One February years ago a friend’s child had to have open heart surgery. His mother told me, “I walked into a coffee shop, saw all those Valentine candy boxes on the counter, and ran out. I can’t  stand the sight of those blood-red hearts!”

It shocked me into realizing how images we take for granted can be painful for someone else. Valentine’s Day is around the corner as I write this, with cheery voices on TV and radio telling us to remember our loved one with candy, flowers, champagne, what not.

Reality check: There are a multitude of people for whom the holiday is a reminder of a “loved one” who is gone –perhaps through death or divorce. Or who may be far away geographically. It can also be emotional distance from a child, sibling, parent, friend.

For years I’ve just said, how sad for so and so.  But I realize this doesn’t help them. What does help is my hand reaching to that friend or relative or neighbor, even if it’s a phone call to say “thinking of you.”  Better still, an invitation for the two of you to get together that difficult day.

Of course, the wounded ones may be ourselves! My “Valentine” is still alive – more or less. Body here, mind gone somewhere I can’t follow. Aloneness comes in many forms.

So what can we do to help ourselves?  I’m back to a favorite passion: journaling. After many years I still find mystical help in writing my feelings. It enables me to share my sorrow and hopes, and to find ways through them. (On the other hand, if the  distance from that special someone is because of betrayal, venting anger in the safety of those pages can be a great antidote to depression!)

I’ve advised so many students and readers to journal. Also, to write a letter to the person who’s gone.  Say how much you miss being together, and how you’re managing to go on. The letter will never  be mailed, but it can be surprisingly  therapeutic. It can also be  a letter that does get mailed – -an attempt to reach out through the barriers  of estrangement or to tell a good friend that you appreciate the loyalty and caring.

P.S. As a perennial dieter, I’ve decided  that  Valentine’s  Day is a time to give myself  permission to indulge in guilt-free chocolate. There’s no rule that says we can’t buy those treats for ourselves!

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through; Turning Toward Tomorrow –; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play–; also Amazon Kindle.


This winter has been my “season of discontent,” a continuing obstacle course between helping the seriously ill person I love and trying to find space in my head for creating new stories.

So it was interesting to come across an excerpt from Hortense Calisher’s autobiography, HERSELF. Calisher, who was married and had two children, was middle-aged before she was able to begin writing. She was bluntly asked by a famous writer if she had “wanted” children and didn’t they “interfere” with attempts to write?

Calisher’s reply was emphatic :”Yes, I did want them and, yes, they did interfere – but everything does. And everything contributes.”

Refusing to use the “escape route excuse” of motherhood, she describes having to walk her youngest child to and from school every day. But while walking back home alone and then back again to pick him up, she wrote a story in her head.. She also used moments “in- between housework” to write poems.

Poetry has become my alternate route. Unable to find a clearing space for longer works, I’ve discovered I can express the conflicted feelings of being a caregiver in the brevity and immediacy of poems.

Yet there’s another side to this “life gets in the way” aspect.. Calisher is candid in revealing that the main obstacle wasn’t the burden of family, but a lack of belief in her ability to write – or that she even deserved to be a writer. Comparing herself to great authors of the past, she decided she could never write as well as they did, so why try?

This absence of self-belief is the greater hurdle for so many of us. Easy to say, “I have too many problems/chores/demands so how can I possibly find time and space to write?” Maybe we’re tuning out the real message in our inner circuit: ”I’m not good enough.”

When Calisher found strength to plow through her myriad obstacles, she
became one of the 20th century’s most prolific writers – dozens of novels, short story collections, memoirs. Ironically for someone who didn’t believe she was “good enough” to be a writer , she won numerous prestigious awards and became only the second woman to be president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Undoubtedly writing became easier for her once the children were grown. But Calisher had grown, too, by all she recognized and fought through.

“Everything contributes. …”
After a year- long drought I’ve finally written a new story. What surprises
me is how different the writing is from my pre-crises efforts, and how strong the voice is. Did having to fight to give birth to this story contribute to its strength?

Yes, it’s all a balancing act. But it needn’t throw us off-balance.

BOOKS: “WIDOW’S WALK” – available through; ‘”TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW”; ; “TEN WOMEN OF VALOR” and ‘ROLE PLAY”- and Amazon Kindle.