In two months, two extraordinary women have died from my Tuesday night writing group. First was Tina Zubek, a children’s librarian, who was only 60 years old. Tina had just reduced her work hours at the Carnegie library so that she could have more writing time, and the decision paid off. She received recognition twice at our local SCBWI conference for manuscripts with promise. Sadly, she didn’t have time to revise and market these two books. She developed a very rare neurological condition and died five weeks later. Tina had also attended my church, an interracial congregation formed in 1968 and held the co-chair of our council. She pushed tirelessly for issues of hunger and more equal educational opportunity. She did the work of her faith, not just espousing it. She left a husband and 25-year-old son and a reputation in our writing group for being the Roger Ebert (sp) of books.
Francesca Compozzi Alvin, 68, a retired Pittsburgh public school teacher, had breast cancer in 1994. After a mastectomy she seemed cancer-free. Francesca joined my Tuesday group at its inception in 2002. She wrote picture books and early middle grade novels. Regrettably, her cancer returned soon after joining, and Francesca and her doctor found one chemo drug after another to keep the cancer from spreading. Her daughter, Sara-Anne, and son-in-law, Justin, had a baby boy, Cash, whom Francesca called her “motivator.” Francesca and her husband, Lou, served every Christmas Day at the Ronald McDonald house. I met her in late 2001 at a Hunger Action Coalition fund-raiser, where she and her first graders were receiving an award. Every week these public school kids brought in canned food to donate. In our group Francesca was seen as our bright light, our sunbeam, bringing pastries or lovely soft scarves for every member.
This writing group and my Wednesday night writing group have built a beautiful bond over the years. They offer compliments and suggestions to each member as she reads with a gentleness, but candor. Despite the age range from about 87 down to 35, the group members connect with such respect, admiration, and lack of competition. Clearly, our Tuesday group is in mourning.
But I think of these two women, whom I loved. I feel that their lives and contributions were cut short. But I ask myself about the value of a life, any life, and its meaning. Both these women made those around them better people. They exuded the qualities I think represent the best ethics, humility, other-directedness, hard work, acceptance, forgiveness, love, and the common good. R.I.P., dear friends.