What inspired you to write your memoir?
Soon after my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I resolved that while there was nothing I could do to keep her from dying, there was plenty I could do to help her keep living – fully and joyfully. From the moment of that epiphany until my mother slipped into the coma that preceded her death one year later, my self-appointed mission was to inject living into her dying. Toward the end of her life, my brother suggested to me once or twice that I should “write a book” about my approach and our collective efforts; “You should call it ‘Living while Dying,’” he suggested. At the time I shrugged off the idea, interpreting and appreciating it as a loving gesture from a brother who was grateful for my role as primary caregiver (with my father) to our mother and grateful, as well, for all the authentic happiness we were in fact managing to find as a family.
Without realizing it, the seed my brother planted began to germinate after my mother died on September 9, 2009. The water that helped the seed grow from idea into intention was provided by my tears. In the days and weeks of intense grief, I noticed that, as I lay awake unable to sleep or as I was driving around town and allowing my mind to wander, ideas for chapter headings were taking shape in my head. Soon my thoughts formed into paragraphs. And eventually it became clear that the voluminous content bubbling up inside me needed an outlet, and so I went to the keyboard.
Ostensibly I wrote the book for selfish reasons: The writing process was a balm for my broken heart. But as the book began taking shape, in the weeks following my mother’s death in the fall of 2009, I set the goal of finishing it in time for it to be a Christmas gift for my father, who would be celebrating his first Christmas without his sweetheart of 52 years.
I’ve come to understand that after losing someone we cherish, we need to talk, we need to share, we need to tell our story to keep the story – and the person we miss – alive. As the words poured out of me, so did the tears. This was, I believe, very healthy and healing. By staying connected with my mother as I wrote about her and us, I managed not to come undone; I was not as alone or as bereft as I might otherwise have felt.
As the writing progressed, I became increasingly inspired by the hope that I might keep my mother’s legacy of living and loving alive on the pages of a book and that she might inspire others with her example of grace and courage as well as her inextinguishable joie de vivre. I also grew to believe the book might ultimately prove to be a helpful, hopeful guide for individuals and families dealing with terminal illness, death, or grief as well as for those involved in end-of-life care or grief counseling.
About your Book:
When All That’s Left of Me is Love is a combination of retrospection and reflection on the year and a day between my 73-year-old mother’s devastating diagnosis (terminal metastatic lung cancer) on September 8, 2008 and her death at age 74 on September 9, 2009.
My memoir focuses, as I did with unwavering determination during that last year with my mother and best friend, on ways to ensure each new day would be one she’d look forward to because of the joy it could bring, rather than one to fear because it would mean she was one day closer to her final day. Each new day was a gift, and we chose to embrace it. We did not let my mother’s disease and death sentence crowd out the loving and laughing and living that became such a tremendous source of joy to her and us during her last year.
Fundamentally the book is about how my family injected living into dying, and the many wonderful moments and memories we created even while facing heartbreaking loss. It is a celebration of the special bond between mothers and daughters, a touching love story, a spiritual journey, a poetry lesson, and even a case for happy hour.
Readers travel with me from day one of diagnosis to the moment of death a year later and then through the first three months of my being motherless. Throughout, I wanted to be completely honest, provide an intimate look at our family’s experience, and allow readers to experience our hope, our fear, our joy, and grief, our peace with us just as we were experiencing it.
Described in a recent review as being “like a comforting touch from a friend – who doesn’t know exactly what to say to you when you are going through grief, but just wants you to know that he or she is there,” my book is a story born of death, but by design it much more about living (about HOW we choose to live) than about dying. While it provides a hopeful, helpful roadmap for people traveling the path through loss or grief, I believe my story will prove to be at least equally helpful for folks navigating the journey of life itself.
Professionally I keep busy as a Connecticut-based management consultant; my solo practice serves nonprofit organizations of all sizes and missions. In previous stops along my career path I have been a corporate executive in the aerospace industry, a senior administrator at a private college, and an international trade negotiator in the executive branch of the federal government.
I currently reside in West Hartford, Connecticut, and I grew up in nearby Longmeadow, Massachusetts. I am married to my high school sweetheart, Joe, who is an architect and a wonderful life partner. We have three sons in their twenties and an adorable mini-goldendoodle.
How did you decide how to publish your book and where is it published through:
The writing of this book was a cathartic and largely selfish act. I did not set out to write something for publication; rather, I set out to provide an outlet for my grief, to stay very connected with my mother during the act of writing about her and our last year together (in fact, I did not want to be finished writing for that reason), and to give my father a loving tribute to his beloved “sweetie pie” on his first Christmas without her. But because my writing was taking the form of a “book,” I did harbor deep inside me, I suppose, the wild idea that maybe one day someone other than family would want to read what was pouring out of me.
With encouragement from my family, I did decide to seek publication. I was advised by other authors to find an agent. I did a lot of research to find agents who had worked with authors of similar books, and I wrote a number of pitch letters, all to no avail. Finally (for reasons that themselves make a good story) I connected with a publishing consultant whom I paid to read the manuscript and provide counsel regarding its potential and my next steps, if any. She pointed me in the direction of two publishers that she recently had encountered at the big book expo in New York and that she thought, based on conversation with them, would be interested in a book such as mine. I immediately investigated them both; one was not accepting manuscripts at the time, and the other one — Tate Publishing — was. I submitted my manuscript with a tailored pitch letter and a few months later retrieved a voicemail message on my phone telling me the manuscript had been accepted for publication. I could not have been more surprised — or elated!
WHEN ALL THAT’S LEFT IF ME IS LOVE has received a number of awards; it won first-place honors in two categories (including best memoir) in the 2012 ReaderViews Literary Awards program, and it is a 2012 Nautilus Silver Award winner.