Friday, June 14, 2019

GOOD GRIEF, "Take a Time-Out from Work"

                                                             .Good Grief: Strategies for Building Resilience and Supporting Transformation

     Time is an illusion.
The more you are focused on time – past and future – the more you miss the now.
The eternal present is the space within which your whole life unfolds, the one factor that remains constant.
There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.
     Eckhart Tolle

Taking time off from work is very helpful in allowing for a recovery period, as well as allowing you time for organizing and doing all the tasks that arise related to the passing of your loved one. It also gives those at work who care about you time to collect themselves to interact with you when you return.

     My suggestion to help you avoid the pressure to buck up and perform at your previous level, is to take an extended leave of absence and allow yourself time to heal. You can use family leave, saved-up vacation, or sick time. Just meet with the human resource department to work out the details. Your physician can even support you by filling out Family Leave forms. This is ideal to do, but if money is tight, you might not have the option and must return to work as usual.

     Time off from work is not for everybody. Some of you, however, may also feel the need to re-establish the normalcy of a routine and thus return to work as soon as possible. Choose wisely the course that is best for you. If you come back too soon, however, and you do not progress back to the normal performance required for your job, you may be called in and criticized about this. Don’t let this additional stressor happen to you. You will find out that your critics may tell you that you should have stayed out longer, anyway. So, be kind to yourself.

     If you must go back to work, so be it. You will need to be strong, but also let others know how they can support you. How can they support you? Here are some suggestions, and I am sure you can think of more:

*   bring you a cup of coffee or tea
*   have an extra box of tissues ready when yours is used up
*   go for a walk outside with you
*   share a joke or funny story
*   give you a hug
*   give you a hand with your job

     Also know that when you do come back to work, you may be comforting your colleagues as much and sometimes more than they are comforting you. You will find that you are welcomed by all and receive condolences and caring responses as the word gets out that you are back to work.

However, there is a time limit on some of these well-wisher’s frequency of support, as they have other priorities and life stressors too. Oh, a few, rare colleagues will continue to care and support you, knowing full well how difficult a transition you are going through — these will be your close friends or most friendly colleagues. Some will display caring for a while, then drift off into their own world of work routine, not being malicious, but just moving on with their work — they care, but have not been in your inner circle at work, and that’s OK. A few will look exclusively at the bottom line, finance and productivity, placing more stringent limits on your recovery needs. They make exceptions to your distractions, crying, and some callouts, but eventually draw a hard line. This is a fact of life in the business world.

     I thought of staying out of work longer than three weeks, but decided to go back. I told myself that I had so much to do at work. After all, I am a workaholic and have been for many years. I even had the paperwork for extended leave at my doctor’s office to be filled out, but I ended up not using them.

I told myself that I was strong and needed to live up to what my husband always said, “Cheryl, you are a tough old bird.”

Back to work I went. In one way, it was good returning to work and having something to get up for every morning to do…even though I cried on the way to work…and on the way home from work, for many weeks. At work, I had more control over the crying — most of the time. I was always tired. I did not sleep well. I refused to take any sleeping pills. I believed that “this, too, will pass.”

     I appreciated all the caring and comforting gestures very much by my friends and co-workers. The hugs felt great. The sympathetic looks and kind words helped a lot. I was amazed to find out how many of these people had their own story of grief and loss of which I was unaware. This sense of a community of caring experience comforted me.

     After four months, I was completely worn out with the stress of work and all the tasks that needed to be taken care of due to the loss of my spouse: mountains of paperwork and trying to keep track of the phone calls, faxes, and letters reflecting progress or problems related to the transition to my sole ownership. I decided to retire and move on — a very good decision.

     Experiencing a significant loss, you are going through a very difficult time. Most people can only “imagine” what it must be like. Carefully assess your needs regarding return or delayed return to work. Do ask for help, and above all - be kind to yourself. You are trying so hard to keep it all together, while grieving, managing the multitude of tasks related to the loss, holding the family together, lacking sleep, having poor concentration, and crying frequently. You may really need to take a “Time Out”.


·       I honor my need for time to heal my mind, body, and spirit.
·       I make good choices to meet my needs.
·       I choose the contents of my life and am gentle with myself.


Understanding Sassie: A Novel of Dog and Human Communication

As Ruth headed toward the Riverview Animal Shelter, she noticed an unleashed Collie running after a ball. The dog looked exactly like her Collie that had died years ago with that deadly skin disease. The hurtful memories seemed to begin a loud torturous flow. “That was the time when I first tried to suppress my sad emotions.” Ruth said out loud. “I attended the state university just a month after my Collie’s death.”

The obsessive drive to earn a diploma in a money-making career never proved to be a successful method of avoiding pain. Sassie has taught me how to deal with sadness and pain. She has taught me about living in the moment and treasuring each segment of time.

As Ruth thought about her learning at the university, she remembered how the buildings had been old, but they did have the most up-to-date technology. The ivy on the oldest building, the library, reminded Ruth of the grape vineyard her mother had nurtured. She had to admit that during her time at college, she did miss the taste of her mother’s homemade grape jelly.

The university was in the middle of a large city. It was a city filled with interesting patterns of the very old and new structures. In comfortable walking weather, Ruth would stroll down the avenues. She never planned a specific destination, but she often discovered a park. She took advantage of these opportunities to have a talk with Mother Nature.

Ruth also found it fun to watch the dogs and children play. I did notice there was a strange ritual that dogs performed when they greeted each other. I believe someone named this greeting, “a Play Bow,” but at that time I had little interest in understanding dogs. Was this uncaring attitude the result of my slamming the door on my feelings? My words may have said. “I will forget those farm feelings,” but the farm experiences of fun and love would always be a part of me. Ruth would never be able to escape the warm memories of her farm home.

After college graduation, Ruth started a good-paying job in the corporate world. She met several people but felt they weren’t interesting enough to take the time to get to know them. She believed that as a woman in the corporate world, she had to work harder and longer than the men.

Ruth remembered, I saw everyone as competition rather than friends. I felt I needed no one’s help and treated most people with superiority and disdain. I wrongly thought that a negative attitude would enable me to be protected from feeling pain. I no longer mentioned that I was a farmer’s daughter, but worse than that was the knowledge that I only cared for power and money.

Ruth was beginning to talk out loud and explained to no one in particular, “That was one of the reasons I felt it could be a wise idea to cultivate a friendship with my boss, Toni.” She continued her thoughts in silence, we had taken our coffee breaks together. I felt comfortable talking to her. As I began to trust her, I shared my hurts and problems with her. Little did I realize at the time how wrong I was about my friendship with Toni. In my misguided trust I told her too many of my problems. She acted like she was interested in what I had to say and was a good listener. I felt free to discuss everything with her. On a day that I had once again mentioned the problems I was having with my apartment, Toni told me about an available apartment that was located a walking distance from our corporate building. As she described this apartment to me it seemed to be everything I had wanted. 

The only drawback might be the rental cost.

Toni encouraged my move and said that this apartment could be my showcase if I wanted to entertain clients at home. She also mentioned that a move up the corporate ladder would easily take care of the rent. I knew she would be retiring soon, so I took this statement as a hint that I would get her job. I moved to this apartment and not only enjoyed my new home but delighted in the secret that I would soon be moving into my boss’s office.

Ruth’s thoughts turned to that awful day, it was four months after the move into my new apartment that I began to hear rumors about Toni’s retirement. I was in the break room reading the newspaper and drinking my coffee when I heard Bill talking to the other workers. At first, I ignored their conversation.

Bill had just finished pouring coffee into his cup and decided to join the group of men sitting at the table nearby. Bill wanted to share a bit of news about their boss, Toni, “I know that you are aware of Toni’s plans to retire next month, but did you know that Jim will be getting her job?”

When Ruth heard Toni’s name she became interested in what Bill was saying about her. The men smiled at Bill and as some sipped their coffee, one man decided to reply to Bill’s question. “I hope that is true. I like Jim and I think we all feel he would do a good job if he replaced Toni!”

Ruth was shocked at this news and almost dropped her newspaper. Somehow, she was able to keep her face hidden. Confused by the information she was hearing, Ruth began to panic, I thought I would be the next in line for Toni’s job. I believed that position would be mine!

Questions were racing through her mind, and her thought of why didn’t Toni say something to me? quickly turned into a bigger concern, how will I continue to afford my rent? The lease will not end for another eight months! Is Bill’s story about Toni just a rumor? How did Bill know about Toni’s replacement? He seemed to speak like Jim was the one to replace Toni. Should I be looking for a new job? Jim and I had never been able to work together. I’m not sure if he did not like me, but I knew I would have a problem if he was to become my boss!

Ruth glanced back to her newspaper and noticed a small bit of local news that spoke of a robbery. A large jewelry store in the city had just reported the loss of very valuable piece of jewelry. The loss was due to a clerk’s carelessness. Ruth read the news with closer interest. Jim liked to shop at this store. What if I said that Jim robbed the store? Ruth thought, how can I get this rumor started without anyone knowing it was me that started this rumor? I need to plan carefully and soon.

Ruth stopped walking when she remembered the horror of that time. “I was angry and surprised by Toni’s words, but what I did was inexcusable!” Ruth did not realize she had just spoken out loud. A few of the bystanders turned to look in her direction. She took no notice of anyone around her and began to run. It was an old habit.

She ran away from facing her emotions in the past and when she had remembered those condemning images, she had instinctively run. Ruth soon realized that running would never change the past nor help her escape a negative feeling. Sassie had taught her that fact. She needed to accept the truth. She was responsible for that day’s incident.


With her permission, I will be serializing a chapter a week, on this blog, the material from this novel by Helen A. Bemis, published by Outskirts Press and available through

As her editor and coach, I aided Helen through my endeavor.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

GOOD GRIEF, "Keep Tissues by Your Side"

Good Grief: Strategies for Building Resilience and Supporting Transformation             
Don't be ashamed to weep; 'tis right to grieve. Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones is sealed inside to comfort us.
                             Brian Jacques, Taggerung

     This will come as no surprise to you, but crying can occur at any time. You do not want to be without this necessity — tissues!

     Often, the person you are with does not have any tissues to accommodate you and you are left with tears flowing unfettered down your face, disrupting your makeup, perhaps combined with yucky stuff running from your nose. Neither of these are very pleasant to see or feel, and you do not want to feel any worse than you already do. Let the tears flow, but keep your supply of tissues handy. You already feel bad and do not look your best. No need to add cosmetic insult to emotional injury.

     “Be prepared” is my motto! Keep a supply of tissues in your pocketbook, tote bag, pocket, and car. Sometimes, I did not have tissues, and what I did was use the napkins I keep in the side door pockets of my car or purse.

If you are caught with all your tissues used up, don’t be afraid to ask for them. You’d be surprised how many places have tissue boxes somewhere close by, ready to meet your needs. Often, while out shopping, I have had people that I interacted with take one look at my face and notice when my eyes got glassy (on the verge of tears again) and offer up their box of tissues, sitting behind the sales counter, before I even asked. God bless these intuitive beings!

     There will be times, however, when there are no tissues available. Exceptional circumstance requires breaking a few rules. So, it’s OK to use your shirttail or your sleeve to do what you need to do to tidy yourself up. Remember, we used our shirttails and sleeves to do this when we were children and having that memory and skill comes to the rescue now. Don’t worry, it will wash right out. No one needs to know, as you sneak a wipe here or there. You can turn it into a funny story and have a laugh with a friend. But, remember to get tissues at the next stop or keep an extra stash available in strategic locations as backup.

     I found crying to be a great way to release the pent-up emotions I was feeling. I cried when I was angry, sad, frustrated, felt sorry for myself, or just about anything since the loss of my husband. Crying made me feel good sometimes, pathetic at other times. I was very hard on myself, thinking I should be able to get a grip and buck up — and you may feel this way too.

     Be brave. Let the tears come, for whatever reason, and feel the emotional release. Use your handy tissues to mop up your tears and runny nose. Then, take a deep breath in and out or even two or three or more breaths in and out, to calm yourself. At times, all you can do at first is to breathe. Remember that you are still a part of the living. Teary episodes will become less frequent and less intense over time, but I do not think they ever go away. They haven’t yet for me.

     During the journey through grief and loss, you will find that your friends and loved ones have boxes of tissues ready for your use when you visit. If you run out of yours, they will give you the box to take with you. I just love my friends. When they visit me, they scan the environment looking for the tissue box so they can provide it and show caring. Tissues are not just for you, however, as those grieving with you also cry, have runny noses and need these supplies.

Remember to share your tissues — crying can be contagious. It is a precious gift to cry together with someone who cares.


·       I accept my weaknesses at this time and allow others to share their strength.
·       I am strong and I will survive one day at a time
·       I am at peace with what is happening in my life.



With her permission, I am serializing here nurse Cheryl Barrett's valuable book on transcending grief. I had the pleasure of being her coach and editor through my Write Your Book with Me enterprise. 

Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD

UNDERSTANDING SASSIE, Ch. 2, "Sassie, Goldie, and the Worker"

Understanding Sassie: A Novel of Dog and Human Communication

My name is Sassie. I am a working dog. Some of my job descriptions include such terms as “Therapy Dog,” “Service Dog,” “Hunting Dog,” “family pet,” and “teacher.”

As I tell my story, I’d like to help you understand how dogs communicate. If you can understand the dog’s language, you will know the difference between a friendly dog and one that is not so friendly. This knowledge could enable you to avoid a dog’s bite.

It all began with my mom. Not only was Mom my first language teacher, she was smart, gentle, and a patient instructor. I saw her as a beautiful canine, and I believed she was a true champion. Her bloodline was a mixture of Golden Retriever and several other intelligent breeds. I am proud to say that I look just like her. My goal has always been to be as smart as she. Mom obtained her wisdom by observing and recognizing the behavior of the creatures around her. She called this wisdom “listening with your eyes.”

Mom said that she was born in a shelter not far from here. She remembers little of that time, but she did remember the warmth of her mother and her siblings. She was removed from this comforting warmth to go to a cold wooden building. It was a hunter’s cabin that was heated by a fireplace. The building was usually damp and filled with strange smells. The meals were occasional ground meat scraps. She was always hungry.

This situation created the need to learn some hunting survival skills. She started to capture mice and other small creatures that wandered into the cabin. When she discovered an exit to the outdoors, she escaped her prison for the adventures of freedom. She would say no more about this time and discouraged any questions. If I tried to ask her about this early life she would only say, “Avoid the animal called ‘Man’!”

However, Mom was proud to talk about her time of pregnancy and her escape from another shelter. She talked about the careless workers and how they would pretend to do their work. Mom studied each worker in the hopes that their carelessness might create a chance for her to escape.

On the day of her escape, the temperature was bitter cold. The rain had created an icy blanket that coated Mom’s fur but did nothing to help protect her from the weather’s torture.

Usually, when the workers arrived, they would come before sunrise. There were always at least two workers who came to do the chores. However, on this day she saw only one worker. He looked angry. She saw him slam the door of the rusty truck. It did not shut but only bounced back with a loud and noisy protest. This time he kicked it shut with his work boot. Closing the gates with a bang and kicking anything in his path created a lot of noise, and that seemed to be the worker’s goal.

Mom wondered about the fact that this worker arrived long after the sun made its appearance. Mom continued to watch the worker. When she noticed his yellow shirt, she slowly started to wag her tail. Maybe, she hoped, this was the human that gave her treats as well as kind words. She believed that she was this worker’s favorite. He was the only one that called her “Goldie.” It was not her real name, but she knew that he called her this because of the golden color of her fur.

It felt good to have a name. Like many of the dogs at the shelter, no one knew her real name or her pedigree. All they really knew about Goldie was that she was pregnant.

As she continued to study the tall muscular figure, she noticed that he was now moving much slower. The man’s rain-soaked blue jeans went unnoticed as he became more and more lost in his thoughts about his no-show partner.

It was just like him to avoid work and claim a made-up sickness on a cold and wet day like today, the man thought. He is probably buried in his warm bed and asleep. He’s not concerned about his responsibilities! The man continued muttering as the storm raged around him.

As Goldie continued to watch, she grew impatient and decided to bark for the man’s attention. 

Goldie’s bark did draw attention, but when the man recognized the direction of the bark, he realized it was a bark from the north play area, and he knew this was a problem. All the dogs should have been crated in the indoor south shelter. At this time of the day, the dogs should be in warm and dry crates.

Dogs in the play yard could only mean that they had not been fed last night and were outside in this cold rain. Because he had been out of town for the long holiday weekend and had just returned to work today, he wondered if his no-show partner was responsible for this situation. Alarmed, he questioned, has it been more than a day that these dogs have been unfed and outside? Then he thought of a bigger problem, Oh, no! The shelter’s owner could easily turn angry, ugly, and nasty with this situation. I know he does not care if the employees cut corners to save him money, nor does he take notice of any work undone, but if a mistake seemed to cost him money, he would take much joy in giving a pay deduction as part of his punishment.

The man could see that the dogs looked wet, and some seemed to be shivering in the cold. Would this combination cause an illness? The owner would blame someone for any future vet bills. This would not be good for me. I could be the one getting blamed, he thought as he began to hurry to the food shed.

He decided he would warm the food that he would prepare. Heating the dogs’ insides with warm food and placing them into their warm crates would be the best way to avoid a possible illness. The appeal of food would also help encourage the dogs to go into their crates. He continued to hurry. As he filled the buckets with the warm food he was forming a plan. 


With her permission, I will be serializing a chapter a week, on this blog, the material from this novel by Helen A. Bemis, published by Outskirts Press and available through

As her editor and coach, I aided Helen through my endeavor.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

GOOD GRIEF, "Carry Sunglasses ... at All Times"

The soul would have no rainbows if the eyes had no tears.
Good Grief: Strategies for Building Resilience and Supporting Transformation.

Native American Proverb

Grief and loss produce emotions, and tears, that emerge spontaneously — anytime or anywhere. Sometimes you are prepared for the tears. Sometimes you are not. Crying makes one’s face puffy and blotchy, turns the whites of eyes red, causes the area around eyes to swell and nose to run. It’s not a pretty picture at all.

I’d better stay inside, I said to myself many times. I look scary.

This look takes time to fade, and you may not want to go anywhere. So, instead of daring to go out and risk others seeing your grieving look, you may just stay in by yourself. Unfortunately, this condition could last for months, and you really need to meet the demands of daily living. Step forward and break out the sunglasses!

Alas, you often cannot find your sunglasses. Usually they are on your head, and you are too stressed out to remember — no problem. Have a couple of pairs in strategic places, a pair in your pocketbook, a pair in the car, and a pair (or two) on your head.

Ha, believe me the double-glasses-on-head look has happened more than once to me. Frantically searching for my sunglasses, I’d walk by a mirror and look up to see not one, but two, pairs on my head.

Remember, forgetfulness is part of the stress response you are experiencing, and this preparedness covers all bases. You may be laughing as you read this now, but note that in this state, you are not a pretty sight. You may even want to add a bit of makeup to look more presentable.

However, makeup plus tears can get a bit messy. So, choose wisely.

I found that having sunglasses at the ready was an important selfcare tool, helping to shield my red, puffy eyes from others. Beware, this grieving look is like a beacon, alerting others to avoid you or to venture forth attempting to comfort you. Either of these choices may lead to even more tears. You are trying to keep your emotions in control and appear normal most of the time. Sunglasses help you to maintain this control.

Unfortunately, sunglasses primarily cover the eyes; the rest of your face may be giving clues to others of your distress. You have done the best you could. Keep your chin up and venture forth to do your chores. You may even run into someone who shows you a random act of kindness during this time. It happened to me.

I wasn’t sure if I was hungry or not, but I told myself I had to eat something. I did not know what to do with myself. I wanted to go out and get some food, but where? I rode to Chick-fil-A and went inside. I stood rooted to the floor just a short distance inside the doorway with my sunglasses on; as I looked around, I experienced a momentary feeling of being lost, not knowing what I was doing there or what I wanted. It was a scary feeling for me, as I am always so in control.

I was caught off guard when a stranger, an older woman, approached me, started talking to me, and handed me something. I had a hard time paying attention, but I thanked her for whatever it was she handed me. As she walked away, I looked down at what she placed in my hand — a $10 gift card for food at Chick-fil-A. When I looked up, I could not find her. As I proceeded to the counter, I tucked this gift card into my pocket and used my own money to buy my dinner. I asked myself, why
did she give it to me? I’m not needy; did I look needy? Good grief, I must really look bad!

When I sat down and tried to eat, I was fighting back tears while thinking of her kindness, telling myself that I did not deserve this gift. There are so many others who could use this gift. I asked myself again, what did she see in me that caused her to give this gift to me? Then I remembered all the times I had given gifts such as these to others and went on my way, never considering how they felt. Now I wondered how they felt, and if they had asked themselves the same questions I did.

Then a thought popped into my head: Cheryl, you are not in control, and the universe knows how you hurt and is sending people your way to provide kindness and compassion through many ways — including gifts from strangers. So, I changed my perspective from feeling undeserving to embracing gratitude.

I was still glad I had my sunglasses as protection. Love your sunglasses and keep them close. You will need them often.
        I am brave and able to move forward one step at a time.
        I share my grief with humbleness and grace.
        I am gentle with myself and accept grieving as a part of life’s transition to new life.


With her permission, I am serializing here nurse Cheryl Barrett's valuable book on transcending grief. I had the pleasure of being her coach and editor through my Write Your Book with Me enterprise. 

Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD

Perhaps the easiest way to obtain a copy of her book, published by Outskirts Press, is through this Amazon link: Interview, "Our life is a Hallmark movie"

Hosts Dr. Larry Force and Sandy Altman, Esq., interview guests who are still active in their retirement years. Here's a 41-minute interview they had with me. Great fun, for me, anyway!

The quote is from my beloved, quadriplegic wife, Tina Su Cooper. We've been in love for over half a century and married for 35 years. The interview is here:

A short version of our memoir is here:

“Like a Plaintive Melody”
                                                   by Douglas Winslow Cooper

Most mornings I sing to my beloved wife, as she lies immobile in the hospital bed we have at our home:

You were meant for me. I was meant for you.
Nature patterned you and when she was done,
You were all the sweet things rolled up in one.
You’re like a plaintive melody
That never lets me free,
For I’m content the angels must have sent you
And they meant you just for me.*

This song captures the bitter-sweet nature of our current situation, happy to be together, sometimes sad that Tina’s ill-health has limited her so greatly. She has been quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent, fed and medicated through a gastric tube, for the past ten years, and she will be so for as long as she lives.

Meant for Each Other

Our love story began in January 1963. Cornell University formed the beautiful backdrop for our romance. When Tina Su walked into the second semester of the language course I was taking, Chinese 102, I saw the incarnation of my feminine ideal: lovely, slender, soft-spoken, elegant without pretension, graceful.  After a few “coffee dates,” I learned that this Chinese - American woman was also intelligent, learned, cheerful, talented, considerate, kind, and more than somewhat attracted to me, too. By Valentine’s Day, 1963, we were officially in love, “going steady.” That included going hand-in-hand together whenever and wherever we could. When it was cold, we would each shed one glove and share my coat pocket. We loved to walk and to talk, to hug and to kiss. Bliss.

Tina and I like to think we were “fated to be mated.” It seems amazing that this girl from Kunming, China, and this boy from Manhattan could have found each other. How lucky is that? There were about a billion folk in China. We had then in the U.S. less than a few million Chinese. That’s roughly 1000 to 1 odds of being in the U.S., not China.  I was accepted by M.I.T., but my scholarship application was a few days late, leaving Cornell as my best option. Less than one student in a thousand at Cornell was in Chinese 102, so the probability of a randomly picked pair of students being in that eight-person class was less than one in a hundred thousand. The random nature of genetic combination means that she could have been born a very different person than she was, the same being true for me. I would not have married her sister, nor she any of my brothers.

Nature Patterned You

Actually, nature patterned each of us. Scientists generally agree now that much of our abilities and personalities are strongly influenced by genetics. A decade or two ago, Tina and I took the Briggs-Myers personality inventory test and found ourselves remarkably alike: more introvert than extrovert, equally intuitive vs. sensing, much more rational than emotional, more judgmental than passively perceiving.

In making us well matched for each other, nurture played a significant role, too. Both grew up in homes that valued education and thrift. The Chinese Taoist tradition favors compassion, modesty, and humility – virtues that my religion also supported.

All the Sweet Things

Tina was very popular and justly so. She had been senior class president in her high school. All the Cornell sororities she visited asked her to join. She made life-long friends at Cornell, always giving more than she got and tending to see the best in others. Warm, friendly, sympathetic, helpful, trustworthy…exceptionally nice, Tina was special.

Like a Plaintive Melody

She was a freshman and I was a junior. We had three glorious semesters left to be together, and we fell even more deeply in love. Usually, a couple our ages would have become engaged to marry, perhaps soon after Tina had graduated. It quickly had become clear, however, that an interracial marriage would estrange Tina from her parents (as did happen to her younger brother several years later). My own parents argued that such a marriage would bring added complications for ourselves and for any children we might have. Then, too, we were young, with little real experience in the adult world. Neither of us would want to have a wrong decision harm the other. We accepted parental persuasion and pressure and parted very sorrowfully when I graduated, June 1964. We each cried a lot about our separation that summer…and occasionally thereafter.

Tina’s parents arranged for her to take her junior year abroad in England, where her father, a professor of engineering, took his sabbatical year at the same time, and her mother accompanied him. That put the Atlantic Ocean between us, an enormous moat.

While Tina was in England, I was drafted. She returned to finish at Cornell, went to Harvard, dated men of Chinese ancestry only, and married a promising scientist from Taiwan, who took a faculty position in Chicago. She spent the next fifteen years under his thumb. He had expected a traditional Chinese woman, but she was an American girl with a Chinese flavor. Their marriage was rocky, but two fine sons were born. Her first multiple sclerosis exacerbation, and with it a temporary partial paralysis, came right after that second son’s birth. Her husband, more committed to career than to family, had little time for his wife and children.

After serving in the U.S. Army, I went on to graduate school at Penn State and Harvard. I married a Caucasian woman who strongly reminded me of Tina, and I steadily progressed professionally, becoming an associate professor of environmental physics at the Harvard School of Public Health. Unfortunately, eight years into my marriage, I found out my wife was having an affair. She was from a rich family and thought she could get away with it. Wrong! We divorced.

Later on, I dated, even got engaged, then disengaged. None had been Tina’s equal.

That Never Lets Me Free

I had never forgotten my precious Tina, but we seemed doomed to be apart.

Nineteen years after we parted, while I was on an academic business trip through Chicago, I called Tina there. Before calling, I had reason to suspect her marriage was in trouble. As we chatted, I was so comfortable talking with her, it seemed we had been apart for weeks, not years. I told her in my call I still loved her and I had to know whether we could ever be married..

“Nothing has changed for me in twenty years,” she stated circumspectly, because she might be overheard. She meant she loved me as much as she ever had.

Soon after this, we talked several times via long-distance phone calls and we corresponded. She did a courageous thing, an honorable thing: she told me she had multiple sclerosis. I read a lot about it, spent a very sad night (that’s plaintive!) imagining her someday to be quadriplegic, on a ventilator, fed through tubes. Could I handle that, if I had to?  Yes. Could I bear to walk away and learn someday she had gone through that without me? No.

“Will you marry me?” I asked her over the telephone that next day.

“Yes, yes, yes!”

I had yet to see her. When we did finally meet, weeks later, I was thrilled. She was all I hoped she would be.

On June 2, 1984, about a year later, we were married. Her father toasted us after the wedding, “Love conquered all.” As one of the conquered, he would know. Her parents had “surrendered” gracefully, after all. Our wedding rings were inscribed, “a dream come true.”

For ten years, multiple sclerosis was minimal. Then she had an exacerbation, a severe attack. For the next ten years, Tina could no longer walk, but retained the use of her hands and arms.  Then, in 2004, we nearly lost her altogether.

The Angels Must Have Sent You

“Please, God, don’t let her die,” I prayed and pleaded as I walked our dog around a little lake in early March of 2004, almost twenty years after we wed.

Tina Su Cooper, my beloved wife, had already been in a medically induced coma for a week in the Critical Care Unit of the Orange Regional Medical Center. She had a severe case of aspiration pneumonia, part of an M.S. exacerbation. The resulting infection had spread throughout her body. She was not expected to live.

I had called the 911 emergency number near midnight the week before. Tina’s temperature was rising alarmingly fast. The EMTs got her to the Emergency Room twenty minutes before I arrived. She had told them that she did not want any invasive procedures, no tubes down her throat, etc. I countermanded that, having her power of attorney and knowing that this was no time for fuzzy thinking. Her M.S., especially when she was feverish, had diminished her cognitive abilities, which previously had earned her honors at Cornell and Harvard and then an editorial position at the Encyclopedia Britannica.

“Do whatever you must to save her life,” I instructed the medical personnel. Thus began a one-hundred-day battle to keep Tina alive.

Later, when she was out of the coma but still near death, now quadriplegic, unable to speak due to an air tube that ran between her lips and down her throat, being fed intravenously, I asked her whether I had made the right choice, to take all steps needed to save her life. Yes, she nodded, emphatically, yes.

Near June 2, 2004, our twentieth wedding anniversary, the decision had to be made: go home to fight vigorously to live or go to a hospice to go gently to the grave? She was catching infections from the other patients in the hospital. This place of rescue had become dangerous to her.

Would we fight to preserve her life at home, in a replica of the hospital’s Critical Care Unit, or did she want to give up?

We would persevere.

“Be a brave soldier,” her father had often told her in her youth. We fight on, my brave soldier and I.

The doctors estimated she would live only a few months. We’ve had ten years, precious, sometimes difficult, wonderful years.

I thank God daily for the miracle of another day that we are together.

And They Meant You Just for Me

“Together forever,” we hope. That’s inscribed on a charm I gave Tina for our 25th anniversary 2009, five years after her near-death experience. We say it to each other daily.

A retired physicist, I put much stock in evidence and reason, less on faith. When I pray, I pray that Tina be healed or at least be comforted. Perhaps asking for healing is reaching too far, but Robert Browning wrote that one’s “reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a Heaven for?”  In Heaven, Tina would be healed. On Earth, if healing is not in the works, then consolation, or better, joy, may be possible. Love certainly is.

The cosmic Big Bang, fourteen billion years ago, certainly seems like the act of creation. Creation implies Creator, though it leaves open His origin and purposes.

We know there are billions of galaxies, each with millions or billions of stars. So far, however, we find that the chemistry and physics of these stars is the same as we have here. That leads to another observation: there are a dozen or so fundamental properties of the forces and of the matter that make up our world that need to be within a percent or less of their value on Earth for life to exist, even for the universe to resemble what it does. The probability of getting these properties all to be within the proper limits just by chance is infinitesimal. Cannot happen. Had to be designed by a Designer.

Unfortunately, there is no consensus on what the Creator/ Designer/God intends with all this. Various religions have various beliefs. If there are humanlike entities on other worlds, they are likely to have multitudinous religions, too. We are left to come to our best understanding in the limited time we have alive.

I believe Christ was divine. He told us we are to love one another. He said that his Father, God, had a place for us after we die, depending on our faith. It is inconceivable to me that other good people of different faiths will be excluded, though I know it is Christian dogma. We’ll see.

Tina and I will be buried side by side, though not likely simultaneously. If we are resurrected, wonderful. If not, so be it. Either way, “Together forever.” This will be engraved at the bottom of our shared headstone.

The pessimist is said to see the glass as half-empty and the optimist to see it as half-full. We are optimists and are enjoying what is left in our glass of life.

We have had to “play the hand we’re dealt,” with good cards and bad. Life is something like a card game, where playing more skillfully improves your odds without guaranteeing you will win. Tina and I feel we have been lucky and prudent and have won.

As we sat on our porch on a recent autumn afternoon, we agreed: if that were our last day on Earth, it had all been worth it.


Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., retired physicist, is a freelance writer who has written Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion, published in 2011 by Outskirts Press, available through and He has co-authored Ava Gardner’s Daughter? and The Shield of Gold, and edited High Shoes and Bloomers, three other memoirs also published by Outskirts Press and available from and other Internet vendors. This article is an adaptation and extension of a shorter piece, “Ting and I,” published in the Winter 2011 Momentum - The National Multiple Sclerosis Society Magazine.

*“You Were Meant for Me (Broadway Melody of 1940)” by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed; lyrics © EMI Music Publishing Co.


Published in anthology edited by Michelle Tupy (2015), Love Alters: A Love for All Seasons, pp. 56-61.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

UNDERSTANDING SASSIE, A Novel of Dog and Human Communication, Ch. 1

Understanding Sassie: A Novel of Dog and Human Communication

Praise for Understanding Sassie by Helen A. Bemis 
What a delightful book! The story line was clever, the characters interesting, and it held my interest. The big surprise came when I discovered I had received a subtle education about the language of dogs. Definitely a ‘feel good’ book which I’ve read a few times, to make sure I learned all my lessons! Looking forward to a sequel.  Peg Gifford, former sales executive and current business owner
Understanding Sassie is a wonderful story for young and old. The tale is spun from a dog’s perspective and how they perceive humans, interpret their actions and how they respond to human love and kindness. The story unfolds when a dog, about to have puppies, escapes from the pound. The adventure begins once the pups are born and their exposure to the world in the “wild” and their survival. Following the adventures of each dog is heartwarming and enlightening. I highly recommend this wonderful story for all ages. Sandy Manclirespecial education, animal rescue, pet care business owner
My wife and I enjoyed this new book by Helen Bemis. We have loved our 13-year-old Bichon since she was a puppy. We have observed many behaviors and voices. Thanks to this creative, endearing, and very readable book by Helen, we now understand better her personality and enjoy her more. Our thanks to Helen for writing a helpful and interesting volume on dogs. Rev. Jeffrey Stratton, Trinity United Methodist Church of Wilton, NY


To all the people who train with “tools of love.”


A special thanks to my husband and best friend, Bruce: his encouragement during this process was invaluable.
To my daughter, April: a big thank-you, for her wisdom and talents. She helped me make this book come alive.
To my editor/coach, Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD ( a big thank-you for all your time and expertise. You were instrumental in helping me create a good story that teaches dog communication.
To my long-time friend, Gary: thank you for all your helpful ideas.
To Michelle Roskiewicz (loveddogsart@gmail. com): your talent in dog art is awesome and much appreciated.
To those that proofread my early attempts at this story–Peg, Sandy, Jennifer, Judy, Donna, and so many others (you know who you are): I appreciate all the wisdom and input you shared with me.
In conclusion, I’d also like to thank you, the reader, for accepting Sassie as your teacher of the language of dogs.


In my many years of teaching dog obedience, I have discovered that not all humans understand what the dog is trying to tell them. Although I’ve enjoyed my opportunities to teach classes on dog communication (the body language of dogs), my goal has always been to reach a wider audience. In writing this book, my hope is that it will also teach safety around dogs.
I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. I have discovered that stories can help us to remember and learn valuable information.
Learning what the dog is trying to tell you, I believe, is the path to safety. I have used an expert of the dog language, the Golden-Retriever-mix puppy named Sassie, to teach us what the dog’s body language is telling us.
I believe if you can understand what someone is saying, any fear or confusion can be illuminated. We can listen to them and feel comfortable in recognizing what they are saying to us.
I also believe that if fear and confusion are eliminated, we are more inclined to listen and respect someone’s (or some dog’s) communication.


My name is Ruth. In my youth I lived on a 200-acre dairy farm. I love the memories of this time in my life. The smell of the freshly cut hay in the fields and the scent of apples as they turned into Mom’s pies or her secret recipe for applesauce were a few of my favorite memories. Whenever I saw a Collie I would think of my summertime best friend.

A typical summer day might begin with a review of my Collie’s training. “Sit!” I would watch my Collie react to my firm but pleasant request and when I added the word “stay,” I would walk away. As I walked to the near-by fence, I noticed the multicolored flowers Mom had planted around our home. She loved planting many floral varieties, but her favorite was that lilac bush at the farmhouse entryway. The scent of lilacs would always remind me of Mom. I stopped at the fence and debated about hiding behind that lilac bush. I thought that the fragrant lilac perfume might hide my scent. Yet, as I looked back at my Collie, he was watching me and studying my every move. I decided it would be more fun to watch him run, so instead of hiding, I called, “Come!”

As soon as he heard that magical word, he leaped at the invitation to join me. My Collie’s muscles made his multi-colors of brown, red, and white wave in a majesty that somehow reminded me of a flag. Maybe this was because he looked to be flying in his eagerness to come to me. I delighted in his joy of our companionship.

However, my joy ended when my Collie developed a deadly skin disease. The veterinarian recommended that he be put out of his misery. I was devastated. I would not accept this loss of my best friend. It hurt too much. I slammed shut the door to my feelings and announced, “I will never love anyone or anything again!”

Little did I know how my life would change when I met the golden-haired dog named Sassie. 


My name is Sassie. I’ve been told that I am a blond-haired beauty. Some men have said that they like to run their fingers through my long silky hair. Do you enjoy the outdoors? I’m a lover of the outdoors and my favorite outdoor activity is the sport of hunting. The reward of eating what I have caught

is always an undescribed pleasure. I enjoy eating. I do not share my food. I will gobble my meal, am a sloppy eater, and proud to say that I have no table manners. Maybe that is why no one wants to come near me during my mealtime.  Do you wish for some things? My greatest wish is that more people would understand me when I try to communicate with them. My wish came true when I met Ruth.




"No! My dog, Sassie, has done nothing!  You don’t understand! Please let her go. She's done nothing wrong!” Ruth was begging the policeman to listen to her. The policeman continued to ignore Ruth, and he tugged on Sassie’s leash.

As Ruth looked at Sassie, she saw the confusion in Sassie’s eyes mirror her own frustration.
Could this policeman be dragging her dog to a possible death sentence? Why could he not understand that Sassie was considered a service animal. She was doing her job as a diabetic alert dog. Sassie would alert Mom when her blood sugar was too high. Someone misunderstood Sassie’s alert and called the police.

I wished there was some way to quickly explain my life-long knowledge of dogs, their emotions, and the valuable work that they can do. All my attempts to talk to this policeman seemed to fall on deaf ears.

In my frustration, I collapsed on a nearby bench. A shower of tears flooded my shaking hands. I knew I was not thinking clearly. If there was any way to help Sassie, I would need to calm down.
It was time to use my personal meditation! I discovered this technique when I was a very small child and had those childhood fears. I always had warm and happy farm memories, so I decided to meditate on those happy farm thoughts. This relaxation process always created mental smiles. My icy fears would melt away. This meditation created a soothing calm. My insurmountable fears would shrink to microscopic irritations.

So, I began my personal meditation and thought about my parents’ dairy farm. I loved to walk those 200 acres and listen to the songs of the farm. There was the sharp call of the blue jays and the chic-adee-dee chorus of musical joy.

On a blistering hot day, the locusts would buzz in complaint. The feel of a cool breeze that would tickle the trees was always a welcome relief on those scorching days. I loved the taste of the air after a rainfall. There was a trout stream on the other side of the hill near our home. It sang a special melody as the water kissed the rocks and caressed the fallen tree branches. Fish often made a quick splashing sound, and the frogs seemed to harmonize as if in response to nature’s music.

The forest that bordered the hay fields with Christmas-like pines reminded me of the fun we had
finding that special Christmas tree within the snow-covered greenery. The strong wind could sting the skin or ruin a fresh hairstyle. Each day brought joy and laughter. If I could walk ever so quietly, not an easy task, I could see the various creatures as they lived and worked in the farm environment. 

There were the rabbits and deer that would either bolt away or freeze to blend into their surroundings. The black and white dairy cows speckled the fields. At milking time these cows would give their deep voice call as they announced their pilgrimage to the barn. The rooster was our morning alarm clock and the dog’s alert was a no-nonsense bark that intruders respected.

As a teenager I used to enjoy thinking about my adventures with my Collie. This enjoyment died when he developed a deadly skin disease. This was a painful time, and I did not like the emotions it created. My decision to shut out this sad feeling was my method of running away from reality. So, this was now an area I would avoid during meditation.

As I looked down at my watch, I realized that several hours had elapsed since I had collapsed on the bench. Jumping up, I decided I would go to the Riverview Animal Shelter. The policeman probably had taken Sassie there.

This was the shelter that Judge Thomas had sentenced me to do my community service. It was his ruling in my assault case. Was it only a year ago? So much has happened in that time. I returned to the farm to live with my parents. Pop died. Mom had those feelings of being watched. At that time, I was unsure if Mom’s fears were real or imagined. However, there were those mysterious calls with riddles that were confusing. Her stress and insulin irregularity placed her in the county hospital.

I quickened my pace. My involuntary cry was filled with the sound of despair, “Why do all these horrible things keep happening to me?”

The only reply to my question was the sound of my hurried footsteps.


With her permission, I will be serializing a chapter a week, on this blog, the material from this novel by Helen A. Bemis, published by Outskirts Press and available through

As her editor and coach, I aided Helen through my endeavor.