Victoria Noe

Award-winning Author, Speaker, Activist

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Grief

Making Plans for 2021: A Leap of Faith

Making Plans for 2021: A Leap of Faith
Jan 05, 2021 by Victoria Noe
If I learned anything in 2020, it was to be flexible. None of my plans for the year happened the way I thought they would. In fact, most of those plans evaporated in a series of heartbreaking emails on March 11. So, like many of you, I had to reimagine my writing business. The truth is that I hadn't set long-term goals; 6-12 months was as long-term as it got. That's on me. I had to ask myself some tough questions about my future, questions that took a few months to answer.

The bottom line was that I wanted to diversify my writing and writing business. I didn't want to be overly dependent on any one activity, whether it was public events or book sales. And that meant I had to learn new skills and upgrade the ones I already had.

Reflection on COVID-19 - More from Trudy James

Reflection on COVID-19 - More from Trudy James
Jun 05, 2020 by Victoria Noe
Trudy James

As I said last week, Trudy James is one of the most remarkable women in my book, Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community. Her advocacy and activism - in HIV/AIDS and the death and dying communities - was recently honored by AARP Washington. She had so much to say about facing a deadly pandemic, that I decided to share more of her thoughts. I hope you find them comforting, too.

  In addition to the “Speaking of Dying” film and workshops, I often give presentations, workshops, and consultations on the subjects of grief and loss. For many people this is new information. In these “Excited States of America” we have never...

Reflection on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Trudy James

Reflection on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Trudy James
May 29, 2020 by Victoria Noe
Trudy James

If you've read my book Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community, you were probably surprised by the story of Trudy James, a hospital chaplain in Arkansas in the late 1980s. I know her story surprised me, too! She is now a leader in the field of death and dying, as well as grief and loss awareness. In the first of two guest blogs, Trudy shares an email she sent out on March 30, not long after the lock downs began:

I was enjoying a long-anticipated vacation in Italy with my friend, Jane. We were visiting my son and daughter-in-law who were planning to live in Umbria (mid-Italy, not...

Passing on the Lessons of the AIDS Epidemic

Passing on the Lessons of the AIDS Epidemic
Apr 17, 2020 by Victoria Noe
Elizabeth Taylor, testifying before Congress

When I was writing Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community, I sometimes heard the voices of the women whose stories I was sharing. It was more of a feeling that they were in the room, reading over my shoulder. I’d had something very specific in mind when I began, but that idea changed, in large part because these women guided me. They made it a much better book.

Many of the women are no longer alive, so they don’t have to face another worldwide pandemic. But I realized that they and the ones still with us have a lot to say. 

Dr. Molly Cooke, on facing...

My Second Pandemic

My Second Pandemic
Apr 01, 2020 by Victoria Noe
wired.com

I’m not sure what the first trigger was. It might have been a picture like this one, medical personnel dressed in ‘space suits’ to remain safe from their patients.

It might have been the word ‘pandemic’.

It might have been ‘only certain people will get this virus, not me’.

It might have been stories of meal deliveries left on porches, or recommendations that counters and doorknobs be wiped down with disinfectants. 

It might have been a Republican president indifferent at best to the suffering of those whose lives he did not consider important.

It might have been the blame, the pointing fingers, the demonizing. 

It might have been the insistence of many people to carry on their lives as usual, no matter...

Remembering Absent Friends

Remembering Absent Friends
Nov 01, 2019 by Victoria Noe
It’s that time of year. The time of year when death and grief seem to be everywhere.

Yesterday was Halloween, when children and adults dress in costume, many as ghosts and skeletons. We sit in cemeteries at night, waiting for ghostly apparitions, or maybe just the Great Pumpkin.

Today is All Saints’ Day, when we remember the saints and their importance in church tradition.

Tomorrow is All Souls’ Day, when we reflect on the lives of those we loved.

Day of the Dead.

Guy Fawkes Day.

Lots of loss for one week, isn’t it?

Once again, I’m sharing information on a unique festival taking place the first week of November in Scotland: To Absent Friends.

Scotland has a tradition of storytelling, especially at this time of the year....

When Friend Grief Hits Home

When Friend Grief Hits Home
Oct 10, 2019 by Victoria Noe
There have been a lot of important stories in the news lately. So it was easy to miss a small story in late July.

Betsy Ebeling was a suburban Chicago woman whose death was noted because of who her best friend was: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Though the obituary made clear that she was loved and admired by everyone who met her, the friendship that began in 6th grade was the one that defined her in the public eye.

A few hours after this story broke, while I was making dinner, my phone chimed with an incoming text message. It was from one of my oldest and dearest friends. The text was about his health and was not good news. 

The details are not...

Friend Grief and Pride

Friend Grief and Pride
Jul 05, 2019 by Victoria Noe
 

This year was a special one: the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Some call it a riot, though there’s some debate about whether the resistance to yet another police raid at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969 fit that definition. But it was momentous.

It was a time when being arrested in a raid at a gay bar meant not only legal hassles, but the likely prospect of your name being reported in the local paper the following day. And since you were most certainly closeted at the time, that publicity could get you fired, evicted or worse.

The LGBT community has come a long way, so there was a lot to celebrate at Pride parades around the world last...

Another Celebrity Friend Dies

Another Celebrity Friend Dies
Feb 24, 2019 by Victoria Noe
I confess to being fascinated by the response when a celebrity dies. Few, if any, of those posting online tributes had ever met that person, much less counted them as a friend. But they still considered that person to be at least ‘like’ a friend.

When David Bowie and Prince died, the tributes went on for months. People shared their favorite songs and what the music meant to them. Some even changed their avatars, in honor. I suppose that was understandable: Bowie and Prince were superstars, well-known around the world, with long, ground-breaking careers.  So it surprised me this week when the death of a lesser star provoked almost equally strong sentiments.

Peter Tork was part of a 1966 phenomenon: The Monkees....

In Memoriam

In Memoriam
Dec 19, 2018 by Victoria Noe
Around the middle of December - and on awards shows throughout the year - various organizations solemnly share their list of prominent people who died in the previous twelve months. Often we forget about someone who died early in the year. We rate the list, using it to gauge just how bad a year it was. Some years the sense of loss is overwhelming. This has been one of those years, and not just for me.

My mother died in March, but I’m not alone in experiencing that kind of grief this year.

There was Peter’s father and Sandra’s mother. John’s mother and Sarah’s mother. Jackie’s father and Fred’s mother. Kathy’s cousin and mother both died within two weeks time.

My husband is...

Grieving a Friend After Another Midterm Election

Grieving a Friend After Another Midterm Election
Nov 07, 2018 by Victoria Noe
Delle Chatman

Twelve years ago today was a midterm election. The Democrats won both houses of Congress, as well as a majority of governorships and state legislatures. It was also the day my friend, Delle, died.

I knew it could happen any time. Her brother Gregory had emailed me that he was writing her obituary. She’d said her goodbyes and was surrounded by those she loved. Those who loved her comprised a much larger group, one too large to fit into her lakeside condo or even the ballroom of any downtown hotel.

I turned off my computer earlier than usual that evening, eager to watch the election returns, needing the distraction. So it was the next morning when I...

To Absent Friends

To Absent Friends
Nov 01, 2018 by Victoria Noe
Death and grieving occupy a very different place in society in the United Kingdom.

The first hospice was founded in a suburb of London in 1967. Bernard Crettaz hosted the first “Death Café” in Neuchatel, Switzerland in 2004, but the idea took off when Jon Underwood held one in his London home. In his words, the purpose is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’. I’ve hosted several myself in the Chicago area and can attest to the power of releasing the stigma of talking about death.

I’m not sure where I first heard someone offer “to absent friends” as a toast. It might’ve been one of those 1960s WWII...

You Can't Hurry Grief

You Can't Hurry Grief
Sep 12, 2018 by Victoria Noe
For some reason, a song made popular by both the Supremes and Phil Collins popped into my head: “You Can’t Hurry Love”.

 

I remember mama said, "you can't hurry love

No, you'll just have to wait"

She said, "love don't come easy

But it's a game of give and take"

You can't hurry love

No, you'll just have to wait

Just trust in a good time

No matter how long it takes.

 

It felt pretty obvious that the same thing applies to grief.

We grieve over many things: the death of someone we loved, the loss of a job or a home, the end of a wonderful experience, the breakup of a relationship. We grieve for the obvious reason that we loved that person or that time in our life....

Is Everyone Grieving or Is It Just Me?

Is Everyone Grieving or Is It Just Me?
Aug 01, 2018 by Victoria Noe
It started early last year, almost from New Year's Day.

Friends on Facebook posted news of the death of a parent or a sibling or a friend. And while I didn’t usually know the person who died, I found myself affected.

“Another one?” I’d find myself thinking when I logged online. This was much more than the stereotypical ‘death comes in threes’ that we can debate another time. This was every week. I stopped counting how many friends lost a parent last year, something that spilled over into this year. Since my own mother died in March, there have been more, including one this week.

You might say, “Well, we’re at that age.” And you wouldn’t be wrong. Statistically, people my age...

A Reflection on The Great Believers

A Reflection on The Great Believers
Jul 04, 2018 by Victoria Noe
Since Rebecca Makkai doesn’t need another rave review of her new book The Great Believers, I thought it more appropriate to share my reaction to her sweeping novel that links the AIDS epidemic in 1985 Chicago to the art scene in 2015 Paris.

When I heard it was coming out, I was less than thrilled. I was almost three years into the research and writing of a nonfiction book about straight women in the AIDS community. Although her book is fiction - and overall, one of the best novels I’ve read in a very long time - I was momentarily concerned. Not concerned: panic-stricken. Another straight woman from Chicago writing about the AIDS epidemic? What are the odds? After an hour...

Remembering the Dead, One Name at a Time

Remembering the Dead, One Name at a Time
Jun 28, 2018 by Victoria Noe
I was watching Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt  the other day. The documentary was made in 1989, when the Quilt was fairly new. It was still small enough - small being a relative term - to be fully displayed on the National Mall. Now the Quilt contains over 48,000 panels, each measuring exactly 3’x6’.

I moved on to a newspaper interview with a woman who helped make her son’s panel. She remarked that every panel, every name, represented not just someone who died from AIDS, but all the people who loved them. That’s true of other memorials.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also in Washington, was controversial when the design was first unveiled. A 21 year old woman, Maya Lin, daughter of...

Grief and Depression

Grief and Depression
Jun 06, 2018 by Victoria Noe
My late father used to say that there should be a psychiatrist on every corner and they should be free.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

To have easy access to mental health support and not have to worry about co-pays, referrals or limits on coverage?

Damn right it would be nice.

But would it be enough?

The death of handbag designer Kate Spade shocked her friends and fans. A privileged, talented, successful woman living on Park Avenue who suffered from depression and certainly was able to obtain quality mental health support died by suicide.

As with most of these deaths, we’ll never know what led her to that decision. While the family knew of her struggles, many friends are left recounting past conversations, searching for clues...

Memorial Day for the Friends Left Behind

Memorial Day for the Friends Left Behind
May 24, 2018 by Victoria Noe
Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery

The first funeral I ever went to for someone close to my age was 50 years ago this summer (and no, I can’t believe it’s been that long).

I grew up with Marianne and Ernie. Marianne was my senior big sister when I was freshman in high school. Ernie, her older brother, was studying to be a priest. I don’t remember why he left the seminary but after a year of teaching high school, he was drafted. A week after he arrived in Vietnam, he was reported missing. I remember arguing at my 16th birthday sleepover that surely he would be found alive, but that didn’t happen. A month later, his body was...

Rebooting Your Writing

Rebooting Your Writing
May 16, 2018 by Victoria Noe
I stepped back from most of my writing a few days before Christmas. That’s when my mother broke her hip and had surgery. In the weeks that followed, as she struggled through rehab, I, too struggled to write. I kept up my blog and my email newsletters (with varying degrees of success). But by the time she died March 16, I wasn’t writing at all. It’s been two months now, months where my only writing was limited to thank you notes,  filling out legal and financial forms and paying bills.

Because I’d been suffering from a recurrence of symptoms related to post-concussive syndrome, I checked in with my neurologist the week after my mother’s funeral. He’s a big fan of...

The Disadvantage of Writing About Grief

The Disadvantage of Writing About Grief
May 09, 2018 by Victoria Noe
                  thegiftofwriting.com

“Well, you write about grief, so this is…”

The woman at my mother’s wake didn’t finish her sentence. It just kind of faded with her shrug. She didn’t quite know how to get out of the hole she’d dug for herself. But I’m pretty sure the ending she was looking for was “easier for you”. I have to admit I didn’t offer her any help.

Many people who write about grief are trained, certified professionals. They’re psychologists, therapists, chaplains, counselors. For some of them, grief was what inspired their careers. The rest of us are not professionally trained. But we all have one thing in common: we experience grief....