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Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss

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Banged-Up Heart by Shirley Melis is an intimate and clear-eyed account of finding love late and losing it early--and of the strength it takes to fall madly in love a second time, be forced to relinquish that love too soon, and yet choose to love again. When her husband of thirty years dies suddenly, Shirley Melis is convinced she will never find another man like Joe. Then she meets John, a younger man who tells her during their first conversation that he has lived for many years with a rare but manageable cancer. She is swept off her feet in a whirlwind courtship, and within months, made brave by the early death of a friend's husband, she asks him to marry her! What follows is a year-long odyssey of travel and a growing erotic and creative partnership--until a mysterious bump on John's forehead proves to be one of several tumors in his brain and spine. The nine months that follow are filled with a life-threatening infection, three brain surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy. Two years and one week after their wedding, John dies at the age of fifty-nine. More than just a love story or a memoir of mourning, Banged-Up Heart comes down solidly on the side of life. It takes you deep inside an ordinary woman, her deeply felt grief butting up against her desire for more than companionship: passion, sexual fulfillment, and self-realization. It bears eloquent witness to the wild trust it takes to fall madly in love and risk profound loss--a second time. Ultimately, it shows that it is possible to dance with a banged-up heart.


Published February 14, 2017

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Shirley Melis

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Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews
Profile Image for Deborah Blanchard.
380 reviews86 followers
February 16, 2017
I do not usually read memoirs, however this book has changed that. This is the story of Shirley and John. Shirley's first husband, of 28 years had passed away suddenly 2 years before. She then meets John 2 years later and falls in love. However, John has cancer. This is their story and a story of strength and survival. This book is heartbreaking to read and yet at times uplifting as well. Losing 2 husbands in 4 years is absolutely devastating to me and I do not know how you move on. Yet, Shirley, does. She has such strength, compassion and a large capacity for love. This book is so detailed and richly descriptive. It is written with raw emotion. It made my heart break and let me tell you that I cried. You will too. Yet it is so much a story of strength that you will be in awe of Shirley. I don't know if I could be so strong. Mind you, she does break at times. She is human after all. This book has good flow and reads like a true love story, which it is. This book is very well written and I applaud Shirley Melis for showing me that life does go on. I highly recommend this memoir.
This is my favorite quote from this book:
"If you haven't already, you will lose someone you can't live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and you will never completely get over the loss of a deeply beloved person. But this is also the good news. The person lives forever in your broken heart that doesn't seal back up. And you come through, and you learn to dance with the banged-up heart."
Profile Image for Ian Miller.
Author 15 books92 followers
April 24, 2017
This book covers two years of the author's life, and therefore the "plot" is a given and not up for discussion. Neither is the author's character. Of course she has flaws, and so does everyone else, but more to the point, a review of the autobiography is not the place to comment on them. Two years before the start, Shirley's husband, Joe, who was over twenty years older, died. Shirley was finally getting over this, and she began to engage in a social life again. In the following two years, she met John, fell in love, married, had a good year, then John began to die of cancer. The book is essentially about how she felt, and the account of the first year involves very ordinary life, other than perhaps the accounts of travel. The main purpose of them, I guess, is to make the next part more dramatic. In my opinion, it is not possible to describe the end of life of someone dying of cancer without descending into some rather harrowing descriptions. This part is extremely well told; the shock of the bad news, the hope for treatment, the denial, the grasping at straws, then acceptance of the inevitable, then a flurry that gives irrational hope, then the end. I lost my wife to cancer, and while it did not quite go like this, I recognize all the emotions. Whether someone who has not experienced it will, I know not. The grading I am giving it is due to the accurate portrayal of the emotions Shirley went through. Again, do not judge. Until you have experienced something like this, you really have no idea what is involved. Because of the nature of the subject matter, the potential reader should give some thought first as to whether they are ready for this.
Profile Image for Kathleen Pooler.
Author 3 books31 followers
February 9, 2017
Living and loving again after a devastating loss is the main theme in Banged-Up Heart. This fast-paced memoir reads like a romance novel only with a powerful universal message for anyone who faces the loss of a beloved spouse, in this case two spouses within a span of four years. The pace slows as she reaches levels of awareness in her grief journey. There is life again after loss. I felt engaged in this story from the first page.

Melis’ writing is fluid and vivid with realistic dialogue, believable characters and a well-paced plot that kept me in suspense. The narrative is enriched with layers of introspection that connected me to my own story. Though my story is different in that I left two emotionally abusive marriages and spent years being single-again. But, the specifics don’t matter as much as the underlying message that a willingness to take a risk to love again can lead to a full and satisfying life. Melis showed me how taking a chance on love again and so soon after a loss can indeed yield positive results.

The most endearing part of this memoir for me was the author’s courage in living life to the fullest despite the risks. While her outer journey of losing two spouses in a short period of time is compelling, it was her skill in revealing her inner journey where she questions her choices and reflects on her own actions and responses that kept me turning the pages. She showed me how she “stepped out of her cocoon of grief and found joy in just being alive.”

Loss is something we all have to face eventually. For those who are engulfed in their own sea of grief, this memoir will offer hope that it is possible to move on. For others, as myself, it offered me a chance to reflect on how I will face my own grief should I lose the love of my life. At the end of the book, she offers a series of questions to further explore her theme which makes it an excellent guide for a book club discussion.

A relevant,compelling and thoroughly enjoyable read. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to explore their own relationship to loss and grief, as well as a guide for grief support groups.

Profile Image for Linda Shapiro.
Author 2 books16 followers
June 8, 2019
Interview with Shirley Melis, author of the recently published memoir, “BANGED-UP HEART”

About Shirley: 
Shirley Melis is a longtime business writer, travel writer, and newspaper columnist who traveled the world interviewing everyone from busboys to heads of international organizations before launching a career in public relations in Washington, D.C. With Banged-Up Heart, she now takes her writing in a new direction, delving deeply into her own personal story of finding love late, losing it early, and discovering the strength to choose to love again. It is a fascinating odyssey, a journey both creative and erotic, as Shirley and John work lovingly together to blend their dreams—until a mysterious bump on his forehead starts them on a tragic struggle against the dark hand of fate.

A graduate of Vassar, Shirley Melis has created an intimate memoir bearing eloquent witness to the kind of wild trust that can grow in the heart of an ordinary woman thrust into circumstances that few others must face. Now retired, she lives in Galisteo, New Mexico.

I’m delighted to welcome you to my blog site, Shirley. Writing reviews and interviewing authors for W.O.W. (Women on Writing Blog Tours) is always such a pleasure.

In a recent interview you said that as you were about to retire you had planned to write a book documenting the lives of those who were in their 60’s, 70s, and 80s and thriving emotionally, mentally and physically. Your goal was to create a book that would offer readers new role models for older people. Yet, life interrupted that plan.

After mourning the unexpected deaths of your first husband and father, and then your second husband, you wrote this memoir, Banged Up Heart. I find it fascinating that your personal story does exactly what you originally set out to do, only it’s you who are the role model. In the end, you are able to dance after experiencing great loves, perhaps even greater losses, but still finding the strength to be resilient, moving on to yet another marriage and new experiences. Do you see yourself as one of the role models you would have enjoyed interviewing?

Linda, I’m somewhat taken aback by your question, largely because it never occurred to me that I might be such a role model. But now, as I read and ponder your analysis of me and my story, I’m persuaded that I just might pass muster as someone I would have enjoyed interviewing.

As we learn about your first marriage to Joe, you write…. “I grew up, becoming someone better than I had been–more accomplished, more self-confident and kinder. Joe had always been there for me. . .he shaped me in many ways.” You conclude that with his death and the death shortly afterwards of your father, you “lost your cheering section.” Then, too, when we get to know John, you admit that, “he showed me how to live life with more courage than fear, to tame adversity with one’s mind and heart. More than anything, he showed me that I could open my heart to love again.” I suppose what I’m saying is that I got to know you best through how you perceived the roles that each of these men played in your life. I’m curious to know if you could tell us what role you feel you played in each of their lives?

This is a tough question for me to answer quickly. I think my first husband, Joe, who was much older than I, relished my ability and inclination to learn from him the workings of PR and public affairs in Washington, D.C. He himself was a PR ace. He enjoyed my professional successes and hurt as much, if not more than I did, when things didn’t go smoothly. He liked my energy, curiosity and perseverance. I think I helped him feel younger than his years. We were teammates from the get-go. With John, my second husband, I think I was someone with whom he felt he could share aspects of life that perhaps he had never shared with anyone else before.

On the one hand, we see you as an independent woman with a career. Yet, when you refer (briefly) to your early years, you say that, “often to save myself physically and emotionally, I had fled.” But with only alluding to your mother who suffered from schizophrenia, we don’t really know much about your formative years or why you were fearful, since you seem so assertive and courageous throughout most of the book. Was your mother’s illness one of the reasons why you were fearful and why you chose not to write much about your early life?

During my first meeting with editor Morgan Farley, after she’d read my manuscript, she announced, “For starters, you have three books in one. I’ve noted how many pages you’ve devoted to each and I would advise you to go with the one that has the most pages because that appears to be where your strongest energy is.” More of my early life was in one of the other two “books.” Once my focus narrowed, my early life didn’t seem that relevant to my story. The moment you refer to–when I’m reminded of my mother–bore on my fear in that instance. However, her illness had no bearing on my omitting more of my early life.

When writing a memoir or a novel, there are always choices the author has to make about what to omit and what to include. Can you tell us what propelled you to include very intimate details of your life with John? I ask because at first I found it to be a distraction. I later appreciated your honesty and applauded you for having the courage to share it all.

I must admit that initially I had qualms about revealing the intimate details. In fact, it was my editor’s questioning that led to my revelations. That said, memoir by definition (in my mind, at least) is unvarnished truth. As long as I wasn’t hurting anyone, I couldn’t justify not telling my truth.

Although both husbands were terrible losses in your life, how would you describe the difference in the way you mourned for Joe and the way you mourned for John. . . . and do you have any advice for others who are in the process of mourning the loss of a loved one?

Allow yourself to grieve. Whether unexpected or anticipated, the loss is real. The absence of that person can be almost palpable, as though a part of you has been cut away and you’re left bleeding. Your ability to think clearly may be distorted by the pain of loss. If you have a good friend who offers to help you–drive you to appointments, take you to dinner–accept.

If you’re working when your partner dies, take some time off to do what needs to be done, but go back to work if you can. The structure of a job will give you something other than your loss on which to focus. You may find yourself tearing up at unexpected moments, but that’s understandable.

If you can, join a grief group, and see a therapist. In a grief group, you learn empathy; hearing other people’s stories is affecting, and you realize you’re not alone. With a therapist, you can explore the roots of your anguish, something you might not be able to do alone, and perhaps shouldn’t try to do with good friends since the burden of grief can be overwhelming for others.

Rumor has it that you’re planning to write another memoir. If that is true, can you give us a hint as to what it’s about so that we can look forward to it?

It will have something to do with that early life you alluded to earlier.

I was hoping you’d say that! Thanks so much for stopping by. . . and I hope that writing continues to allow you–in your own words–“to find joy in just being alive.”

Profile Image for Pegboard.
1,745 reviews9 followers
April 22, 2017
How do you write a review when someone has opened her heart and soul to the world? Shirley Melis has been fortunate enough to have had two loving and thriving marriages, but the disadvantage to have lost them both. I believe Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss was written to allow Shirley a channel to pen her heartache and allow healing.

This would be an excellent book to give to a widow, or widower, when you just don’t have the words to say. Shirley gives hope, but she also shows strength in not just settling with someone “familiar”. She allows you to cry along with her heartache when you have had to show a brave face during your own trials.

I loved that she shared website legacy.com. What a wonderful way to honor a loved one and allow others to share their fondest memories that could be cherished for years. Thank you for reliving this time in your life for us.

15 reviews
June 24, 2018
“Banged-up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss”, a memoir by Shirley Melis, tells the story of a strong, resilient as she copes with loss, love, and life. Melis, was in her mid-60’s, just getting over mourning the sudden death of her first husband when she meets another love of her life, John. She and John, recently retired to pursue a dream to become a successful photographer, have a whirlwind courtship. John lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Melis lives outside of Washington, DC. He courts her via email and long weekends spent together in her condo. After Melis proposes to John during a two-week visit, he talks her into retiring to travel the world with him and to pursue her dreams of writing books. After an exotic safari to Africa as their honeymoon,they make plans to travel to places like the Galapagos Islands, France, and across the world.

The second half of the book takes a serious, deadly turn. John had mentioned at their first meeting that he was battling a rare form of cancer, but that it seemed to be under control. The cancer comes back with devastating affects about one year into their relationship. John’s struggle against the inexorable cancer is more of a delaying tactic than a life-and-death struggle. Melis has her own struggles. She is totally wrapped up in John, his fight, and the dreams he won’t live to realize. While supporting John’s medical needs and wishes, she has to deal with the logistics of caring for a tall man who is being debilitated by illness while battling with insurance company and medical and care institution bureaucracies. And there is the issue of having to take care of her own health and mental well being.

The part that hit home with me was Melis’ struggles with the realization that their dreams of living out their golden years together will not be realized. They will run out of time before John’s dream of having his own gallery show of his photographs can be realized; the trip to the Galapagos Islands they had planned for the fall will not happen; their dream of publishing a book of his photographs accompanied her writing will not happen.

But Melis survives. After his passing, she finishes furnishing John’s house in Santa Fe and splits her time between Santa Fe and Reston. She works with a local gallery to mount a small show of John’s photos. And she goes on the trip to the Galapagos, by herself. Melis is scarred by the loss of two husbands, one totally unexpected and one, while not as unexpected, probably more traumatic and crushing.

While we often think of people, especially woman, in the 60’s and older as being weak and somewhat frail, Melis disproves this idea. She comes out of her experiences bent, maybe, but certainly not broken. Is she “stronger” for the experience? Nobody is stronger for having gone through what she did. One has to be strong, maybe unknowingly, to survive such an ordeal. And Melis demonstrated this inner strength. She is a survivor and seems to be doing quite well. She has had a long-time plan to write a book about strong, thriving women in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. “”Banged-Up Heart” shows that she would be a good person to include in the new book.
3 reviews
April 25, 2019
I enjoyed reading this book and felt sad at the same time in regard to John's illness as I lost my husband of 47 years, 4 years ago with Glioblastoma Multiforme (a terminal brain cancer with no cure)so I could really relate to what Shirley was going through towards the end of his life. I found her writing very easy to read and appreciated the added details through the book, which kept my interest.. I could sense her love for John and how he was different to her first husband. Like Shirley I have a banged-up heart but haven't started dancing again, but glad for her to have found love again. Highly recommended but may be a bit much if in the early days of mourning. Thanks Shirley for sharing you story.
Profile Image for Camilla Kattell.
Author 9 books1 follower
March 29, 2018
Banged –Up Heart by Shirley Melis, a story of deep love and untimely death, will touch the hearts of those who have experienced the highs of exquisite joy and the lows of devastating tragedy. It can also serve to give understanding to those who haven’t yet had such an experience, as Ms. Melis shares all the transitions of going through emotional loss. It can help us all be thankful for those who haven’t had to address the painful questions of deep loss. Ms. Melis intimately shares her deepest feelings in ways that may cause some readers discomfort, but will resonate with many readers. Recommended for those who are drawn to understanding the complexities of life.
Author 12 books29 followers
December 8, 2019
An emotional memoir is mainly about the short marriage of the author to her second husband and her coming to grips with his death. The book is well-written in a literary style. Mrs. Melis makes all the people come to life with details many memoirists and biographers fail to do. Two years after the death of her first husband, she met the love-of-her-life, John. An engineer, music-lover, photographer, etc., he died too young of an unexpected form of cancer. It took time but she realized she could live on.
Profile Image for Wendy.
6 reviews
March 10, 2021
Shirley Melis writes with passion and dedication in her book Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss. Her writing allowed me to feel that I was there with her as she unveiled the Loss of Love not once, but twice. Losing someone we have loved, and that has been a part of our life can be devastating. Shirley Melis, in this compelling novel of her personal experiences, takes her readers to understanding and hopefulness of finding Love again even after her losses. Showing that one can Dance again, while preserving memories.
March 15, 2018
I loved this book.. Melis reveals her inner most thoughts and emotions and takes the reader along for an exciting journey of love and heartbreak, but leaving us with hope for a happy ending. I look forward to her next book.
Profile Image for Jade Pitman.
145 reviews2 followers
May 28, 2017
This book is brilliant. Would definitely recommend it to anyone who's lost someone
Profile Image for Ivan Hecimovic.
120 reviews5 followers
April 19, 2017
To fall in love is something that is both hard to explain and hard to forget. And to love a person that you fell in love with is only the “upgrade’’. Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss is a memoir written by Shirley Melis. And the very first thing that I am about to write is – emotions.
The book opens with a description and an introduction into the past life of the author: she had a husband named Joe and the two of them were madly in love with each other. But unfortunately, her husband dies and the fact that her loving husband is no longer with her struck her like a thunder. Love does not hurt. To say that love hurts is nothing but a false perception. What truly and also madly hurts is when the subject of our love is gone.
The novel is filled with strong and powerful emotions. Those emotions will make even people who are not so “touchy-feely’’ and emotional to become emotional. Banged-Up Heart is actually the story in which the entire human life is encircled. After reading novels like this one I sometimes wonder – is it better to love and to lose that love or to never experience romantic love at all? But I believe that the answer is actually pretty clear on this. Some people say that life writes novels. This novel is definitely a proof of that. Too bad it ended the way it did. Nevertheless, it is an excellent book. I highly recommend reading it.
Profile Image for Denise Lucas.
116 reviews10 followers
April 24, 2017
Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss written by Shirley Melis is an amazing roller-coaster of a journey. This book is Shirley’s memoir and with that, she opens her heart to the world in this bitter-sweet romance. Banged-Up Heart is full of emotions, beautiful writing, and leaves the reader with a sense of appreciation. Shirley loses her husband of 30 years and after grieving finds herself wrapped up in a whirlwind, sweep her off her feet kind of love, but this amazing love has a tragic ending that leaves the reader heartbroken, but hopeful. Shirley’s writing is exquisite and her story of love, loss, grief and hope is touching and beautiful. I found myself crying at times, happy, hopeful, and heart-broken. I felt a whole array of emotions because of how touching Shirley’s story is and how relatable I found it when it comes to the ending of one love and the emotions you feel going through it. Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss pulls at your heartstrings, but opens your mind and your heart to the possibilities after a loss. I highly recommend this beautiful book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Amanda.
329 reviews
January 16, 2019
The encompassing idea of this book is you DON'T only get one. That's something I now know to be true, being happily married after a divorce. Love, loss, and moving on are all parts life and it's as ugly as it is beautiful. This novel lays out love and loss, not shying away from the nitty gritty. I mean that first date with Paul, um, awkward... in the most hilarious way. The marriage to Joe described so fully, all the betrayals included was both painful and honest. It made the rest of the story all that much more vivid and intense. The courtship between Shirley and John was very sweet and it's easy to see how deeply they loved one another. It made his death all the more devastating, but only slightly more than the horror of navigating the healthcare system.

The big negative for me was simply the character ages. I'm much younger and I can't relate to someone who can recall their husband's seventy-ninth birthday or was in their prime in the 60s. It's the same with very young characters for me. It's my issue, I know, but it taints a story for me.
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