideas. Kevin is still a part of her life now as he was then and has input for her on her journey. She wrote a blog at truestorieshonestlies.blogspot.com, and found it “life-saving,” during the most difficult of times.

“Blogging saved my life,” says Laura. “Being able to write and knowing there was an audience to share this with. I don’t know if I would have survived if I hadn’t had that outlet. And now I had two stories to tell. One about our relationship and dying, and a second about the week of his death, which was, without a doubt, the holiest thing I have ever been a part of. Kevin’s exit from this world, “Holy Cow!” It was horrible, yet sacred and holy.”

She calls it a transformative experience and although she wouldn’t wish it on anyone, she recognizes the opportunity to do something special with it. “When you lose someone you die too, you’re broken open in a million pieces. If we are lucky it can be a transformative experience. We become something other than what we were before. How can I not make art from this? It is my obligation to take this experience and transform it so it is meaningful to others. I don’t think he would want anything but that.”

It is inevitable that this would affect what she performs. She has two stories to tell that may evolve into a longer performance piece. She points out that our North American culture lends itself to separating who we are with work, family, friends, etc. We are divided in some way and yet we are whole beings. “Doing the work I do (writing, storytelling, performing) allows me to just be who I am with more consistency,” says Laura.

“The way our culture deals with grief is isolated. We are allowed to be sad for a while and then we are supposed to be fine. Blogging allowed me to talk about what I was feeling. Writing gave me a venue to think it out loud; writing was a way to connect with people. I needed to take care of myself. Writing let me do both. I could take care of myself, express what I was feeling and give other people a way to deal with what they were feeling. I felt not so alone.”

“Grief is a basic part of the human experience. As long as humans have loved, we have grieved and sought ways to understand loss…We all are storytellers and listeners. We all can remember those who have gone before us. We all can listen to each other as we mourn and celebrate the lives we have loved. None of us need to walk this path alone.”

Storytelling is experiential, and allows us to connect very deeply with others but in different settings. When an audience hears a story it allows them to draw upon their own experiences. So when she tells a story it allows people to look at their own loss and have feelings about it but in a safe environment. Storytelling develops empathy and there is a connectedness that happens between the storyteller and the audience. “In the oral storytelling setting, it is a way to have a conversation and hear a difficult story without it being frightening.”

Laura speaks of the Jewish faith tradition where remembering is a big part of grieving. In some way it is to say that in remembering, our loved ones are not gone. To speak their name, they are not gone. Our stories keep them alive. Letting other people hear and be influenced by those stories keeps them alive.

“Storytelling is art,” says Laura. “It is about the connection between the listener and the teller. It is live and intimate. Everyone has access to it. We can’t all draw, we can’t all dance, we can’t all sing. But we can all craft a story; we can all craft a narrative. And if we can craft a narrative we can connect with other people. And that’s why storytelling matters.”

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