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Widow becomes pandemic poet after losing husband during lockdown

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On March 19, just three days before the New York state lockdown began, Stephanie Sloane lost Mike, her husband of 58 years, to throat cancer at age 83. All of the things that come with the death of a loved one — the funeral, the planning, and most of all, the people — had to be managed from a distance. 

There was a Zoom funeral. “This was at the very beginning and no one knew how to use Zoom properly,” says Sloane, 81. “A lot of people couldn’t get on.” 

Her isolation led to despair. 

“The day of the Zoom funeral, my three kids were supposed to be alone in their homes. That day I kept saying, ‘I can’t do this.’ One son eventually came and got me and brought me to his house. It was not a good time to be alone.” 

She had been with Mike since college; They raised three kids together in the suburbs, then moved to Manhattan “the minute the oldest girl left for college!” And so, the months that followed without him made her Upper East Side apartment feel like a prison. Throughout the spring, it felt impossible to move forward when everything and everyone was stuck in place. 

Stephanie in happier times with her husband and family.
Stephanie in happier times with her husband and family.
Courtesy of Stephanie Sloan

“I couldn’t do anything. A lot of people couldn’t,” said Sloane, a playwright. “An old friend from college called a month in and asked how I was doing. ‘Terrible!’ I said. ‘I can’t read, write, cook, watch TV, nothing.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you write another play?’ 

“I said: ‘Impossible! Out of the question.’ 

“Then he said, ‘Why don’t you write a poem?’ 

“And I thought, ‘That, I could do.’ So that was the first poem I wrote. I noticed that it made me feel better to write. And I thought, I’ll just keep writing.” 

Dear Me: Poems of Loss, Grief and Hope in New York’s Darkest Days” (The Three Tomatoes Book Publishing), out now, is the result of that time. While the poems speak to Sloane’s very personal loss, there is a universal quality to her verses that will resonate with anyone who experienced the city during those bleak days of spring. 

In August, Sloane traded Manhattan, her home since 1986, for the Berkshires, where she had spent every summer of her life.
In August, Sloane traded Manhattan, her home since 1986, for the Berkshires, where she had spent every summer of her life.
Courtesy of Stephanie Sloan

O for the good old days 

When all we had to do was show up! 

TV ads say Stay Home 

On many daily phone calls 

I learn some peers take daily walks 

Is it safe? 

Another poem celebrates the nightly clap for hospital staff: 

People on balconies bang pans 

Walkers clap, horns honk 

Just for a moment, it’s my city again. 

In August, Sloane traded Manhattan, her home since 1986, for the Berkshires, where she had spent every summer of her life. She knows many people there, and being in a smaller community feels good to her. People stop by unexpectedly to sit on the porch together at a distance. They make time for each other. A recent Zoom poetry reading was a big hit. 

"Dear Me" by Stephanie Sloane

“Plans are made the same day!” she marvels at her new laid-back home, a far cry from the bustle of NYC, where it was so difficult to schedule time with friends. 

This year will be a quiet holiday season. Her three married children have given her eight grandchildren, ranging in age from 9 to 27, whom she hasn’t seen in months. 

For now, she’s hoping to memorialize Mike with her family in Great Barrington sometime in the spring, when they can all be together. 

“At some point after the beginning, I realized we were all mourning, not just me,” said Sloane. 

“We still are. We’re mourning the loss of the lives that we had.”

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