Seventeen

nerjadwedding

I’m hijacking Nina’s blog today. Sorry. But it’s for a good cause. You’ll see. The writing won’t be nearly up to snuff, but the occasion is sort of a valid excuse?

So today is my seventeenth wedding anniversary. But it’s the first time I’ve celebrated one without a wife. Nina made it almost exactly 16.5 years into our marriage, which we’d both envisioned lasting long into our dotage (which, yes, you could argue is already nascent in my case, but was not in hers!). Today I’ll mark the occasion by picking the kids up at Camp Kesem, the same wonderful place where they went for their first overnight camp last summer. I remember it felt almost criminally liberating leaving the boys, and to be home all week without them. Nina and I kept having these sudden “realizations” where we’d panic that we didn’t know where the kids were, then remember we’d left them safe and sound in the woodlands of Virginia, three hours away, with a bunch of college kids, whom the kids liked better than us anyhow. Phew.

That occasional panic lasted about 24 hours. Then we got REAL used to having a kid free week. Actually, Nina was in the throes of an intensive round of radiation, which started two days before our anniversary. And the anniversary was only two days before we took the kids off to camp, so I’m pretty sure it went more or less uncelebrated. But by the time the kids were done with camp Nina was too radiation sick to travel, so I got the boys by myself then, too.

Just like last year, we will head up to Naushon—Nina’s communal family spot off Cape Cod–a few days after the boys get home from camp. This year that’s just when our time up there starts. Last year we had to wait a few days for Nina to be well enough to travel. I remember during our stay we talked about how many more times we’d get to enjoy the house up there, its breathtaking views and familiar structures—the halls of the house where Nina’s father played with his brothers and sister, where Nina and Charlie grew up knowing every knot hole and creaky plank, and where our two boys have been coming since before they knew there was any such thing as vacation houses, extended family, motorboats, or cancer. We were aware of the ticking of the clock, but I think we both imagined at least one more trip.

This summer we’re not just going to Monsod without Nina—which would be odd enough—we’re going to drive up there with her ashes in a box, and we’re going to commit them to the ground on Nonamesset Island. It’s a stunning place. The burial will be marked by an engraved stone, on a beautiful spot where Nina’s cousin Alex—who died a few years back at about the same age Nina was—is buried. Nina’s aunt and uncle picked Alex’s burial ground superlatively well: in full view of Monsod, her favorite place on the planet, and also Martha’s Vineyard, the Sound, and Woods Hole. Pete and I picked out stones for both Nina and Jan, so they’ll both be making their last trips to Naushon, as it were. The longest funeral procession ever. All the way up I-95 from North Carolina, and in Jan’s case, two years in the making.

But before all that, gotta get though today: our seventeenth anniversary. Anniversaries are funny. We celebrate the wedding, but not the start of the relationship for some reason. Nina and I actually were together starting in June of 1999. And we met the summer before that. So it’s really our eighteenth or nineteenth anniversary, by gum!

Still, there are some conventions that are fun to follow, however flawed. For a while I used to use the “traditional” list of anniversary gift materials for Nina’s presents. We weren’t traditional. But I liked the list as a sort of starting point, and it became a fun challenge to find a good gift that actually matched the material for that year: for our 10th I got tin jewelry from Wales, for our 12th a silk jewelry travel pouch, and for our 15th crystal champagne glasses. It was a little silly and frivolous, I guess. But it also gave some tradition and structure to anniversary celebrations, which for us were not giant to-dos. We never did anything more than go out for a nice dinner.

Just for kicks I looked up seventeen on the traditional list and it said: “Furniture.” I don’t think anyone traditionally gave “Furniture.” In fact, I don’t think anyone traditionally celebrated the seventeenth anniversary, so “Furniture” is probably just a furniture industry ruse cooked up down I-85 in High Point, NC to boost sales. But, as it happens, I am executing a plan Nina and I made for an extensive remodel of our house, which includes a new master bedroom suite, two-car garage, newly remodeled family room, new half bath, and a “bonus” room over the garage, much of which will be fairly empty. So I will, without question, be purchasing “Furniture” in great abundance in this the year of our seventeenth anniversary.

Like I said, we never really made that much of anniversaries. But as this one approached, I really felt the loss more acutely. I can’t tell if it’s just the passage of additional time—nearly six months have passed since Nina died now—or the gradual return of life to its circadian rhythms. Not “normal,” whatever fictive thing that is or was, but normalized. Regular. Measured in more predictable emotional and quotidian metes and bounds. But that feels odd. Upsetting. Not because I want life to stand still because Nina died. But the passing of new epochs of our lives brings a kind of drift—not distance exactly, because I can still summon her immanence with photos, memories, or the company of friends and family who knew her well. But a persistent tidal flux that, though it keeps me more or less in the same area, nearly remakes the whole landscape each time it rises and falls. New detritus washed up around me every time, scattered in different places. And even though the landscape looks basically familiar from even ten or twenty yards out to sea, when I examine it closely, I realize it’s totally changed.

I’d prefer this ebb and flow wash me as smooth as beach glass (a great love for collecting which Nina learned from her father and passed on to her children). But I keep finding I’m all jagged edges, even though I’m constantly immersed in the salty tumult. Maybe I’m a beer bottle made from tempered glass? Or safety glass blown out of a warship during a great battle? Or maybe I’m just pushing this metaphor way beyond the flexural strength of any known form of glass or language?

The point is, I miss Nina. I miss her smile, her voice, her touch, of course. But I also miss her equal zeal for socializing and cancelling plans to cuddle in our bed and eat takeout. I miss her unbelievable gift for relationships, for not being afraid to confront the really difficult parts of being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, or friend, in order to preserve the very best bits, even if it hurt sometimes. I miss her fearlessness to try to do whatever she thought was best, even when she was afraid. I miss her more today than other days, I suppose. But I miss her achingly all the time.

The ardor over her book, the immediacy and shock of grief, and the incredible support I’ve had gave me momentum for several months after she died. But now on our first anniversary since Nina’s death, I feel a million miles from coping. I’m not a terrible parent, but I’m not the parent I’d be alongside Nina. And I’m not awful company, either. You know, for a guy who’s grieving and wasn’t all that much fun before the grief. But I was always a whole lot better at parties and get-togethers with Nina along. I’m going to keep on parenting my kids (yikes!) and hanging out with my peeps (sorry, friends and family of Nina, contract not dissolved by death of one partner!), but we were a team, a unit. And today was meant to be a celebration of that. A casual celebration at our favorite restaurant, where I’d probably not have been able to bring a whole piece of “Furniture” to present to her as a gift. I bet picking out “Furniture” for our newly remodeled house would have been a pretty slick present anyhow. So I’ll just do that. And keep missing Nina. Happy seventeenth, NER: the “Furniture” anniversary, which is maybe appropriate, as long as all the “Furniture” remains unfinished.

All the links for The Bright Hour

The Bright Hour has had some wonderful press attention. Nina’s publisher has kept a wonderful cache of links and information, which I linked to here. But I thought I would also make all the various media available right here on the blog with direct individual links where available. I hope these all work! And thanks to Sarah Reidy at Simon & Schuster for tirelessly cataloging these!!

— xojd

NATIONAL TV

JUN 29    TODAY SHOW / NBC / Emma Straub Summer Reads pick / LINK

 

NATIONAL PRINT

MAR 30    WASHINGTON POST / Roundup / Books We Can’t Wait To Read This Spring / LINK

APR 1    Library Journal / Review / STARRED Review

APR 15    Booklist / Review

APR 24    Publishers Weekly / Review / STARRED Review / LINK

MAY 1    Kirkus Reviews / Review / STARRED Review / LINK

JUN 1    BOOKPAGE / Review

JUN 1    REAL SIMPLE / Review / The Short List

JUN 2    WASHINGTON POST / Feature / Style Section Feature (Interview / Review) / LINK

JUN 7    Wall Street Journal / Review / LINK

JUN 8    WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD / Roundup / 37 Books We’ve Loved So Far in 2017 / LINK

JUN 12    PEOPLE / Review / Book of the Week

JUN 12    New York Magazine / Roundup / Approval Matrix: Highbrow Brilliant / LINK

JUN 18    NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW / Roundup / LINK

JUN 19    ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY / Roundup / Best New Books

JUN 23    ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY / Roundup / Best New Books

JUN 24    USA Today / Roundup / Weekend Picks for Book Lovers / LINK

JUN 25    NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW / Roundup / Editor’s Choice / LINK

JUL 1    Glamour / Review / The Six Juiciest Summer Reads

JUL 1    O MAGAZINE / Feature

JUL 1    Redbook / Roundup / Summer Reads

 

LOCAL RADIO

JUN 9    Raleigh-Durham, NC / WUNC-FM / The State of Things / Taped interview with John / LINK

 

LOCAL PRINT

MAY 16    Seattle Times / Roundup / Summer Reading Recommendations from Local Literary Celebrities / LINK

MAY 19    ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION / Roundup / 12 of the best and brightest Southern books for summer 2017 / LINK

JUN 1    Boston Globe / Review / LINK

JUN 3    GREENSBORO NEWS & RECORD / Feature / LINK

JUN 4    GREENSBORO NEWS & RECORD / Event Listing / LINK

JUN 7    SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER / Event Listing / LINK

JUN 11    Detroit Free Press / Roundup / Summer Reads / LINK

JUN 18    NEW YORK POST / Roundup / Required Reading / LINK

JUN 18    Virginian Pilot / Roundup / Books to carry you through the summer / LINK

JUL 2    ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION / Review / LINK

JUL 2    Dayton Daily News / Review / Book Nook column / LINK

JUL 2    CHARLOTTE OBSERVER / Review / Triangle Reader Recommends / Reader’s Pick / LINK

 

ONLINE

MAR 16    Publishers Weekly / Round-up / On Sale Calendar: June 2017 / LINK

MAR 21    BOOKPAGE BLOG / THE BOOKCASE / Round-up / 2017 Preview: Most Anticipated Memoirs / LINK

MAR 26    SheKnows / Round-up / “10 Moms Who Embraced Their Passions, Inspired Change and Wrote About It” / LINK

MAR 26    OZY / Round-up / Katie Couric Guest Curated Newsletter / Recommends Book and Modern Love / LINK

MAR 26    ADWEEK / Event Mention / Item on Katie Couric OZY recommendation / LINK

APR 6    DENVER POST / Round-up / Reposted WaPo Spring Books Roundup / LINK

MAY 8    Glamour / Round-up / New Books by Women You’re Guaranteed to Love This Summer / LINK

MAY 8    Huffington Post / Round-up / Picked up Glamour.com Summer Reads / LINK

MAY 9    A Design So Vast / Review / LINK

MAY 12    BOOKRIOT.COM / Round-up / 100 Must-Read Books on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenthood / LINK

MAY 23    Literary Hub (lithub.com) / Original Piece / Adapted Eulogy by Tita Ramirez / LINK

MAY 23    Lit Hub Daily / Round-up / Link in Daily Newsletter / LINK

MAY 25    Read it Forward / Round-up / Best of May / LINK

MAY 27    Literary Hub (lithub.com) / Round-up / Link to Tita’s piece in Weekly Newsletter

MAY 30    Bookish / Round-up / Summer Preview / LINK

JUN 1    Washington Post / Interview / Full transcript of Nina’s Interview (online only) / LINK

JUN 1    BUSINESS INSIDER / Round-up / Round up of Amazon Best of Picks / LINK

JUN 2    InStyle / Round-up / June Book Recommendations / LINK

JUN 2    Everything Zoomer / Round-up / LINK

JUN 4    Love in the Time of Cancer / Review / LINK

JUN 5    USA Today / Review / 4 out of 4 Stars / LINK

JUN 5    Brit + Co / Round-up / 10 Hot New Reads to Pick Up in June / LINK

JUN 5    BITCH MAGAZINE / Round-up / 17 BOOKS YOU SHOULD READ IN JUNE / LINK

JUN 6    Omnivoracious / Interview / Interview with Marysue Rucci / LINK

JUN 6    Omnivoracious / Round-up / Post of Best of the Month selections / LINK

JUN 8    Vulture / Round-up / 7 New Books You Need to Read This June / LINK

JUN 8    Bookreporter.com / Review / LINK

JUN 9    Katie Couric / Yahoo / Interview / Interview with John / LINK

JUN 9    WRITER’S BONE / Round-up / 20 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: June 2017/ LINK

JUN 9    Literary Hub (lithub.com) / Round-up / Best Reviewed Books of the Week / LINK

JUN 9    WLRN Online / Round-up / Friday Reads / LINK

JUN 15    SHELF AWARENESS PRO / Feature / Book Trailer of the Day / LINK

JUN 16    Bookreporter.com / Mention / Weekly Update Newsletter / Item of “Bookreporter Bets On” Pick / LINK

JUN 16    Bookreporter.com / Review / “Bookreporter Bets On” / LINK

JUN 16    Omnivoracious / Round-up / Best Biographies and Memoirs of June / LINK

JUN 19    Levo.com / Round-up / 20 Books That Will Breathe Life Into Your Summer / LINK

JUN 19    Cup of Jo / Original Piece / Piece by John / LINK

JUN 21    STAT NEWS / Round-up / 35 best health and science books to read this summer / LINK

JUN 22    Cup of Jo / Round-up / Link to John’s piece in weekly newsletter

JUN 22    Signature Reads / Review / 3 Rich Reads to Take Into Your Summer / LINK

JUN 22    Greensboro News & Record / Feature Blog Post / LINK

JUN 22    Health.com / Round-up / 8 Beach Reads Our Editors Couldn’t Put Down / LINK

JUN 22    Eye Level / Review / Issue Four: Currently Reading / LINK

JUN 23    Sojourners / Feature / “What ‘The Bright Hour’ Can Teach Us About Living and Dying” / LINK

JUN 23    Katie Couric’s FYI Newsletter / Round-up / Link to John’s Yahoo Interview

JUN 26    NBCC’s Critical Mass / Round-up / LINK

JUN 27    UNCG.edu / Feature / Piece on success of TBH / LINK

JUN 29    NPR.ORG / Round-up / “A Powerful Intersection: Pairing Memoir And Science Writing” / LINK

JUN 30    The Digest Online / Round-up / Books to Read in Summer ‘17 / LINK

JUN 30    Another Mother Runner Podcast / Round-up / Summer Reads podcast / LINK

JUL 2    Crave / Round-up / 6 Good Books to Buy for the Women in Your Life / LINK

JUL 4    Medium / Round-up / Top Books in 2017 (So Far) / LINK

JUL 5    Slate / Review / LINK

JUL 5    Glitter Guide / Round-up / July’s Must Read List / LINK

JUL 6    Intima / Review / LINK

JUL 6    Intima / Review / LINK

JUL 7    Girls Night In / Round-up / Weekly Newsletter / 4 things to do during a night in

 

Pull Quotes

“So beautifully written. She really makes you want to live every single day.” [Emma Straub]
TODAY SHOW

“In this memoir, published posthumously, Nina Riggs asks: How do you make life meaningful when you know your time is limited? With humor and honesty, The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying chronicles Riggs’s diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer and the moments shared with her school-age sons and her husband before her death at age 39.”—The Short List: Five Books That Won’t Disappoint
REAL SIMPLE

“Profound and poignant…I put down The Bright Hour a slightly different, and better, person – unbearably sad and also feeling, as Riggs did, ‘the hug of the world.'”
O MAGAZINE

“The book will make you feel joy. Riggs writes beautifully about her family, her love of literature and nature, of beach vacations and watching her son learn to ride a bike…“The Bright Hour” is a stunning work, a heart-rending meditation on life — not just how to appreciate it while you’re living it, but how to embrace its end, too. It is this year’s “When Breath Becomes Air”…Riggs barely pauses to pity herself or her family. She trudges forward with the kind of strength and humor that make reading her account a bittersweet pleasure. Her wit is sharp and her observations lyrical.”
WASHINGTON POST

“Inspired by the unforgettable New York Times Modern Love column, this memoir by a young mother with terminal cancer is touching and wickedly funny.”
Glamour

“Riggs is to be admired for candidly sharing the battle she fights, and for her no-holds-barred documentation of all the depleting minutiae of such a fight. Throughout, she sprinkles in the philosophies of life she ponders and the gallows humor that helps her cope…[it] will be appreciated for its raw honesty.”
Booklist

“The author writes with a seamless flow and an honest, heartfelt tone; the narrative often glides into passages of gorgeous, rhythmic prose leaving no doubt about Riggs’ immense talent for poetic language. She also retains a dry, witty sense of humor throughout despite the sadness of enduring chemotherapy and its side effects, navigating advanced medical and legal directives, a mastectomy, and an incremental decline in her health…Riggs’ indefatigable spirit is the true heroine in this story of life and loss; even in her darkest moments, she writes, “the beautiful, vibrant, living world goes on.” A luminous, heartbreaking symphony of wit, wisdom, pain, parenting, and perseverance against insurmountable odds.” [STARRED]
Kirkus Reviews

“Poet Nina Riggs was only 37, the mother of two young sons, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within a year she had lost her mother to multiple myeloma—and learned her own cancer was terminal as well. Riggs died last February, leaving behind this deeply affecting memoir, a simultaneously heartbreaking and funny account of living with loss and the specter of death. As she lyrically, unflinchingly details her reality, she finds beauty and truth that comfort even amid the crushing sadness.”
PEOPLE

“[Riggs] reminds us that we are all in this world until we leave it; the gallows humor surrounding her mother’s funeral will make readers howl guiltily but appreciatively. Whether confronting disease or not, everyone should read this beautifully crafted book as it imbues life and loved ones with a particularly transcendent glow.” [STARRED]
Library Journal

“Moving and insightful…Despite the profound sadness of her situation, Riggs writes with humor; the memoir is rife with witty one-liners and musings on the joys and challenges of mothering and observations on the importance of loving relationships…n this tender memoir Riggs displays a keen awareness of and reverence for all the moments of life—both the light, and the dark, “the cruel, and the beautiful.””[STARRED]
Publishers Weekly

“With “The Bright Hour,” Riggs leaves behind a literary legacy that captures both her incredible talent and her unwavering love for her family…Her lyrical, honest prose immerses the reader in her world — you feel the fear, the despair, the joy…Riggs perfectly captures the strange, sometimes otherworldly feeling experience of cancer treatment…But though one might expect a tome of sadness and despair from a writer with only months left to live, Riggs fills her memoir with vivid, messy, beautiful life. The book illustrates how Riggs’ sense of humor never falters…Riggs seamlessly integrates both Emerson’s and Montaigne’s thoughts on life, death and health, adding a richness to her own experience.”
GREENSBORO NEWS & RECORD

“Through this warmhearted memoir, Riggs writes her way to accepting her own death and the uncertainty that follows it. The Bright Hour is an introspective, well-considered tribute to life. As Riggs’ famed ancestor Emerson writes, “That is morning; to cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body and to become as large as the World.””
BOOKPAGE

“Wry and tender.”
ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION

“A vivid, immediate dispatch from the front lines of mortality and a record of a life by someone who wasn’t done living yet. But there is nothing maudlin about it…her warm portraits of each of [the members of her closest circle] are a large part of the book’s emotional power. So is something we don’t notice fully until it’s gone: the strength and clarity of Riggs’s voice, which never faded on the page, and which we won’t get to hear again.”
Boston Globe

“The antithesis of grim: an irreverent and poignant Baedeker through the country of illness.”
Wall Street Journal

“Written in the final two years of her life, a mother’s poignant memoir about her life, family and last days.”
WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD

“This gorgeous chronicle of the last year of her life – brimming with seemingly mundane details about parenting, buying a couch, getting a puppy – is a gentle reminder to cherish each day.” [Best New Books]
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

“Moving and often very funny…You can read a multitude of books about how to die, but Riggs, a dying woman, will show you how to live.”
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

Her observations about cancer are frank and unsentimental…They are also tart and hilarious…Like the bestselling “When Breath Becomes Air,” the work she left behind is a beautiful testament to the quiet magic of everyday life and making the most of the time we are given, whether it’s spent taking last-minute trips to Paris, wallpapering the mudroom, or reveling in a newly purchased couch.”
NEW YORK POST

“That a writer with only months to live could carve out the time and energy to chronicle her experience of terminal cancer is an impressive feat. That a writer could accomplish this with such exuberant prose as Nina Riggs does in her debut memoir is revelatory…captures vivid, dynamic moments, searing truths, bitter ironies and every delicate emotion in between… “The Bright Hour” equals “Breath” in clarity, nuance and artistry…Ultimately, this is Riggs’ magic. She has produced a work about dying that evokes whimsy and joy, one that sublimely affirms that the inevitability of death carries with it its own kind of light and grace.”
ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION

“This moving and often very funny memoir of Riggs’s experience with metastatic breast cancer is bromide-free and honest. She died shortly after completing it, but her words will show you how to live.”
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

“As [Riggs] accepted her fate with magnificent poise, my heart was trembling. A sublime transformation to witness.”
Dayton Daily News

“A beautiful and poetic set of essays about a woman’s life as a young mother with terminal cancer. It could have focused largely on the incredible sadness of a family dealing with terminal cancer, but instead it was uplifting and filled with light, humor and peace, and the joys in everyday living. I want to re-read it to gain more of the wisdom of this incredible woman. I cannot recommend it highly enough, if you love memoirs which I do.”
CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

“An amazing book.”- Katie Couric
OZY

“Disarmingly raw and emotionally captivating with every word, The Bright Hour will inspire every mama to reach for the stars today and every day.”
SheKnows

“Riveting.”
BOOKPAGE BLOG / THE BOOKCASE

“Author Nina Riggs was 37, the mother of two young sons, and married to her best friend when she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. This is the story of how she faced the unthinkable with humanity and most of all with love.”
Glamour

“Full of vibrant life and vivid details, written in clear, often-humorous prose…This book is beautiful. Walk, don’t run to order and read it…I urge you to read this gorgeous book, and plead that you not be afraid of it. Nine is a once in a lifetime person, and though I regret not knowing her while she lived, I’m hugely grateful that I read her words, that she put them down, and that I experienced, however briefly, the world through her eyes.”
A Design So Vast

“A beautiful gift…A heartrending reminder of life’s worthiness from the descendent of Ralph Waldo Emerson, this is a beautiful time-capsule of Riggs’ experiences.”
Read it Forward

“There are books that speak to our inner lives and make us feel more human. There are books that draw us out of ourselves and carry us somewhere new. The Bright Hour manages both. Riggs was just 37 when doctors discovered a small spot of cancer. By turns humorous and heartbreaking, she faces the unthinkable with remarkable grace. One might surmise “A Memoir of Living and Dying” will evoke tears. But Riggs’ legacy is a gift for us all: the pervasiveness of light, the preciousness of days, and — as we suspect — how the meaning of life might be love.” [Caroline Donofrio]
Eye Level

“Anyone who read and enjoyed Paul Kalanathi’s When Breath Becomes Air will likely enjoy this (to the extent one can enjoy the story of someone’s demise). This book poses the same unanswerable questions that Kalanathi’s does. Riggs, who passed away in February 2017 from cancer, endeavors to answer those questions with so with so much levity, warmth, honesty, and lyricism that it almost is enjoyable (even when she’s telling her children that she’s dying).”
WRITER’S BONE

“Poignant…For anyone looking for wise words on the subject of cancer—this is your book, but it also contains so much more. Riggs was the great-great-great-granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and there is a running theme throughout the book about the huge importance of art and the humanity it can impart.”
Bookish

“As a poet she composed THE BRIGHT HOUR with delicacy, love of language, full awareness, and a realism that almost hurts to read and absorb…A family history, a personal memoir, and a roadmap for others to follow, THE BRIGHT HOUR is a story to embrace, learn from and recommend to good friends.”
Bookreporter.com

“Fans of Paul Kalanithi’s heart-wrenching memoir will enjoy this poignant story about how a grown woman—who’s also a direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson—spends her last days after being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.”
InStyle

“In the tradition of Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air,” this memoir, penned by the great-great-great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, is about how this wife and mother of two copes with her terminal cancer diagnosis. Not a likely candidate for your beach bag, but its poignant, wise, and surprisingly light moments will keep you turning the pages, and counting your blessings.”
BUSINESS INSIDER

“With this book Riggs raises the bar on how to die, and how to see the world every single day that you are alive. This will be the most uplifting book you read this year.”
Love in the Time of Cancer

“The Bright Hour is a beautifully wrought, at times disarmingly funny, but always courageous book about how to live – and love – every day, even “with death in the room.””
Everything Zoomer

“Beautiful and haunting…a thoughtful and heartbreaking exploration of what makes life meaningful in a person’s remaining days…Buried within this agonizing tale are moments of levity — I laughed out loud many, many times — and flashes of poetry…This book provides a stunning look at that experience and has forever changed my understanding of the illness narrative. It’s a book every doctor and patient should read…It’s hard not to compare The Bright Hour to When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi’s best-selling memoir about his battle with lung cancer. Both were in their late 30s when they discovered they were dying, and both write spare prose with a poignancy that is uncommon. However, Riggs’ book is markedly different in tone and content. It’s more humorous and less philosophical — but equally moving.”
USA Today

“It’s a tearjerker, but if you enjoyed When Breath Becomes Air, this book will hit the same emotional spots.”
BITCH MAGAZINE

“Memoirs of serious illness are haunted by the twin specters of death and self-help; whether ending in remission or posthumous sainthood, they suffer from the soft bigotry of the critic-proof. Riggs, who died at 39, a month after finishing this book, emulated entirely different writers, from Cheryl Strayed to essayists like Michel de Montaigne and her ancestor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Her story was driven not just by her dark pursuer, breast cancer, but also by lives lived and books read. Read it for its insights, not its subject.”
Vulture

“A literary legacy of a life cut short by breast cancer.”
Katie Couric / Yahoo

“A lyrical, honest, and unsentimental mediation on living and living with stage 4 cancer…What I can’t turn away from as I sit with Nina’s story is her voice. It is present and unflinching. Its glittering pulse draws me into a narrative that moves towards that Bright Hour of the title, taken from Emerson’s journal: “… to cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body, and to become as large as the World.” It is a voice that keeps me up at night.”
WLRN Online

“A beautiful (and even joyful) memoir on living and dying.”
Cup of Jo

“A beautiful book about how you live when you are dealt a bad hand. For those who would shy away because it may be sad, embrace it for being honest, funny and brave.”
Bookreporter.com

“While living with terminal breast cancer, Riggs’s love of language allowed her to…write with a stunning clarity about the meaning of life when confronted with your own death. In my first year as a doctor, I’ve seen a number of people die. Exhausted by my training and burdened by grief, I catch myself wondering, what’s the point of it all? Riggs artfully taps into this universal curiosity, and her insights are a rare, precious gift. The end of life is a chapter we will all face, and Riggs proves that it can be written beautifully.”
STAT NEWS

“Full of joy and sweetness. The tears that came to my eyes several times in the reading of this book were not tears of sadness as they were in recognition of the tiny joys that comprise a life, and indicated recognition that…it’s those things that we realize we are going to miss when we are suddenly confronted with a fact that few of us want to face…[Riggs’] deep-rooted skills as a writer allow her to make all of the aspects of what she is going through into a form of art.”
Signature Reads

“This is one of those books that leaves you a little different than you were before…Poignant, vivid, and often funny, her stunning memoir about her last two years will help you relish the beauty in everyday life.”
Health.com

“Nina Riggs’s The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, also published this month, isn’t as famous as Gay’s book — but I hope it becomes so…a steady voice that invites us to feel the emotion without becoming swamped by it.”
NPR.ORG

“This synopsis sounds like a downer, but the book is not; Riggs finds ways to inject humor and wisdom into her experiences as her days among the living dwindle.”
Crave

“A courageous and heartfelt book about living and dying with cancer. Riggs does her best to help us?—?her readers?—?imagine the unimaginable…Riggs passed away before this book was published, but she’ll live on through her profound words.”
Medium

“Yet The Bright Hour is not a gloomy or brooding book. Perhaps Riggs’ life as a poet taught her to reconcile herself to transience, frustration, and the unlikelihood of achieving renown… Riggs shows us what that life is, bathed in the incandescence of anticipated loss…Riggs is funny and frank…Fear is strangely absent from the most popular books of this kind, and perhaps The Bright Hour is too raw to join their numbers. But Riggs’ willingness to include that darkness is what gives her last work its surpassing radiance.”
Slate

“An introspective told in gorgeous prose…truly stunning.”
The Digest Online

“[The Bright Hour is] heartbreaking in its realness, and will make you stop and appreciate every little moment—both good and bad.
Glitter Guide

“This book has a compelling voice that holds us buoyed, even entertained, in its progress to its inevitable conclusion, due to Nina Riggs’s willingness to bring us in close as she “clarifies” the heightened conditions of living with terminal illness…Riggs is a steady soul and a deft writer who is unafraid of reflection and strong emotion.”
Intima

“Read this if you enjoyed When Breath Becomes Air.”
Girls Night In

“We brace for the worst, knowing the ending before we even begin, in much the same way we did when starting Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s transcendent When Breath Becomes Air. Yet this book has a compelling voice that holds us buoyed, even entertained, in its progress to its inevitable conclusion…It’s that honest voice, that telling assessment of the truth, that calms us as we read this memoir about mortality…Riggs is a steady soul and a deft writer who is unafraid of reflection and strong emotion.”
Intima

Going Back to Suspicious Country

I took this blog down for a time. I wanted in part to let Nina’s memoir, The Bright Hour, stand on its own, without this as precursor. Nina used her material from this blog in the book, of course, but she edited, restructured, altered, and otherwise transformed it, and I didn’t feel quite right having a parallel text out there to square with the final product. But then I thought: this was the starting place. This is where the wheels got turning that ultimately led to her writing the book—turning a few dozen pages of blog posts into over three hundred pages of memoir in about four months’ time, all while dying of cancer.

Nina finished The Bright Hour only about six weeks before she died, just over four months ago. I feel like I’ve lived four years since then. But at the same time, just two weeks before she died, back in early February, we were on a trip to Turks & Caicos together—our last vacation—touring the island on a Vespa. It’s like laying next to a quickly moving stream. So close, so quickly gone, all at once. She’s obviously started to recede from my everyday life, the way people do when they are gone. But in many ways I feel her immanence too. In pictures, in things my kids say or remember, and of course every time I open her book I feel a connectedness that reminds me our life together is not so impossibly far in the distance behind me. I love when I get a message from someone who’s read The Bright Hour. In part I love it because it’s like a sympathy card—a gesture of pure kindness. But I also love it because most of those people have just “met” Nina for the first time! It’s like a little renewal, a small recursive going back and touching on her while my life without her still moves forward. And it is one of many things about Nina’s book project that aids in my grieving and memory of her.

So I’ve decided to pop my head back into Suspicious Country. I made the blog public again and I wanted to post this here to say: please enjoy her book, her blog, and all her writing, and feel free to comment or send messages as you’re moved to do. Those of us Nina left behind appreciate tremendously all your kind thoughts, remembrances, celebrations, and discussions of her life and work.

Nina Ellen Riggs: March 29, 1977 – February 26, 2017

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Post by John Duberstein

Nina died early Sunday morning, February 26, 2017 at Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro’s Beacon Place, after living two-plus years with breast cancer. Her book, The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, is available for preorder on Amazon. You can link here to her obituary as well as information on and an RSVP for the memorial service, planned for Monday March 13, 2017 at the New Garden Friends Meeting in Greensboro.

In lieu of flowers please make a contribution to one of the following organizations:

 

Camp Radiation

The dogs are at odds this morning. They usually play fight and nip at each other’s ears and paws for hours—the boys call it the Morning Match, the Afternoon Attack, and the Dinnertime Duel—but there is an edge to it today. Some yelping, a growl. One knocks the water bowl, the other slinks under the dining room table to sulk during the Morning Match. Maybe they’re trying to fill the gap of the lack of conflict in the house with the boys gone.

John just left to pick them up from their week at Cancer Camp. I guess we’re going to have to stop referring to it so breezily now that they’ll be home. Camp Kesem. A camp for kids who have a parent dealing with or dead from cancer. A tiny beautiful loving little nest of a place. I wanted to go back up into the Shenandoah’s with John to fetch them but I am not up to it. This latest treatment has been grueling.

I have a new tumor on my spine—this one at T12 vertebra, a few rings above the last one. Also some new cancer at the site of the last one. Plus the ones in my hips. For this treatment they give me a much higher dose of radiation than what I’ve become used to, and because the tumor is resting right next to my spinal cord, precision is that much more important. They made me my own personal body mold to hold me in the exact same position each time.

“Scootch up in your cradle a little,” says Nelson the radiation therapist as I lie on the metal table, “We need to line up the lasers with those crosshairs on your belly.”

After 45 minutes of angling and measuring and scootching and waiting, my arms—placed above my head—go numb and start to cramp. I’m dehydrated from spending the drive home vomiting after the last treatment. I wiggle my shoulders and Nelson’s partner Kelly pops up at at my head almost instantaneously. “You can’t move baby. Not even a twinge. Now we’re going to have to do the imaging all over again.”

“I’m so sorry,” I’m saying. I’m trying not to cry.

“I know,” she says, patting my thigh. “It’s not your fault, but you have to try harder.”

For the last five days John and I have been sitting around doing what all the other camp-sending parents do I guess: basking in our serenely quiet and clean house eating crackers and cheese and beer for dinner on the couch while simultaneously hitting the refresh button every two minutes on the Facebook page where the Camp posts hundreds of daily photos.

“Did you see the one of Freddy photobombing the counselor photo? Typical.”

“Yup. Did you see the one of Benny in the paddleboat with his stuffed animals? I think he was smiling. Do you think he was smiling?”

We’ve both been nervous about Benny—a profound homebody and on the very young end of the campers. And stubborn as hell.

It’s Freddy we get the call about, though. Yesterday afternoon. Joy—whose camp nickname is “Spring”—isn’t Joy already a pretty solid camp nickname?—is on the line. Everyone has self-selected camp nicknames. The camp directors go by Wallaby and Lotus.

“Foxtrot and The Platypus are both fine,” she says, “But we’ve been having some behavior problems with Foxtrot the last few days. He doesn’t always listen when he’s asked to do something. And yesterday during Feet on Bed Time, he and a friend were roughhousing and kneed another boy in the privates.”

Oh, Foxtrot.

“I am so sorry, although I am not super surprised to hear this,” I say. “Foxtrot has these issues at home as well.”

“No biggie,” she says, “He’s a trip—smart, hilarious, super responsible with his diabetes care. Just didn’t want you in the dark on this because he won’t be welcome back to Camp Kesem if this behavior continues. It’s too sensitive of an environment.”

“Of course,” I say. I’m holding the phone lying in bed with a scented sleep mask over my eyes to keep the nausea at bay. “I get it.”

Looking up helps—with nausea and when your kid is on the verge of getting kicked out of Cancer Camp.

Two days ago on the way home in the car while I was puking over and over again into the McDonald’s bag, my dad—my poor dad!—spotted some kind of dirigible up in the clouds over Graham, not far from the Embers Motor Lodge where the scooter patiently waited.

“Look at that,” he said—and we did, admiring its noiseless, almost imperceptible movement from where we were on highway below. I like direction that looks aimless but isn’t. Just subtle. Just making it’s way without hope, without despair. Isn’t that what Isak Dinesen said about writing? Same with living.

“That Platypus though,” says Spring, before we get off the phone. “He’s his own man, isn’t he. He’s doing just fine.” Surprises.

My last radiation blast is Monday. Yesterday’s aftermath is already better than the first with anti-nausea meds and steroids and some fluids on board. Once I get through this we get almost two weeks of vacation. We’re headed up to Cape Cod. It will be the one-year anniversary of losing my mom.

The big picture remains a little hazier. Other than radiation, there aren’t a lot of other treatment options available, although this landscape is always changing. The big hot thing in breast cancer (and many cancers) right now is immunotherapy, but it is still largely only available through clinical trials (unless, as the Queen said, I wanted to donate a building to Duke Hospital or something).

I am not eligible for any of the trials yet, unfortunately, because I have to fail another round of post-metastasis chemotherapy in order to qualify. That’s fine, but the problem is that the Queen feels strongly that it is my immune system that is keeping the cancer from taking off like wildfire right now, and more chemo that is unlikely to do anything will only deplete my immune system (this is her theory on why we are here to begin with).

So it’s a tough call. Plus all the of the US-based immunotherapy trials are still currently randomized and blind, which means you only have a 1 out of 3 chance of getting the actual drug and not the placebo.

The dogs still haven’t quite settled down. John should be home with the boys sometime mid-afternoon. MacDuff is standing on alert at the front door—barking at every Saturday morning lawnmower that growls on, every weed whacker, every bike wheel that tick-ticks by.

Ellie is lying at the foot of the bed. She can no longer hear or see very well. But if she feels me roll over in the bed she’s up standing at attention in a split second, staring at me. “What are we doing,” she implores. “What’s next?”

“I have no idea, you crazy beast,” I tell her, patting her head. “Let’s wait and see.”

The Crab

WRITTEN BY JOHN

No one is exactly sure how cancer came to be named. But, as with most things Western-medical, it is supposed to have originated with Hippocrates. Hippocrates apparently called the disease karkinos, the Greek word for “crab,” because of the crab-like tenacity of the tumor, the pain these masses caused (like the pinch of a crab), and the tumor’s hard, shell-like consistency. Later on the Roman-era Greek doctor Galen Romanized the name to “cancer” and speculated it was called that because of the crab-like shape of tumors he saw in his practice.

But crab also has taken on yet another meaning in our culture: orneriness. And—in spite of all the other cancer happenings—that is actually the meaning that’s been predominant in our household this summer. Sure, Nina’s got metastatic cancer, but she’s a whole lot less crabby than Benny, who is striving hard to achieve new levels of irritability and vernal indolence. In other words: don’t ask him to do anything if you don’t want to see The Crab!

The kid comes by his crabbiness honestly. He was born on July 13th, right in the heart of the zodiac sign of, you guessed it: Cancer. The other day we were reading horoscope typologies and one of the websites I visited generously described Benny’s temperament as “changeable and moody, overemotional and touchy, clinging and unable to let go.” I might have added “irrational, unhinged, and demanding,” but yeah, something like that. Let’s just say it suits him.

Summer is hard. It’s hard for kids, who have to adjust to a totally new schedule and paradigm. It’s hard for adults, who have to deal with kids who are not in school and acting like it. And this summer has been even harder than some. Nina has been in and out of radiation treatment. Before the summer, we were teetering on the edge of a relatively restful cancerous state, but, as with all things cancer, ultimately restive. And then there was cancer again, burrowing its crustaceous little claws into her hips, where she’s got tumors in both iliac bones. It’s been a weird time. Neither here nor there. Not long term treatment plan has taken shape yet, but there’s a vague allure of clinical trials. No major interventions (surgeries, chemo) but heavy duty radiation and the side effects of that, plus the cumulative wear and tear of cancer and life with cancer.

Then, just the other day, a familiar twinge. Like reaching into the shallow part of a summer beach where the water and sand are inextricable and feeling the sharp reminder that this is not just a place to play. Hermit crabs, green crabs, and lot of other pinchy creatures make that silty area their home. This time it’s pain in the back. Not where Nina previously broke her vertabra (the L2, we’ve become spinal experts!), but the spot her doctors had previously identified as “maybe something/maybe nothing” that we were waiting and seeing about. It’s near her T12, still the lower back but higher up.

Nina has developed an uncanny ability to know exactly where her cancer has gone. She knew she had a lump in her breast even when imaging could barely discern it. She knew she had a tumor in her back when it was still confounding x-rays and doctors alike. She had identified the very place where the cancer was in her hip while her doctor was still puzzling over whether or not it was worth doing additional imaging in that area. So when she homed in, pincer like, on the T12, I guess we both knew we had to go have it checked out. But we still called Duke to make sure we weren’t rushing off to the ER for nothing. The triage line at Duke has become a sort of oceanic sink hole for Nina. She calls. She waits. Sometimes they call back. Sometimes they don’t. But this time, the nurse listens eagerly, responds quite quickly that Nina’s oncologist, wants her to go to the ER stat.

We do. I leave work, we load the kids into the car. We have decided to go to the local ER, avoiding the time consuming and more exhausting trek to Durham. The triage nurse enthusiastically endorsed this idea. It pays dividends. Nina gets through the ER process in Greensboro in record time. The doctor is very kind and has a sort of general existential lassitude that’s somehow comforting. Like he’s been giving people bad news that they’re expecting for a long time. He examines her, sends her for imaging. Comes back and tells us the MRI shows that there’s a tumor at the T12, right in the very spot where she said she was hurting.

So now we have to wait and follow up with Duke. Nina will likely do additional radiation sooner rather than later, for both her other hip (the left one was treated, but not the right) and the new spot on her spine. They were already planning to restage her and maybe trying to get her into an immunotherapy trial. That should all be clearer in a week, when she sees the oncologist. No idea where this puts us. Does Nina stop working? Spend every second doing only exactly what she wants or must do? Do I take time off from work? Can we travel? How much time do we have? What will it be like? And the million other questions that I know I’m not supposed to be asking (live in the moment has never been my strong suit). Blargh.

When we leave the ER, we collect the boys from Pete, who’s probably taken care of them more than we have this summer. Benny wouldn’t eat anything in his stir fry except the meat. Carefully picking out green onions, fried rice, and veggies, Pete reports. We get home. Benny lies and says he’s brushed his teeth, then later forgets the lie and says he can’t find his toothbrush. He fights with his brother over Pokemon. He fights with us about being quiet at bedtime, about changing into clean underwear, about teeth brushing again. Every step forward is a step back, or maybe sideways. We put on some Scandanvian TV and try to fall asleep. No one sleeps. Nina’s in pain and emotionally overwrought. I have low blood sugar and am emotionally dysfunctional. Freddy has a restless night and is up several times. Except Benny. He sleeps the whole night through and wakes up as intransigent and uncooperative as ever. He refuses to clear his cereal bowl, then drops it while shuffling awkwardly across the kitchen carrying too many things. He angrily, reluctantly agrees to brush his teeth (Again?!!! I just did it last night!!!).

But he also comes in and out of our room several times, with an utter lack of sheepishness given his awful behavior moments before that may be unique to him and a special breed of sociopath, just to tell us (and particularly Nina, who is unequivocally the astrological, cosmological, and ontological center of his world) how nuzzly we are and how much he loves us, and, oh by the way did we know that the Pokemon Rhyperior has both lightening rod and solid rock abilities? Then he wants a cuddle. He sidles up to Nina’s side of the bed, squeezes himself up against her while continuing unabated with another Pokemon peroration (there is no oration, just an endless stream of discursive introduction into the world of Pokemon) and enjoys the fruits of summer vacation: no firm bedtime, unlimited Pokemon, and a mother who adores him despite his sometimes hard outer shell, pincers and distasteful, nipping behavior. I have to admit, it’s pretty adorable. Like the bath temperature water on the littoral, it makes the shoreline exploration worth the risk of crab bites. Benny. The Crab. This is our summer.