Of love and loss,hope and heaven


Lois Cahall’s last conversation with her mother was lively and quick — a burst of updates and jokes and teasing and a rushed goodbye: Mom, I love you, I’ve got to run, I’m in New York, I’ll call you at 5 …

A couple of hours later, when Lois called back, her stepfather answered.

Her mother, Marie, was gone. She had dropped dead from a sudden heart attack at 65.

Just like that. Bam. Just a short while after hanging up with Lois — her artistic, risk-taking only child, her dance partner for impromptu living-room boogies to Broadway show tunes and her truest partner in life.

It had always been those two against the world — in their case, the world of blue-collar Boston.

Marie admired her daughter’s exuberance and pluck. She’d always tell Lois: “You’re the lion, and I’m the lamb.”

“We did everything together but die,” says Lois, curled up in a chair in her sunny West Palm Beach apartment.

Just like that, Lois became a member “of the orphan’s club” — untethered and unglued.

And unable to let her mother go.

As a writer, she had one way out of paralyzing grief: Spill it out. Type it out. Write a book for devastated people like herself, “a book for those left living — afraid to be on the other side, afraid to be left here alone on this side.”

That book — “Court of the Myrtles,” released this week by Bloomsbury Press — is a novel about the relationship between two women who meet in a cemetery. One of them, Marla, lost her mother tragically and suddenly. The other, Alice, lost her daughter after a lingering illness.

The message is hopeful — that we will see our loved ones again — and universal: “This is a book for mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts and sisters,” the author says. “This is a story about survival — for those who have loved and lost. So I suppose this is a book for all of us.”

‘Two kinds of death’

The idea for “Court of the Myrtles” came to Cahall after she buried her mother and weird things began to happen to her — “Touched by an Angel” kinds of weird things.

She would go to the cemetery and get “signs.”

Once, after a teenage friend of her daughter had died in an accident, Cahall went with the child’s mother to the cemetery and prayed. The child’s mother wanted him buried near Cahall’s mom — but where?

“My mother’s bird symbol was a cardinal,” Cahall says. “And right at that moment, a cardinal flew down and landed on the grave.”

Weird things like that happened over and over, making Cahall wonder: Maybe there is life after death.

She spent time talking to other mourners and learned “the dialect of the cemetery” — how people in mourning comfort each other, how they cope with the two types of death, sudden death vs. lingering death.

Sudden death is better for the person who dies, Cahall admits, but it leaves the living with no goodbyes — and this is what wracked her.

“I never felt jealousy toward anyone except when it came to death,” she says. Because some people have a chance to say goodbye, and she did not.

And then she visited a place where she felt connected to heaven — the Alhambra in Spain, the grand palace built in the 13th and 14th centuries with its glorious Court of the Myrtles. She knew instinctively she had to write a book about this place.

“I felt heaven when I was there,” Cahall says. “I felt connected to my mother and everyone I had lost.”

In Cahall’s book, Alice persuades Marla to push past her grief and live on happily, to follow her dreams — and Marla’s dreams lead her to the Court of the Myrtles, to romance and a full life.

‘Sometimes strength is your only option’

Lois, too, pushed on to build the full life her mother had wished for her.

“My mother’s death gave me an untapped strength — because sometimes strength is your only option,” she says.

She had been a newspaper reporter when her mother died, but she pushed her career to greater heights — becoming a magazine writer and a best-selling novelist, for her funny book about blended families and life choices, “Plan C: Just in Case.” She became a successful film critic with a website, screenqueen.com. And she raised her two daughters, now 27 and 23, with the same joie de vivre her mother had given to her.

“She was the most alive person I’ve ever known,” says Cahall, who moved to West Palm Beach a year ago after spending a decade in New York and London. “Everything I am I owe to her.”

One editor called Cahall’s book “ ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ — on estrogen, with a touch of romance.”

In essence, “Court of the Myrtles” is Cahall’s own story, the story of a daughter who picked up her crumpled self and learned to dance once more.

She hopes people will pass it around to grieving friends, to ease their loneliness and “offer them the hope that they will see their loved ones again.”

“I’ve decided to embrace life, believing that my mother will be there waiting on the other side, rather than live my life not thinking she’ll be there only to find out that she is,” Cahall says.

If she didn’t embrace her life, that would be two lives lost.

And Marie Cahall wouldn’t have that, not for her lion of a daughter.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Community

Morgan Freeman friend defends actor after misconduct allegations, speaks out against accusers
Morgan Freeman friend defends actor after misconduct allegations, speaks out against accusers

At least eight women have accused actor Morgan Freeman of inappropriate behavior, according to a report from CNN. The women said the behavior happened on and off movie sets. >> Read more trending news  Freeman is an Academy Award-winning actor, but he's also a business owner in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Two blocks around the corner...
3 TO SEE: ‘Avenue Q,’ plant photo exhibit, Nat King Cole tribute
3 TO SEE: ‘Avenue Q,’ plant photo exhibit, Nat King Cole tribute

There’s always something to do in The Palm Beaches. That’s why every week, the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County helps you with three ideas — one that’s free, one that’s affordable and one that’s a splurge. Your events curator is the Cultural Concierge, a free service that provides customized recommendations...
Man delivers own baby on side of highway after wife goes into labor
Man delivers own baby on side of highway after wife goes into labor

A Lowell, Massachusetts, man had a special delivery to deal with on the highway: his own baby. Samuel Beyene's wife Rahel Estifanos called him at work Wednesday morning, saying she was having contractions. >> Read more trending news  "We start driving, and all of a sudden, she says, 'Oh my God, something is pushing. Something...
‘It’s a mystery.’ Who set public sculpture ablaze in Boca Raton?
‘It’s a mystery.’ Who set public sculpture ablaze in Boca Raton?

Chieko Mihori received an honor from the emperor of Japan for her practice of ikebana, the ancient art of flower arrangement. But Mihori received a different kind of response on May 9 when her mixed-media sculpture at the Boca Raton Museum Art School went up in flames, creating a brief bonfire on tree-lined Palmetto Park Road. An investigator suspects...
'The Chew' canceled: ABC kills foodie talk show amid Mario Batali allegations
'The Chew' canceled: ABC kills foodie talk show amid Mario Batali allegations

ABC’s appetite for afternoon talk show “The Chew” is over after seven years. Instead, a third hour of “Good Morning America” will air at 1 p.m. starting this fall.  “The Chew,” currently hosted by Carla Hall, Clinton Kelly and Michael Symon, replaced “All My Children” in 2011. Former...
More Stories