Surviving Holidays



Some Thoughts on Getting Through Holidays & Other Special Days                                (and maybe even learning to enjoy them again)


Holidays are a difficult time for families after the death of a loved one, and that’s probably especially true when the death has been within the last year or two. While other people and families are looking forward to the holidays with happy anticipation, those of us who know someone will be missing look forward to the holidays with apprehension.

I’ve noticed that each year, the announcement of an upcoming holiday starts earlier and earlier. It’s September and the Christmas items have already appeared at Costco. Months before Thanksgiving, porcelain and paper turkeys, and other Thanksgiving themed items are already in the stores. We haven’t taken the first bite of the Thanksgiving turkey before the Christmas music starts. Hearing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” being sung over and over again can feel like a knife twisting in our hearts. One grief facilitator I supervised used to sing, “It’s the most miserable time of the year,” and we would all knowingly smile and nod.

It’s not just Thanksgiving and Christmas. There’s Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or any other holiday, anniversary, birthday or event your family celebrated that will never be the same now that your special person is gone.

My experience and that of others is that the weeks and days leading up to the special day are often worse than the actual day. You don’t even have to consciously be thinking about the event for it to have an affect on your mood. Many people don’t understand why they are on edge, sad, or weepy until they look at the calendar and realize an important day isclose.

Following are some suggestions to help you through the holidays and other important annual events.  I wish I could promise my words will magically make any pain disappear. I can’t make that promise, but I hope some of these thoughts will help you feel less alone and better able to face the day.

  • CRY. Give yourself permission to cry. Crying is not mandatory and may not be your way, but if they start, simply let the tears flow. Tears are nature’s way of helping us heal. They are not a sign of weakness or “falling apart.” I think that when we “fall apart,” we are, in reality, beginning to “fall together” again and have started on the path of healing and growth.
  • NEEDS. Let others know what you need. You don’t have to do anything or go anywhere or be anything that forces you to pretend you are feeling better than you do. Some people will understand and some won’t. Cherish those who do understand and forgive those who can’t because they just don’t know better.
  • TALK. Talk to your family and decide what you will do and what the day will look like. Will you have the usual dinner? Will you go out instead? Who will take care of what tasks? By talking to each other, you are bringing the family together and strengthening a sense of family unity. You may decide to go on as you always have or to travel some place where there are no reminders. The important thing is that you and your family communicate.  Together, you can make this day special in innovative ways as you establish or renew family rituals.
  • REMEMBER. Allow time to remember the person who is gone. You can plan a memorial or create your own special way to celebrate his or her life. Light a candle, choose inspirational readings, plant a tree, and share memories. There are books on rituals or you can create your own meaningful way to remember the person you love.
  • GIVE Consider purchasing a gift you would have given to the person who has died and give it to a needy person or to a charity. The best tribute to your loved one is to share the love you would have given them with someone else. This is one important way in which you can give meaning to the life of the special person who’s gone.
  • NURTURE. Nurture yourself. Rest and eat balanced meals. Avoid sugar and alcohol because they tend to exacerbate emotions by throwing our brain and body chemistry off balance. You may want to walk in nature, ride your bike, participate in a sport you enjoy, allow yourself extra time in bed, take a long leisurely bath or shower—do whatever you find healing.

I want to remind you to be very gentle with yourself and with your family. Holidays and anniversaries may be anticipated with dread, but if planned and time allowed for the grief and sharing of memories, you might find some of your tears turning into joy and laughter.

The holidays and other special days will be different, but you do have an opportunity to create new rituals and memories that can eventually turn those days into something you might actually look forward to and celebrate once again.


                                           Last Christmas dinner with my mother

Ten Proven Tips to Ensure You Never Write (or Publish) Your Memoir

Ten Proven Tips to Ensure You Never Write (or Publish) Your Memoir


Many of us say we want to be a writer and publish our memoir. But do we really? If everyone who wanted to be a writer actually wrote, all those want-to-be-writers would be authors or at least know they had completed the book they always professed wanting to write. One thing is for sure, if you don’t write, you will never become a published author.

I remember the decades when I told anyone who would listen that I wanted to be a writer. Wanted is the operative word. I was like the brain surgeon Marion Roach Smith wrote about in her seminal book, The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing Life. “When someone tells me that he is going to become a writer when he gets around to it, I reply, ‘And what do you do?’ And sometimes he says, ‘Oh, I’m a brain surgeon,’ and that’s my favorite reply. Then I can say, ‘When I retire, I’m going to become a brain surgeon.’”

During those years of not writing a book, I learned a lot about how to be a successful writer-want-a-be, or should I say, writer-not-really-want-a-be.

So, assuming you’re not ready to write, let me assure you that you are not alone and there is no reason to berate yourself. Instead be proud to know you have accomplished the one thing you’ve been doing anyway: not writing, completing, or publishing your memoir. I want to help you succeed. Try my time-proven successful tips so that you no longer feel you have failed.

1  Don’t start. It’s easy. That’s right. Don’t pick up a pen and paper or sit at your computer. Not starting is the easiest to accomplish of all my tips. Takes no effort at all. In fact, the point here is to make no effort. If you don’t start, for sure you’ll never write a book.

2 Find every excuse you can think of to keep you away from writing. Your electronic devices are excellent excuse providers. Make sure all those pop ups on your computer, tablet, and phone are working so that you never miss a tweet, Facebook post, instant message, news bulletins from every paper on the planet, email, Instagram, or phone call.

You must have daily household chores. Everyone has laundry or grocery shopping to tend to. And what about your real job, your partner, or your kids?

Your home is also an excellent resource. Is your apartment or house too small and you don’t have a space of your own where you can write uninterrupted? Ray Bradbury, Pulitzer prize winning author of such best-selling books as Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes wrote in his bedroom and living room in his small house with family members “talking all the time.” Please don’t let this inspire you.

Remember: Procrastination is your friend.

3  Wait for the muse.  Waiting for the writing muse, or inspiration to appear before you write is a great strategy. She will never come because the truth is, the muse needs to know you are serious – you must show up and write. Only then will the muse, filled with ideas and inspiration, appear. You can’t be like the little kids who argue “You go first.” “No, you go first.” You have to start. But please don’t do that. You must remember Tip 1 if you are ever to accomplish your goal of not writing a memoir.

4  Wait for Ideal CircumstancesTell yourself you must wait for the right computer, right desk, right time, right mood, or right idea before you can write. Perhaps you need your planets to be in alignment or Mercury out of retrograde. Feel free to add your own ideas to this list. Whatever it takes to keep you believing things must be a certain way before you can write. Pay no attention to the words of E.B. White, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” If White had waited, he never would have written Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, or The Elements of Style.

Since your goal is not to write, please pay no attention to White’s words. Wait for perfection.  

5  Keep believing you have more time.  This is a strategy I mastered. I personally used this tactic and watched three or four decades of my life disappear without doing more than writing starts of stories and a multitude of pages full of my thoughts and feelings. Had a serious car accident in 1994 proven fatal, I would have succeeded in never writing or publishing my book.

Feel free to take your chances that illness or an accident won’t intervene before you achieve your goal. Maybe you’ll get lucky, but that’s not something you can count on. Time is a gift and none of us knows how much we get or have left. But since your objective is to not write your book, remember to not carpe diem.


6  Worry about what other people think.  Instead of imagining your story, focus on the imaginary reader who will hate what you’ve written. Scare yourself by contemplating all the agents and publishers who will reject your work. Visualize the bad reviews should you make it to publication.

If you write your memoir, you’re bound to offend someone you know. Keeping these people in the forefront of your thoughts will assure your ability to write is comparable to attempting to speak with a thick wad of cloth stuffed in your mouth held there by a wide strip of silver duct tape.

If you want to write, forget everyone else. It is your story and you can’t worry about anyone else. After you’ve finished, if you feel you’ve said too much, or it reads like a “gotcha” tale,” you can always edit.

However, because your goal is to not write, please, keep everyone else’s opinions uppermost in your mind as you attempt to tell your truth.

7  Believe your first draft must be perfect and beautifully written. According to Anne Lamott in her best-selling book, Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life, “writing is often about making mistakes and feeling lost…. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” Lamott advises, “Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance,” because “perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.” According to Lamott, all good writers write shitty first drafts.

Remember to ignore the idea that everyone writes shitty first drafts. Realizing you can expect a lousy first draft may be what you need to know in order to give yourself permission to join the authors who write shitty first drafts and have published fabulous books.

8  Trust Your Inner Critic.  I would bet your inner critic has been with you for as long as you can remember and is more than willing to gather a lethal strength as you strain to write your memoir.

Two sure-fire ways to assure that your inner critic will stay with you, grow stronger, and continue to sabotage you is to (1) believe every nasty thing she says, and (2) get mad at her. When you judge the critic, the critic gains strength. The critic is a judge and “judging the judger” adds kindle to the fire. If you want your inner critic to succeed in keeping you from your goal of writing, please read no further.

If you want to write, here’s a secret I learned: you must make your inner critic your friend. Your inner critic is brilliant, creative, and discerning. When you ask for her help, you turn her into an ally who enables you to determine when your work is going well and when it needs changes.

Understanding how to work with your inner critic is crucial because she is toxic when you are creating your first draft and helpful when you’re editing.

But I digress. You don’t want to write your book, so please, forget what I just said, and instead, believe your inner critic and allow her to keep you from writing or finishing your book.

9  Don’t take writing classes, hire a coach, or join a writing or critique group.  Never join a writing group or work with a coach. Why would you want to waste your time honing your craft and learning the elements that go into creating a good memoir? Being part of a group will result in your producing actual pages, which would surely sabotage your efforts to avoid writing and completing your book. We know you don’t want that, so please, do yourself a favor, save yourself the time and money.

10  Don’t read books: memoirs, novels, or anything on the craft of writing.  Why would you want to take away from your invaluable not writing time in order to read someone else’s work? If you have spare time, wouldn’t it be better spent watching TV or texting friends? Although the ability to identify a well-written book doesn’t necessarily make you a good writer, reading will help you to understand why you liked a certain book or what made it popular.

If you insist on reading, let me offer a few (out of the numerous) books I could recommend for your consideration:



Paul Auster, Winter Journal

Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home

James McBride, The Color of Water

Alice Sebold, Lucky

Dani Shapiro, Slow Motion: A True Story

Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle



Pat Conroy, Prince of Tides

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird

John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath

Donna Tartt, The Secret History


On Writing:

Lisa Cron, Story Genius

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir on Craft

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Linda Joy Myers, The Power of Memoir

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Sue Williams Silverman, Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir

Marion Roach Smith, The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life


Now that you have all (or most) of the tools you need, you may now go through life and never write your book. Simply tell friends and anyone you meet that you’re “writing a book.” They will be impressed and you will have saved yourself from the hard and often agonizing work of writing your story.

I could say, “Now go forth and don’t write,” but by offering you these oppositional tips, I hope you understand and appreciate the creative ways you have stopped yourself from achieving your goal. After all, you wouldn’t be on this page if you didn’t want to learn about writing and finishing your memoir.

I know it’s an arduous trek, but as a published author (The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life), I can tell you that it is more than worth the effort. To be a writer, you must write, and to become a decent writer, you must be willing to work hard. Good writing demands practice.

I encourage you to keep learning and to keep writing, and, as Winston Churchill so famously said, “Never, never, never, never, never give up.”


This article first appeared on Marion Roach’s website:








His Former Mistress

I’m certain every woman has a story about an “interesting” date or experience with a man.  Here’s one of mine that I thought would be fun to share. I’d love to know your story.


His Former Mistress


Virginia A. Simpson


He approached me as I waited for the service department to bring me my car. I don’t remember his name. It happened long ago. I was 30, which also was a long time ago. He wasn’t classically handsome. He was sophisticated, blond, and I assumed in his late 40s. Having recently ended a relationship with a much older man, late 40s didn’t seem too old.

He spoke with an accent. He wore a light suit. He was impeccable, the ideal image of an upper class European gentleman.

He invited me to join him for lunch the next day at Jimmy’s. More interested in seeing Jimmy’s, the hottest new Century City restaurant, I agreed.

Jimmy’s was elegant. We sat at a table for two in the middle of the restaurant. I learned a valuable lesson. Never order cracked crab on a first date or when you’re wearing a silk blouse.  Impossible to eat with finesse and, as was typical for me and silk, impossible not to stain.

The gentleman was brilliant; the conversation stimulating. I had never been mentally challenged to this degree and found him both invigorating and intriguing. Our conversation was mental volleyball. I liked stretching to stay alert and keep those intellectual muscles flexible and strong.

We agreed to go out the following week on a Tuesday evening. I gave him my phone number.

About an hour before we were scheduled to meet, my phone rang. It wasn’t him but an officious sounding assistant. I was in the kitchen tethered to the black cord (this was long before cordless or cell phones), my movement restricted to pacing back and forth between the refrigerator and sink like a caged panther. I ignored the twist and turn warning of my stomach trying to tell me to cancel the date. I disregarded the off-putting nature of the call with the demands and attitude­—the arrogance behind the words—and agreed to be ready at the allotted time.

He took me to The Bistro Gardens, a charming restaurant in Beverly Hills, another place I’d always wanted to go. We sat next to each other at a small table for two, which allowed us an unobstructed view of the dimly lit dining room.

The first red flag arrived soon after we ordered our drinks. “How old do you think I am?”

I shifted in my seat. “Forty-seven?”

“I’m in my sixties.”

Oh, geez, not another man 30 plus years older than me. Ever polite, I responded, “No, you can’t be that old.”

He reached into his interior suit pocket, pulled out his driver’s license, and put it in my hand. Sixty-three!

“What’s your secret? How do you stay looking so young?” Who doesn’t want the answer to the Fountain of Youth?

He said something about being Swedish and getting shots of sheep urine or something equally disgusting when he went back to his country.

Before I could catch my breath, red flag number two. “When we were at Jimmy’s my friend saw you and said you looked just like Paula, my former mistress.”

My muscles tightened but I maintained control over my facial expression. He didn’t wait for my response.

“You know, Ver-geen-ya, you have a rough sophistication, which I’d like to help you smooth out. I can set you up in apartment and we’ll travel all over the world.”

I thanked him and declined the offer. Ever the good little girl and wanting more of the mental stimulation I’d experienced at lunch, I told him I wouldn’t mind if we were friends and saw each other on that basis.

I thought he agreed since we went ahead, ordered and ate dinner, had dessert, and then he drove me home.

Because of my naiveté and belief that it was the polite thing to do, I invited him in for coffee when we arrived at my front door.

While we were seated on my loveseat, the only piece of furniture in my living room, I reached over to my right to pick up Time magazine to share an interesting article I’d read. When I turned back, there he was. There he was! Penis pulled out, rubbing his shaft up and down.

In an unrecognizably high cartoon voice, I heard myself squeak, “Can you put that back?”

“Veer-geen-ya . . . look what you do to me,” he said each word timed to the movement of his hand.

“I didn’t . . . I don’t do anything!” I jumped off the couch. “You need to leave.”

He tucked everything back where it belonged and headed to the front door. Once he was the outside, he turned towards me. “Will you go out with me again?”

“I don’t know…I don’t know,” I stammered, focused only on getting him to leave.

“Well, make up your mind. It’s now or never.”

I found my voice. “It’s never,” and with those words, I slammed the door.

It wasn’t until I called my girlfriend and told her what had happened that I realized I had been in a dangerous situation and was lucky to have gotten out unscathed.

And that, my friends, is my most interesting date.

I don’t recall his name. His former mistress was Paula.

Brandon’s Gifts

A Father’s Story of Love


Robert R. Burdt


There’s a hole in my heart and a wondering that will never leave, and yet, I have had a great life.

His name was Brandon, and he was my son, my first child, the one who made me a father. This was his first gift.

Brandon died on Good Friday, April 13th. He never lived to see age two. His birth was the happiest day of my life, and every day for the first six months, my heart expanded daily as I watched this sweet, good-natured baby smile and blossom.

With little warning, everything changed and when we took him to the doctor, we learned he had an incurable heart defect. My joy turned to fear and a sadness more profound than I’d ever known or could have imagined. As I fought to save my son’s life and make every day of his life the best it could be, I also discovered a courage within myself I didn’t know existed. That was Brandon’s second gift.

We never gave up trying to save his life. Brandon spent the days, weeks, and months prior to his death in and out of Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California. When he was home, we had to drain the fluids from his lungs every four hours to keep him comfortable. I experienced every grimace of pain with him. Those times when he felt well, his contagious smiles and giggles brightened my days. This was his third gift: he taught me that when life is going well, celebrate and don’t hang on to yesterday’s pain. Maybe his real lesson was that pain teaches us to celebrate any chance we have to experience happiness.

Brandon died thirty-seven years ago and as I write this, my body shudders as it recalls those days and nights I spent helplessly watching my baby suffer as his life was being stolen. Until Brandon became ill and died, I had never experienced grief. Grief was just a word, something that happened to other people. Once he was gone, my grief felt like I lived in a barren forest destroyed by fire. No beauty to be seen no matter where I looked—just total, unrelenting devastation. Being a man, I was expected to stay strong, and while I could pretend to anyone looking from the outside, inside I was a shadow of the man I’d been.

When Brandon was undergoing treatment at Children’s Hospital, my wife and I didn’t want him to be alone, so one of us was always there. The hospital had no accommodations for us or other parents, so I would spend each night sleeping under his crib so I could remain close to him. Unfortunately, for reasons known only to them, many parents I met were unable stay with their children.

Although my grief was all-consuming, I believed Brandon’s life had to have meaning beyond the still unimaginable fact that he was gone. I got together with a few other parents I’d met when we were at the hospital and together we decided to raise money for a home so that parents would have a place to stay close by. There were many fundraisers, and meetings with hospital executives and local businesses. Getting involved and knowing I was doing something to help others helped me cope with my grief. My forest was devastated but I began to see new trees and flowers and hear the birds singing. This was Brandon’s fourth gift: he added meaning and purpose to my life and to the lives of many others.

Brandon gave me the gift of fatherhood and love, and his courage enabled me to reach out to others, knowing it was more important to do something which would honor Brandon’s life rather than sink down forever in a hole. I wanted the joy of his life to mean more than the pain of his loss. Brandon lived and because he did, I learned to celebrate life whenever there’s an opportunity, and to be a better father to my two sons who never knew their older brother.

I will always miss Brandon, but because of him, I learned compassion, love, and how to listen to others when they are hurting without having a need to fix, judge, or change. That was his fifth gift: he made me a better man, husband, father, and friend.

These were Brandon’s lasting gifts: Live with joy, laugh often, be kind, show compassion, focus on what’s good, love with all your heart, and celebrate life as often as possible.


Neither A Borrower Nor A Lender Be

Neither a borrower nor a lender be ~ William Shakespeare


First and foremost, I want to say how much I appreciate everyone who has read, liked, and reviewed The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life.

Early on, as a newly published author, I felt humbled and honored when people told me they loved my book so much that they’d lent it to a friend.

A year later, my reaction has changed and I’d like to tell you why.

Do you know what authors get out of you loaning your copy of our book to your friend?  The answer is this: We get nothing.

For the most part, the person you lent the book to never lets us know how they felt about our book and never writes a review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, or their blog.

Financially, we earn nothing from that loaned book.

Please keep in mind that writers have a lot invested in their book in terms of time and money. And the only way we are able to recoup some of our outlay is by book sales.

While we authors appreciate your good intentions in loaning our book to your friends, please understand that this is our business and we prefer you not give our work away.

That is, unless you plan to send it to Oprah Winfrey or someone of equal fame, and then, by all means, please do send your copy. I’ll be happy to reimburse you for the shipping costs.

In Honor of Our Fallen Soldiers – We Remember

At the rising sun and at its going down; We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter; We remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring; We remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer; We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn; We remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends; We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as We remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength; We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart; We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make; We remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share; We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs; We remember them.
For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as, We remember them.

Local author receives national recognition trough the INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD


Contact: Virginia A. Simpson/(760) 774-4992/

Local author receives national recognition through the INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD®!​

El Dorado Hills, CA — The INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD recognized The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life by Virginia A. Simpson in the Relationship category as the winner and can be seen here:

The competition is judged by experts from different aspects of the book industry, including publishers, writers, editors, book cover designers and professional copywriters. Selected award Winners and Distinguished Favorites are based on overall excellence.


As a Bereavement Care Specialist, Dr. Virginia Simpson has devoted her career to counseling individuals and families grappling with illness, death, and grieving.  But when her own mother, Ruth, is diagnosed in 1999 with a life-threatening condition, Virginia arranges for Ruth to move in with her—and is caught off guard by the storm of emotions she experiences when she is forced to inhabit the role of caregiver. In The Space Between, Simpson takes readers along for the journey as she struggles to bridge the invisible, often prickly space that sits between so many mothers and daughters and to give voice to the challenges, emotions, and thoughts many caregivers experience but are too ashamed to admit.


Described as “A beautiful, searingly honest book,” The Space Between “offers a testament to love’s enduring and transformative power throughout our lives and in our closest family ties.”

“In 2017, we had worldwide participation, from London to Australia, from Portugal to Hong Kong, and are so proud to announce the winners and favorites in our annual INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD. Independent publishing is alive and well, and continues to gain traction worldwide,” said awards sponsor Gabrielle Olczak. For more information please visit: and to see the list of Winners.



About the Author

Virginia A. Simpson, Ph.D., FT is a Bereavement Care Specialist and Executive Counseling Director for hundreds of funeral homes throughout the United States and Canada. She is the Founder of The Mourning Star Center for grieving children and their families, which she ran from 1995 to 2005, and author of the memoir The Space Between (She Writes Press, April 2016) about her journey caring for her ailing mother. Virginia has appeared on numerous television and radio programs. She holds a Fellowship in Thanatology from the Association for Death Education & Counseling (ADEC) and has been honored for her work by the cities of Indian Wells, Palm Desert, Palm Springs, and Rancho Mirages. She lives in El Dorado Hills, California with her husband Bob and her Golden Retriever Shelby.


Social media links:

Twitter: @drginni12

About Independent Press Award

The INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD is a global competition judged by experts throughout the book industry including publishers, writers, editors, book cover designers and professional copywriters. Winners and Distinguished Favorites are chosen on overall excellence. For more information and to view all the books awarded winners and distinguished favorites, please visit:

You have received this email as a result of your connection to Dr. Virginia Simpson or

If you have received this email in error, please respond to to be removed or to be added for additional notifications. In this 2017 competition, the Independent Press Award has seen books pour in from across the globe this past year.  To learn more, please visit our website

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