Victoria Noe

Award-winning Author, Speaker, Activist




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

“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....

"You Could Write a Book About This"

"You Could Write a Book About This"
Feb 28, 2018 by Victoria Noe
My mother made that suggestion on Sunday, as I sat on the bed in her hospital room. A long-awaited doctor visit on Friday morning took an unexpected turn when a severe infection was discovered. We were sent to the ER across the street and she was admitted to the hospital for treatment.

Mom has read all my books. “You were always the smartest one in the family,” she insisted, though I did not agree. My parents always believed I could do anything, even when I didn’t believe it myself. She even knows some of the people in my books, including my friend, Delle Chatman, who inspired me to write in the first place.

It’s been almost 13 years since my father died...

"For They Shall Be Comforted"

"For They Shall Be Comforted"
Feb 21, 2018 by Victoria Noe
Beverly Review

When Ron Howard filmed Backdraft in Chicago in 1991, a call went out for extras. The funeral procession at the end of the movie required a couple hundred firefighters in dress uniforms to march down Michigan Avenue. It’s a powerful scene made more powerful by the inclusion of firefighters from around the area who offered their services. In fact, 5,000 volunteered.

So it was no surprise that when Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer was killed last week, his wake and funeral were full of men and women in uniform. The six-hour visitation, at Nativity of Our Lord Church, required a three-hour wait in line for those who came to pay their respects. Most of those people...

When Your Friend's Death is in the Headlines

When Your Friend's Death is in the Headlines
Feb 15, 2018 by Victoria Noe
Cmdr. Paul Bauer

I didn’t listen to the radio in the car as I drove back to Chicago from St. Louis yesterday, so it wasn’t until I turned on the TV that I saw the breaking news. A Chicago police commander had been shot to death downtown, in the state office building. There was something about a suspicious person, a robbery attempt, but no name given.

My husband was preparing for his organization’s annual meeting that evening when he texted, asking if I was home. When I replied that I was, he called to tell me that the officer was the commander he’s worked with for years, Paul Bauer. What had not been the best of days became...

A Winter Olympics Story within a Story

A Winter Olympics Story within a Story
Feb 06, 2018 by Victoria Noe

People love surprises. Well, I don’t, but that’s a different story. The kind of surprises I like are an unexpected twist in the plot of a movie or book. Sometimes the surprise is shocking, sometimes funny. And sometimes, it’s life-changing.

The Winter Olympics begin soon in PyeongChang, South Korea. Like most big sports events, human interest stories about the athletes are featured in the media. It’s a way of making a connection with these talented (mostly) young people at the height of their careers. Once you feel like you ‘know’ them, you’re more likely to tune in to their events and maybe others as well.

This morning I was reading an article about an athlete already in the...

Dead Friends in My Address Book

Dead Friends in My Address Book
Jan 24, 2018 by Victoria Noe
My address book

I have an address book. A real, honest-to-God address book. I’m not sure when I got it, but it’s at least 25 years old. There are tabs for each letter of the alphabet. Each entry includes lines for name, address and phone number. And it’s a mess. Sometimes I correct addresses and phone numbers, sometimes I just tear off the return address from their latest Christmas card and stick it in the front.

Recently, I had reason to go through my mother’s address book. She’s almost 89, and I was a bit surprised that she updated hers in a way I didn’t: she noted when a friend died.

I’ve gone through mine - mostly during the...

Old Friends

Old Friends
Jan 11, 2018 by Victoria Noe
The title of this week’s blog post is one of my favorite Simon & Garfunkel songs. I was a teenager when the song was released, and the old friends sitting on a park bench were not people I related to. They were...old. They were slow-moving. Nothing like me or my friends.

But time has a way of changing things. There are friends in my life who I’ve known for decades. Some have stayed in my life continuously. Others - and I think this is more typical - have moved in and out. But as I get older, those friends are the ones who have moved closer.

I’ve watched my 88 year old mother’s world shrinking as friends and family members die. But...

Not My Time

Not My Time
Nov 09, 2017 by Victoria Noe

I returned to the little hotel I’m staying at late afternoon on Halloween. Just as I walked in, an alert chimed. Before I could read it, the phone rang. It was my daughter, in London. That was odd. Since she left in September for grad school we only talked at prearranged times. When I answered, she was crying.  It took a couple minutes to figure out that she’d seen the alert before I did, though I was only a few miles away from what happened.

It was the terrorist attack in lower Manhattan, within sight of the 9/11 Memorial. That morning I’d chatted with someone from an organization that will be featured in my book. We discussed...

"Marked Herself Safe"

"Marked Herself Safe"
Oct 04, 2017 by Victoria Noe
Monday morning was not like most mornings. Like you, I awoke to news of the massacre in Las Vegas. I turned on my computer and logged onto Facebook, where I saw a post from my nephew:


“Marked Himself Safe” Safe from what? Is that some kind of joke? It was not a joke: he was in Las Vegas. Then a friend also posted, “Marked Himself Safe”.

But the person I first thought of, a friend of 18 years who lives in Las Vegas, did not post anything. She used to work on the Strip and goes to a lot of concerts. There was no post.

After 9/11, there was no easy way to find out if friends or family were safe. Phone and internet service was...

Inspired by a Friend's Death

Inspired by a Friend's Death
Aug 16, 2017 by Victoria Noe
It’s a great feature, isn’t it, when Facebook reminds you of a friend’s birthday? We all get caught up in our daily lives and sometimes we forget, so I’m all for anything that helps.  It didn’t feel so great last week, though, when it reminded me of Jo Stewart’s birthday. Jo died last year. Jo was the leader of my first writing group: poet, creative writing professor, force of nature. The group grew out of a life-story writing class because we got along and didn’t want to stop meeting. It lasted six years, until Penny died. The rest of us didn’t feel like meeting without her. The last time I saw Jo, at a holiday lunch for the second group she...