Shirley Melis writes about dancing through grief

I feel so grateful that I got the chance to interview Shirley Melis as she participates in her WOW! Women on Writing blog tour. As I’m no stranger to grief I was interested in how she deals with it and writes about it. Ultimately for both of us, we’ve learned to survive. Thank you, Shirley, for being here at Choices today.

About Banged-Up Heart:  is an intimate and clear-eyed account of finding love late and losing it early and of the strength it takes to fall deeply in love a second time, be forced to relinquish that love too soon, and yet choose to love again.

When her husband of thirty years dies suddenly, Shirley Melis is convinced she will never find another man like Joe. Then she meets John, a younger man who tells her during their first conversation that he has lived for many years with a rare but manageable cancer. She is swept off her feet in a whirlwind courtship, and within months, made brave by the early death of a friend’s husband, she asks him to marry her! What follows is a year-long odyssey of travel and a growing erotic and creative partnership until a mysterious bump on John’s forehead proves to be one of several tumors in his brain and spine.

The nine months that follow are filled with a life-threatening infection, three brain surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy. Two years and one week after their wedding, John dies at the age of fifty-nine. More than just a love story or a memoir of mourning, Banged-Up Heart comes down solidly on the side of life. It takes you deep inside an ordinary woman, her deeply felt grief butting up against her desire for more than companionship: passion, sexual fulfillment, and self-realization. It bears eloquent witness to the wild trust it takes to fall madly in love and risk profound loss a second time. Ultimately, it shows that it is possible to dance with a banged-up heart.

My Interview with Shirley Melis

  1. What moment or event sparked the inspiration for your book Banged-Up Heart?

I felt blindsided by John’s death.  I had to figure out what had happened to me.  So often, writing helps me see more clearly.  At first I just wanted to relive our wonderful relationship.  But after I got started I became wiser, I think more curious, more demanding.  I was curious about John and his behavior toward me.  Had he intentionally kept the severity of his illness a secret from me?  I was determined to face the questions I had never asked him.  In the end, celebrating the relationship was not nearly so important as getting as close to the truth as I could.

  1. What would you say are three things that you found to be the

most difficult part of writing a book.

1) Getting to my inner story, guided by questions (asked by my editor) that took me deep inside, into intense emotional places

2) Facing truths about myself and having the courage to put them on paper

3) Learning the craft of fiction writing to make my memoir come alive

  1. How soon after your first husband died did you meet John?

I’d been widowed nearly two years when I met John.

  1. Weren’t you wary when John told you he had a manageable kind of cancer?

When John told me, on our walk together in Raleigh, NC, that at 40 he’d been diagnosed with a rare cancer, he also told me that he controlled it with periodic infusions of Rituxan a drug similar to chemo but different and assured me there was a backup treatment in the wings.  His attitude was so positive I wasn’t concerned about his health.   I was concerned about our differences.  He was an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist whereas I had nearly been done in by algebra.  My high school principal, who tutored m, laughingly called me Euclid Melis!

  1. What lesson do you think we can all learn about love?

When it’s good, it’s something to be relished and nurtured.

  1. How do you live with/support a loved one who has brain cancer?

You take each day as it comes, living in the present as fully as possible.

  1. How did you survive after the loss of a loved one?

I was helped by joining a grief group and seeing a therapist.

  1. What would you say to your readers about how to grieve?

When you suffer the loss of a loved one, allow yourself to grieve.   Whether unexpected or anticipated, the loss is real.  The absence of that person can be almost palpable, as though a part of your body has been cut away and you’re left bleeding.  Your ability to think clearly may be distorted by the pain of loss.  If you have a friend who offers to help you — drive you to appointments, take you to dinner accept.  Friends who have never experienced the loss of someone beloved may not know what to say, but they want to ease your pain.  Don’t be afraid to ask for their help, and take comfort in their gifts of food, flowers and cards.

If you’re working when your partner dies, take some time off to do what needs to be done, but go back to work if you can.  The structure of a job will give you something other than your loss on which to focus.  You may find yourself tearing up at unexpected moments, but that’s understandable.

If you can, join a grief group, and see a therapist.  In a grief group you learn empathy; hearing other people’s stories is affecting, and you realize you’re not alone.  With a therapist you can explore the roots of your anguish, something you might not be able to do alone, and perhaps shouldn’t try to do with good friends since the burden of grief can be overwhelming for others.

  1. If you had one do over in life, what would it be?

Read more, sunbathe less.

  1. How can people use creativity to work through loss?

Expressing emotion through writing, painting, role playing, singing, playing an instrument  — any number of creative endeavors can open your mind and heart to strengths and insights you may not realize you possess.

  1. What did you learn about yourself during both marriages and their aftermaths?

I see myself now as stronger than I knew.  I am not done in by loss.  I’ve lost a lot but my heart is still open to other people.  I don’t fear the possible consequences of my decision to share my life again.  There’s something about renewal.  When I committed myself to John, it was a new beginning, refreshing and heartwarming, and now that I’ve remarried there’s a newness that energizes me.  I see myself if not as a butterfly, then as someone who still has wings to spread.

  1. What current book or project are you working on?

Launching Banged-Up Heart is all-consuming but once it’s released and book events slow down, I’m eager to hunker down with another memoir that’s been percolating for some time.

About Shirley: Shirley Melis is a longtime business writer, travel writer, and newspaper columnist who traveled the world interviewing everyone from busboys to heads of international organizations before launching a career in public relations in Washington, D.C. With Banged-Up Heart, she now takes her writing in a new direction, delving deeply into her own personal story of finding love late, losing it early, and discovering the strength to choose to love again. It is a fascinating odyssey, a journey both creative and erotic as Shirley and John work lovingly together to blend their dreams until a mysterious bump on his forehead starts them on a tragic struggle against the dark hand of fate.

A graduate of Vassar, Shirley Melis has created an intimate memoir bearing eloquent witness to the kind of wild trust that can grow in the heart of an ordinary woman thrust into circumstances that few others must face. Now retired, she lives in Galisteo, New Mexico.

Where to buy Banged Up Heart:

Banged Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss, GenreMemoir/Non Fiction

Amazon Link: /?tag=wowwomenonwri-20

Goodreads Link:

WOW! Blog Tour Schedule for Shirley Melis’s Banged Up Heart

Feb 13 @ The Muffin

Interview and giveaway.

Feb 14 @ Lisa Haselton

Shirley Melis is being interviewed today by Lisa Haselton. Stop at Lisa’s blog to learn more about Banged Up Heart, a non-fiction, memoir, about finding the courage and strength to love again.

Feb 15 @ Bring on Lemons with Michelle DelPonte

Michelle DelPonte shares her review of Shirley Melis’s Banged Up Heart today at Bring on Lemons. Don’t miss this exciting blog stop and book giveaway.

Feb 16 @ Choices with Madeline Sharples

Fellow memoir writer Madeline Sharples interviews Shirley Melis about her book Banged Up Heart. Don’t miss this heart felt interview about courage and love.

Feb 17 @ Jerry Waxler

Coach and Author Jerry Waxler shares his thoughts after reading Shirley Melis’s memoir Banged Up Heart.

Feb 20 @ Bring on Lemons with Crystal Otto

Crystal J. Casavant-Otto shares her review after reading the touching and inspiring memoir Banged Up Heart by Shirley Melis.

Feb 21 @ Deb Blanchard

Teacher Deb Blanchard gives insight into Banged Up Heart the touching memoir by Shirley Melis.

Feb 22 @ Bring on Lemons with Angela Williams

Angela Williams reviews Shirley Melis’s Banged Up Heart

Feb 23 @ Linda Appleman Shapiro

Don’t miss today’s interview between memoirist Linda Appleman Sahpiro and Shirley Melis. Find out more about Melis and her memoir Banged Up Heart

Feb 23 @ Writer’s Pay it Forward

MC Simon reviews Banged Up Heart by Shirley Melis for readers at Writers Pay it Forward. Don’t miss this honest review of this courageous memoir.

Feb 24 @ Memoir Writers Journey with Kathleen Pooler

Kathleen Pooler shares her thoughts with readers of Memoir Writer’s Journey – find out what Pooler has to say about Shirley Melis’s memoir Banged Up Heart.

Feb 27 @ Bring on Lemons with Cathy Hansen

Educator and Entrepreneur Cathy Hansen reads and reviews Banged Up Heart by Shirley Melis. You’ll want to stop by Bring On Lemons today for your chance to learn more about this touching and encouraging memoir.

Feb 28 @ Bring on Lemons with Cindi Ashbeck

Cindi Ashbeck shares her thoughts after reading the touching story Banged Up Heart by Shirley Melis

March 1 @ Bring on Lemons with Penny Harrison

Wisconsin business owner and avid reader Penny Harrison shares her thoughts and feelings about Shirley Melis’s memoir Banged Up Heart

March 2 @ Book Santa Fe with Tange Dudet

Avid reader and book enthusiast Tange Dudet shares her thoughts and feelings after reading the touching memoir Banged Up Heart by Shirley Melis

March 3 @ The Constant Story with David W. Berner

Author and radio personality David W Berner reviews Shirley Melis’s book Banged Up Heart and shares his thoughts with readers at The Constant Story


  1. Thank you Madeline and Shirley for this lovely, insightful, and inspirational post.


Speak Your Mind