Eternally Elaine: Goodbye, My Book Club Friend

A few nights ago while thumbing through my Facebook feed, I saw that my friend Megan Krome had shared someone’s post. I clicked—and what I read shocked me. Megan’s mom, Elaine Muirhead Hagebush, had died.

The impact of her death didn’t really hit me until the next morning. Elaine, you see, was also my dear friend. I knew about her debilitating migraines, the medicines she’d taken, the new ones she’d tried, and how the meds sometimes made feel like she was on a rollercoaster. But I’d had no idea that Elaine was so sick she’d been hospitalized.

We first met online, on Jan. 13, 2011. Elaine reached out to tell me how much she enjoyed my memoir. She knew about Sister of Silence because she was immensely proud of Megan, who created the stunning book cover. That would not have happened, had Megan’s dad and Elaine’s husband, David, and I not been on the same flight months earlier. I still consider that serendipitous meeting one of the best things ever—because it led me to Megan and her amazing artwork. And later it led me to Elaine, who was simply delightful.

Elaine and I met in person in July 2011, when the Bollinger Book Club gathered together inside her home. She was an avid, engaged reader who loved sharing her thoughts and feelings about the books she read. And Elaine was so enthusiastic about Sister of Silence that she practically turned into my public-relations genie. And when Elaine waved her magic wand, she connected me to her bookworm friends throughout California and beyond.

Along the way, we bonded over recipes and funny stories and tales about our children and, oddly enough, our love of chinchillas. We also talked about domestic violence and its impact on society. That’s how she became board president for Samantha’s Sanctuary, my (now defunct) nonprofit. Elaine was happy to take on that role because she cared deeply about helping abused women and children.

I loved Elaine. She was warm and witty and whimsical and compassionate. She also showed a high degree of emotional intelligence, which is exceedingly rare. Elaine didn’t judge you: she just loved you. She made me laugh and brightened my day with her zany sense of humor, which usually involved a hilarious pet tale.

Like the one about Kayley. The soft-as-silk chinchilla had been relegated to sleeping in the hallway since, Elaine said, “her nocturnal ramblings” kept Elaine and David’s other two children, Rachel and Chris, awake. I told Elaine how Avery, our chinchilla, had chewed through the wooden handle on an antique dresser. She said Kayley did the same to a closet door. “We now have a nice ruffle up and down the door. It’s beautiful really,” Elaine said.

Then she regaled me with another story of an “amazing feat of rodent naughtiness.” I couldn’t stop laughing as I read Elaine’s words, when she wrote about how Kayley had sprayed a family member during the holidays.

It was her exuberant cheer, her desire to befriend others, that made Elaine such a gift to us all. Over the years, I have often recalled that evening in the Hagebush home, surrounded by Elaine’s family and her dear book club friends. And the way she reached out to area bookstores and librarians, promoting my book. All because she wanted to. Because that’s the kind of friend Elaine was. She had no hidden agenda. She wasn’t just nice—she was kind.

I still remember how much fun we had, how hospitable Elaine was, and how she invited me to join her online book club, named—what else?—Elaine’s Bookshelf. There, I met an archeologist, Doug McIntosh, and then his wife, Julie, and their daughter, Dagny. Meeting Doug led me to his parents, who graciously offered to let me use their brand new guest cottage while I was in the Los Angeles area in 2012. They gave me lodging and friendship, taking me to dinner at Knotts Berry Farm. Elaine did that.

Ditto for introducing me to her dear friend Andrea Souza. We became friends while exchanging my books for Andrea’s amazing artwork inside a Tracy, Calif., coffee shop. Then there are Kim and JoAnn and Jocelyn and Tatiana, Miriam and Brenda and Mary. . . . and the list goes on. It is endless, really. Women who knew Elaine, her book club friends, formed from real-life and online friendships. Women who knew her far longer, and who are even more brokenhearted than I am, that this lovely lady is no longer with us.

Elaine loved all kinds of books. She also loved my writing, and kept urging me to write more books. So I did. Not just because of her, but largely so. Because it’s important to know that people want to read what you write. That you have a voice others want to hear. Elaine encouraged my writing efforts, and that spurred me on.

As I sit here reading her words, I can hear Elaine’s voice telling another tale: the one about how she toppled over backwards and fell down the stairs. The vacuum cleaner landed on top of her, sending her to the hospital. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but the doctor found some kidney stones while she was there. “Never trust a Hoover,” Elaine wrote.

No one but Elaine could tell a story like that and end on such a deadpan note. She was a natural-born storyteller. So please, wherever you are, whatever you are doing today, please pick up a book, and read a page or two, or even three. For Elaine.

* * *

Dear Readers,

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!


Reflections about ‘This Is Us’ on Super Bowl Sunday

I imagine the number of people watching This Is Us after tonight’s Super Bowl LII will be record breaking.

I will be among them.


In fact, I specifically hooked up by cable box today for just that reason. Not because I want to see Jack Pearson die, though. Because personally, I’d love it if we were treated to a Bobby Ewing moment and another shower scene like the one in Dallas, where we learn the entire previous season was but a bad dream.

No, I want to see tonight’s epic show because I love, love, love This Is Us. It’s the only show I’ve watched faithfully (binging a few episodes here and there as I have time) since I saw the first episode in 2016.

And because the crock-pot fire that left us all dangling at the edge of a mountaintop is one of the best cliffhangers in TV history. (Second only to the Dallas shower scene.) And I’m a sucker for cliffhangers.

I also love good writing, and This Is Us offers some of the best and most realistic writing on TV. Coming from a family where addiction has reigned supreme for decades, where alcoholism was my father’s best friend, and where losing someone you love is more the norm than not, I can relate to Jack. To Rebecca. To each of their children.

The writing is poignant and powerful, and seamless. Living in West Virginia, where we lead the nation in fatal overdoses, whether from narcotic painkillers (opioids) or Heroin(e) or fentanyl, I’m no stranger to the emotional fallout from such loss. Neither are any of my friends and neighbors.

The writers have captured all the raw emotions: in Kevin’s battle with addiction and recovery, and with Kate’s, too. As well as in Randall’s fight with perfectionism and anxiety—problems which distort the lives of so many ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics).

Equally important, though, is how the show’s writers have traced the non-linear path of the adult Pearson children’s addictions. They have shown us that losing a parent is a difficult trauma to recover from. We carry those scars the rest of our lives. The wounds may eventually fade, but they forever mark us as different. Our lives are permanently delineated: before and after.

Loss changes us. Losing someone like a father, a sister, or a daughter does this irreversibly. For the last year, I’ve followed the travails of the Pearson family as I’ve lived through some of my own. Watching Jack and Rebecca’s touching love story, as triplets Kate, Kevin and Randall work through their heartache, has helped me to cope with my own losses.

Death cannot be undone. We cannot go back in time and begin exercising, or eating nutritious food, or being more moderate in all things, so our kidneys don’t give out from diabetes, or our hearts from cardiovascular disease. We can only start with today and change our habits now, in this moment.

Neither can we undo the damage we caused someone we love once they’re gone forever. Kevin confronted that during his recovery, and suffered immensely for it. For opting not to talk to his father on the phone the night of the fire. To make amends, to apologize for sharp words and cold actions.

Most of us would do things different, if we had the chance. Wouldn’t we? We wouldn’t be so quick to anger, so easy to offend, so determined to nurse a grudge. Not if we knew the true and irrevocable cost. Our vision would be less farsighted. We would see that most perceived wrongs are not personal affronts. It isn’t, in other words, all about us.

This Is Us has also given us a storyline where multiple births, adoption, and a biracial family is the norm—not the exception. In all these things and more, it teaches us important life lessons about love and tolerance and forgiveness—whether the person in need of forgiving shares our bed, our genes, or our history. Even if the person is the same one staring back at us from our bathroom mirror.

It offers us a look at what tragedy, triumph, and heartache look like, all torn from the pages of real life. People like you and me, who experience all these things.

Like me. After no word from her in more than a year, my missing daughter emailed me one month ago. I still don’t know where she is, but it was a relief just to learn she is alive. But that is all I know, for her email told me nothing other than that.

As my own story plays out, I find solace in knowing that I’m not alone. Other people have survived worse, and they’re still standing. Just like the Pearsons will, after Jack dies.

Loss can change us—but it doesn’t have to define us.

* * * * *

Dear Readers,

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!


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!

Writing My Sister’s Eulogy

My sister Lisa died of a broken heart. She never got over losing our father—or feeling like she couldn’t measure up. I’m afraid we—her family—didn’t make it any easier for her. Many of us judged her, when we had no right. Especially when we didn’t even try to help her.

When Dad died in April 1999, Lisa was lost. A daddy’s girl from the get-go, Lisa was our father’s favorite. Back when it was just the two of us, 12 years before our three siblings came along. I was the quiet reader. Lisa was the lively doer. No doubt she epitomized our globe-trotting, pilot father’s own adventure-seeking spirit.

By the time she died last Friday, Dec. 27, Lisa had experiences in her short 47 years that some of us never get in a lifetime. Her adventures began when she ran right through mud puddles as a child, explored forests on Berry’s Mountain, climbed to the tops of rocks during our mushroom picking days, and later, as an adult, dove into the ocean at South Padre Island, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Lisa also rode horseback in Texas, traveled cross-country many times (and I’m sure she also took the wheel of those big rigs, even if her husband’s trucker logbooks didn’t quite reflect that). Lisa drag raced her black Mustang at Eldora Speedway in Fairmont, and she learned to speak some Arabic in the Middle East, when she lived in Jordan with our parents during 1979. Lisa kept in touch with a neighbor boy there, who later moved to the United States, for many years. She did this even after 9/11, when much of the country shunned anyone who was a Muslim.

My sister loved taking care of our siblings, especially Elizabeth, as a baby. We hung out together during many a school night at the old Mountaineer Mall. Back then, I was more worried about making sure Mom saved some of that delicious walnut cake that Lums Restaurant served than taking care of a baby. But Lisa didn’t mind pushing Elizabeth up and down the mall corridors or changing her dirty diapers, until our mother’s shift ended each night.

Lisa was tons of fun to be around, and loved spending time with family and friends. She also had an uncanny knack for remembering—and reciting—every joke she ever heard. Even though she could be mouthy, Lisa was also fiercely loyal.

Most important, she didn’t judge others—she just loved them. Which explains why she didn’t hold grudges, and how she could be so forgiving when people mistreated her.

Lisa had health problems from an early age: she was diagnosed with epilepsy, she had a lazy eye and had to wear a black patch over one eye, she was always getting sick, and she had endometriosis so bad that at age 28 Lisa had to have a complete hysterectomy. That ensured she would never have the one thing she’d always wanted, children. I remember going with her to the Grafton doctor’s appointment where her OB/GYN told me, the healthy sister who was pregnant for the fourth time in five years, to give Lisa my unborn child. Even she could see how much Lisa needed a child of her own.

But since she couldn’t, Lisa did the next best thing: she had dogs—poodles and Cocker Spaniels that she treated like her children. I think she’s the first person I remember ever seeing dress up her dog, long before it became a popular trend.

Lisa was a fighter. She didn’t give up. Instead, she set out to find another way. She toyed with the idea of foster parenting. But her husband BJ knew it would be too hard for Lisa to give a child up, as often happens in the foster system. And ultimately, after a 14-year fight, her dreams came to fruition. Lisa found her babies: two beautiful daughters, Destinee (He Young) and Emilee (Kang Hee), in Korea.

I remember the day she became a mother. Our entire family gathered around Lisa in a Nashville, Tenn., airport, as we waited for He Young to arrive from Seoul, Korea. Crossing time zones would have made the journey feel like a 24-hour flight for her. The social worker told Lisa some babies have never seen a white woman, so He Young would either look at her and laugh–or cry.

“Push, Lisa, push,” some family members chanted, laughing as the plane landed. Tears were streaming down my sister’s face when He Young was placed in her arms. She didn’t cry when she saw her mother for the first time.

My two neices are Lisa’s crowning achievement—by adopting them and giving them a home in this country, Destinee and Emilee were given the chance of a life they never could have in their homeland. I am sure of that. For many years, Lisa’s life revolved around them. She planned for them, doted on them, took care of them.

Like she took care of other people she loved, including me. In 1991, after a particularly painful breakup, Lisa she was so worried she drove 60 miles in the middle of the night, to take me home with her. Always a wonderful caretaker, Lisa took care of our father in 1999 when he got so sick from his chemotherapy. She’s the reason I had time to fly from California and spend 11 days with him before he died. Lisa is the reason I got to tell our father goodbye.

Lisa was so loved, the same man married her twice. My brother-in-law, BJ, never stopped trying to help Lisa—even after they divorced again in 2010. He said Lisa wanted to get to a better place in life. BJ believed she really did want to get her life on track—but she just couldn’t do it. I believe he’s right.

What is it that prevents some of us from having the fortitude to reach our goals? What causes some of us to become addicts, while others of us breeze through life without a worry—compared to someone like Lisa, who spent most of her short life in pain?

Becoming an addict was never part of her plans. I know that for sure. Lisa sustained a work-related injury that led to her prescription painkiller addiction. Lisa lived with chronic pain for most of her life. But the last 10 years were especially difficult. She was hospitalized in early November for an infection, and underwent emergency surgery at Ruby Memorial Hospital. When I saw her there, she said she was tired of being in pain and wouldn’t care if she didn’t wake up from the procedure. Trying to encourage her, I told her if that happened, she would wake up in the resurrection, pain free and healed from all her maladies.

The resurrection is one of Jesus Christ’s teachings, and a basic Bible teaching. At John 5:28, 29 (NWT), we learn that “all those in the memorial tombs will come out,” and at Acts 24:15, “there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”

When Jesus went to see his friend Lazarus who had died, the Bible says that Jesus compared death to a deep sleep. Right after that, Jesus woke up Lazarus—even though he had been dead for four days. It’s interesting that when Lazarus woke up he was not in heaven—he was right here on the earth. That is one small example of what Jesus will soon do around the world for all our dead loved ones. And then, like the promise at Isaiah 25:8, Jesus Christ’s Father, Jehovah God, “will swallow up death forever.” This is when the earth will be restored to its original paradise condition.

Like I did, Lisa grew up in a home where we learned about the Bible’s teachings. We learned about a loving God who would never let anyone burn his human children in an eternal hellfire, and who never intended for us to die. Lisa’s faith wasn’t very strong, though, and I always wondered why.
I think I know. Many times, people like Lisa whose entire life has been a struggle, often feel a deep sense of worthlessness at their core. As a result, they can’t reach their goals.

Those feelings of low self-esteem may prevent us from doing what we have every intention of doing—but they do not keep our heavenly Father from loving us. The Bible tells us at Psalms 139:2 and 3 that Jehovah God sees when each of us sits down, and when we get up. There, we learn that he is familiar with all of our ways. And we learn at 1 John 3:1 that God wants to lavish love on every single one of us, his earthly children, in spite of our flaws.

I believe my sister Lisa—like so very many of us—wanted to offer her best to God, but she just didn’t feel worthy. Her heart condemned her, like the Bible says at 1 John 3:21. I say that because when I stood at her hospital bedside in early November and mentioned the Bible’s hope of a resurrection, I saw the look on her face: if she did die, Lisa didn’t think she deserved to wake up from the dead.

I quickly reassured her that some of the worst sinners in the Bible will be resurrected—because it’s a guarantee that a loving God promised his human children. Just because we as imperfect humans don’t think someone is worthy doesn’t make it true.

Jehovah God is the only one who has the right to judge us—and we have no right to judge each other. When I explained that to my sister, I saw her eyes light up, and I sensed she was remembering some of the teachings our mother taught us from the Bible as little girls.

As imperfect humans, as people who make mistake after mistake, we might think we are beyond God’s reach, beyond his love. But that simply isn’t true. Even though our steps falter, God gave up what he loved the most—his perfect son, Jesus Christ—so that we could have a do-over, a second chance, if you will.

People dream of getting a second chance in life—but few realize the Bible teaches that this hope is a reality. It’s called the resurrection. The God of the Bible that Lisa and I both learned about as children is a God of love. As such, I believe he now holds Lisa in his memory.

Like any good father, he’s letting her get a good, long sleep—until it’s time for her to wake up again. When she does, I want to be there to greet her. I hope you’re there to greet her, too. Because I’m sure we’d all like to see the expression on her face when she wakes up on a restored paradise earth and realizes she was, all along, worthy of peace and happiness and success and serenity.

Editor’s note: Berry and another West Virginia author, Geoff Fuller, 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.”

Traveling Solo: It Always Pays When Someone’s “Got Your Back”

In January, my friend Sheila and I went to Mexico for our mutual friend Olga’s wedding. We knew a little Spanish, but not much. An hour after our plane landed, we got into a car with two men, strangers we had never met, and began a one-hour journey to our destination.

In Italy two weeks ago, where I was attending a writer’s conference, I did the same thing again, and I don’t speak a word of Italian: I walked through the city with two other male strangers, got into their car, and sat back for what turned out to be a short drive.

On Sunday afternoon, I got off the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) subway at Fields Station in (what has been described as a high-crime neighborhood) Dorchester, got into a car with another stranger and sat back not knowing where we were going.

Last night I learned that a murder occurred eight days earlier at Fields Station when 39-year-old Cherby LaJoie was killed after trying to resist the teens who tried to rob him. The teen charged with his murder is Earnest Watkins. He is just 14.

In Mexico, Olga had made arrangements to send two of her friends to fetch us from the airport. Turns out one of the men she sent is a volunteer lawyer who works on important issues involving the government.

In Italy, I began looking around for people I might recognize because of their dress and grooming. Seeing no one as I hoped to, I said a quick prayer asking for them to be sent to me. Less than five minutes later, I saw the two young men approaching me. I held up a Portuguese Bible tract and even though they only knew a smattering of English, we instantly became family.

In Boston two days ago, I dialed a phone number and asked where I might find a local Kingdom Hall. That’s what Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses call their meeting places. The man who answered, a local elder, told me how to get from the bus station to the subway, and exactly what to do when I departed the train at Fields Station. He also told me where to meet him. He is black, as was everyone else whom I passed or who sat waiting at the bus stop. I, obviously, am not.

I am one of almost 8 million Witnesses throughout the world. When I travel, I am strengthened to withstand my own weaknesses, other people’s rudeness or their even downright nasty behavior, when I can congregate with my spiritual family. No matter our skin color, our language, our socio-economic background or anything else, we are family. Which is pretty important, when you’re a woman traveling alone to big cities or foreign countries. It means someone always has your back. That you have friends in places where you’ve never been.

Like us, hate us, or slam the door in our faces, there are a few things you might not know—-and which the media rarely reports on. For instance, if you lose your briefcase and it’s got a ton of cash inside (That’s no doubt a rare scenario in these tough economic times, but still.) the chance of it being returned if a Witness finds it is 100-percent.

The reason we <a href=””>come knocking</a> on your door is because of the pattern Jesus Christ set, when he trained his early disciples, sending them out by twos and telling them to go “from door to door.” It’s the same reason we let complete strangers into our homes and hand over the key, even when we’ve never met them: we live by the Bible’s admonition to treat others as we want to be treated.

One other thing you probably don’t know, but which I, as a reporter and indie book publisher, find fascinating: our two monthly journals, The Watchtower and Awake, are the most widely-circulated in the world. They go out to 236 lands. Each print run produces more than 42 million copies of The Watchtower are produced. (Awake is 41 million.) The only other magazine that even comes close is AARP’s paid journal. Yet they—-and all the other Bible education aids we use and share with our neighbors—-are designed, composed, printed and shipped by volunteers around the world. No one is paid, no matter what their position.

I don’t use this public website as a way to share my personal religious beliefs, because all too often, religion is not something people want to talk about. Just like politics. Unless you’re of the same affiliation, then it might be okay. However, I would like to say—-given my past abuse-—that many, many people have commented on my resilience. I can’t take much credit for that. Because honestly, the one thing that helps me leave the past in the past, when it comes to horrible and violent memories I cannot forget, is my strong faith. I also know if we want to and we work really hard at it, we can gain strength from various things around us. I gain my strength from Bible promises.

That strength also comes from Jehovah God and my worldwide family, who taught me why bad things happen to good people, and why they ultimately won’t happen at all. He, and they, also taught me that some people can be trusted. Implicitly. Even when you’ve never met them before.

* * * *
I’ll be in Boston until Thursday, when I fly home. Tonight I’ll be at the Out of the Blue Art Gallery at 7 p.m. It’s a weekly storytelling venue, located at 106 Prospect Street in Cambridge. Hopefully I’ll be able to share my story there, like I did with a group of social workers in Maine last week. Although, with only eight-minute slots, this will be a much-condensed version. So come out and hear what some people are calling “a riveting” story—mine or even someone else’s.

* * * *
Daleen can be reached at

Editor’s note: Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry 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 the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. 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.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why