This post, a continuation of my August 1 post, is about how life intervened on my and Debra Winegarten’s plans to “sing, dance, and catch up in person.” I looked forward to seeing Deb at the Story Circle Network conference and celebrating her achievements. June had been a great month for her.
She spent a couple of weeks in NYC attending The Writer’s Hotel, a prestigious master class, where she was mentored by several successful authors. She previously shared her excitement with our WIP writing circle. The memoir excerpt she whipped out in record time to meet their application deadline had been accepted accompanied by a critique that helped her frame the book and see the themes in a whole new way.
During the workshop, her partial manuscript was so noteworthy, she won the Sara Patton Prize for Non-fiction. That included a scholarship for the 2019 Writer’s Hotel and an invitation to be a teaching assistant. She also pitched to several agents, one of whom said Deb’s story gave her chills.
Almost a Minyan and My Life on the Mysterious Island of Nanotechnology, a scientific memoir Deb wrote with physicist, inventor, and entrepreneur, Zvi Yaniv both took first place in the Press Women of Texas awards. The IPPY e-book award for Almost a Minyan necessitated another trip to NYC.
What a joy it was for our WIP writing circle to witness Deb’s work reaching new heights … to witness the fruition of her twenty-year dream of becoming a successful author/publisher. Privy to projects in her pipeline, we WIP circle sisters just knew this was only the beginning of Deb’s success. She greeted our celebrations for her as:
A win for one of us is a win for all!
Our joy was all the greater because Deb had experienced some rough patches after she turned sixty in December.
Her vocal cord paralyzed in January, not a good thing for a teacher and public speaker. She posted poignant poems on Facebook about her experience. Always the optimist, with no guarantee therapy would return her voice to normal anytime soon if at all, Deb bought an amplifier and kept going.
She and her wife, Cindy, spent late 2017 moving Deb’s father from his home in Dallas to Austin “so we can spend as many remaining sunsets together as possible.” Then in February her father died. She sought chiropractic relief for discomfort in her hip.
June 29: Deb’s chiropractor orders an MRI after her pain escalates during the NYC trips.
July 2: A sudden onset of pain in my side increases in intensity requiring a trip to ER.
July 3: Deb has a very painful MRI experience.
July 5: Her chiropractor calls with preliminary results and sends her to a special diagnostician.
July 6: A size 7-8 kidney stone is surgically removed from my ureter. Anesthetic fatigue sets in, causing me to question my ability to fly to Austin on July 19 for the Story Circle Network Conference.
July 9: Deb sends an e-mail to me, the conference organizer, and the volunteer coordinator saying she probably won’t be able to participate in the conference at the level to which she agreed. She reveals that the special diagnostician is a hematology oncologist and that she will be meeting with her that afternoon. She asks for prayer.
I hope that if she has cancer, it is lymphoma. I prepare to give her a survival pep talk like I do with others newly diagnosed in my role as a volunteer for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
July 10: A post on Deb’s Caring Bridge site says they aren’t certain what kind of cancer she has, but the doctor suspects sarcoma that has metastasized to her hip bones. She is hospitalized, is totally bed fast, and is to receive daily radiation.
The next line: “There is a 90% mortality rate at two years.”
One by one our WIP circle sisters register our shock and disbelief. I walk around in a daze and feel powerless. I reach out to many friends and family (many who subscribe to this blog) asking for prayer for Deb.
July 13: After the anesthetic tube causes a tickle in my throat and a cough, further exacerbating my fatigue, I inform SCN that I am unable to attend the conference. That tickle and cough morphs into a sore throat and full-blown chest cold.
It is Friday, our WIP writing circle’s day to reveal our week’s accomplishments. Deb’s long list is about getting her affairs in order and re-prioritizing “how I intend to use these precious months I have left on this side of heaven. And if I’m granted more, so be it.”
Was it Dickens who said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times?”
I’m however choosing to focus on Monty Python tunes, “I am not dead yet…”
How can someone as vital and alive as Deb be struck down, especially now when all she’s worked for is bursting forth? She loves life and has so much to live for. She can’t be dying!
She was there for me in San Francisco. And I can’t even return her favor by selling her books for her at the conference. I can’t even go visit her at the hospital and let her know what she means to me. I know I have no choice and she understands, but I still feel as though I let her down.
In my prayers, I plead with God. I don’t believe it is God who is striking her down. But I do believe in miracles. I pray for a miracle of healing. At the same time, I witness in Deb’s Facebook posts her seeming acceptance along with her determination to continue living her life to the fullest for as long as she has left on this side of heaven. She inspires me. She challenges me.
I’m angry at the injustice of life. Everything Deb’s been working so hard for is in jeopardy. She has so much to live for. This isn’t fair!!! I’m angry that cancer is striking so many, including the husband of another WIP circle sister and has already taken the husband of another. I’m angry a cure hasn’t been found. I’m angry that I could lose a connection with Deb, something that has been so meaningful to me.
I recognize that I am moving through stages of grief.
July 31: The next stage begins to unfold as I write and write and write.
As I write about my connection with Deb … with the way she reached out to me and found her way into my heart, I touch into the depth of Deb’s wisdom, something I’ve seen flow in many of her messages to our WIP writing circle:
…it’s really, really clear to me that what I’m doing here has nothing to do with selling books. Or even writing books. There’s something else going on, it has to do with my purpose in life. From what I can tell, the books are just an excuse or a vehicle for me to interact with people so that whatever gift I’m supposed to share with them can comes through.
August 1: I post on my blog my tribute to Deb, A Gift for My Heart and Soul.
I continue to ponder my journey through grief. It helps to write about it and I will continue.
Until then, if you are so inclined, I would love to hear how you have experienced grief. If one of my WIP writing circle sisters is reading this, can you relate to what I am experiencing? Does it give you comfort to know these stages, first identified by Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler and expanded on by others, are a normal part of the process? Do they fit for you? If they do, what helped you move through the stages?