My friend Devorah Winegarten died today after a short and intense battle with cancer. She was one of my Circle Sisters, which is what we call our fellow writers at Story Circle Network. She and I were in a daily Internet group where we shared our victories and challenges related to our works-in-progress. Debs, or the Debster as she often called herself, was a powerhouse of positive energy and forward motion. She set the pace for that group with clear challenges for herself and lots of encouragement for the rest of us to push forward through our fear and procrastination. She was the queen of the outrageous request, modeling how asking for more than you think you’ll ever get can result in more yeses than nos. Yes, Debs had more energy, more focus and more excitement for life than most of the rest of us combined.
Debs and I were both scheduled to present pre-conference workshops at the “Stories from the Heart” writing conference in Austin in July. She was a masterful presenter on marketing and I was already looking forward to learning all sorts of new ways to get out of my comfort zone and get the word out about my work. That was until I received an email early one morning while I was in a hotel in New Mexico, halfway to Texas for the conference. “Devorah will not be presenting at the conference,” the email said. “She has some health problems.” I knew in that instant that Debs had to be really ill. She loved Story Circle more than almost anyone I knew and she had been talking about how excited she was to see everyone. I soon received a follow-up email that confirmed my worst fear. Debs had been diagnosed with terminal bone cancer and was already in the hospital due to massive bone deterioration in her pelvis. I told the bad news to Ray and our friend and priest Ian who was traveling with us, then I cried. When I arrived at the conference, a whole group of us hugged each other tight, talked about our love for our Debs, and knew that this story was not going to have a happy ending.
But Debs, as usual, put the kibosh on all that sadness. Over the next few weeks, she and her life partner, Cindy, arranged to have a gathering to renew their vows after 20 years together. Debs’ synagogue came en masse to the hospital for several services with her, she rallied support for donations to the Ruthe Winegarten memorial fund for Texas Women’s History, for her mother who had been a writer devoted to telling the stories of Texas women. Debs, per usual, continue to serve as a role model for living life to the fullest, even while moving toward death.
And today was the day that Devorah Winegarten died. On the Jewish New Year, of course, which is a day of celebration, hope and love. Nothing surprising about this departure date for our beloved Debs.
As Leonard Cohen so aptly wrote and what I imagine Devorah would say to all of us who are sad:
You know my love goes with you as your love stays with me
It’s just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea
But let’s not talk of love or chains and things we can’t untie
Your eyes are soft with sorrow
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye
No goodbyes, Circle Sister. You’ll be here with us in spirit until it’s our time to see you again.
Until then, fly high.
In the meantime, we’ll do our best down here to make you proud.