A Book Deal, Baby

Call it optimism, doggedness, perseverance, or pure luck, but after working for more than two years on a non-fiction book on dating after widowhood, we landed a signed contract with an agent last week. And it feels sweet.

The we is my friend and par excellence writer Mary Dempsey, who dates a widower, and me, who has been widowed for more than seven years. I have had enough adventures and downright ridiculous experiences to qualify as an experienced dater.

This is a book most people won’t want to read, because it means they are widowed and the majority of widows don’t ask for that status.  I’ve met a few women who were in unhappy marriages when their husbands died. But they still grieved because at some point, they loved that spouse, and their kids lost their father.

The book was Mary’s idea, spurred somewhat by this blog of mine. Her relentless positivity that we would get an agent helped. I gave up on it several times, mostly because I thought the niche the book occupied was too small. But Mary did the research that proved there are roughly a million widows in the United States and a surprising percentage of those women would like to have another chance at love or, at least, pleasant companionship. (Living alone blows as far as I can see, especially as you get older and might have to deal with health concerns.)

Our book, Death Did Us Part, the name we gave it fully aware that a publisher might change it, is nine chapters with one of my blog’s interspersed in each chapter. It’s roughly 40,000 words, and addresses everything from how to meet a potential partner online to having sex with someone new after 20, 30 or 40 years of getting it on with the same person. It touches on dealing with potential or existing health concerns with a new man after experiencing the death, fast or slow, of your former spouse. It digs into dealing with the baggage (kids and family and friends) that people come with.

It does this using information we gleaned from interviewing several widows and a few widowers and via research and well-done news articles.

The way a lot of books get published these days is through self publishing — fairly easy to do. Or by finding an agent willing to take your book on — difficult. Even after signing a contract with an agent and after the agent procures a publisher, the writer or writers needs to help sell it. Our social media platform, which includes our web site (deathdiduspart.com), our Twitter account, our Facebook account, Mary’s web site and my blog, should help get the word out. But we will need to pitch stories on our topic to publications and web sites, do book readings and signings at book stores and much more.

For now (this week), we can pause and enjoy that we have an accomplished agent. We are proud of the book. We think we may sell a few copies, and we hope to help a few people find their way.












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The diagnosis I fear

Well, here I go. Since being diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer more than two years ago, every test has come back “stable.” This is as good as it gets for this kind of cancer. It means the cancer is sleeping, dormant, quiet. All good.

But I had a PET scan in the fall and my doctor called me to say this time the diagnosis was different. It is “progressing in innumerable bones.” She was not sure what the next step should be, ordered another test and more blood work.

She asked if I was having more pain in my bones. I said a little. Walks are slightly harder. I told her I’m tired more, sleeping eight hours and sometimes taking a nap in the afternoon. Not at all my style. That did not concern her.

The good news here is the cancer, while pushing its way further into my bones, is staying away from the soft tissue — the brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, etc. Getting into those organs means big trouble. So I am thankful for that.

As I make this cancer journey, life is hard, and I’m jealous of my friends who are perfectly healthy. I still can’t let go of the fact that Tom left this world, and I am stuck dealing with this miserable illness primarily on my own. I repeatedly ask how life can be so cruel to me. I can’t let go of it. I feel sorry for myself a lot.

I need to keep my thoughts positive and continue to walk and, when the weather is mild again, ride my bike, no matter how painful. Being able to do those things tells me I’m hanging in, which is more than some can claim in my situation.

So after a couple months of multiple blood tests and visits to my oncologist,  I’m on two new drugs. One is a pill a day for three weeks of the month, a week off so my white blood cells can replenish, and a couple of painful shots once a month. The shots are estrogen blockers. The trouble is my red blood cells are getting killed off leading to severe anemia and blood transfusions. But I hope that will stop soon.

I’m told these drugs will give me a couple more years. Hopefully, after that there will be another drug and another drug after that for metastatic cancer. If I’m lucky, what I have will basically become a chronic illness that can be treated like my other chronic illnesses.

Meanwhile, I am traveling and making more travel plans and hanging with my friends and family. I take advantage of the activities that come my way and pursue new experiences. I try to stay positive.

But sometimes negativity takes over. Why me? Why have so many dreadful things happened to me since I became widowed seven years ago? I dismiss other peoples’ issues unless they involve terminal illness. I have no empathy for people who feel sad about an eighty or ninety-something parent dying. I scoff at people with small problems. Wouldn’t you?





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Living alone — again

My adult daughter finished her teaching job in Michigan in mid-June and soon after moved out of my house.

She happily joined life with her boyfriend in Chicago. It made sense. They have been together for more than four years and in the last year, as a final testament to their undying love, they survived being long distance.

The result, of course, is I am living alone — again — and I don’t relish it.

I lived alone for several years before marriage. I lived alone after Tom died and my newly minted attorney son moved out and once again when my daughter was away at college.

I was happy when she came home to live with me after graduating. It interfered a little with dating, but she was better than me at detecting a lousy prospect. For the most part, we got along well and kept the house clean and organized.

As it turned out, her being home when I was diagnosed with cancer was a lifesaver. She called my friend and 911 for an ambulance when I woke up partially paralyzed. She was at my side during a long hospital stay, and, for weeks, she carefully nursed me as I slowly recuperated in a hospital bed on the main floor of our house.

It was a nightmare for me and shitty for her, but the months passed. I got stronger, more mobile. She had a job in education that she found challenging. In the summer, she was a nanny for a darling boy we both became fond of, and my living with her went on for two and a half years.

But like many good things, it ended. I dreaded it long before it happened. That was a waste of energy because I am managing.

Still, I have these god-awful quiet days more than I like. I work hard to keep my schedule booked, but it’s impossible sometimes. You just have to be satisfied with a book, a TV show, a movie, a walk.

I have friends who enjoy living alone in a dead-quiet house with or without pets or friendly neighbors. They can’t understand why I whine about living alone.

Well, I have news for them. When you’ve lived most of your life with people you love and who loved you back, living solo just doesn’t cut it.




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Trying to jump start widowhood dating book

After four years of writing this blog on widowhood and other sometimes crazy events I have experienced as a single woman, a friend who is dating a widower suggested we put our heads and writing chops together and co-author a book on dating after widowhood.

Almost two years ago, we began planning for the book and commenced to write — me from my house in the Midwest while recuperating from a cancer diagnosis and her from her house in Washington, D.C. We have a 9 am conference call each Thursday and catch up on what we’ve done to move the book along. We also find out what else is going on in our lives. It has been therapeutic for me during my recuperation, and now that I am feeling better, I still enjoy it.

The book is nearly done and we are now pitching it to agents. This is no small feat as each agent has a varying set of requirements for the pitches. My friend recently attended an afternoon class on how to get your book published. It was full of useful information. We learned what we have done right and what we are doing wrong.

Ultimately, we learned we have to do more work, especially with our involvement in social media. We set up Twitter and Facebook accounts for the book named “Death Did Us Part.” We recently hired someone to help us design a web site. With those three pieces in place, we hope to go back to a couple agents who expressed interest in the book but were disappointed with our “platform.”

A platform is imperative to get an agent interested in a nonfiction book, we learned. We were taken aback as we thought it was the agent’s job to sell the book, but our personalized social media plays a large role. So check out our twitter page: https://twitter.com/DeathDidUsPart1 and our facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BenedettiDempsey. And wish us luck.



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Goodbye to the family house but not the memories

After 28 eventful years, I sold the family house and moved precisely two miles northeast to a smaller, more modest 1950s house.

It was quite the undertaking emotionally and physically.

It started last November, on a rainy, cold day when I was bored. I drove around my area looking for houses for sale. The listing service with my agent was turning up no properties that fit my requirements: 3 beds, two baths, small yard.

I went down a block I had never been on and saw a cute ranch with a for sale sign. Hmmm, I wondered. Why did my agent not tell me about this one? I found it on a real estate web site and saw the potential. It hadn’t come to our attention because it has only two bedrooms. I called my agent and we got in the next day.

The house needed a good deal of work and the furnishings, wall colors and carpet were all ugly. But it showed promise and had many of the things I was looking for. A few days later, I made a lower offer that took into consideration the house had a leaking, decrepit roof, no AC and a half remodeled bathroom. It was accepted.

I bought the house in late November — signed the contract Thanksgiving morning and immediately began hiring tradespeople to get the house into shape. Project managing this house kept me busy for much of the winter. Meanwhile, I also hired and managed workers to fix up the family house, which needed many repairs and improvements to meet the city’s rigorous inspection codes.

The process was pleasant until about March, when my grown daughter started outwardly expressing her emotions about leaving this beautiful house and all its memories. I, too, had emotions, but knew I had to get out of there before my daughter left me to join her long-time boyfriend in another city. I did not want to live in that house alone again. After Tom’s death, I did it for four years when my daughter was away at school but I was working full time then. The cancer diagnosis and the resulting mobility shortcomings gave me a greater incentive to live in a one-story house.

The memories we had of life in the house as a family of four, then three, then two, then one, now two again were both sweet and sorrowful. Tom loved the house. If he were alive, it would have been nearly impossible to pry him out of there. Now my daughter was making the transition even harder.

She became moody and angry with me about everything. She was slow to pack her 28 years of clothes, toys, photos and countless bins of school memorabilia. I’d lay in bed at night in pain from bone cancer and stress about how I was going to move all the stuff in this house to another, smaller house. I’d fret about who was going to do all this moving because I could not lift a box or anything weighing more than a pound. I would have to rely on friends, family and professional movers to do it all. I couldn’t sleep. I lost my appetite.

As it turned out, the old house sold in one day to a young couple. More emotions. More questions. Did I sell it too cheap? Should I have taken the first offer? More worrying about moving. More harsh words with my daughter who said this was the only home she ever had.

But months and weeks went by and slowly things got packed up by my dear, strong, healthy friends and family members. My son and daughter in law helped by taking stuff that they wanted to their house. The new house slowly was remodeled; the handyman nearly took residence in the old house to get it in shape for the sale. I still laid sleepless most nights.

In late April, we moved to the new house. In May, I closed on the family house. It took friends and family again to help me unpack dozens of heavy boxes, organize stuff, sell things, and give away items mostly by leaving them on the curb.

We are nearly settled in the new house, but, despite me hiring an inspector who said back in December that I had a good house, I am finding out it has more and more undisclosed flaws.

My daughter leaves soon. The next challenge is feeling good about living here alone.











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Traveling alone has its charms

I’m traveling alone — not totally alone as I have a couple relatives in town. But I have my own little, and I mean little, AirBNB. And I don’t see these relatives much. They have their own routines here and I don’t want to interfere.

I get up at leisure, drink as much coffee as I want, grab a complimentary bagel and fruit from the lodging office, and after I finally get dressed usually go on a bike ride. I talk to no one except a few friendly words with the apple-cheeked Ukrainian cleaning women. (“The sun is nice today, yes?”)  It’s really freeing to have no daily plan and no one to confer with about what to do. No compromising and being polite. I just do things on the fly.

Since my lodging’s wi-fi keeps dying, my biggest challenge has been finding a coffee shop that has working wi-fi. Even Starbucks revealed its wi-fi was down due to faulty Comcast issues. I found a Cuban joint in a trailer that had it, but there was no place to sit. I knew of another place with lovely furnishings, romantic Latin music and where I had to spend a minimum of $6. But this situation I could handle.

No need to make small talk with someone, and I embrace the ability to fall asleep, take a dip in the bathwater-warm pool outside my door, and eat lunch and dinner whenever and where ever I want. My go-to lunch has been non-fat, Greek yogurt with granola and dried fruit and maybe a pear, apple or tangelo. I’m really winging it at dinner — mostly sitting at the bar during happy hour, getting a beer and maybe eating something fried — shrimp, conch fritters, fries. Fried food is prolific here.

My solitary state is broken by texts and phone calls from family and friends, but I talk to them only if I feel like it.

It seems everywhere I go on this tropical island I see couples holding hands, arms around each other, mild bickering, and quick stolen kisses behind a bar entrance. It bugs me because, quite honestly, I’m jealous. I want what they seem to have — what I used to have.

I’ve made friends mostly with gay men, both single and coupled. A young Parisian man and his New York City lover were particularly sweet. I find gays to be the friendliest and, no surprise, they share my politics. Such camaraderie is not easy to find these days.

More than anything, this trip has proven that I can travel alone, even with my compromised health. So where will I go next?

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Keep your weaknesses to yourself

The last time I was on an online dating site, I came across a guy who was funny, witty, literate and interesting. It was refreshing and rare.

After several email notes back and forth about his career as a criminal defense attorney, which I took to mean he likely is a liberal, he disclosed to me he just beat cancer. It was serious cancer — liver and esophagus — and his future looked bleak. But he had these great doctors who got rid of all the cancer. He was cured.

I was stunned with this personal disclosure as here I am with my own cancer — very different than his but still scary. I weighed if I should provide such private info on an online dating site. But, hey I thought, he did. We had cancer in common.

So I told him. I didn’t provide details just a quick overview, thinking, that if nothing else, we had a connection with this illness. He sent me back an email giving me everyone of his doctors’ names and the hospital and the treatment and how I should call one particular doctor who saved his life.

Here’s the kicker: After my disclosure, he sharply said we should be friends, just friends. And then he disappeared. WTF! So apparently this dude who appeared to have it together ended up being a jerk. It was OK for him to disclose his illness, but when I did — just a little bit — he wigged out.

I learned from that one that being honest online does not pay off or I learned that being honest brings out the real character of another person. It was a miserable experience, but one that us widows, or divorcees, have to be ready for if we want to have a run in the dating world.







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Alternative cancer treatment: Is it worth the hassle?


Recently a woman I barely know through a mutual friend was diagnosed with the same kind of cancer I have: Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. While it seemed she was getting treatment similar to me when I was first diagnosed a long year ago, she has taken treatment into her own hands by trying alternative measures.

I reached out to her. She sent me an email filled with web links and phone numbers in case I wanted to try some of the holistic steps she is taking: ingesting cannabis oil, drinking homemade juice comprised of organic fruits and vegetables and twice a day eating a salad loaded with healthy veggies.

My thoughts on this: What a lot of work for something that may or may not work.

Getting a medical marijuana card in Michigan is not that hard except for the $150 fee. Going to a dispensary to get the oil and learn how much to ingest I can handle. But the thought of making and eating this cancer-fighting salad that contains roughly 12 kinds of vegetables and spices twice of day is too much. I don’t even like salad since I’ve had cancer. And juicing requires the same kind of judiciousness — fruits and veggies galore thrown into a blender to drink. The thought of it makes me want to gag.

I haven’t talked to this woman yet to see how she is feeling after a couple weeks of this treatment. But I’ll call her soon. I’m skeptical. I can’t help but think if all this works and keeps Stage IV cancer at bay or obliterates it, why haven’t more people used it? How about the women in my cancer support group who keep getting chemo as ugly cancer tumors pop up on their pancreas, liver, lungs, brain.

For now, my cancer is quietly sitting in my bones. I have six months off of treatment (for good behavior), and I dread the tests I’ll have to endure next year to see if the cancer has moved. This kind of cruel cancer never goes away. If you are lucky, it is like a chronic illness — you treat it and live life the best you can — at least for awhile.






















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Beware of floating; it can hurt

Recently I was looking for a harmless adventure, something different that might improve my well being for at least a night. One of my dear friends from Catholic grade school heard from her daughter-in-law about floating, also called sensory deprivation therapy, or isolation therapy.

Instead of going out to dinner or to a movie, we met for a light bite to eat (we were instructed to eat light and no drugs or alcohol before the float) and headed over to the float chamber. Surprisingly, it was discreetly tucked into a strip center in a Detroit suburb. We had appointments and were greeted warmly by the staff.

The first instruction as I put on my own flip flops was to use their provided rubber sandals. Everything in this tranquil environment was precisely controlled. Once we were appropriately garbed, we were shown to our separate rooms, each with its own dressing room, rain shower, and floating chamber. I had envisioned my friend and I chatting in a big pool while floating. Boy, was I wrong.

Floating is typically done within a large tank of super-saturated magnesium water that makes you completely buoyant. In fact, it is virtually impossible not to float in this mini, salt pool. The water is kept at 98.6  in order to meld with your natural body temperature. You won’t feel too cold or to hot, but just right.

Float tanks are made available to a floater for one hour. Once you enter the chamber and close the door, you lay in about 10 inches of salted water with dim lights casting a subtle glow. When you close the door and position yourself in the water, the lights slowly fade and you are in complete blackness with no ambient noise.  The idea is to stay still, clear your mind of all thoughts and drift into a stress-free, almost sleep-like state.

I was warned that once immersed in the water, even a slight paper cut or shaving wound could sting. No worries except he failed to disclose a more important fact about the experience: Once immersed in the water, brace yourself for fierce burning in the privates.

With my ever-mounting health issues, I worried that this pain was caused by a weird infection or something worse. But I worried for nothing. When my friend and I  compared notes about our experiences, we coyly revealed we both had this issue. The pain lasted about 30 minutes and subsided. We agreed that had we known about this, we would have passed on the $65 soak — maybe had a more predictable massage or reikki session instead.

On the bright side, we enjoyed the herbal soaps and lotions available before and after floating. The plush towel and robe were appreciated. And we were able to relax on comfortable chairs in a dim-lit room afterward. But those luxuries didn’t begin to make up for the fire-like feeling in the crotch. All I can add is float with caution and maybe guys wouldn’t have the same issue.






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Four Rolls of Film

A few months ago during an uneventful day of a long cancer recuperation, I came across four roles of undeveloped film in Tom’s former junk drawer. What the heck is on these roles? Why did Tom save these color and black and white film roles for such a long time? Why didn’t he get them developed?

I’ve given more thought to this film than I should. Meanwhile, the film roles remain on a shelf in my hallway and I don’t know what to do with them. My options: I could throw them out and forget about it. I could get them developed and get upset by something Tom took photos of years ago. I may get mad at Tom five years after he died, which would be stupid.

I haven’t got them developed because I’m afraid to see what is on them. These could go back to Tom’s single years before he met me. No problem. They could be from our crazy four-year up and down relationship, which included him seeing other women and me other men. I could deal with that.

Or they might be from when we were married. That would upset me.

If I had to guess their origin, I’d say during our rocky, long-distance relationship before marriage. Those were the years we still were putting film in our Nikon cameras both for our newspaper jobs and for our personal lives. So I know they are old.

But what if it is women I don’t know and didn’t know about during our early marriage? Why cause myself the misery of even knowing this.

Still, it’s hard to toss those rolls in the trash. What should I do?


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