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.

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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!


Me Before You: Neither the Novel Nor the Movie Disappoint

Editor’s note: This article contains spoilers.

I love watching movie trailers. So when I saw the one for Me Before You several months ago, the first thing I did after leaving the theatre was Google the title, where I discovered the newly-released flick was based on the 2012 fictional novel by British journalist and author Jojo Moyes.

I don’t always have the luxury of first reading a book before seeing the related movie, but I did with Me Before You. How could I not? Moyes’s book has thousands of reviews at Amazon, with an average of 4.6 stars, which means it was either a good story or well written. Or both. Turns out, it’s both. I love Moyes’s writing style and the way she weaves a complex, compassionate tale about the wealthy, albeit depressed Will Traynor, a quadriplegic, and his upbeat, cheery caretaker, Louisa Clark.

Like many women, I also love a good love story.

While taking Megabus to New York City recently, I had nothing but time so I opened the Kindle app on my iPhone and began reading. The bus pulled out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about 11 p.m. I couldn’t stop turning the electronic pages until my eyes grew so heavy they would barely stay open. It was after 1 a.m.

On my way home from NYC, I began reading again. By the time I finished, I was glad I had thought to pack some tissues in my backpack, because, as my father would say, Me Before You is a real tearjerker.

Last weekend, some friends and I went to see the movie. As we left the theatre, I couldn’t help noticing an older couple behind us. He was wiping his eyes. One of my friends saw it, too, and once outside we wondered if he had lost someone like Will. Or if the couple had a loved one who committed suicide.

That’s because, at its heart, Me Before You is a love story, but it’s one which also deals with the controversial issue of assisted suicide, or euthanasia. Will Traynor doesn’t want to live as he is, trapped in a chair while in almost constant pain. He wants to be the “me” he was before the accident that turned him into a quadriplegic. Before “you,” or Louisa Clark enters his world.

Several excellent articles have been written about the ethical and moral dilemma euthanasia raises, so I’m not going there. I will say that, having faced and overcome suicidal tendencies in the past, I can understand why Will made the decision he did. But as someone who has never been trapped in a wheelchair, I am not in a position to judge anyone who makes the choice he did.

Louisa, or Lou, as her family calls her, is such a bubbly, joyful character that we root for her, in her efforts to change Will’s mind. She is one of those people you’d like as a friend, a woman whose smile never fades. (Well, not for long.) Who is sure to pick you up, when you’re feeling down. Or goad you into finding a reason to laugh over your miserable lot in life. She is literally an adult Pippi Longstocking, with the stockings to prove it. I can’t wait to see how Lou fares in her life after Will, since her life “before (him)” was dull and boring.

If you’re a reader, get the book. You won’t be sorry. (Then take your significant other to see the flick on date night.) In the movie, the story arc of Me Before You is unwavering, and actors Emilia Clarke and Sam Claftin give a spot-on performance. However, it omits two other supporting storylines: gang-rape and the legal questions that arise from assisted suicide. Moyes tackles both topics deftly, in a poignant way that left this reader longing for September, when her sequel arrives.

* * * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. 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. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

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!


Editor’s Note: Effective June 2, 2016, Ms. Berry’s blog began appearing each Thursday, rather than Monday, as it once did. 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.”