On Becoming a Widow

May 19, 2015

600px-Minsk_BelarusI was a 4-pound baby, a twin, a sister to a brother and another sister. Four of us squished together with months instead of years between us. I was the one who was afraid of everything. My dendrites arced into space at a hint of a noise, a scritch, or a sqeak of a bug. I was afraid of the dark, the knotty pine walls at night, because the black knots marched across my room like militant bugs. I was afraid of a garden worm in the back yard on Wren Street, West Roxbury, and later as I fused into a façade of gutsy and bold, I lugged around a feeling of dark green moss of dread within, like the undertoad in The World According to Garp, John Irving.

I became a Baha’I, I had a lot of therapy, and I faced my stuff. I was a legal secretary for what seemed 100 years; my husband and I divorced, and we both lived in the same neighborhood so we could keep things relatively smooth for our son Nick. Nicholas was seventeen and we lied at UC Irvine’s Housing Unit, Verano Place, which reminded me of housing after a war in Bulgaria. I graduated with a B.A. in English, and was in the education program. I hated it. I also had a lot of writing classes under my belt. I met Bill DeTally in 1985. We married two and a half months later.

It was a strong marriage and it gradually would help me to carve off my splintered fears of loss or abandonment. We began traveling, and every time Bill vanished into the bathroom in an airport and didn’t come out for ages, I’d think, he’s dead. Years later, a night before my major heart surgery, Bill always constant, my had my back type of guy. was late picking me up on Third Street in Seattle. Again, I thought, he’s dead; I have to take the bus to my heart surgery tomorrow.

He showed up with good reasons later, and I had the surgery. We’ve lived nineteen different places, including the former Soviet Union (from Moscow to Siberia), and we were in Kiev during the coup. We were there from 1990-1993, in a city called Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine and then later, Minsk, Belarus, on a service project.

He was my buffer. Years ago, I went back into Ukraine and Belarus by myself because as a friend said, “You are part Lioness and part Wimp.” I had to do this.

Still year after year, Tuesday after Tuesday, with an action packed life, and a life of great inner significance, I was afraid. My Faith helped a lot; Therapy was a giant Tonic, and 12 Step Programs.

I’m 76 now, and I’ve realized, to become mystical, to let go of fear, to have faith but tie your camel, you have to face the grit and let go.

This last year, last week to be exact, I squared my shoulders back and said to the spiritual recorders in the sky; “Whatever you want, I’m ready.” My husband died a week later; my buddy, my Mr. Bill, my fellow traveler to Russia, Ukraine, India, Belarus; lover of pug dogs; the man who brought two cups of coffee to me in bed every morning; the man who worried about me; whom I drove crazy because my thoughts were like butter on a hot skillet, and he was a one-thought-at-a-time methodical type of guy, don’t you know.

He died on November 19, 2014, and his passing was merciful. We had a gravesite burial on Friday the 29th, and the place rocked with song, and people forming sheaves of light, all colors and personalities of people, not a platitude among the words of the program, and just a joyous, crooked grin type of thing and a reverence.

Finally, now, right now, and for the last eleven days I am not afraid. I don’t feel alone. That will change, but basic sum up: Look to the higher wisdom. There is a wisdom to all things, and I clung to the idea of a Supreme Horizon, i.e., looked ahead, and not sideways. Louise (feminine of Louie) Duck without her Hughie, I think by golly, I’m going to be okay.






I teach four six-week classes on writing.  My background training is from Oakley Hall, who was majestic novelist and teacher and co-director of Squaw Valley Workshop, and also from Jack Grapes, whose name is whistled in freeway corridors like a slick wind, a pied piper of a writing teacher.  Both of these men earn my verbal praise every day.  I have traveled from Moscow to Siberia, and to Ukraine, and then returned with my husband to live in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, and Minsk, Belarus.  I studied writing methods at UCIrvine, and also took several courses under a superb journalist, Joe Bell.

I teach a class on Tuesdays at The Women’s Room, a place that leaps with great words and giant hearts.  The women are either volunteers, homeless or in transition, and it is a great place of support.

On Monday nights, I teach in the basement of  Ten Thousand Villages, near California and Lake, from 4:30-6 p.m., for donation.  That, plus a few on-line gigs and tutoring gig, plus Baha’i activities and commitment to racial justice, keeps me busy.  I have a novel in the second draft process. 




Esther has written two books, Without a Net: A Sojourn in Russia and You Carry the Heavy Stuff. Her blog can be found at




Photo, top right: The Mound of Glory, Minsk District, Belarus, by texx1978 (Minsk, Belarus) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo, Siberian countryside,

3 Responses for “On Becoming a Widow”

  1. Esther DeTally Bradley you’re an outta this world dream! So sorry about your loss of Bill. How dear your love of him. Your words and commitment to being awake in life crackle, careen and soar as you push yourself and your work. Thank you for being the teacher our community cries for. Mrs. DeTally, I’m coming in!!!!

  2. Dear Esther,
    I’m glad I spotted your name on this article. I heard about Bill’s passing, but had no way to contact you. Please know that he (and you) are in our prayers.

    Well written piece, by the way. You always do such a good job!

    Wishing nothing but the best for you and your family….

  3. Thank you, Esther. This is a beautiful essay, a testament to your talent and your heart.



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