Starting Over

I’ve been trying to figure out how to start this post all day. And I couldn’t come up with a good idea, so bear with me.

Many thanks for the countless emails, comments, and cards you’ve sent in the last couple of weeks. The love and support are very much appreciated. 

I’m not ready to write very much about the last week of my mother’s life. I don’t know if I will ever be. But I am comfortable saying this; being able to care for her as she died, being a part of the gathering of our family, and honoring her wishes to die in dignity and at home was one of the most profound experiences of my life. 

Hospice does not sweep in and take care of everything. Hospice provides medical oversight and guidance, and an hour or so of care a day. But because of the Oswego County Hospice program, my mother got to die on her own terms. Her last week was filled with flowers, grandchildren, friends, the music of Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, and Henry Mancini, and wet kisses from our dog, the Creature With Fangs. And ice cream. Lots of teeny-tiny tastes of ice cream.

There was one moment I’d like to share with you. After my mother died, I removed the oxygen tube that she had worn for the past six years and turned off the machine that provided her oxygen. My mother suffered for decades and died much earlier than she should have because she smoked cigarettes for nearly her entire adult life. (She quit the day the doctors put her on oxygen 24/7.)

When I was a kid I was angry at her for smoking. Watching her struggle to breathe as she got older, the anger melted into compassion. My heart goes out to anyone fighting their addiction to cigarettes.

If you are thinking of quitting, please do it today. If you fail, try again tomorrow. And the day after that and the day after that – as many times as it takes. You deserve the ability to breathe deep, to walk with your children and grandchildren, to take ten steps without stopping three times.

If you don’t smoke, for the love of all that is holy, do NOT start. Cigarettes are not cool or hip or remotely wonderful. They are a tool designed to steal money from your wallet and kill you…. but kill you slowly, breath by breath, so the cigarette industry can extract as much profit as possible from you.


OK, I wrote more than I had planned on. Thanks for listening.

Joyce Holcomb Halse

This has been two weeks filled with emotion, gratefulness, pride, compassion, and comfort for Laurie and her family. Joyce completed her journey on June 14, 2009.

Joyce spreading joy during a family holiday celebration.

Joyce, with her furry grandchild, The Creature with Fangs, the only person that Joyce requested in her final days.

After a lengthy illness, Joyce Holcomb Halse passed away peacefully in the company of her family on June 14, 2009. She was 78. Joyce was born January 8, 1931, in Plattsburgh, NY, to Harry Walton Holcomb and Peg Mason Holcomb. She was named Plattsburgh’s most beautiful baby in a contest in 1932. She graduated from Franklin Academy High School in Malone, NY, in 1948.

She married Rev. Frank Adams Halse on June 7, 1952. They lived in Boston for a few years, in addition to numerous places in Central and Northern New York. They celebrated their 57th anniversary last week. In an article written about their 50th anniversary in 2002, they both noted that though Frank’s ministry required them to move frequently, their lives were "never boring" and neither would have changed a thing.

In 2005, they moved to Mexico, NY, to be closer to their daughters and grandchildren. Joyce worked as an executive secretary, personnel manager and store manager for Wells & Coverly from 1968 to 1982. When her husband retired from the ministry, they moved to Brandon, FL, and Joyce took a job working for the Hillsborough County School System. In the years before her retirement, she worked for the school district’s Tech Prep Consortium and their Kids & Canines program, in which at-risk students worked to train service dogs.

A descendent of Mayflower passengers, Joyce embodied those Yankee virtues of integrity and unflagging strength in the face of adversity until the last day of her life. She is remembered by many friends and former students from Syracuse University, where Frank was the Methodist chaplain,as a loving and hospitable second mom. Joyce and Frank stayed in close contact with many friends and family from their years together and, until her illness prevented it, made annual trips up and down the East Coast to visit with them. Joyce was especially fond of Maine, due to her love of lighthouses and fondness for loons.

Joyce is survived by her husband, Frank Halse; her daughters, Laurie (Scot) Larrabee and Lisa Halse Stevens; grandchildren, Ryan, April and Tiffany Stevens, Stephanie and Meredith Anderson, and Jessica and Christian Larrabee; and great-grandchild, Kegan Merkeley. She is also survived by Scot and Laurie’s German shepherd, Kezzie, of whom she was especially fond and who gave her great comfort in her last days. She was predeceased by her sister, Joelle Holcomb Skinner, and son-in-law, Calvin Stevens II.

A private service will be held for immediate family, and at Joyce’s request, her ashes will be spread on family property in the Adirondacks. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Adirondack Cooperative Loon Program, PO Box 195, Ray Brook, NY 12977. Condolences may be sent to PO Box 906, Mexico, NY 13114.

Daughter Number One (bookavore) has found a new calling in capturing the life of loved ones. Laurie will be retreating to her garden and her soul for a period of time. Your love and thoughts are all appreciated and graciously received.

Office Mouse and Queen Louise will be here to assist you in Laurie’s absence.

playing catch-up

I will be using today’s subject line a lot in the next four months!

Life is busy – good busy. I am so incredibly blessed to have all this fun stuff to do! Right now most of my time is spent working on the new book (it’s a historical that continues the adventures of the characters introduced in CHAINS). My goal is to get the first readable next to my editor my early next month. The tentative publication date is the Spring of 2010.

I’m also gearing up for the crazy CHAINS book tour that starts on 10/21. I’ll be posting more details about that soon. Counting a few events before and after the actual tour (NCTE/ALAN and a couple of bookseller trade shows), I’ll be spending 40 days on the road, and visiting 27 cities (in several places, I’ll be in town for two days). I am a little overwhelmed by the thought of this, but mostly am so excited that I am giving off sparks.

And there is the very advance publicity work I need to do for WINTERGIRLS, my YA that will be published in May, 2009. I hope that the WINTERGIRLS book tour will cover some of the regions of the country (i.e. West Coast) that I won’t be seeing on the CHAINS tour.

Oh – and the other thing about next year? Next year is the tenth anniversary of the publication of SPEAK. More details about any festivities later.

This afternoon is the big meeting with the folks at my mother’s rehab facility spa to discuss her discharge date, and that is the most exciting news of all. She had gotten back much of her strength and is beginning to walk with a walker. If they leave her there much longer, she’ll reorganize the facility, so I suspect she’ll be home soon. Thank you everyone for the prayers and warm wishes. They have meant a great deal to our family.

The sad thing is that I’ve been so busy that I haven’t been able to can as much food as I had hoped, and my garden is showing signs of neglect.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic But my pumpkins are comfortably resting on their cozy beds of shredded manuscript draft.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic And my Beloved Husband has finished splitting and stacking almost 25 cords of wood to heat the house this winter. (You can’t see it from the photo, but the stack extends to the far wall of the garage.)

What have you been up to?