Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Left on Tenth, my sister Delia Ephron's story of survival

 

HALLIE EPHRON: As so many of you know, I come from a family of writers. If you’d told me five years ago that today we’d be celebrating the publication of my sister Delia’s memoir, LEFT ON TENTH: A SECOND CHANCE AT LIFE, I’d have had a hard time believing.

She wrote this amazing book after struggling through several years of heartbreak. Delia lost our  sister (Nora), then she lost her husband (Jerome Kass), both to cancer.

Several months after her husband’s death, Delia decided to make one small change in her life: she shut down his landline. Which crashed her internet.

Verizon, her phone and internet provider, was less than helpful. After frustrating hours in HOLD hell, Verizon disconnected the phone all right, but also disconnected her DSL. Which led to more hours…

She channeled her frustration the way we Ephron girls were brought up to do: in writing. Her essay, “Love and Hate on Hold with Verizon,” ran on the op-ed page of the New York Times.

Here’s a taste:
This all began because I disconnected one of my two landlines. I don’t need two landlines now that I don’t have Jerry. This is the only change I have attempted to make in my entire life since my husband died, and it has obviously not gone well.
Read the piece to find out what happened after that.

The essay caught the attention of Peter, a Bay Area psychiatrist, who emailed her to commiserate. Recently widowed himself, he reminded her that they had shared a few dates fifty-four years earlier, fixed up by Nora.

Delia did not remember him, but after several weeks of exchanging emails and sixties folk songs, he flew east to see her. They fell crazy, utterly, in love.

End of story? Not.
Four months later Delia was diagnosed with AML, a fierce leukemia.


What happened next? Well, that's what Left on Tenth is about. In the telling, she’ll have you caroming us between tears and laughter as she recounts navigating the suicidal lows of enduring cutting-edge treatment, and the giddy highs of a second chance at love.

The reviews have been nothing short of remarkable. And I’m thrilled to host Delia today on Jungle Red Writers.

Delia, you and Nora wrote one of the most delicious romantic comedies of all time – You’ve Got Mail – but I wonder if you ever imagined that you’ be starring in a real life one?

DELIA EPHRON: I surely did not. I wrote that NYT piece about my internet crashing while trying to disconnect my late husband’s phone. Peter emailed and our connection was instant.

But of course it wasn’t a romantic comedy because 4 months later, in the midst of this heady romance, I got deathly ill.

HALLIE: Your illness came at such a dark time. So much loss, compounded by your own often-fatal illness. How did you find the resources to write about your experiences?

DELIA: I thought I would never write about it. I miraculously (and I don’t use that word lightly) survived an experimental bone marrow transplant – was in the hospital 100 days. I was a year recovering, actually two years, before I could believe it or feel utterly myself. And didn’t think at all of writing, not just this story, but ever again.

And then, one day, I thought, more happened to me in four years … well, I was a writer again and I knew I had an extraordinary story to tell.

HALLIE: Nora died of AML and you survived. And you say that throughout your treatment you’d repeat to yourself, “You are not your sister.” And yet in many ways you ARE so like her.

The very fact that you could write this book in the wake of it all speaks volumes, to me at least. And that you could make it, at times at least, funny. What do you think?

DELIA: The doctors – Dr. Roboz and my friend, Dr. Jon LaPook, both said to me, “You are not your sister.” What they meant was, my leukemia, under a microscope, was not her leukemia, even though we both had the same type, AML. They were willing me to believe I could survive.

I wrote a lot about that in the book. That was difficult for me to believe because it felt like betrayal.

There are four of us sisters (Nora, you, me, and Amy) and Nora was the oldest. The pressure on us all to be writers was fierce. I was second, and I tried to do everything she did, although she was going around the track so fast, I couldn’t keep up. Essentially, Nora was extoverted, and I am not. We wrote well together, but we were not really alike.

Writing is your fingerprint. Writing taught me who I am.


HALLIE: That's so true for me, too. Writing helps me figure out what I think. Something about the process of putting words on the page… I’m only starting to be ready to do that hard work again.

I hope this makes you want to read Delia’s book. It’s extraordinary. She’ll be checking in today to answer your questions… If we’re lucky, she’ll talk about where the title (LEFT ON TENTH) came from.

And hear Delia in conversation with Scott Simon about the book on NPR.

89 comments:

  1. Wow. You are both extraordinary women and writers. Delia, thank you for inspiring me. I look forward to reading Left on Tenth. Hallie... I miss you. I'm so glad you're ready to tackle "the hard work" again.

    Here's a question, Delia: are you still with Verizon?

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    1. Great question (Hi, Ellen!) It's the hours on hold and then getting cut off that wear you down even in the best of times.

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    2. Yes, I am so glad Hallie is coming back to us.She has a strong spirit.
      I actually am still with Verizon. Yes. I got lots of mail when my Verizon piece was published. Everyone has problems with their phone companies. So ...
      Delia

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    3. I definately recommend doing news releases when you publish a book. Book releases is part of my marketing strategy along with gathering reviews and writing the next book. Waiting for bloggers to read my book and post a review is tiring. I used https://usbookreviews.com to gather reviews for my book and I am happy with the increase in reviews, sales and visibility.

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  2. What an amazing story of love and family. I am glad that the doctors helped her believe she could survive. What a gift to share this story with us.

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    1. How true. I think it must be hard for doctors to navigate between giving patients hope and being honest about what's likely to happen.

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    2. Empathetic doctors are a treasure.
      Delia

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  3. Thank you for this interview, dear Hallie, and so many congratulations on all fronts, Delia - for coming through alive and healthy, for finding love again, and for getting your writing mojo back.

    I listened to the interview with Scott Simon (one of my NPR faves) yesterday after Hallie posted the link, and I was struck by how similar, Delia, your voice is to Hallie's! It was a reminder of how close sisterly bonds are.

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    1. Also, where is Commenter #1 - that, is Joan? Are you all right?

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    2. Good question... Joan? Waving...
      Edith, I love that I sound like her! I see it in our gestures, too.
      And sense of humor. Laugh.
      If you'd seen Delia and Nora together you'd see massive resemblances, too.

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    3. Yes, it's comforting to see myself in my sisters. And I know all the differences too, like that Hallie has math brain, of which I am jealous, and I do not.

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    4. Forgot to sign my name. That above was me.
      Delia

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  4. What a powerful passage. Thank you for sharing your story!

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  5. How lovely to 'meet' you here on JRW, Delia. Like Edith, I followed Hallie's link to the NPR interview and was hooked; I have your book on hold at my local library. When a compelling life story is well written, it becomes riveting reading and I am really looking forward to it.

    On the movie front, I adore "You've Got Mail" and watch that DVD when I want a good love story and a good laugh. Thank you.

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    1. Yeah, my favorite part of Left on Tenth is that she survived to tell about it. Gosh don't we all need more happy endings right now?

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    2. Someone said to me yesterday that she got panicked reading my book, thinking I would die, and then kept telling herself, but she wrote this, so she must have.
      Suriving, that's my favorite part too.
      Delia

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  6. Welcome, Delia! I've been a fan since 1978 and your hilarious book How to Eat Like a Child, which is still on my bookshelf. Glad to finally have a chance to thank you for all the entertainment.

    Your family has gone through such a lot of tragedy, especially these last few years, including Hallie's Jerry's cancer and loss. Finally being able to write about and around it must be such a catharsis. Left on Tenth has been so well-reviewed, and I'm looking forward to reading the whole story. Especially the romance part. Silver linings do exist!

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    1. "How to Eat Like a Child"! It was Delia's first book (1978! also based on a short piece she'd sold to The New York Times). Shot right onto the NYT bestseller list! Imagine having that kind of success, first time out!

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    2. Pretty amazing! Because of that book I've watched for work by all the Ephrons, too.

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    3. thank you. I think of How to Eat Like a Child as my first born, but in fact my first was The Adventurous Crocheter, about how to crochet, written with a friend Lorraine Bodger. Writing has been such a journey.
      Delia

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  7. Welcome Delia. It is so nice to meet another of Hallie's sisters. I look forward to reading your recollections on grief and recovery. When I was going through my cancer journey, the intern who was treating my lost his battle with cancer. It stunned me, and stopped my foolishness concerning my health. My question: How did the last two years of Covid affect your thoughts of your recovery? Thank you again for sharing such a private part of you.

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    1. I am so glad you are well. I haven't collected my thoughts yet on Covid. I was writing this book, so the isolation was easier, but it's altered my life.
      Delia

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  8. Hi, Delia-- we've actually been in touch, long ago. Hallie and I are friends (that Barnard connection.) My Barnard roommate used to say, "If I could survive Barnard, I can survive anything." But maybe not Verizon. One of my sisters and I share a Verizon account. I make her deal with them though actually, I'm a lawyer as well as a writer, so one would think...
    But no, I. Just. Can't.

    I agree with your feelings about writing; I have been writing myself out of a deep loss for a couple of years. Because I think in full, grammatical sentences, I hoped I'd end up with something publishable, but over those two and a half years of mourning, none of it was anything other than catharsis IMO, though that itself was helpful.

    I look forward to reading your book.

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    1. Hi Ellen - yes, it's really really hard and when you read a book like Delia's she makes it look so easy.

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    2. Ellen,
      Thank you. I am sorry to hear about your loss, but glad to hear, frustrating as it can be, that you are writing about it.
      Delia

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  9. I'm glad you are well. I was writing this book during Covid. So the isolation wasn't as difficult as it could have been. Also, I was so happy to be alive, but I was panicked like everyone else before getting vaccinated. Older people -- we were the most likely to die. Covid changed so many things -- I am going to write something about that, but haven't yet entirely collected my thoughts. Delia

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  10. UNKNOWN! That's Delia (she signed it) ... we tried last night but could not figure out how to get her posts to come in with her name. Blogger and Verizon should go into business together...

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    1. I am 'unknown' via Safari, but myself with my name when I use Chrome. The browser makes a difference. Might be worth a try?

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  11. Thank you, Amanda, but the last thing I want to do is change my system. I am so very clueless with the computer.
    Delia

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  12. These days, when things seem so terrible everywhere, it’s wonderful and inspiring to hears stories of happiness and recovery. I’m so pleased for you Delia, and you too Hallie. The book sounds amazing.

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    1. It really is an amazing story. Gives one hope. Leukemia is one of those diseases for which there've been huge strides in treatment over the last decade.

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    2. A friend's little grandson had it at four - and is a strapping eight year old now!

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    3. Yes, there are scientific advances just in the past 5 years.
      Delia

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  13. Congratulations on many fronts, Delia: new love, surviving cancer, the new book, and surviving Verizon (I am a longtime Verizon customer and as you say, everybody hates their phone company).

    "You've Got Mail" is one of my all-time favorite rom-coms. Perhaps #1. Thank you (and Nora) for writing it.

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    1. Coincidentally I was in NY and tripped over them filming one of the scenes I think in a Broadway coffee shop, the kind that barely exists any longer.

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    2. Re You've got mail ... thank you. much appreciated.
      Delia

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  14. What a beautiful story of love and survival. I'm so glad you made it through this ordeal, Delia. I'm looking forward to reading the book. My sisters are very important to me, especially now that I'm officially old.

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    1. Sisters and Friends. Pure ballast.

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    2. Yes, that is true. Sisters and friends, as Hallie said, pure ballast.
      Delia

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  15. Welcome Delia--we are so glad Hallie brought you to us this morning! I cannot wait to read your book, which sounds both devastating and hopeful. We will be thrilled once Hallie starts writing again. I think your story teaches us that there is no rush. Recover first. I wonder though, did you take notes all through this, or write from memory?

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    1. That's what I was wondering, too. Delia did you REMEMBER all those or had you written them down at the time?

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    2. Oh, I certainly did not. I had made notes to myself, sort of half written pieces, the year after Jerry died. But writing this book was a treasure hunt. I interviewed all my girlfriends, I interviewed Peter, I collected all the emails Peter and i sent to each otehr when we were falling in love (they are in the book). I interviewed my doctors. Read the emails Peter sent everyone when I was having my bone marrow transplant. And I mixed it all in with my own memories. I sent for my hospital records -- 6000 pages.
      Delia

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    3. wow, what an amazing process! I'm certain you winnowed out a lot of chaff...

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    4. Yes, but I also found interesting, compelling and wonderful stuff.
      Delia

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  16. DELIA: Congratulations on the new book, surviving AML and Verizon, and finding love again. So glad that Hallie brought your story to us today.

    P.S. I'm late posting since I arrived home (from ABQ) just after 3 am this morning. A few hours sleep and some coffee, and I'm back online.

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  17. Delia, your LEFT ON TENTH was already on my must-read list, but has moved up to the top. Congratulations on all of your victories!! I am one of four sisters, too, and I can't imagine losing any of them. I tell them I better be the first to go.

    And Hallie, so glad you are moving towards writing once more.

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    1. Four is a lot. (Weren't there 4 March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy?)

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    2. Hallie, not to mention my four brothers :-)

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    3. A lot of siblngs for sure.
      Yes, I hope/believe Hallie is moving toward writing too.
      Delia

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  18. We're still with Verizon on the (shudder) family plan the kids talked me into years ago (Mom, it's so much cheaper!) I have a special email account to handle VZ temporary passwords when one of my kids tries to buy a new phone. They schedule with me in advance.

    When was Scott Simon's interview? Saturday morning? I was in a COVID booster-induced daze when my husband woke me up: "does Hallie Ephron have a sister named Delilah? The girls used to listen to her on the radio."

    I set him straight and fell back asleep.

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    1. Ha ha ha!! I remember someone I new, can't remember who, kept calling her Delphia. My mother believed in giving us unique first names.

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    2. Hallie, my nephew's littlest daughter is named Nora Joan.

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    3. Yep, as Hallie says, our mother did believe in unusual names.
      Delia

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  19. Welcome to Jungle Reds and Congratulations on the publication of your memoir, Delia. I cried while reading this post. I am so glad that Hallie brought your story to us today.

    Look forward to reading your memoir. I remember when Nora died and I cried.

    Diana

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    1. That's so sweet, Diana - thanks for sharing.

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    2. Thank you, Diana. Hope you enjoy it.
      Delia

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  20. So looking forward to reading this, Delia, and thank you to Hallie for getting it in on my radar!

    As a professional organizer who has worked with too many people who have lost loved ones and have to navigate the utility and financial accounts ("What accounts? what passwords? what secret code??") and the administrivia and the "what now?" decision making, the Verizon story brings up some scenes from my trenches. Thanks to Delia for taking us through many chapters that unfolded after an already tragic one.

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    1. Our phone companies do drive us nuts. You are so not alone.
      Hope you enjoy the book.
      Delia

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  21. I look so forward to reading this book. Your willingness to grapple with such knotty, difficult issues on the page is admirable. Best to you, Delia.

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  22. Thank you, Brenda.
    I hope you enjoy it.
    Delia

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  23. Welcome Delia. It’s wonderful to meet another Ephron. Four sisters, much like Little Women? I have no sisters, no brothers either. So I envy those people who do.

    I’m off to order your book.

    And Hallie, much love Another month gone by.

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  24. Hi Delia! I read a review of your wonderful book just a few days ago. All I can say is, when it rains, it pours. That's life.

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  25. Hi Delia and Hallie,
    I can't write anything different (or better) than what I've read so I'll just list 3 comments.

    1. Thank you for sharing.

    2. This part really touched me:
    The doctors – Dr. Roboz and my friend, Dr. Jon LaPook, both said to me, “You are not your sister.” What they meant was, my leukemia, under a microscope, was not her leukemia, even though we both had the same type, AML. They were willing me to believe I could survive.

    I wrote a lot about that in the book. That was difficult for me to believe because it felt like betrayal.

    3.Can you explain the title?

    Christina

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  26. Hi Delia, so lovely to have you here! And thank you, Hallie, for sharing her with us! I will be straight off to order Left on Tenth. There's nothing we all need more than stories with hope and humor and compassion.

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  27. Delia! Can you talk about the title?

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  28. Well, this is such a showstopper. In a good way. We all think we have so much control--and then we don't. And then we kind of--do.
    I am so enormously touched and impressed and inspired. Thank you. You both have taught us so much today. And Delia! Congratulations. Seems like too small a word, but imagine it full to the brim.

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  29. Delia,welcome! Thank you so much for sharing. The story you have to tell seems like you could have created it, but you lived it! Your memoir is on my TBR list and I'm going to listen to your interview on PBS later today.

    Hallie, thank you!

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  30. Well . . . I posted this at 3:32 am this morning, and Blogger said that my comment was posted, but it does seem to have disappeared . . . sorry [but thank you!] to the folks who were concerned . . . .

    Here's what I wrote:

    Joan EmersonApril 12, 2022 at 3:32 AM
    What an amazing, inspiring story, Hallie . . . I had actually seen an article in the New York Times online about this book [“Delia Ephron Writes Her Way Through Cancer to a Happy Ending,” Sunday, April 10, 2022] but hearing you and Delia talk about it is even more inspiring. I guess we’ll never be fully aware of all the twists and turns that life can toss at us . . . .

    Delia’s story is definitely an extraordinary one . . . thank you for sharing it with us.

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    1. Joan, glad all is well there... you are sort of our anchor.

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    2. Yes Joan, I was actually checking back this afternoon just to see if we had ever heard from you!

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    3. Glad to hear all is well with you, Joan - even if it isn't with Blogger!

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  31. Delia thank you for sharing your story, I listened to the interview on NPR ( Thank You Hallie for sharing the link!) and I can't wait to read the book. As a former nurse I can say that heartbreak and miracles are connected by HOPE.

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  32. I also saw the NYT article on Sunday. I was hoping you'd show up here, too. Hallie's comments are a bonus. Congratulations, Delia, on your book's publication! And for the way things have worked out. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

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  33. Grief, pain, fear mixed up with joy and love. Each are so individual and yet so universal. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

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  34. What an amazing story - so often what happens in life would be just unbelievable in a book or movie. Congratulations on the spectacular press and reviews, Delia!

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    1. Also, as a widow of 60, I really like the thought that I light meet a smart, handsome, silver haired gentleman in ten years and get to experience the adventure all over again.

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  35. How inspiring! So glad, Delia that you were able to make it through and then share your story with the world. I can't wait to read it.

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  36. Just when I was feeling stuck in life and grief, this book comes along. I am off to order it as I know, given that you're an Ephron and brilliant, like our Hallie, that it is just what I need to read -- right now!

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  37. Having been in the midst of a pity party (2 weeks of Covid despite vaccinations and boosters), I caught the tail end of a review (NPR?) and googled to find out about the book -- the reviews and interviews have been fascinating as is the story of your survival and new supportive love. Now, reading this interview - and knowing and respecting Hallie, I'm looking forward to putting this book at the very top of my TBR pile.

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