Finding Sustenance, and Moving Forward, in a Time of Grief

You sustain me.

Whether it’s macadamia nuts and honey from Hawaii; cranberry skin care from Maine; gift cards from Texas, Maryland, and beyond; or a homemade meal and a handwritten card, your love lifts me up and gives me strength.

The loss of a loved one, in my case a spouse, is one of life’s most challenging curve balls. But when you factor in a missing daughter, too, the grief can become unbearable. I’ve known since the day she was born that Jocelyn was different, just as a mother recognizes every facet of each child’s individuality. It was that uniqueness that led her to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, to enroll in theatre, and later, to forge her own path as a healer, going into inner city neighborhoods to help everyone she met. My grief for my daughter has been unfolding for years now. It’s like that familiar, albeit somewhat scratchy, sweater you grab to stave off an early morning chill.

But the grief for a spouse is different than that of a child, especially when you don’t get to say goodbye. When time and distance and life separate you in ways you simply cannot overcome. People say the happy memories will sustain you. But what if the unhappy ones more readily come to the fore, threatening to suffocate you with anger and sadness?

Quite simply, it’s a choice. You can choose—I can choose—what I think about, what I ponder and pray about, what memories will hold a place in my heart. Whether for my husband or my daughter. And it took a greeting card with a quote from Oliver Wendall Holmes to remind me of that.

“I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving,” Holmes said.

I’m standing in this moment of grief, wearing widow’s weeds, but moving only forward. Never back. I know I was a good wife, who saved her husband’s life at least four times: when I paid for his quadruple bypass surgery; when I ordered his orthopedic team off his case, for refusing to acknowledge that a beet-red foot with an open wound was the cause of his raging bone infection and demanded they treat him immediately; and when I insisted he let me drive him to hospital, because I suspected he’d had a stroke. (He had.)

But the most recent incident was in 2015, while I was still recuperating from bilateral knee surgery, and my surgeon had not even released me to drive yet. When Butch didn’t come home from taking our beloved Labradoodle for a drive, I called him—and heard the strain in his voice. I had tried to convince him to go to the doctor throughout the weekend, but he refused. So on that Monday I was worried, and while working on another book deadline, I waited 15 minutes, then 20. When he failed to answer my repeated calls or return my texts, at the 30-minute mark I grabbed my car keys and drove around town looking for him.

I found him in the Dunkin Donuts’ parking lot, hands gripping the wheel so tightly he couldn’t let go. One side of his face drooped, and he couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. I yelled for someone to call 911, and then finger fed him sugar, placing it on his tongue. By the time the ambulance arrived, his blood sugar was 28. People have died with higher levels than that—and he nearly did. Would have, had I not gone looking for him.

The bone infection happened in February 2014, after he fell and broke his leg. I was in the middle of filming an episode for the Dr. Phil Show and facing a major deadline for Pretty Little Killers. Butch was hospitalized for the better part of a month, so I set up camp just outside his room, where I could keep an eye on him through the connecting window. Armed with my laptop and several notebooks full of materials, I interviewed people from there, and took care of him, too, all while meeting my deadline. There’s a reason they say you never leave someone you love alone in a hospital. And I didn’t, wouldn’t.

You haven’t left me alone since Butch died, during the last 50 days. You have given me cinnamon cake and carried homemade cavatini to my door, pruned my flower garden, taken my calls and taken me to lunch, or just bought me a cup of coffee. Many cups of coffee. You chauffeured me when I couldn’t drive, opened your homes to me, and in one case you drove four hours round-trip, just to loan me some money—showing the kind of self-sacrifice that is crucial to surviving grief.

Your personal gifts, your written expressions of love, sympathy, and encouragement, continue to buoy me, and will in the days to come. Yet I know I can never repay you. Not entirely. So I will do what I can, and thank you—from the bottom of my heart.

Editor’s Note: My website is being revamped, and more changes are in the works. So I hope you’ll pardon the mess and be patient, as I iron out all the kinks.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

“You’re Going to Sell a Million Copies”

That’s some powerful positive thinking going on, and it’s what one reader told me in a message a couple of days ago. Oddly enough, I woke up this morning feeling the same way, that belief having taken root in my brain. I sat up in bed and realized that today is the day Shatter the Silence comes out. Yay! So today is going to be amazing. I’ve never sold a million books before, and I can’t wait to see how that feels!

Maybe it’s the power of the story that has bouyed me with that belief. When writing Sister of Silence, the first book in what is now a series, I thought of it as a book for women. But then men began writing to me, thanking me for writing it. For helping them to “be a better man,” as one man put it.

Shatter the Silence is a love story, so that places it in the romance genre, but since this book is a true love story, it’s also memoir. And guess what? Men are loving it! That’s almost unheard of, when it comes to romance. (So I’m told. Not sure if I believe it.) But this book is about a police officer who worked as a deputy sheriff, when I was a news reporter at my first job. I know we live in a time of great mistrust when it comes to law enforcement, and I understand that, but I think this true story will help restore your faith in the men and women who walk the thin blue line.

Maybe I believe this book will sell a million copies because of something Sarah Rosier Nora posted on my Facebook page this morning. “Readers, get ready to laugh, cry, and fall in love all over again. You’ll root for the real couple in SHATTER THE SILENCE!” Sarah works in a library and reads a lot of books, so she knows a good book when she sees one.

I also believe selling a million copies can happen, though, because in less than one hour—at 10 a.m. (EDT)—almost one-half million people will be talking about this book. That’s when my Thunderclap campaign for my newest baby goes live—thanks to you. All of you, on Facebook and Twitter, who shared and asked your friends to support it. All I had to do was ask for your help, and you gave it. Not only did we meet our minimum goal, we exceeded it! Thank you so very much. YOU are spectacular! And I am so grateful. I truly do love my readers, because you give me something to strive for—that next story. Which I write for you. With much love!

I also love everyone who helped me get this book out the door. And cannot thank you all enough. I hope I remembered you all in the acknowledgements section. If I didn’t, please let me know and I’ll do that in the next book. You’ll be joining a long, long list of folks, too, because I’m thanking everyone by name who took part in the Thunderclap campaign.

It’s a beautiful day here in Morgantown, West Virginia. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the weatherman promises it’s going to be semi-warm (What can I say? This is WV, where it could snow tomorrow.) If you want to read a good love story, I’ve been told this is it. Get your copy today!

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══ SYNOPSIS ══

Shatter the Silence is the romantic and long-awaited sequel by New York Times Best-Selling Author Daleen Berry. The sequel to Sister of Silence, Ms. Berry’s 2011 breakout memoir about surviving abuse, Shatter the Silence is set in 1990s Appalachia.

This romantic memoir weaves accounts of the true crimes Ms. Berry covered while working as a news reporter with details of her divorce, her ex-husband’s ongoing harassment following their divorce, and finally, her love affair with the police detective who became first, a colleague, then a friend, and ultimately, the man who helped save her life.

══ CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR ══

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Shatter the Silence Book Cover Arrives!

Drum roll, please, for my newest book cover!

If you’ve read Sister of Silence, you might recall that I ended my memoir on a cliffhanger. I promise, it was not intentional. Many readers later wrote, asking what happened after I left “Eddie”—because I simply didn’t say. I was so focused on the positive outcome of having escaped that I failed to outline what happened next. (And since, as statistics show, many women who leave abusive men often later return again, no doubt readers wondered if I did that. Suffice to say, I did not. #WhyILeft)

Shatter begins in 1990 where SOS ends, after I took my children and left Eddie. I hope it answers all your questions. Here’s a synopsis of what promises to be a great departure from the normally dark themes I write about:

Shatter the Silence is the romantic and long-awaited sequel by New York Times Best-Selling Author Daleen Berry. The sequel to Sister of Silence, Ms. Berry’s 2011 breakout memoir about surviving abuse, Shatter the Silence takes place in Preston County, West Virginia.

This romantic memoir weaves accounts of the true crimes Ms. Berry covered while working as a news reporter with details of her divorce, her ex-husband’s ongoing harassment following their divorce, and finally, her love affair with the police detective who became first, a colleague, then a friend, and ultimately, the man who helped save her life.

Readers will weep as they learn about the collateral damage Ms. Berry and her four children sustained, following ten years trapped in a violent marriage. They will cheer when they see her refusal to live the rest of her life as a victim, and will be overjoyed when Ms. Berry realizes she has, as a single mother of four at the age of twenty-seven, fallen in love for the very first time. Finally, Ms. Berry’s loyal fans will be moved by the tender, intimate moments she shares, as they join this award-winning author on her journey to love and healing.”

You can pre-order Shatter the Silence through Smashwords, which distributes books to places like Apple iTunes, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and elsewhere. (Sister of Silence is also available at these locations.)

And if you order now, Shatter is only $2.99. But right after its May 7 release, the price goes up to $3.99.

* * * *

My fifth book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, was released November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Crossing Another One Off My Bucket List 21 Years Later

Which story shall I tell you first? The one about how I almost broke my neck taking a tumble from the balcony onto the theatre seats below? Or how it felt to peer up at the underbelly of a jet airplane performing a very low-altitude landing few feet above my head?

This 10-day cruise on the Grandeur of the Seas, one of the vessels targeted by the Centers for Disease Control, and which its passengers nicknamed the “Norovirus ship,” was number 21 on my bucket list. Why 21, as compared to a more general number like 20 or 30? Maybe that’s the logical place to begin.

Once upon a time, there was a bridegroom. I left him standing at the altar in 1995, one week before the wedding—after realizing that no, seven combined children did not us the next Brady Bunch make. He gallantly offered to let me take the cruise alone, but I declined. I had my four children to tend to, and solo sailing didn’t seem wise. I’ve been waiting ever since to walk the gangplank.

Instead, I later ended up studying aviation and getting my private pilot’s license. Which is a great segue into the airport story.

Which came first, the runway or the beach it abuts? I don’t know, but either way, tourists from around the world flock to Maho Beach on the tiny island of St. Maarten. (Maybe it’s a Dutch thing, since the airport is technically governed by the Netherlands, rather than France.) It offers the bold and fearless a feat unlike any other: the chance to be blown into the ocean whenever exhaust fumes from a jumbo jet scorch the faces pressed into the fence behind it.

I wasn’t there long enough to experience that personally, but I did see a little FedEx courier plane take off. And I’ve watched the YouTube videos since then. Trust me, not nearly as exciting. I did stand underneath a Boeing 747 on its final approach to Princess Juliana International Airport, named Number 11 on the “Most Insanely Dangerous Airports Around the World” list. And yes, it was exhilarating. More so for the fellow in front of me, who had an even better view. But still.

For sure, this is not something my flight instructors ever let me do.

Incidentally, our tour guide told us the story about how he once led a little, old man of 80 to that same fence. The fellow was as excited as a child with two fistfuls of candy. Afterward, he said he’d waited decades to cross “feeling the fierce heat of the jet blast at Maho Beach” off his bucket list. It was all he’d dreamed it would be.

I admit, it did rank up there in the “experience of a lifetime” category, far better than the famous Sarafina’s café and bakery, which boasts delicious French pastries and a clean restroom, as well as a rude and rushed French wait staff.

Labadee, Haiti

Among the ports I visited—San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private Haitian island—snorkeling at Cokie Beach at St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands was my favorite adventure. Even though I could have tumbled over backwards and perhaps drowned in the rough waves, if not for a local named Bob who suggested I remove my flippers and then led me into the water. There, he offered his arm while I donned them again, followed by my snorkel mask. Hands down, it was best day of my 10 days at sea, and I will forever remember swimming with entire schools of beautiful, shiny fish as they wove to and fro amidst the coral reef.

Of course, all that snorkeling worked up quite an appetite, so afterward I ate Nemo for lunch. He was fried and lathered with homemade hot sauce. The side dish? Johnny cakes, a delicious fried dough known as a local culinary delight. It was well worth abandoning my gluten-free diet in West Virginia just to dine on that one meal. (If you ever make it here, skip the fast food and ask Charlotte at Sun Seekers how to find the fried fish and Johnny cake hut. Charlotte is sweet and helpful, and the food will not disappoint.)

With its brightly colored buildings and rich history, San Juan was lovely, too. Except, after disembarking, it took more than an hour to find a taxi. The hot Caribbean sun made the outside wait unbearable. So I walked most everywhere, and stumbled into Mejunje PR, a friendly family-owned wine bar that features delicious, homemade steak empanadas and fabulous mojitos. And their baños was super clean and clearly decorated by a wine lover. While there, I was serenaded by some local musicians who sang off the cuff, which washed away the frustrations of waiting for a taxi that never came.

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

* * * *

My fifth book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, was released November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

The Return of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang and Other Big Surprises!

News Flash!!!

I have lots of exciting news to share, but first I really need to apologize to my readers, for keeping you waiting all this time. I have a good reason, several really, why I couldn’t get myself back to blogging, but to be honest, they’re just wimpy excuses. Because when you can, and do, crank out a book in just under three months following major surgery, as I did with Nancy Styler’s book, Guilt by Matrimony, what are a few bumps in the road, in comparison?

Those bumps include being unhappy with my agent’s representation, and, in particular, the portrayal of this latest (my fifth) book on the new TV show “Crime Watch Daily.” That led to a bout with the winter doldrums, which came in October—when it was still warm and sunny, and nary a dark cloud in sight. It was pretty depressing.

A friend was fooling around and came up with this spoof of a book cover for my Vintage Berry Wine columns. I love it!

Until I sucked it up and did what I do best: I began networking. I reached out to everyone I thought could help me and began interviewing them. People at the major TV networks, author friends, people in the publicity world, and so on. I also Googled the problem, and feel so much more empowered now. Especially since there’s a book here somewhere, probably fiction, maybe self-help, for other unwitting authors—even bestselling ones like me—down the road. Time will tell.

Around this same time, I also became ill. In part from being stressed and depressed, but also from the fragrance and chemical sensitivity I fight every day. Then, as if an earache wasn’t enough, my dentist had to place a crown on my lower left molar. My mouth was open for four hours for that visit alone. By the end of the week, I had more pain. Not less. Over the course of the next two weeks, I developed a nonstop headache and pain radiated from my left ear all the way to my throat, which only ended after two more visits to the dentist, a root canal, and a prescription for meds to help relax my lower jaw. I couldn’t talk much, so many phone calls went unanswered. Eating was also a problem, so I sipped soup.

With all of that, you might think it’s been two terrible months. But guess what? It wasn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact!

Because that’s how I choose to view it. I could look at all the negatives, but if I did, where would that get me? Instead, I choose to focus on the positive—because that’s what works! That’s why I’m where I am today, instead of someplace worse.

For instance, while feeling too glum to write much of anything, I reached out to a dear family friend who lost a loved one in death. Turns out that my visit to her home renewed a friendship that had long since withered—but which was as healing to me as it was to her. If not more so, because by giving, I received exactly what I needed, at just the right moment. And that friendship has the potential to bring even more beauty and healing to both our lives and to those around us, as time goes on.

A smile, and a child’s love, makes the coldest day warmer.

I also looked for light and peace in the small places, finding it in the face of Haiden, a little preschooler I have fallen in love with. She is such a joy to be around: polite and well-behaved and smarter “than your average bear.” Haiden is, quite simply, adorable. She is just what I needed to take my mind off the stressors in my work life.

I caught up with some other long-time friends from the law enforcement world, and came away with the certain knowledge that sometimes issues are not as clearly defined as we might believe. Also, there are two sides to every story, but unless we know the backstory, understanding the current topic at hand will be difficult. So, from that visit came another potentially huge project for 2016. It’s timely and perfect for today’s police-phobic and Black Lives Matter society. I think it will garner a lot of attention when I roll it out next year.

Last weekend, while studying topics like blogging and time management and leadership, Diane Tarantini and I came up with a brilliant brainstorm. It may be the biggest idea either one of us has ever had. (In case you’re a new reader and you don’t know Diane, she’s a wonderful writer and blogger whose very presence inspires everyone she meets. We’ve been collaborating for some time now, honing each other’s writing and marketing skills.)

Leslie Pietrzyk, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, Diane Tarantini, my partner in crime, and me

The idea for this new and top-secret project—which is so hard for me to keep under wraps, my fingers long to tap out the letters right now—was born during our Saturday session. By 3 p.m. Sunday, we called it a wrap. The beauty of this secret? It. Was. So. Much. Fun! There was nonstop laughter (and coffee, since Diane is the java queen!) as we created this amazing new media. We hope you love it as much as we do, when we roll it out right after Christmas.

Now, I’ve saved the best for last: I finally searched through all of my old yellowed clippings and my gazillion computer files. I was surprised to realize that I began working on a compilation of my Vintage Berry Wine newspaper columns in 1995. That was four years after I left the Preston County Journal, and should tell you how long ago my children began begging me to compile their childhood stories into a book. Now, those stories will be available in book form before 2015 ends.

I hope you’ll share this news with your loved ones—and keep coming back for more of the insights I learn and share with you here. I promise next time I won’t leave you hanging for so long.

* * * *

My latest book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, was released November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

West Virginia Author Seeks Help Finding Trilogy, Her Timid and Temperamental Cat

Three weeks ago I was preparing for vacation when my daughter Courtney dropped by. She had agreed to watch my baby while I was gone. “I’ll keep her in my office,” she said. “There’s no other animals in there, so she’ll be fine.”

My baby, nine weeks old

Trilogy is almost two. I fell in love with the furry ball of tricolor fluff when I saw her Facebook photo, posted after she was dumped along the side of the road from a cooler. I got her from P.U.R.R. right after she’d been spayed and micro-chipped. She was nine-weeks-old. Trilogy was rarely exposed to people’s pets—so she doesn’t much like other animals. She’s been an indoor cat since then. The wildest creatures she’s ever seen are those pesky stink bugs that find their way into every home on the East Coast. Kept indoors to protect her from fleas, feline leukemia, and errant cars, she’s calico in color and temperamental in nature, and usually only allows two people to pet her. I love being one of them.

I learned about the fire Saturday when Courtney told me that she and her family came home from dinner Friday night to find flames dancing against the night sky—and inside their house; how she unsuccessfully hunted for Trilogy; how the fire department volunteers fought and finally extinguished the blaze; how she left her office door ajar, in case Trilogy came out of hiding and needed an escape; how the fire later rekindled, burning down what was left of their home; how the room where Trilogy had been was, by then, no more than ashes.

She apologized. I told her it was okay. I was simply glad she, her husband, my grandson, were all safe. Then I went to my book signing at The Market Common Barnes and Noble. The next morning my friend and I cut our trip short and headed home. That was Sunday and after several Facebook friends suggested doing so, Courtney said she would set a live trap in case Trilogy did escape. Without saying why, I asked for a photo when she did.

Uh, no, she didn’t exactly like her regular vet trips, which included being spayed and micro-chipped as a kitten.

When I arrived back in Morgantown early Monday afternoon, a family member accused me of only wanting cat-trap pictures “for my audience.” Which was more than a tad unfair. First, I don’t feel like I have an audience. I have readers—readers who are my friends—and friends who are my readers. And although I grew up in rural Preston County, where I chopped wood and carried far more than my fair share of coal in those old rusty, five-gallon buckets, I wasn’t and never have been a farm girl. I am, though, a visual person who likes to see objects so I can fix them in my mind—especially ones I’ve never seen. (Until Tuesday, when I saw an online photo of a live trap, used to catch feral cats.)

With all the talk about setting live traps, all I could see, in my mind’s eye, was my six-year-old self, watching a cardboard box with a string tied to one end, propped up on its side under a tall pine tree after I begged my dad to catch a bird I saw hopping around. (I caught the bird, too, much to my delight and my dad’s surprise.)

As most cat owners know, the best “trap” for a cat is a brown paper bag. It was the sight of a bag that brought me to tears—an empty Cracker Barrel bag lying on my dining room floor that Trilogy often played with. Heartbroken, I cried for two hours Monday, as I thought about the cat who would jump all over a room, trying to catch sunbeams or houseflies, if they were about; who loved putting her paws up on the edge of the bathtub while I bathed, or vaulting herself from the toilet onto the sink to watch me in the water, as she seemed to contemplate jumping in herself; who never, ever missed the litter box unless she was sick; who would occasionally drape herself on my desk, her legendary long whiskers or bushy tail trailing onto my keyboard as I tried to type; who could jump halfway up a door to try and catch those little red laser beams I loved teasing her with, and who made me laugh with wonder when she turned over on the floor like a dog, paws in the air, waiting for my foot to rub her exposed belly.

I woke up ill Saturday morning and the two-day drive home from vacation was exhausting, so I practically slept from Monday night until Wednesday. Didn’t go outside until that afternoon, when a friend drove me south, down Bird’s Creek Road to Route 92, then left onto Route 50 east, where I hoped I could somehow entice Trilogy to come out of hiding. York Run Road, a narrow country lane at best, was passable, but still had mounds of snow piled up along its edges. And Courtney’s place was nothing but a sheet of ice, made so by the gallons and gallons of water from the firefighters. Courtney showed us where to place the items I brought along: some canned cat food, a shirt I slept in, and a container full of liquid.

We walked carefully to the handicap ramp that once led to the front porch. Built for my 14-year-old grandson, Grizzly, who defies that term in every way, the ramp remained intact in spite of the fire. I opened the lid of the Betty Crocker plastic can. Looked at the yellow liquid inside. For once I was glad my sinus infection had rendered me unable to smell. Unlike my cat, I hoped. Someone told me, you see, of lost dogs who made their way home after their owners left some of their own urine in a trail of sorts for the canines to find. Since Trilogy’s home was in Morgantown an hour away, and because she had never been to Courtney’s home before, she would need my scent to help her find her way. That’s what we surmised, anyway.


So before my friend picked me up, I peed into the frosting container and poured a little on the blue shirt, just in case, packing it all up in a sack. There was more than enough of my pee to cover a small patch of grass under the ramp, so if Trilogy was nearby, she had to recognize my scent. I hoped. Then I opened some canned cat food and left it on the blue shirt for her.

After I returned home Wednesday afternoon, I saw icicles creating a translucent crystal sculpture as they spiraled down into a black hole. It was the best shot ever and when I looked through my iPhone lens, Trilogy, my bashful calico cat, appeared in the hole, clawing her way up the ice. I dropped my phone and began chasing Trilogy on the ice-covered ground.

Maybe she will pick up my scent and find her way home, an hour away.

That’s when I opened my eyes—to the wide-awake reminder that finding Trilogy was no more than a leftover remnant of my nap. But that’s what made me return to York Run Road yesterday, where I drove along about 12 miles an hour, three miles up and three miles back, windows full down, heat set on high. “Here Trilogy, here Trilogy, kitty, kitty, kitty,” I called. All the way up. All the way back. Stopping every now and then and hoping that maybe, just maybe, I would see her come running in my rearview mirror.

I don’t give up easily. After all the amazing stories I’ve heard this week of lost and injured pets that make their way back to loved ones, I have to believe Trilogy will return home. Maybe, like that stray cat in the movie Sweet Home Alabama, a little singed and worse for the wear, but ready for her next life.

* * *

NOTE: Trilogy went missing from York Run Road, between Newburg and Fellowsville, in Preston County, W.Va., but she lives in the Greenbag Road area of Morgantown, near Sabraton, so she may show up anywhere along the way. This includes Route 119, the Kingwood Pike (near her vet, Dr. James Minger), the Gladesville Road, or even Route 7. I am happily offering a reward for her return.

* * *
I have four books. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

West Virginia Writers: We Came, We Saw, We Wore Red (And Won Contests!)

We live at a time where one might wonder if books are going the way of the dinosaur. Not because there’s a shortage—I can’t imagine when there was ever more of a book glut than now—but because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to eek out a living writing them.

That’s me, speaking at the panel session about “Pretty Little Killers,”
at the 2014 West Virginia Writers’ Conference.
I’ve heard story after story of even well-known writers whose success has been measured by the number of books they sold on the New York Times, USA Today and other best-selling lists, facing publishers who can’t or won’t pay these authors enough money to write their books.

The writing occupation has always been a bit of a gamble, so the phrase “starving writer” is apropos. In the 26 years I’ve written for a living, I only made what was truly a middle-class income for 11 of them. The rest of the time, I qualified for some form of government assistance, whether it was food stamps (now called SNAP) to feed my growing family or a medical card for my children’s health-care needs.

Writing is a solitary profession, which I enjoy, but it can also be a discouraging one. Especially in today’s economy, where companies like Amazon have both helped level the playing field and changed the book publishing rules. If you’re a professional writer, or hope to become one, it’s important to rub shoulders with people like me who have done it for decades. Who haven’t given up on this intrinsically rewarding way to earn a living.

I’ve gone to conferences and other literary events most of my adult life and can confirm they are essential for professional development. Not only do you learn basic writing skills, or how to hone the natural ones you were born with, you meet people who are rooting for you to succeed. Like Pam and Ralph Hanson, former beloved WVU journalism professors and, in Pam’s case, an author with more than 40 published books to her name.

West Virginia Writers’ Conference was probably the first such conference I attended, somewhere in the late 1980s or early ‘90s. Held the second weekend in June at Cedar Lakes in Ripley, it boasts a peaceful, picturesque setting, but it also offers interaction with some top-notch professional writers who love paying it forward.

All I had to do was say I was trying to finish the sequel to my memoir, which my writing friends tell me is a romance (I know, imagine that!), for one such veteran, multi-published author to pipe up: “I’ll help you!” All I had to do was walk into Karin Tauscher Fuller’s hotel room at the conference, for her to insist on giving me the cutest red dress to wear to the awards banquet.

We are woman, hear us roar . . . in red, or black and white polka dots.
All I needed to hear was that another author had no ride to the airport, and I volunteered to play chauffeur. These were just three examples, but I know other writers displayed such generosity of time and spirit throughout the weekend.

Writers are some of the best people in the world to pay it forward. Kambri Crews, a publicist and comedian whose own book about her deaf father, incarcerated for trying to kill his ex-girlfriend, spoke about this during her workshop. Kambri encouraged aspiring authors to never be afraid to ask other successful, even—dare I say it—New York Times best-selling authors, for book endorsements. That’s because Kambri learned firsthand how willing most of us are to help newbie writers break into this elite, albeit not necessarily financially lucrative, business when she began asking for book blurbs herself.

So did I, when I reached out to Asra Nomani (formerly of the Wall Street Journal), Jacqueline Campbell (of Johns Hopkins University), and Bob Edwards (of NPR and Sirius Radio fame). In addition to some pretty amazing blurbs, they actually also offered helpful feedback I haven’t forgotten. Most important, their help instilled within me a sense of accomplishment that kept me writing.

With that I’d like to follow suit, and give a shout-out to Jessica Nelson and Anastasia Knudsen, two award-winning teen writers. Jessica, from Morgantown, W.Va., was 14 when she garnered her first West Virginia Writers’ award. Last year she carted off four. Now 18, it’s obvious Jessica’s future has writing in it. Most immediately, it has West Virginia Wesleyan in it, since Jessica won a scholarship to attend the private college.

Ana is 14, homeschooled, and also from Morgantown. Saturday night she set a record for West Virginia Writers. When she first entered, Contest Coordinator Eric Fritzius told me Ana was nervous about submitting in what is normally considered an adult category. “She said, ‘I probably won’t even win,'” Eric said.

She has a right to be happy; at 14, Anastasia Knudsen is the youngest person to win in the book-length prose category. She’s shown here, left to right, with Mary Lucille DeBerry, a veteran of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and Sarah Robinson, whose memoir is soon to be published. All three women took home awards from Saturday’s banquet.

Then Ana—who has won some other writing contests but does not have a cell phone, which I think might just account for her award-winning writing—went on to do what many adult entrants have never done: she floored everyone at the awards banquet when she walked away with second place. For what looks like a very intriguing book about time travel. That was judged blind, from among 32 entries, by none other than the Pinckney Benedict. Wow!

Even though some of us didn’t win this year—Marie Manilla, whose book, The Patron Saint of Ugly, was just published by Mifflin Harcourt; Diane Tarantini, nominated for a Pushcart Prize; Karin, whose weekly newspaper column consistently offers fine reading; Sheila Redling, a best-selling Amazon author, Carter Seaton Taylor, who’s on tour for her newest book about West Virginia artisans, Hippie Homesteaders; and me, who hit the New York Times list in March—it’s because we were simply so busy with our writing careers we didn’t have time to submit an entry.

Which just goes back to paying it forward to teen writers like Ana and Jessica. We’re here because someone helped us. And because we’ve sharpened our skills at one of the best annual writer’s conference you’ll ever find.

At a conference that is sure to turn out even more great authors, who are destined to ensure that books never become dinosaurs.

 

* * *

I have three books, soon to be four. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is being used in colleges and some high schools; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), due out July 8, 2014.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella BooksNellie Bly BooksAmazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

 

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and Sister of Silence placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

 

An Open Letter to All the Boyfriends I Didn’t Have

Sometimes they’re angry and sometimes they’re sad. Many times they simply want to ask if I’m happy now. Or say they hope I am.

These are my readers, and they are men. They are the men who read my memoir, Sister of Silence. Not a few of them were once gangly teenage boys, on the verge of manhood but not quite there. We covertly passed around contraband—outlawed Raisinets and other candy—in class, chatted together on the school bus, or acted opposite each other in stage plays.

None of them were my boyfriend, not for lack of trying. Nor did a single boy ever cross the line so as to honestly claim some kind of physical contact. I was all prim and proper, and that wasn’t in my nature.

Well, one boy did try. He was that ornery—albeit very cute—kid I passed every day in the school bus aisle my senior year. He pinched my backside, probably because he wanted to know if all the rumors were true about the “snow queen” with the long blonde hair.

We’ll call him Norm. I still remember it. I didn’t even think. I just reacted. The slap that was heard around the school actually came from my hand making contact with his cheek, and brought us instant celebrity. Norm’s daring antic and my no-nonsense response made for great hallway, locker room, and even, years later, high school reunion fodder.

While I gave Norm the evil eye for the rest of the year, by the time I graduated, he was forgiven. I realized he meant no harm. We’ve rarely seen each other since high school, but that adolescent episode never fails to entertain all our friends when we do, and it’s accompanied by good-natured teasing and lots of laughter every time.

The biggest reason those high school guys never tried to touch me, never came close to being my beau, however, is because I was taken. Not by a boyfriend, although at the time I thought he qualified—but by the family friend who made sure no one else could have me. He wasn’t some pimply-faced youth; he was an adult.

This most recent inquiry didn’t come to me via email or Facebook. It was from someone parked somewhere in New York state, and when my phone vibrated, I found his text message while parked in my car outside a local deli last week.

I just finished your book. I have a lot of feelings, but I am happy that you were able to gain control of your life. I hope the rest of it makes up for some of the horrors that you had to endure.

At first, I thought it was a random female reader—until I realized I hadn’t updated the contact list on my new iPhone. Then I realized: it was Roger Castle, the fellow who was practically a neighbor back then, but who really had a major crush on my sister, Lisa. Not me.

I had given him a copy of my book over lunch recently, when he, my husband, and I chatted about our native Preston County, our weird-yet-shared connection to county surveyors there, our families and . . . the proper way to barbecue. Turns out, Roger is quite the grill master, and his homemade sauce is the best I’ve ever tasted. (He also said it was fine to share his comments with my readers.)

I could tell Roger was troubled and needed to tell me why. So I called him, and as my carryout dinner grew cold, I listened. He began by saying he was surrounded by a very large group of men, barbecuing and doing the outdoor things men do, and he couldn’t put my book down until he turned the last page.

Roger told me he couldn’t understand how I had survived everything I did, and what was particularly troubling to me, at least, is how he seemed to blame himself.  And wished he could have helped me, all those years ago.

They always apologize, these men who write. For not knowing the sins of one of their own, for not seeing the signs, for not being able to protect me or stop the abuse. Sometimes, they tell me they would have beat up my boyfriend, who later became my ex-husband, if they had known. If only they could have. These words bring tears to my eyes and fill me with comfort. They provide a small measure of solace in a very large way.

And sometimes, they leave me wishing for the way things weren’t. For that boyfriend who would have acted like I was the center of his world, who could have treated me with love and kindness, who should have been more concerned about my health and happiness than his own sexual gratification.

I know good men still exist. The words men like Roger and others write confirm this. But none of those men were my boyfriend. Yes, I had a few crushes, only one of which went even to the point of a chaste kiss. But once I was molested at age thirteen, by the man who claimed me as his property, there was no other boy. No other boyfriend.

I now realize there were many boys I smiled at or even spoke to every day in school who wanted a chance to be my beau, if only I wasn’t already taken. This is what I would tell them: it wasn’t your fault, any more than it was mine. If I couldn’t see what was happening to me, couldn’t comprehend it until years later, how could you? That was a job for the adults in our lives, not one that we as immature teenagers were equipped to handle.

So please, let yourself off the hook. Forgive yourself, for you did nothing wrong. Neither did I. That is our common bond, one we could all do well to remember.

Life has a way of working itself out and if what happened to me hadn’t, I would not be where I am right now, speaking up and warning other women not waste a single breath being a doormat for any man who is so selfish he cannot love himself, much less anyone else. Life is too short, and there are plenty of good men out there. I know this, because they write to me. Or their wives do, telling me wonderful things about them.

All you have to do is open your eyes and look for them, because sometimes they’re sitting right beside you wanting more than anything to be your boyfriend. These are the men who will protect you and fight for you—not with you. They really will.

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Surviving, Not Just Graduation, But Life

Thirty-four years ago this year I marched down a grassy ball field in Masontown, West Virginia, pinkie finger intertwined with that of Mike Sheets, my fellow classmate. We marched to “Pomp and Circumstance,” the same tune thousands of other graduates will march to this month and even next, as American commencements continue into June.

May is a month marked by graduation speeches: from pre-K to high school to college, guest speakers have tried to choose the perfect words for this once-in-a-lifetime occasion. They’ve probably sought words that are dignified yet celebratory, serious yet not so weighty as to feel like an anchor. Much of what they say will be lost on the graduates, whose heads will be full of plans for the future, whose minds will be on changing the world or whose thoughts will be anticipating that other equally important tradition: the graduation party. (Or, of more immediate concern, how to keep their mortarboard from sliding off, or the tassel from hanging down into their eyes.)

“You expect me to believe that Mike???”
Photo credit: As appeared in the
1980 edition of the Panther Press.

I don’t know what I would say if I were giving a graduation speech, but I can tell you what I was thinking and doing thirty-four years ago. I was not, despite what my yearbook claims, expressing disbelief in what Mike was saying. I was not wondering when a West Preston High administrator would call my name for some academic award or even what party I would be going to after commencement ended, since I knew I would be celebrating with my family.

I was thinking about whether I could safely make it across the field without tripping in my four-inch high heels. I was also terrified that someone, anyone, in the audience, or one my classmates, would discover I was hiding a baby bump under my gown. I realized, too, how odd it was to be graduating a year early, while many of my childhood friends were still trapped, destined to spend another year in high school.

I was also angry that my fiancé wasn’t there to witness my accomplishment: his claim about working overtime should have been a red flag flapping right in front of my face, a brief glimpse into the next ten years of my life. I know I felt no small measure of trepidation, since my wedding day was one week away. Finally, I was thinking about how grown up I was, and how I could handle anything, as evidenced by the small bit of grease staining my cuticle—a testament to the flat tire I changed all by myself before commencement began.

Much of my thoughts were wrong, though. This is why, and here’s what I’ve learned since then: Don’t waste more than a few minutes of your time on anyone who won’t do the same for you in return. Better yet, when it comes to relationships designed with permanency in mind, such as those in marriage or business, if that person doesn’t first give to you, at least fifty-percent of the time, ditch them before you spend half your life being the giver, while silently resenting how much your partner is taking. If someone you love repeatedly disappoints you now, while you’re dressing for tonight’s graduation, they’re going to continue doing that very selfish behavior as long as you let them.

I’ve also learned this: money does not buy happiness. It buys things and stuff, which might make you wonder why people want to spend time with you, if they really love you—or if they only love what you can do for them. Also, buying things and stuff might give you temporary pleasure, but it won’t reach your heart or touch your soul. So give back, and give more than you take. It’s not thinking ’what do I get?’ but ‘what can I give?’ that will make you content. You see, the Golden Rule really is true: there is more happiness in giving than receiving.

I’ve learned that everyone—every single one of us—has a dirty little secret we’d rather keep hidden, so you are not alone. Chances are, if your secret is no worse than being pregnant at sixteen or getting pie-eyed on your father’s homemade wine, it isn’t going to cause anyone to hate you, or even think of less of you. Keeping secrets somehow makes us believe we’re the only one who could be guilty of such “brazen” behavior, but guess what? Once you open up and tell the world, you’ll find out how to deal with your own problem, whatever it is—because most of us have not only already been there—we’ve got a solution, too.

Finally, I learned that things are rarely as they seem. For instance, the title “Pomp and Circumstance” came from a speech in Othello. So yes, we have Shakespeare to thank for this great song. No, seriously, we can thank another British composer, instead. Edward Elgar composed “March No. 1” in 1901 as part of six commissioned pieces, and chose to use the Bard’s words for the title of this beautiful piece.

An aside: Elgar didn’t pen the words for his tune; Arthur C. Benson did, in what has became known as “Land of Hope and Glory,” the song that Wikipedia says most Brits would choose as their national anthem, if they could.  The song that has become such an important part of American graduation exercises got its start here in 1905, when Yale University awarded Elgar an honorary doctorate in music.

Now, back to matters at hand: Ironically, Othello was convinced his wife, Desdemona, had cheated on him. Nothing could dissuade him of this false idea, which ultimately led to his downfall. The point is, though, he was tricked by something that seemed to be true, when it was nothing of the kind.

Whether through self-deception—believing you’re an adult at eighteen, and you know not just all the answers but all the questions, too—or another person’s deceit, it’s good not to take yourself too seriously. If you do, life is going to come along and hit you upside the noggin with a frying pan, hard enough to make you wish you were a child again. So be humble and know your limitations. Be willing to accept other people’s advice, when the person is trustworthy and has your best interests at heart.

Quite often, those people share your genes. I call them your parents. Or people who have taken care of you as if they were your parents, in case you’re an orphan of sorts, like so many of today’s youth. Listen to them, because they’ve spent a lifetime learning from their mistakes just so you don’t have to waste yours repeating them.

I also learned, pretty quickly, that a grassy ball field isn’t the best place for spikes. At least, not of the four-inch variety designed to make a woman’s legs look long and lean. First off, you’re going to look wobbly. Worse, you’re going to twist an ankle and perhaps take your pinkie-linking classmate with you. Besides, no one’s going to see your legs under that robe anyway. So stick to some low wedges or better yet, a sensible pair of flats.

Ultimately, I think that’s what my message to today’s graduates is: Yes, do go out there and grab life with both hands, make a dent in the world, even, but do it with a measure of sense about you. That way, you’ll still be around to enjoy life thirty-four years later.

* * *

If she was still alive, Skylar Neese would be graduating from University High School tonight.  I’m sure I’ll be joining many Morgantown residents in saluting the woman she would have become, had she not been killed long before she had a chance to reach her potential as a giver, not a taker. My congratulations go out to all of her friends, and every graduate who has successfully made it this far in life.

 * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Love? It Really Is a Battlefield!

Pat Benatar, or her songwriter, really got it right. It is a war out there, and people in love are on the front lines. Like wounded soldiers, thousands fall every day, bloody and bruised. Unable to get back up.

People in relationships where love is alive take bullets for their loved ones all the time. Or try to dodge the verbal missiles of their beloved. It happens in every type of relationship, be it husband and wife, mother and daughter, or brother and sister.

Love is the most powerful emotion there is. After all, love can lead to a wide-ranging array of other feelings: passion (or compassion), empathy, and loyalty. Conversely, it may also give rise to jealousy, mistrust, and anger. Even hate. It really depends on how the beloved one treats someone else’s love. How much it matters to them. Or how deeply they feel love in return.

Love has always been a battlefield, but it’s still alive.

When love withers, it’s usually not because it died a natural death. It’s because two people stopped trying. Loving someone is hard work. Sometimes, excruciatingly so. It doesn’t matter if you’re best friends, siblings, lovers, or spouses. Which is why, if you love someone, you might want to think of that relationship as a job. Not a chore you grudgingly perform, like cleaning the toilet or taking out the trash. Not a debt you owe that you can’t ever seem to find the cash to repay. But as a job you love and would willingly do without receiving a cent in return. Your dream job, if you will.

In these days of instant gratification and electronic umbilical cords, we’re more disconnected than ever. We’re growing farther apart, so working on a relationship is getting harder. It takes more time and energy, rather than less. And this as our lives are becoming more chaotic, so much so that all we really want to do when we have a few free minutes is crash in front of the computer or the TV, or maybe just fall, exhausted, onto our bed.

Don’t do it! Don’t give in to that deceptive desire. That’s how love becomes a battlefield, with shrapnel flying every which way. If you’re going to do battle, then fight to keep love alive.

Because we–none of us–can do without love. Without it, we die. For with love comes touch. Without love, we don’t have skin-to-skin contact, whether that means a pat on the back, a hearty, two-armed hug, or an assorted variety of kisses or caresses. Sadly, without human touch, we lose part of our humanity. That’s when we begin to shrivel up and die, or slowly lose touch with what is good and right in the world. Or fail to make sound decisions. Or perhaps, if we’re deprived of love and human touch from childhood, we never gain the ability to even learn how.

It’s not getting any easier, but it is becoming tremendously important to show and feel love these days. To stay in love, if you already are. To reach out and seek love, if it’s missing in your life. To tell your mother or father or sister or brother or significant other that they are loved. That you love them. No matter what firearm has come your way. Tried to kill this life-sustaining emotion.

One word is all that’s needed, when it comes to love being a battlefield.

Surrender.

Because, as Max Muller said, “A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and a man cannot live without love.”

Editor’s note: Berry and another West Virginia author, Geoff Fuller (Full Bone Moon), have recently teamed up to write the authorized version of the Skylar Neese murder. Berry’s TEDx talk, given April 13 at Connecticut College, is now live. Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”