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Elie Wiesel and Mitch Albom share timeless wisdom: “Write to find truth.”

In 2011, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel spoke at a Sarasota Town Hall. When I hear a powerful speaker, I jot down meaningful remarks in the program. Recently, coming across that old Wiesel program, I was struck by the similarities of his remarks to the book I just read.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Mitch Albom’s The Little Liar is a sometimes hopeful, sometimes heart-breaking look at four characters who interacted during the Holocaust.  With the current resurgence of antisemitism, Albom’s book is all too relevant.

Wiesel was 15 when he and his family were deported to Auschwitz where his mother and younger sister died. He and his father were deported to Buchenwald. His father died there before the camp was liberated in 1945. Wiesel’s 1960 memoir, Night, is considered the bedrock of Holocaust literature. Wiesel himself eventually was honored with a Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

In 2011, Wiesel explained his motivation for writing Night.  At that point, I had written two memoirs. The first, Back from Betrayal, about surviving a  marriage crisis, was met with widespread silence—and, for me, doubts about the wisdom of what I’d shared.

Wiesel’s observations reassured me.  “For the survivor,” he said, “writing is a calling. Failing to transmit an experience is to betray it. I write to find truth, to touch the bottom of madness.”

Such madness underlies Mitch Albom’s latest book, a parable told from the viewpoint of Truth.  The story includes character Nico Krispis who, at 11, is known for his honesty. The story also includes Nazi officer Udo Graf, who deceives Nico for his (Graf’s) own hateful ends.

I live near Mitch in a Detroit suburb. Once, taking a Metro car to the airport, I asked my driver who was his favorite passenger ever.

“Mitch Albom,” he said.

I, too, am a fan. Mitch’s book, Tuesdays with Morrie, about the wisdom of a dying favorite professor, is the best-selling memoir of all time. It sold over 17 million copies.  In 2010, following a devastating earthquake in Haiti, Mitch and wife Janine adopted an orphanage along with a little girl, Chika. Despite the couple’s desperate efforts to save Chika, she died two years later from a brain tumor.

Mitch’s latest book is set in Salonika, Greece, where Nazis herded 50,000 Jews into concentration camps. Their success at doing so begins with lie. In the book, officer Udo Graf convinces 11-year old Nico that Jewish Greeks are being “resettled” elsewhere. Nico spreads the word through his village. Because he’s known for truthfulness, his neighbors believe him. How that responsibility affects Nico is one compelling theme of the book.

In this new novel, Mitch displays his gift for explaining complicated subjects with simple language…

“All humans are inclined to hate others if they believe they are the cause of their unhappiness.”

“Never be ashamed of a scar. In the end, scars tell the story of our lives, everything that hurt us, and everything that healed us.”

I’m grateful for authors like Elie Wiesel and Mitch Albom for the strength they show and the wisdom they impart.

I, too, am proud of a scar. Though the scar below my navel has faded to a barely visible line, it tells the story of my battle with cancer. It is, as author Lynley Wayne put it, “a badge of honor…  that shows the world you were strong enough to survive.”

As for The Little Liar—two simple words apply: Read it!

Mary Jo Zaksas’s bonds with feline friends extend from one life to another

Caspurr enjoyed jumping through a hoop.

Cats may have nine lives, but nine’s not enough for Mary Jo Zaksas.

Mary Jo and Joe Zaksas. (Photos with this story courtesy of Mary Jo.)

Mary Jo, my Sarasota neighbor, grew up with field cats on a farm in Iowa. She’s always had a special bond with feline friends. Several cats have “just shown up” in her life. Her first “house cat” was Tuffer, a kitten found abandoned in the corn field of the farm.

Her next kitten came from Mary Jo’s beautician. Another was huddled in the window well of her and husband Joe’s house in Barrington, IL. Still another jumped into her car at a gas station near her Barrington home.

Mary Jo’s beloved Torti appeared at the Zaksas home at about six months of age.

“She was very lovable and special,” Mary Jo (MJ) says. When Torti died, MJ determined to find “a replacement friend” for her and Joe’s other cat, Spikey.

Joe insisted that Torti send his replacement. Mary Jo believes Torti did just that in the white kitten she found at a shelter in northern Illinois. Three times in a row, the kitten picked up a toy ball, raced around the room, jumped into MJ’s lap and gazed into her eyes.

She named him Caspurr for his white fur and continuous purr. She taught him tricks. Caspurr learned to sit, shake, roll over and jump through hoops.

Mary Jo had an active business career in Human Resources. She ran her own executive search firm in Chicago. Lacking human children, Mary Jo adored her feline offspring.

In recent years, when Caspurr and his pal Kaylee passed away a month apart, the Zaksases were devastated.

“I needed to find a replacement for our irreplaceable pets,” MJ says.

Joe insisted she look for a sign that Caspurr’s successor was sent by Caspurr. MJ checked out a cat adoption site online; no luck. She visited a few local shelters; nada.

Finally, she drove more than an hour to the SPCA shelter in Lakeland, FL. There she spotted Hugo—mostly white with unusual markings and a white tip on his tail. The kitten looked like a
cross between Caspurr and Kaylee.

Hugo was on meds and couldn’t travel that day. In another room, Sweetie, a tiger kitten, jumped into her lap and kneaded on her shoulder. “She wouldn’t let me get away,” MJ reports.

“She picked you out,” Joe said.

Soon after, both kittens became my new neighbors. Hugo already jumps through hoops, sits, shakes and rolls over. Sweetie, too, is learning some tricks.

Mary Jo’s “all in” on another passion as well. She’s a respected orchid grower. For her 70th birthday, she didn’t long for a necklace or diamond ring. Encouraged by Joe, she built her own climate-controlled growing room for exotic orchids.

MJ’s collection of around 100 Dracula orchids, which mainly grow in Ecuador and Colombia, are being studied by Sarasota’s Selby Gardens. The renowned botanical venue takes cuttings of Mary Jo’s plants for DNA research. A Selby photographer also shoots photos of the blooms.

At 76, though diagnosed with MS just two years ago, Mary Jo is faring well. Of her feline and floral children she says, “I hope I have many years to work with them.”

Her many fans in Florida hope so, too.

‘Heartache comes in many shapes and sizes’

EDITOR’s NOTE: In November, 2023, the whole world is overwhelmed with grief, wondering: How long? From Pope Francis to individual families on every continent, we know that grief—and often our sense of isolation in that grief—is a challenge we share. The many writers who contribute to ReadTheSpirit magazine have been writing about this challenge every week. And, this week, Suzy Farbman shares an important truth about this journey: It is long. We need to remember and honor that truth as we reach out to our neighbors. Here is Suzy’s column:

Grief returns and recedes in wave-like reminders. I write these words on Nov. 1, four months to the day my husband of 56 years died. I’ve asked friends who’ve lost husbands how long it takes to stop grieving.

The universal answer: It takes as long as it takes.

Four months isn’t enough.

Things bring back the memories. So many things. Having grown up poor, once he could afford them, Burton loved acquiring things. His adored aide, Angela, and I tried to de-Burtify the house. We put away the obvious things that reminded me of him, of the void he left behind—things that make me sad he’s not around to use them.

We put away his Laurel Oak sweatshirts and enormous shoes– size 14 near the end. They rest in closets behind closed doors. So do his clothes. Our sons and grandkids will come to Florida at Christmas. They might want a jacket or sweatshirt or golf cap. Ditto the golf clubs Burton once wielded with skill. Ditto the Titleist ProV1 golf balls.

I haven’t found a home for Burton’s camera equipment. Until he became sick, my husband appointed himself unofficial photographer at Laurel Oak, our winter home. He captured pictures of friends and club members playing golf or tennis or celebrating birthdays, developed them on his own machines and gave them to their subjects. After his stroke in 2018, I touted the quality of cell phone photos. Couldn’t convince him.

There’s also the fishing equipment. Poles lean against the wall in our garage. Don’t want to give those away. Our grandkids use them when they visit.

There are knives. Too many of those as well. Burton loved good quality knives. If he came across one at a farmers’ market, it accompanied him home.

There are playing cards. Burton once enjoyed playing Bridge. Two decks of cards wouldn’t do. I counted the packs of Bicycle playing cards in a drawer in our living room: 34.

There are trophies atop laundry room cabinets from contests Burton organized for grandkids’ visits. They remind me of how Burton loved being a grandpa. He took the trophies to the trophy store every January to update them and proudly displayed them in the living room when family visited. Trophies for Bingo, Boggle, Rummikub, Pop-a-Shot and Tennis. In 2016 when Fischer was too young to win anything else, Burton ordered a trophy for Congeniality.

Sad reminders also remain. The handicapped shower chair. The exercise band and hand weights Burton used faithfully to strengthen the arm that still worked after his stroke (his non-dominant right arm). The golf cart I still use. Angela helped him into it. He drove it around the streets, waving at neighbors. Doing what he could to enjoy fresh air and sunshine and still stay mobile.

Thankfully the two sons who played golf with their Dad and took his phone calls every single day are alive and well and present in my life.

In 56 years of marriage, Burton and I experienced plenty of ups and downs, as readers of my first memoir and Oprah’s 5 million-plus viewers can attest. Heartache comes in many shapes and sizes. No one gets through a long-term marriage without scars But overall, on the four-month anniversary of my husband’s death, I’m grateful for the life we led together. For the family, the homes, the trips, the friends.

Burton not only cared for me, he took care of me. As a devoted believer in signs, I believe my husband’s soul is still looking out for me. In that spirit, I share the Godsign Burton left for me to see today. It’s small but significant: a tiny heart shaped mark on my kitchen sink.

For me, there’s no one who can fill Burton’s size 14s.

It takes as long as it takes.

As Queen Elizabeth II told the world after 9/11:

Grief is the price we pay for love.

Burt Farbman finds a creative way to connect from the Other Side

Suzy Farbman (second from left) and friends in Ascona, Switzerland. (Photo courtesy of Suzy Farbman)

I love to travel. But in recent years, my late husband’s health challenges, plus COVID, sidelined my passport.I’m happy to report my sea legs (air wings?) are back in action. I’ve just returned from a great trip to Europe with my sister.

While we were in Switzerland, Burton found an awesome way to let us know he’s still looking out for me.

Anne and I visited dear friends Eldean and Hubertus Hatlapa who have a vacation apartment in Ascona. I was delighted to see their cool new digs.

And even more delighted by a Godsign that occurred when the Hatlapas took us for a boat ride.

(Photo courtesy of Suzy Farbman)

We were cruising Lake Maggiore, a large body of fresh water surrounded by Alps, bordered by Switzerland on one side, Italy on the other. A single swan swam over to our boat and hovered beside us for more than a hour.

Eldean, who’s even more spiritually inclined than I am, said, “It’s Burt.”

“OMG,” I said, tears flooding my cheeks. “You’re right.”

Eldean brought out some wafers. We broke them in small pieces and fed them to the swan. He took each one precisely, biting the cracker, not our fingers.

We all know swans mate for life. They always appear in pairs. This graceful, white feathered animal was alone the whole time he circled the boat. He swam back and forth around the stern, as if looking for a way to climb up and join us.

I wondered why Burton chose to appear as a swan. I realized it was a perfect way to reconnect with the Hatlapas, whom we both adored and who love boats as much as Burton did.

I Googled swans. “If the swan is your spirit animal, you are a confident, determined, strong individual. You also have the potential to love deeply.”

Indeed he was and he did.

Later, I realized there was a second reason for greeting me as a swan:

Its shape. The letter S.

A Tribute to Burton Farbman, the Great Love of My Life, a Pillar of Detroit and a Patriarch to Our Family

A Farbman family dinner in 2008. From left to right at top: David and Nadine Farbman, Amy Farbman, Michael Towbes and Anne Smith Towbes (Anne is Suzy’s sister); and below, left to right: Burt, Suzy and Andy Farbman

The regular readers already know my husband Burton Farbman from countless columns over many years. On July 1, 2023, he died at age 80. This column is from the eulogy I shared for him:

Burton and I had the most romantic first date ever. We met on a blind date in January, 1966, my senior year at the University of Michigan. We were introduced by my roommate Vicki, then dating Burton’s best and oldest friend, Michael Kramer. Burton and I drove downtown to see the gloriously romantic movie, Dr. Zhivago. Then to Franklin Hills Country Club for ice skating on the frozen pond and—a first for my prudish self on a first date—our first kiss, initiated by moi.

We married in 1967. After renting a duplex across from Palmer Park, we lived in homes in Huntington Woods and Franklin. From our mid-50s on, we’ve spent winters at Laurel Oak, a great golf course community in Sarasota, FL. We spent summers in Charlevoix, MI—aka God’s Country. We’re blessed with dear friends wherever we’ve lived.

As with many long-term marriages, we’ve had our ups and downs. A major low point for me was being diagnosed with stage IV uterine cancer when I was 60. Burton was my incredible medical advocate. When I recovered, Burton—who always thought big and was generous to a fault—planned two surprise birthday parties for me on the same weekend. The first, at our home in Sarasota; the next night, in Detroit. For my Detroit surprise party, Burton included all the doctors and nurses who’d been part of my cancer treatment.

At my Detroit party, Burton did something else memorable.

A couple of months before my cancer diagnosis, I’d published a book about surviving a marriage crisis. I believed our story could help others. Burton was far from thrilled about the book, but he let me proceed. Our whole family appeared on Oprah in 2004. Maybe Burton agreed our story could help others. Maybe he just figured it was cheaper than a divorce. In any case, appearing on the Oprah Show was the media equivalent of Burton’s taking a bullet for me.

When my first book was endorsed by Oprah, I thought I’d receive dozens of calls congratulating me.

Wrong. Our phone went dead.

A few weeks later, when I was diagnosed with cancer, whoever didn’t call with our first crisis besieged us. We received so much support that Burton hired two college students just to answer phones, keep track of donations, and send thank you notes. God willing, in three weeks, I’ll celebrate 19 years cancer free.

At my second surprise party, Burton showed a video about me. In it, videographer Jeff Schoenberg asks about my first book, the one that deep-sixed our social standing. Burton says, “Well, Jeff, Suzy always wanted to write a memoir, but she thought her life wasn’t interesting enough.” Burton looks into the camera and deadpans, “I don’t expect you to thank me, Suzy. But I did it for you.”

Burton’s remark brought the house down. The ballroom erupted in laughter. For a subject that had caused whispers, eye rolls and radio silence, it broke the ice and helped everyone move on.

The way Burton handled my first book said so much about him. He was funny, gentle and loving when he could be; tough when he had to be. Many of you have seen him in action. He was a force in business and in activities he loved.

CNS lymphoma and brain surgery took away Burton’s adored golf game, his love of driving, his ability to cast a fly rod or shoot a gun or ride a horse. But it didn’t take away his love of our family or of gazing out at our beautiful farm fields up north. Or watching our grandkids jump on our in-ground trampolines or our sons’ bloody competitions at shuffleboard.

And it didn’t take away our love for each other. Burton was my husband, my protector, my provider, my best friend, my Jewish cowboy and my hero. In the last five years, supported by our adored aides Angela and Chris (and earlier, Fayez), Burton never once complained or moaned: why me? He worried more about family and friends than he did about himself.

I’m relieved this great patriot, patriarch, businessman, philanthropist, husband, family man and friend is no longer suffering. But I’ll miss him every day of my life.

Burton was a staunch supporter of Detroit and Detroit-made cars. He bought his first Cadillac at 29, and drove Cadillacs ever since. I’m glad the van that came to the farm to carry him to
eternity, by way of  Ira Kaufman, was American made.

Burton David Farbman, I’ll always love you. You gave me the courage to go for it in my career and the genes to give birth to two terrific sons who married two terrific women who produced seven terrific grandkids.

You were the wind beneath all of our wings.


When I concluded my eulogy, Temple Beth El Cantor Rachel Gottlieb Kalmowitz sang Wind Beneath My Wings.


Burton with Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, when a third tower was announced for Detroit’s Riverfront Towers. The towers became home to many Detroit notables, including Young himself, Aretha Franklin and Rosa Parks.

With developers Max Fisher (at the microphone) and Al Taubman at the opening of the third tower of Riverfront Towers.

Burton and our son David.

Burton and our son Andy.

Celebrating with our son David (right) on his 30th birthday in Charlevoix in 2001.

Burt loved entertaining kids with activities including hay rides at Timber Ridge

Burt was an avid photographer. He mounted two shows of his work as fundraisers for a branch of the YMCA, where he served as the Y’s first Jewish chairman, and for the Detroit Zoo, where he served as commissioner for over 20 years. This show was in 2001.

Burt riding his favorite horse TR.


The service can be viewed at the Ira Kaufman Funeral Home website.

Remembering Some of Detroit’s Most Amazing Women: Friends we’ve loved and lost stay with us forever

Julie Taubman standing in front of Detroit’s once-abandoned, historic Michigan Central Station, now becoming part of Ford Motor Company’s Detroit operations.


On a recent visit to Detroit, I walked the hallway to the terminal thinking:

I’m home.

Although we’ve spent most of the last 20 years in Florida or northern Michigan, Detroit remains home.  While it’s faced challenges over the years, it’s still a great place to be and be from.

The feeling started on the Delta flight. Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and wife Trudy were on the plane.  Trudy reminded me of the day in the late 1960s, when I was a columnist for The Detroit News.  I featured Trudy and Joyce Cohn and a couple of other fabulous ladies on the steps of the DIA.

That got me thinking about the fabulous women I’ve known in the D, many of whom I met as a journalist.  I wrote a list of remarkable Detroit women I’ve known, liked or loved, and lost.  And that exercise had me tearing up.  Lacking tissue, I was glad I paper napkins had accompanied my beverage.

I hope you, dear reader, have been privileged to know some of them.

I encourage you to write a list of your own.  Feel free to share it with me on Facebook.

Dynamic Detroit Dames I’ve been blessed to love and bereft to lose…

Florence Barron, an interior designer who was wired into the New York art scene. She complained of being old and infirm but rallied with zest when climbing stairs to artists’ lofts. I wrote the last profile on her during her lifetime. In the 1960s, Andy Warhol wanted to paint her portrait. Instead she requested he create a self-portrait.  She paid $1600, in four installments. In 2011, that 4-panel acrylic silkscreen was estimated to sell at auction for $20-$30 million.

Patricia Burnett, an artist who painted portraits of many Detroit VIPs.  Patricia was a runner up Miss America and the first woman to occupy a studio in the Detroit artists collective, the Scarab Club. She and Marj Levin started the Michigan chapter of NOW, the National Organization of Women. I attended their first official meeting.

Joyce Cohn, wife of then attorney and eventual senior US District Court Judge Avern Cohn.  A beautiful redhead and generous philanthropist.  With a razor sharp wit, Joyce bore her cancer diagnosis with grit and grace.

Dollie Cole, pretty, energetic and down to earth wife of GM president Ed Cole.  She helped Burton buy his first Corvette. She loved horses as well as horse power. Later in life she moved to a ranch out west.

Virginia DeVoy, owner of Julie’s, a sophisticated boutique in the Fisher Building.  Outspoken and funny, Virginia had great fashion sense and dressed the Grosse Pointe elite.  (Her sister, Ruth Ruwe, was one of them.)  When Virginia died, I wrote a poem about her.  The last stanza: “Now she’s up there with Coco Chanel/ Gossiping and raising a little hell.”  Ruth put the poem into Virginia’s casket, rendering Virginia and me friends for eternity.

Jackie Feigenson, owner of the Feigenson Gallery in the Fisher Building.  I developed my passion for First Generation Cass Corridor art by visiting Jackie’s gallery often.  She gave serious representation to Detroit’s first artistic avant-garde and won national respect for a few of them.  Jackie’s featured in my latest book, Detroit’s Cass Corridor and Beyond: Adventures of an Art Collector.

Shelley Golden, founder of SEE Eyewear. In an earlier column, I wrote about how Shelley Golden was a rock star to the multitudes who knew and loved her. This loss still smarts as Shelley died recently and, at 75, WAY too young. Shelley campaigned for funds for breast and ovarian cancer research.  Munching BBQ potato chips on her deck overlooking Round Lake in Charlevoix was one of the highlights of summer.

Suzanne Feld Hilberry. Though not a close friend, I admired Suzanne greatly.  Along with Linda Dresner, Marsha Miro and Julie Taubman, she started MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit). Their efforts were a big factor in gaining respect for Detroit on the international art scene.

Gertrude Kasle. I wrote about art dealer Gertrude Kasle in an earlier column. Owner of the Gertrude Kasle Gallery in the Fisher Building, she was gracious, beautiful, wise and well-connected with major artists of her day. She showed art history-making painters like Philip Guston and Helen Frankenthaler.  She convinced them to come to our fly-over state by promising to sell at least one painting. Often, she was the lone buyer. Gertrude gave Detroit-born artist Brenda Goodman her first significant gallery show. Brenda’s painting is on the cover of my book, Detroit’s Cass Corridor and Beyond.

Florence Knudsen.  Met her when her son was about to marry Judy Fisher Chrysler. The wife of Ford Motor president Seymour (Bunkie) Knudsen, Florence was gracious and classy but didn’t take herself too seriously.

Marji Kunz, fashion editor for both the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.  In the early ‘60s, Marji was an editor of Mademoiselle Magazine.  I entered their College Board competition and became a semi-finalist.  In New York that summer, I met Marji on a visit to Mademoiselle’s offices.  Though I dropped out of the competition, Marji remembered me several years after when I applied (and was turned down) for a job at the Freep.  She later called to alert me to a position which I won, as a correspondent for Fairchild Publications.

Marj Levin, a feature writer and gossip columnist for the Detroit Free Press who co-founded NOW, MI, with Patty Burnett.  A close friend with whom I attended writers’ conferences.  Marj wrote a clever, thinly veiled profile of someone we knew, intended for a national publication.  It was declined, and she submitted it to the Freep, forgetting to change details which identified her subject to those who knew him.  When the article published, the man she referenced was so mad he poured a water over her at their country club. When Marj lay dying of lung cancer, friends gathered at her bedside nightly for Vodka and Clamato juice, in which Marj also partook.  I still drink that cocktail, remembering my colorful, gutsy friend.

Lydia Winston Malbin.  A distant cousin and voracious early collector of modern art who helped develop support for modern art at the DIA.  When I was 16, my grandmother, Deborah Wilkus, took me to visit Lydia’s home in Birmingham, MI.  I was blown away by art hung floor to ceiling and covering every tabletop. Years later, as an adult, I was commissioned to write what proved the last article on Lydia, at her apartment in NYC.  Much of her Italian Futurism collection hung at the Metropolitan Museum.  She took my arm as we walked across Fifth Ave. and through one of the finest museums in the world, admiring a gallery hung with her donations.

Anne MacDonald Manoogian.  Sharp, funny, generous and an avid art collector, Anne was a dear friend.  Married to wealthy Grosse Pointe magnate Richard Manoogian, Anne befriended urbane DIA modern art curator Sam Wagstaff.  When he left the DIA, partly in disgust over the negative response to an earthwork he commissioned by Michael Heizer on the grounds of the DIA, Anne threw Sam the finest dinner party I’ve ever attended at her elegant home.  She moved to California and later married (and divorced) Detroit Lions player/sports announcer Wayne Walker.  She continued her interest in modern art, founding art magazine, Shift, which published my feature on Lydia.  Anne, also, died way too young, at 75.

Irene Miller, owner of Claire Pearone, a magical women’s fashion boutique at Somerset Mall in Troy, MI, for which I wrote ad copy early in my career.  I bought wonderful designer clothing at Claire Pearone, some of which I still own 50+ years later.  When Irene died, I happily purchased two small antique chests from her estate.  They still sit proudly in our Franklin living room and remind me of their tough though charming former owner.

Bea Solomon, an interior designer who collected modern art and created stunning homes in Detroit, some of which I covered while a design editor for Detroit Monthly.  Mother of Burt’s and my longtime friend Steve Solomon, Bea often lobbied me to feature her projects, and I did.  In so persuading me, she turned my name into three syllables.  See-uuu-zee!

Tavy Stone.  As well as serving as fashion editor of The Detroit News, wildly creative Tavy also wrote and directed skits for charity benefits.  When I chaired the Detroit Fashion Group, we honored Tavy’s memory by naming a fashion library for her at the Detroit Historical Museum.  In the early 90s, hot pants were the rage.  Tavy wrote about them in a poem I wish I’d thought of: “Unless your legs are perfect joys/ Hot little pants are for hot little boys.”

Anne Perron Spivak.  A supporter of contemporary art who owned works by Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns as well as Detroit greats Gordon Newton and Michael Luchs, Anne was an active member of the DIA’s Friends of Modern Art and a devotee of curator Sam Wagstaff.  She and Anne Manoogian, both Grosse Pointers, organized a benefit of the then outrageous musical “Hair” in Detroit.  Her daughter, Michelle Perron, carries on her mother’s legacy, currently serving as director of the executive office of the Kresge Foundation.

Julie Taubman.  I wrote a 2018 column about how Julie made the world a better place. A free spirit married to our friend Bobby Taubman, Julie used her connections and wealth to promote Detroit and its artists and to help found MOCAD.  Good friends with Elmore Leonard, Julie arranged for me to meet Michigan’s legendary author. She died WAY too young, at 50.

Other cities no doubt have produced amazing women of their own.  I can only speak for our town, and for my gratitude at having known the Dynamic Detroit Dames I mention here.  While my heart aches over their loss, each of them enriched my life.  That most famous English poet of the Victorian era, Alfred Lord Tennyson, said it best.  Better to have loved and lost.  Copy that.

Poetry captures the rewards and challenges of 56 years of marriage

“Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
For the straight way was lost.”
Dante Alighieri in The Divine Comedy

I’m amazed at how succinctly poetry captures the essence of existence. Though expressed in the 13th century, and though Burton and I are well past midway in our journey, Dante’s thoughts apply.

Almost five years ago, a brain tumor and surgery left Burton physically and cognitively  challenged. Hardly the retirement he envisioned– golfing daily with pals, later celebrating or bemoaning birdies or bogeys over bottles of beer.

As poet Robert Burns so aptly put it: “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men / Gang aft a-gley.”

Aft a-gley for Burton means rolling around the neighborhood in an electric wheelchair.  And watching the Masters and every other PGA tournament on TV.

Some days this injustice to such a good man really hurts my heart. On those days, High Noon cocktails help, though I dare not indulge at the hour for which they’re named. Writing about our travails helps, too.

Friends and readers know of my challenges. I’ve documented a marriage crisis and a cancer crisis in books. Writing Back from Betrayal and GodSigns gave some meaning to my suffering. Knowing these stories help others helps me as well.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I began meditating. 12 minutes every morning seemed a doable commitment. I engage in both a counting and a breathing practice. I finish with prayer, since life is scary. I take all the help I can get.

When my thoughts are too bleak to unload on  even the best of friends, I turn to my laptop. I have a new one these days. The B key on my old one stopped working—a strange coincidence.

I decided my new laptop deserved a name. I’m calling her Shirley, as in: This, too, surely will pass. My BFF Brenda’s adored mother-in-law was Shirley Rosenberg. My mother’s friend was Shirley Mopper. My friend is Shirley Piku. All good people.

So Shirley she is.

Thank you, Shirley, for hearing me out on my darkest days. For neither judging nor trying to help or fix me. For just listening. Sometimes that’s all I need.

The B in my life, with whom I recently celebrated our 56th anniversary, refuses to give up.  He works out with an upright walker several times a day and remains mostly cheerful. He spends time calling others to see how they are faring.

If Burton won’t give up, neither will I.

On his death bed, the poet Seamus Heaney quoted a Latin biblical passage to his wife: Noli temere. Don’t be afraid. We’ll continue trying to live by those words.

And if you, dear reader, are navigating your own dark woods, I hope you will, too.