For most of our lives we take time for granted. We look forward to the rights of passage of certain birthdays and holidays ushering us into new chapters of life. We rush down new pathways to careers, marriage and family, stopping to celebrate the moment…because we love our milestones.
Except for the milestones of loss.
We don’t celebrate those. We dread them. We try to fill our minds and time to avoid thinking about the next second. The next minute.
We endure anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays, lying to ourselves that we’re okay…we’re carrying on.
And we might be okay. Maybe we’ve learned how to live with the pain instead of fighting it. But then, we’re faced with one of the worst milestones of all.
For #ThrowbackThursday I’m sharing some of my favorite past reads WITH review!
“Letters to my Wife”
by Terry Dean
Genre: Literature & Fiction/Family Life
Release Date: July 1, 2012
This is a little book that delivers a gigantic wallop! The story is told in a way that touches readers at every level. It’s funny and sad, but so very poignant… telling a family’s story. You’re immediately drawn into Kevin Clarke’s life, how he fell in love and how he made relationships work. This novel – this story – is simply magnificent with its many twists and turns. As Kevin “talks” to his wife via a blog, the world starts noticing. It’s life in a tumultuous nutshell. Quite frankly, it’s a story that will stay with you for years to come.
Kevin Clarke is telling his story, his way. He’s writing love letters to the only woman he’s ever loved – his wife. He posts the stories on a blog, hoping she might read them. Little does he know, the neighbors across the street are reading the letters, as is the cop who took him into custody one night. In fact, most of the world is reading the private stories Kevin is telling through his letters to his wife. But while the blog is anonymous, Kevin slips up and the world discovers him. What happens after that is a love story for the ages.
February 3, 2013
This story touches you and stays with you!
*WARNING: Grab the tissues… lots of them!
It’s been over two months since I completed this book…the first time. I have re-read it twice and still go back to read parts that really touched me.
The whispering! OMG, I loved the whispering!
I cannot remember when a book affected me as much as this one has. I could feel Kevin’s loss – he’d loved Ellie his whole life and wasn’t prepared for life without her. I could feel his regret – he’d taken his family for granted, not being there when he was truly needed because he allowed the job to rule his life. I had issues with his children’s reluctance to reach out to him as they all mourned Ellie’s passing, but eventually came to understand the “distance” between them. I cheered for all of them as they slowly broke down the barriers to become a family again. (And Paul is a gem!)
It’s sad that Kevin ends the letters – they grow on you – but it’s his step from mourning and dwelling on the past, to enjoying the memories and living for the future.
I wasn’t ready for the ending…I never am. I want to continue on with Kevin in his journey, but he has a different path to take, but at least he won’t be alone.
Terry Dean has crafted a work of art in “Letters to my Wife”, and it is definitely a must-read…for men and women. The letters will make you remember meeting and falling in love with your spouse…and you’ll fall in love with the letters.
Terry Dean wrote a companion piece to Letters to my Wife – Letters to my Friends. Same rules apply… about the tissues!
“Letters to my Friends”
by Terry Dean
Genre: Literature & Fiction/Family Life
Release Date: June 15, 2013
I won’t add the blurb here – there are spoilers in it! You’re on your own!
June 30, 2013
I have now read two perfect books in my life…both written by Terry Dean. Letters to My Friends is a perfect conclusion to Letters to My Wife – perhaps a little too perfect.
We met Kevin Clarke in LTMW, and we spent the entire book getting to know him and some of the dynamics of his relationships, especially with his wife. We come to understand the fractured relationships of the Clarke family…as they’re being mended, but we never see how well Kevin knew his neighbors or how deeply he affected them until LTMF.
Terry Dean not only brings Kevin’s friends fully into the story, he masterfully gives the reader their backstory and insight into who they are. Long before the story ends, you’re rooting for Sam and Sharon; you can feel Blake and Cari’s pain – and you wonder why anyone puts up with Julie, especially Clay. I was really afraid for Amy, and Nathan was truly starting to annoy me…until I understood why. Wish we had met his wife – she sounded like a jewel. I love Jimmy Mackler! His wise words on people being placed into your life for a reason foreshadowed the key role he would have. Wish I could have seen the video Blake made that morning! Timmy was new to the story, but very important as he was able to supply more details from the day Kevin was shot. And Diogi..OMG! For someone who doesn’t consider herself a “dog person”, this dog grabbed my heart and didn’t let go.
So, I say Mr. Dean’s sequel is almost too perfect…because Kevin’s friends and family have become MY friends and family. And I would like to hear from them and know how they’re doing. I’d like to be there for the birth of both babies, see Julie and Chelsea spend time together, and watch Sam woo Sharon. Are there any more letters? Probably not, but this story will always be with me.
For #ThrowbackThursday I’m sharing some of my favorite reads from the past WITH review!
“Peace & Goodwill (A Minstrel Series Novella)”
by Hope Franke Strauss (aka YA & Cozy Mystery author Lee Strauss)
Genre: Romance/Inspirational Fiction/Holiday
Release Date: November 17, 2014
*This is a Christmas Novella
**Peace & Goodwill is set in A Guitar Girl Romance world but can be read alone.
Belle gets the best Christmas present ever, a man in uniform! Ian is a soldier home on leave. Neither of them have any idea how good it will feel to fall in love or how hard it will be to say goodbye.
Anna is spending the holidays alone again with only her faithful dog Angel to keep her company. She can’t afford to pay the rent and her landlord threatens to kick her out. At least she’s finished with her chemo treatments. She can be thankful for that. Plus, there’s Rhys, the handsome visitor with kind eyes.
One fateful, cold and snowy night a chance encounter changes everything. Love is lost. Love is found. Life will never be the same.
The story in Peace & Goodwill was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s famous classic, The Little Matchstick Girl.
***Covers and book title may be different.
September 14, 2015
Bittersweet & Beautiful!
This is not your typical Ho-Ho-Ho holiday piece. Sadness and pain greeted me almost from the beginning of this short read. Belle is a young woman all alone in the world and trying to avoid another holiday with her employer’s family… and their pitying and less than tolerant glances. Anna is a bit older, destitute and terminally ill with only her faithful dog, Angel, at her side. My heart went out to both women. So much loss and missed opportunities. So much loneliness. Endless self-esteem issues… always feeling unworthy.
But, this story begins just before Christmas, so for all the pain, there is happiness; for all the loneliness, there is hope; and for all the loss, there is love. Just when things appear to be sorted out, the cruelty of an insensitive landlord ripped my heart out and set this story on a different course that brought tears to my eyes – before slapping me with the mother of all plot twists! While it made me even sadder for a time, it was true genius – I never saw that coming!
I had a feeling our compassionate man on the street would play a pivotal role but wasn’t sure where he’d fit. But the chance meeting Christmas night (or should I say rescue?) blends right in to take the story in yet ANOTHER direction.
This read is bittersweet, but wonderful, with so many twists and turns… and a healthy dose of love. And, what would a holiday story be without a Christmas Miracle… or two?
This short, fictional read packs an emotional punch that will stay with the reader long after the story is finished. It will also resonate with those who have ‘lost’ loved ones and friends to Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Archie Royle is ‘lost’ to his family, stolen from his children by Dementia shortly after losing his wife… the love of his life.
The retirement-home resident has a daily routine, though. One of his daughters returns daily to witness his routine and see the father she remembers from… before—and perhaps with a little hope, he will remember her.
The author does a wonderful job of showing the daughter’s despair and anger, but it’s a daughter’s love for her father that shines through this bittersweet tale.
Magic O’clock tugged at my heartstrings.
While my late father didn’t have Dementia, he did have ‘memory lapses’ when he’d leave his eighty-eight-year-old mind and once again be the nine-year-old boy helping his father care for their horses.
When the author mentions Archie’s plaid trousers, I was done for. Those were a favorite of my dad’s, although he would forever call them ‘checkedy.’
I highly recommend this short story, and keep the tissues close.
“Magic O’Clock: A fictional tale of dementia and hope”
When I began writing Free, a Novella in early spring of 2016, it was supposed to be a 3-4 installment short story with Lenore Porter remembering the breakdown of her marriage as she finalizes the sale of her home.
Honestly, it was writing practice.
I was working on my debut novel, In the Best Interest of the Child and kept stalling out and hitting walls. So, Free was supposed to be a little pseudo-flash fiction to keep me writing.
I posted the second installment and had already began the ending of Lenore’s story, when on April 8, 2016, my mister went into renal failure. His kidneys could not be saved and everything changed from that day forward… the addition of hemodialysis, his employment status, his diet, his daily medication regimen… and my stress level.
As I sat in hospital rooms, dialysis units, and doctor’s offices over the next few weeks, Lenore Porter’s story changed too. Best Interest was still my focus, but Lenore would not be ignored.
I continued to post installments of varying lengths on my author page, but the once-a-week postings died a quick death. I moved the release date of Best Interest twice and attempted to push Lenore’s story to the back burner.
The mister’s fistula implant was a problem from the beginning, making dialysis difficult. By the time we’d made all the rounds for MRIs, ultrasounds and vascular procedures and found some semblance of normalcy, it was Halloween. Best Interest was published and I was exhausted. And… Lennie Porter was standing in the corner giving me the duckface.
I didn’t have much of a current word count for Free, but what I did have was sixty-one pages of notes!
As I organized and typed up the notes, the story continued to change.
It was clear by the time I had a working MS, oldest son Duncan Porter would need counseling to get past his issues with his absent father to avoid lasting emotional trauma.
As a character-driven writer, I generally sketch out characters before adding them to any story.
That wasn’t necessary this time.
While Free, a Novella is a work of fiction, the characters of psychologist James Richie and his wife/receptionist, Alice, are not fictional characters.
James ‘Pas’ Richie was my mentor, father-confessor, co-conspirator in epic pranks, and at one time, my boss. He and Alice were like family and can be seen as often in my family photo albums as my mother.
In Free, Pas, is a retired minister with a successful practice in clinical psychology specializing in treating men and boys.
In real life, Pas was a minister for the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. However, he didn’t receive the call to the ministry until well after his fiftieth birthday and put aside his career and degree in chemistry to enter the seminary.
It wasn’t long after Pas received his appointment to a Battle Creek church the community considered him “the city’s pastor.” (This was about the same time I gave him the nickname ‘Pas.’)
You didn’t have to attend his church… or any church… for Pas to lend a helping hand. Many who regularly attended other churches would find their way to his office when needing to talk.
And he would listen.
I don’t know if Pas solved any of their problems.
But I do know they left with a smile and a, “Thank you, pastor.”
He’d always respond with a hug and his trademark, “Peace & Blessings!”
Like Lenore Porter’s parents, Burt and Linda Kelimore, Pas and Alice were together over fifty years.
And the banter was epic!
In addition to his pastoral duties, Pas was the executive director of a local community outreach ministry, and Alice was a regular volunteer.
The days when Alice came in were the best days!
Staff would all suddenly find reasons to be near Pas’ office for another episode of what I dubbed “The Pas and Alice Show!”
Their banter was amazing, rocket fast… and hilarious.
Of course, Alice always won, but Pas wasn’t about let her have the last word and would always end with something like, “You’re adorable! I’m taking you to lunch!”
Over the years, through trials and tribulations in both our families, the Richie banter was an anchor for us all—as long as we could still laugh, everything would be okay–and their marriage was the model for couples newly married or married for decades.
After almost ten years, life broke up our small family circle, taking us in different directions, but the Richies and I stayed in regular—my children would say constant—contact.
Plans were put in motion for them to visit Arizona after Pas retired, which he did in January 2015. After a short search, Pas and Alice relocated to a small town in central Georgia which put them close to their three children and grandchildren.
Pas became ill while he and Alice were getting settled with what was first believed to be an upper respiratory infection.
The next year would see Pas hospitalized… and in a coma for several months.
But being the incredible man he was, James Richie came out of the coma, moved to a rehab center and learned to walk and talk again. He was discharged and went home to regain his driving privileges. He even went back to swimming three times a week.
Pas and Alice took a vacation to visit their children, and attended several social events, including one held by my family in Georgia.
I was encouraged. Alice said he still had a long road ahead of him to regain his strength, but they would get to Arizona.
Things in Arizona weren’t going as well.
Dialysis was still difficult for the mister and his blood pressure stayed at stroke levels despite several daily medications.
Alice called one evening and knew by my tone of voice something was wrong. We talked quite a while. I ended the call with a promise to call her in a couple of days after the mister saw a vascular surgeon.
Of course, she told Pas.
He called early the next morning.
Though the mass found at the base of his throat was benign, he still wasn’t strong enough for surgery to remove it. And it caused other problems. His voice was raw raspy and it hurt me to hear him speak. I tried to rush him off the phone. But Pas wasn’t having it.
He called to pray with me and the mister… and he did.
It was the last time I talked to him. Ten days later, he was gone… June 14, 2016.
Loss is a part of life and we all experience it. I’d already lost my father and a brother, but when Alice called me with the news, something inside me broke.
Suffice it to say, I managed to keep it together enough to take care of the mister, but I lost the fight with depression and spiraled for over three months.
This is why the release date for Best Interest was delayed… twice.
This is also why (and how) Pas and Alice became part of Free.
It took another four months to complete Free. Not because it’s long, in-depth or complicated. It was simply very emotional.
And it was cathartic.
I didn’t tell my family I’d added a bit of real life to Free until it was completed, and I still didn’t allow them to read it. I published it on May 30th and immediately began the formatting for print.
I received the proofs a week later. I signed a copy, stuck a note inside and sent it to Alice Richie.
I hadn’t told her what I’d done either. I was a little nervous with it being the first anniversary of Pas’ passing, but pushed it to the back of my mind and tried to concentrate on writing.
I was caught off guard a couple of weeks later when I answered my phone without looking at the caller ID… something I never do.
It was Alice…laughing… and crying, and screaming, “Girl, you nailed us!”
I laughed with her, and did some crying of my own when she said, “Richie would love it. And he would be so proud of you.”
It wasn’t an instant cure-all, but for the first time in a year, thinking of my dear friend didn’t cause me pain. Alice’s words were the best review I’ll ever receive for Free… and that’s enough for me.
So, if by chance you read Free, just remember James and Alice Richie aren’t fictional characters and their dialogue isn’t scripted or contrived. Their words were real, spoken in another time when life was a little easier and less burdensome.
Peace & Blessings.
This was one of Pas’ favorite songs.
Disclaimer: I have no copyrights to the song and/or video and/or hyperlinks to songs and/or videos directly above. No copyright infringement intended.
Lennie audibly exhaled as the tension left her body and her shoulders sagged. “You two! You had me so worried there for a second. Look, I had a very special relationship with Auntie Di, and I know I was important to her, but I have no problems sharing any of what she left me with my fam-…” Linda cut her off in mid-sentence.
“Honey, you don’t understand. We’re not trying to take anything away from you. It’s quite the opposite, actually.” Frowning, Lennie threw her hands up.
“And we’re back to talking in code!” Her dad held up his hand to silence them both.
“Lenore, your mom and I have some real concerns that need to be addressed.” Briefly glancing at his wife, he reached into his back pocket. “And we’re not the only ones.” He held out an envelope to her. “Your aunt wrote this about three months ago.”
Stunned, Lennie stared at the cream colored envelope in her father’s hand, but she made no move to take it from him. Standing, Burt reached down and placed the letter in Lennie’s hand. “Your mom and I will give you some privacy. When you’re ready, come join us in the kitchen.” He leaned down again, this time, kissing her on the forehead. As he stepped back, Linda rushed forward, cradling her daughter’s face in her hands.
“I love you so much, Lennie. You were always my practical child. You wouldn’t do anything unless it made sense or had a purpose. I think that’s why Diane took to you so quickly. She said you had entirely too much wisdom for a child, and had an old soul.” A single tear slid down Linda’s cheek as the faint trace of a smile formed on her lips. “I used to get mad at Diane, and accuse her of trying to take you from me.” Lennie’s eyes widened.
“Sshh!” Linda cut her off. “I know I was being foolish. We were all so young back then. All newly married, and some of us were already parents. We didn’t know the first thing about anything…just pretending to be adults. Di was a great auntie. Babysitting you girls so Burt and I could enjoy a quiet evening at home or see a movie.” Lennie listened intently as she wondered about all the great stories her family had shared, and realized this was the first time she had heard this particular story. Linda’s smile faded. “Then she got “the visit” from the Marine representatives. Conrad had been killed during the Battle of Khe Sanh. Di was devastated. Something in her broke that day that couldn’t be fixed. Her husband gone. No children. She mourned and went on, but sometimes, it seemed as though she was just going through the motions. Not really living, just existing.”
Her smile returned as she chuckled softly. “But then you started walking, talking and getting into everything. We were all amazed at how quickly you learned and remembered things. Diane marveled over you and thought you were the best thing since sliced bread. When I got sick out of the blue, she gladly stepped in to care for you, and even took time off from her job. After nearly a week of me laying around, your father dragged me to the doctor, and that’s how and when we found out I was pregnant with Elaine. It was a hard pregnancy. The morning sickness and fatigue lasted right up until Elaine was born. That should have been my clue that she was going to be a difficult child.” Mother and daughter shared a grin. “But that big sister of mine, she stepped in like a trooper.”
“More like a tornado”, Burt quipped. Lennie giggled out loud for the first time since Diane’s attorney left.
“Burton Kelimore! You know she meant well, and she was a tremendous help to us,” Linda chided, then shushed her husband and returned her gaze to her daughter. “He’s still ticked because the man could not boil water when we got married, but by the time Elaine was born, he could prepare a simple but full meal. Di had insisted he learn, and she was the one who taught him.”
“She could have had an excellent career as a military interrogator…or perhaps a prison guard.”
She glared at Burt, but couldn’t keep the smile from forming when he winked at her and grinned. “You know your sister was brutal, and an exacting taskmaster. C’mon, admit it.”
“I’ll do no such thing, Mr. Kelimore. She simply liked things done a certain way.”
“Yeah…hers!” Linda perched balled fists on her hips and truly glared at him this time. Burt knew when to surrender. He began backing towards the office door.
“Aren’t I supposed to be making coffee? Yes, I am! If anyone needs me…”, and with another wink, he was gone. Lennie felt better seeing her parents do their usual banter. Her mom shook her head and smiled, still staring at the empty doorway.
“That man vexes me so.” Hearing the love in her mother’s voice for her father caused Lennie’s chest to tighten just a little. Did she sound like that when she spoke of Ranard? She knew she did not. “What I was trying to tell you is that it was during my second pregnancy that you began spending more time with your aunt. She bought you all new clothes and toys. Even combed your hair differently. She doted on you and treated you like a little china doll. Didn’t take much for my hormonal self to verbally attack her and accuse her of trying to steal my baby.” Linda smiled sadly at the memory. “Your father finally calmed me down enough to make me think clearly. Diane had already made up her mind that no one would ever replace Conrad, so she took all the love she had for him, and any children they might have had and poured it into you.”
She leaned down and hugged Lennie tightly, then mimicked Burt’s earlier gesture, kissing her forehead. “She loved you as much as your father and I do, Lenore, maybe more in some ways. As you read her words, please try not to judge her too harshly.” With that, Linda left the office to join her husband in the kitchen.
Lennie stared at the envelope, recognizing her aunt’s bold, but elegant handwriting. A sense of dread washed over her. Her parents seemed to feel this letter would upset her, and whatever it contained, they agreed with it. Giving herself a mental shake, and silently reprimanding herself for fearing the unknown, Lennie opened the envelope, removed the thick stack of stationary, and began to read.
September 17, 1993
My Dearest Lennie Penny,
Since you are reading this, I am gone. I apologize, sweet girl, for not telling you about my illness, but I felt you had enough on your plate caring for your young family and running your business. I knew you’d want to be here with me, and that just wouldn’t do.
You and the boys left here yesterday, after what was probably the best time in my life since Conrad was killed. The days at the beach, the park…the cookouts in the backyard – Lennie, I felt as though I had a real life, a full life. Linda always gave me a bad time about trying to steal her baby, and I know I was pushy at times, but I learned my boundaries and stayed within them. But these last two weeks? I selfishly allowed myself to believe you were MY daughter, and Duncan and Myron were my grandchildren. I’ve missed our times together since you married and started a new life as a wife and a mother. Thank you for agreeing to spend your vacation with me. You will never know what it meant to have you here with me. I will treasure these memories until I take my last breath.
I am so proud of the beautiful young woman you’ve grown into. I watched you with the boys, and all I could do was smile. They have the same sense of wonder and natural curiosity you had at that age, and you feed it beautifully. Duncan asked you a million questions at the petting zoo in the park in that toddler-speak of his, and you patiently answered each one. He watched you as you spoke, with this serious look on his face as if he was committing each and every word to memory. You are a fantastic mother, and those boys are as blessed to have you as you are them.
I just wish they had a different father. There, I said it. Your choices or decisions have never been questioned before, not by me nor your parents. You were always so pragmatic. Even if I didn’t agree, you were so confident and grounded in your decisions, I still knew you’d succeed.
But then, Ranard entered your life…and you seem to flounder for the first time in your life. My heart broke when you announced your engagement, but I still held out hope you would come to your senses and not go through with the wedding. Since the day you walked down the aisle, I’ve wondered, “Why?” I only wish I had been brave enough to ask you to your face. I’ve always wanted to know why you walked away from a promising career with endless potential to marry a man who seems to treat you like a minor accessory. You were valedictorian in a class of three thousand, Lennie! You! The world was yours for the taking! But you left it all behind for a man who called you stupid in front of your family for spilling ketchup on his shirt! The only thing that saved Ranard from getting punched in the face that day was your mother pushing Burt and me through the patio doors! We were so angry at his callous self-righteousness, but we were angry with you too, Lennie. You took his verbal abuse! You didn’t stand up for yourself. You were not the same Lennie who punched TWO older boys for teasing and touching Elaine in high school. Or the Lennie who was flat on her back with the flu for nearly a week during finals week your sophomore year of college, but walked into your computer science class with your head held high determined to take the final exam, and walked out as the only student who aced it. I didn’t see the Lenore Helena Kelimore who had mastered all ninety-six songs in the Danvers Music Academy catalog before she entered high school. In every area of your life, you have always stood out. You never tried to be the center of attention or sought the limelight, but it found you! It always found you! Your inner light shone brightly, and I believe that’s what drew people to you. You were never a vain or prideful child, but your dignity and grace were evident long before you reached your adult years. Why are you allowing this man to dim your light?
And you are allowing it, Lennie. I don’t, for one minute, believe that Ranard controls or dominates you in any way. He’s more like an unruly child acting out, and you’re the tolerant, long-suffering parent.
But that’s not what marriage is about, Lennie.
I’ve watched you both when you weren’t looking. I’ve never seen him hold your hand, or kiss or caress your cheek. I’ve never heard him compliment you, or say anything positive about you. But I held out hope. You have a reason for everything you do, so I knew there was a reason you married that man. But was it love, Lennie? As your third anniversary fast approaches, you’ve already been married longer than Conrad and me. But we had so much joy and laughter, Lennie. We were disappointed that I didn’t get pregnant before he shipped out, but that did not dampen our happiness one bit.
Where is your joy, Lennie? What makes you happy? And it has to be more than your children, because they will grow up and leave. I speak from experience even though I wasn’t blessed to be a mother. I shared my sister’s heartache and turmoil when you left.
I also finally shared my concerns about you with her after our vacation. I was both relieved and saddened to find out she understood, and felt the same way. Relieved because I now had someone to talk to about it – I couldn’t talk to you, Lennie. I knew you’d be angry and I didn’t want to lose you – and I was also sad because if Linda saw the problems I saw, they were real, and not the overactive imagination of a nosy old woman.
I’ve always known you would be my heir. I almost told you on a couple of occasions, but I knew you’d insist that I sell everything and donate the money to some organization saving whales, or hamsters, or gophers…or whatever is all the rage at the moment. But no, I wanted you have what was mine. It gives me peace to know I can do this one last thing for you and the children.
However, I am not done. You’re probably fit to be tied by now. Clutching this letter with both hands, beads of perspiration forming on your forehead as you think about digging up my body to tell me about my bossy self. My sweet Lennie Penny. I hope you are sitting down, because if you are angry with me now, by the time you finish this letter, you WILL dig up my body!
Leave me a comment and be sure to check back next week for the conclusion to ‘Free, A short Story.’