Friday, September 28, 2007

Freelance Writer Linda Della Donna’s Griefcase: Helps Others through Grief and Loss

I had the opportunity to meet a prolific freelance writing widow this year when she became curious about my children’s book, Flying Hugs and Kisses. During our correspondence I learned that Linda Della Donna had also learned many lessons about grief and loss and is supporting others with her website, "Griefcase." I was also curious about her writing career and this is what she had to say:

Q: Hi Linda, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview. Let’s get started by learning how did you get started in writing?

I'd have to say it was my 6th grade teacher who gave me my start. One day Sister Mary Ancilla assigned a writing assignment: "Write a composition," she said, "Write a make-believe story."

Up until that day, I was just a kid in a sea of students the teacher didn't notice. That evening, I wrote about a turtle, gave it a name, a job, and an address. I didn't think anything about it at the time, except how much fun it was to pretend I had a friend, yes, I had a lonely childhood, and that I could complete a homework assignment without asking a grownup for help. The next morning, I handed in my assignment and forgot about it.

Imagine my surprise the following week when Sister Ancilla stood in front of the entire class and announced, "Linda! You're a writer." She read my work out loud, singing my praises. I'd have to say that was the beginning of my dream. Though it would be many more years before I answered the call.

I owe a lot to that nun. She instilled in me a little voice with a beat like an Eveready rabbit, drumming nonstop, which happily haunts me each time I pick up a pen to write something. Thanks to Sister Ancilla, when I got to high school, I had the confidence to apply to the school newspaper, become a cub reporter, report events, i.e., proms, basketball, football, hockey games, and gradually work my way to write feature articles, essays, short stories; In 1985, I entered a writing contest simply because a woman dressed in black once told me I was a writer. And, it was that same voice I heard whisper in my ear one evening, the evening shortly after my husband died, giving me permission to write Griefcase. It's fair to say, Sister instilled in me an unshakable writing confidence. Amazing. It can all be traced to a grammar school classroom more than 47 years ago.

Q: Do you juggle your writing with a job?

That's a good question. And it doesn't have a simple answer. For a long time I did juggle my writing with a full time job. Actually, I worked more than 21 years for a state agency, hating every minute of it, dreaming of the day I would one day write full time, never imagining it would happen. It was at age 50-something, I decided to take the plunge. I took a buy-out package, and left, taking online writing classes, attending writing workshops, writing, journaling, writing for local magazines, submitting essays to my local newspaper, working at getting my name out there, writing a YA novel, and memoir. Somehow, once again, life got in the way of my dream, and I was forced back into the work force, temping to support myself and my craft. At the moment, I'm on hiatus, working at my writing craft and my passion, Griefcase. I have every faith, it will all come together.

Q: What is your typical writing day like?

Nothing about writing is typical. Not for me. Sunday evenings, I write a weekly schedule. Or, try to. Monday through Friday, 9-5, are my office hours, with Wednesdays marked as field days. That's the day I run to the post office, scramble to the bank, grocery shop, walk the dog, feed the cat, telephone friends, run to Staples, Office Depot, Home Depot, paint the garage, rearrange the furniture in the living room, vacuum the bedroom, read the newspaper, watch paint dry on the bathroom walls, scrub the toilet bowl, yadda, yadda, yadda. You get the picture. Sunday evenings, I write a plan outlining what it is I must accomplish in my upcoming "typical" writing work week. Does it ever happen that I work 9-5, that I complete my plan? The answer is, hardly. Most days, I work past 5 p.m. almost always, I rise in the middle of the night, turn on a light, scribble some new idea on a scrap of paper, read, and edit something I've rewritten earlier in the day. So much for typical writing work day or work week. Lately, I've begun forcing myself out the door on weekends. I give myself permission to carry anything I don't complete in one week over to the following week, over and over again. Eventually, what must get done, gets done.

Q: What advice do you have for new widow writers?

Oh that's easy. First my sincerest condolences to every new widow out there going through the grief process. And believe me, it is a process. Next, take a step back. Take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Practice this every time you feel overwhelmed. And believe me, you will feel overwhelmed. Then, give yourself permission to cry, to laugh, to mourn, and to grieve any time, any place. There is no right way to mourn, there is no wrong way. There is just your way. And if you feel like crying, for crying out loud, do it. After that, fingerhug your pen. Keep what I lovingly refer to as a joy-nal. Set a clock timer for ten minutes, and write something. Anything your little healing heart wants to write. Go ahead. I dare you.

Q: What inspires or motivates you?

That's a beautiful question and it is my favorite. My late husband, Edward Louis Sclier, motivates me and inspires me. It was Ed who made me promise on his death bed to keep writing. "You have to keep writing," he said. "Do it for me," he said. And Eleanor Roosevelt, a favorite famous widow motivates and inspires me, as does every widow out there. Eleanor said it best, "We must do the things we cannot do."

Q: I love that quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. What favorite grief and loss book have you read?

I've read many books on grief and loss. I recommend 2: Joan Didion, "The Year of Magical Thinking" and "Good Grief," a novel, by Lolly Winston.

Q: Where do your writing ideas come from?

Everywhere. There are two types of writers--the writers who can't figure out what to write about and the writers that got too many ideas to write about. I fall into the latter category. It keeps me awake nights, my office is looking like a Collier brother resides here, and my right arm in a knuckle-to-elbow wrist brace.

Q: I understand you have written a book. How long did it take you to complete your book?

My book is yet to be completed. I make no apologies. It's in the works.

Q: Do you write other things besides widowhood themes?

Not lately. At the moment, it consumes 198% of my time, but I'm working on that, and managing to sandwich in some other stuff. I also write profiles, do interviews, and I am working on a memoir. Recently I started a new blog documenting and reporting on boating and travels in the Long Island Sound.

Q: Can you tell us a funny story about your writing?

Well, I just love writing with a pen name. When I meet someone new, saying that I am a writer isn't the first thing I talk about and rare is it I introduce myself as a writer to new non-writer people I meet up with.

Anyway, I happen to live in a townhouse. There are 94 other townhomes in my community and I have no idea who everyone is. Ten years ago, when I first moved into this community, I discovered a need for a newsletter and set about writing one. I had attended a board meeting where a huge argument had broken out between a board member who no longer resides in the community and a home owner who by now has probably moved out of the area. In any event, I wrote a piece reporting, as factually as possible, about an over-zealous board of directors who served my happy community. Keep in mind, this was a real event that actually occurred at a memorable board meeting best left to the imagination as to what actually transpired, but it did happen. The newsletter went out, and no doubt, it created a buzz. One afternoon, I just happened to be somewhere with my husband (who was alive at the time). We just happened to strike up a conversation with a couple we just happened to meet. Ed and I introduced ourselves, the couple introduced themselves, and what a surprise! We discovered that we were neighbors. The first words out of the other woman's mouth were, "Did you see that newsletter? The one with the article about the board? I hate that writer."

Q: Do you have a favorite children's story?

Yes. My all time favorite children's story is "The Wizard of Oz" by Frank L. Baum. I love the analogies and theme. My favorite line, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." For me, all of life is a journey. It isn't about the yellow brick road, or the end of the rainbow, but the people we meet and the friends we make along the way.

Q: That is so true, life is a journey. Any advice for parents on helping children through grief?

I would recommend to parents of children going through the grief process to seek outside counseling. After that, hug your children, sit with them, let them know you are there for them. Don't force them to "get on with life" or to "get over it." Children's feelings are important. And they need to know you are there for them. Greet them each morning with a smile; feed them, even if it's dry cereal and milk. Sit and eat with them. Be an ear. Reassure them in every way, that you will always be there for them and that you will always love them.

Q: What do you do when you are not writing?

Well, I am happy to report that I have come full circle in my grief process. I have started dating. And recently, I have made a new friend. It only took me 3 years, 4 months, 5 days to do that. But, hey, who's counting? My new friend has a boat and I love going out on it, learning about boating, adventuring the beautiful sites of Long Island Sound, meeting new friends, and snapping pictures for a new blog I created documenting my new adventure. You can learn more about this widow's new adventure at www.enchantressIII.blogspot.com

Q: I will definitely have to check out your new adventure blog. Have you published any of your writing?

Some of my work appears at www.ezinearticles.com, The Journal News, Westchester Parenting, www.lieurancegroup.com. I like to tell readers, just google my name.

Q: Would you like to share anything about yourself or your family?

I am proud parent to my 32 year old son, George, and I adore my made-to-order daughter, his wife, Colleen. I make my home 20 miles north from where the World Trade Center use to be with my small dog, Izzy and his little cat, Tux, and I love that I can say that I have a boyfriend.

Q: Do you have a favorite place to write, meditate or relax?

Grand Central Station is a favorite writing place of mine. I love to people watch, to sit with a notebook and pen, and scribble any thought that pops into my head. The days I can't make it into Manhattan, I visit a local donut shop, coffee shop, train station, park bench, or library and write there. Some days, if the sun is out, I spread a blanket on the sands of Rye Beach, pop a beach umbrella, and listen to waves crash to shore and scribble there.

But, most especially, I love my new office, the one I stripped naked of furniture, it once was my den, plastered and painted the walls, re-carpeted the floor, and decorated with pieces of furniture scarfed from other rooms in my home. It is a real office and I like that I created it. It has a view of the sky, a court yard, Monarch butterflies, robins, bluejays, and chipmunks, and today, two mourning doves squatted on a ledge and watched as I edited this interview. Hmmmm. I also have a grand view of Tux perched atop a gas grill. Whenever he feels he wants to be let back in the house, he peers through the window, blinking two green eyes, and meows. It sets my heart on fire and awakens the muse in me every time.

Q: Any advice for writers about promoting their writing?

Network, network, network. And when a talented, bright, witty, funny, experienced, wonderful, beautiful writer requests an interview, say yes!

Q: What is in your future writing plans?

I have many projects in the works. Highest on the list at this time is work on Griefcase Incorporated, which is paramount. I can't wait to have www.griefcase.org out there for all the world to see. It is my goal to send the message to women and individuals going through the grief process, that we're not alone, to unite us, and to provide a forum where ideas and information can be exchanged. I plan to complete my memoir, Ed Edward Eddy.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?

A favorite quote of mine: And sometime when I wasn't looking, I got a new life.

Q: Getting a new life has its rewards. Have you won any writing contests or awards?

I'm proud to report that way back in 1986 I won a local writing competition. My true story, "The Year That Christmas Waited" won first prize. A copy of it is matted and framed and hangs proudly on a wall in my new office. Also, in 2003, my flash fiction piece, "Red Soup" placed 2nd in an online writing competition. The news took me off guard, and I recall emailing the person in charge of announcing the competition results, a polite thank you and the question, "Please tell me more than two people entered this contest."

Q: How have you juggled your children's grief and loss needs with your own grief and loss needs?

It's hard to do that juggle thing. All of griefwork is. But as a mother, I realized my children needed to know that I was strong. I sent a message that they were important and that I would always love them and that I would always be here for them. It is important to show by example to be strong, that when we smile, the whole world smiles with us, and when we cry, we cry alone. Being strong demonstrates the legacy to carry on under the worst of conditions, that if I can do it, anybody can, and it raises the bar to carry on no matter what.


Thank you, Jewel, for the honor and privilege of this interview. I look forward to reading more about you and the good work you do.
Best wishes for every continued success.

~Yes indeed our family legacy is what we are making whether we realize it or not, our children and grandchildren will carry a part of us with them. Thank you so much Linda for the wonderful insightful interview. I wish you all the best in your grief work support and writing endeavors.

Linda Della Donna’s interview was written by Jewel Sample, MS
Award-winning author of Flying Hugs and Kisses (2006), also translated: Besos y abrazos al aire (2006, Spanish edition) and Flying Hugs and Kisses Activity Book (2007)

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