In this time of death and grief, it may seem odd to recommend a book about death and grief.
But “Just One More Song: Conversations With My Wife After Her Death” should sit atop any reading list.
Herbert Appleman kept a diary for 15 months after his wife Dee died. It’s not the first in that genre — but it may be the best.
Appleman — a Westport author, playwright, lyricist, composer, documentary producer and professor of English — is a gifted writer. But his book is more than a soaring exploration of love and loss. It’s an ode to marriage — and a robust look into a married couple’s bedroom.
Through children, careers, moves, and the inevitable ups and downs of 46 years together, he and Dee made joyful love. It’s not the kind of thing most widowers write about. But he does it insightfully, beautifully, gracefully — and with plenty of passion and pride.
That’s not to say it came easily. Appleman began writing shortly after his wife died. But the words did not flow naturally. It took years before he felt comfortable reflecting on their long life together.
When he did, he ended up with way too much. He eventually cut two-thirds of his words. But the process helped him realize how fortunate he’d been. “My marriage was so much better than I’d expected, or seen with others,” he says. “It was a privilege to relive it.”
Allowing himself to delve into memories, and recreate them, was “a pleasure in and of itself. And of course there was joy in letting the larger world meet someone I felt was the most remarkable person I knew in my life.”
His only apprehension, Appleman says, was his son’s reaction to so much intimate material. But he told his father, “You and she were always so affectionate. It didn’t come as a surprise you had the sexual life you did. I envy you! It should be in the book.”
He calls his wife “a refined, non-show person. She didn’t flaunt her beauty. And it was my great good fortune that she was a wonderful, great lover.”
The couple was also fortunate to realize what they had, while they had it. “We joked that marriage got a bad name” in popular culture, he says. “It seemed that all the sex and romance was for single and divorced people. But we found intimacy, love and shared experiences, and they were really romantic for us as married people.”
Of course, “Just One More Song” is not just about desire. Appleman writes lovingly of the couple’s many conversations about nearly everything, and the shared bonds of parenting that drew them together so tightly.
He thought the book’s audience would be older readers — those married a long time, particularly widows. But its appeal is far wider.
A woman appreciated it for its look at marriage “through a man’s eyes.” And Appleman people have given the book as wedding gifts. “They tell me it’s a great guide to a good marriage,” he says proudly.
Now 86, Appleman has enjoyed “an autumnal resurgence.” He’s written a new play or book every year in his 80s.
That too is gratifying. His projects “allow me to fulfill the arc of a career I set in my mind many years ago. As long as I have my health, energy and an alert mind, I’ll keep going.”
The big challenge at his age, he says, is to “keep living for the future, and not live too much in the past.”
“Just One More Song” strikes that balance. By honoring the 46 years of his marriage, he gives hope to all who struggle with the present and strive for a better future.
In other words, “Conversations With My Wife After Her Death” is the perfect book for a pandemic.
(To order Herbert Appleman’s book, click here.)