“She turned her can’ts into cans and her dreams into plans” – Jeannette Dashiell
By Jeannette Dashiell
On the cold morning of January 5, 2014 we lost our smart, beautiful, creative, and funny seventeen-year-old daughter, Hannah, in a tragic car accident as she drove her vintage Volkswagen bug to work. ♥
Our daughter’s smile, laughter, generosity and kindness knew no bounds. Hannah was always the first to lend a hand to those in need and the loudest to advocate for equality and inclusiveness. Her only sister Maddy found the perfect quote to describe Hannah, “She Turned Her Can’ts into Cans and Her Dreams into Plans” because when Hannah thought of something she wanted to do or accomplish she wasted no time putting a plan into action.
This was especially impressive because she had to cope with a fairly invisible handicap called “postural orthostatic tachycardia” (or POTS). This disease would sometimes leave her body unable to provide the right blood pressure causing bouts of dizziness, nausea and fatigue as well as making it hard for her to regulate her body temperature. In spite of her condition she didn’t let anything stop her. She was amazingly accomplished and always had great initiative socially, physically and intellectually. That’s why the slogan found by Maddy to describe her sister’s outlook on life depicts her so perfectly.
Our friends and family were wonderful in the terrible hours, days and weeks that followed the fatal accident. Night and day our phones would ring, flowers were delivered and friends would stop by to pay their condolences. The kitchen island was covered with all shapes and sizes of vases and flower arrangements. Despite our feelings of gratitude for being surrounded by so much love and visits from well intended friends or family, we found ourselves looking forward to the times when our home would once again return to just the three of us, my husband, our younger daughter and me. There was something about this cocoon of silence that felt comforting and safe. While we all just wanted to lie down in the grave next to Hannah, my husband and I had to try to forge some thread forward for the sake of our younger daughter Maddy. We couldn’t entertain the alternative of some passive deterioration or self destructiveness.
A number of families and book club girlfriends delivered dinners for months after Hannah’s death as we tried to cope with our incomprehensible loss. We came to refer to our front entry as the magic door, where dinners and other items would be quietly left, with only a text to prompt us to look. We ate mostly out of necessity rather than appetite. Oddly enough, cookie dough became my favorite of the magic door comfort items. In spite of the other culinary masterpieces so generously created and delivered to our door I really only had a hunger for cookie dough… well, cookie dough and wine. I know it sounds like a crazy combo (and it is), but this little indulgence got me through some pretty dark moments. I have to admit the image of me standing at the kitchen counter crying in three-day-old yoga pants with a mixing bowl of cookie dough in one hand and a tall glass of chardonnay in the other isn’t a pretty one, but hey it worked for me. And when in grief if you find something, anything that brings you the slightest bit of comfort, you do it and you do it whenever you feel like it.
My evenings were met with trepidation as I anticipated how my night would play out; racing thoughts, guilt, sleeplessness or actual sleep. Slumber meant dreaming and dreaming meant I would see Hannah again. Some dreams were nightmares filled with images of how her small body was damaged by the wreck or the fear she must have felt in the moments before the truck collided with her; wishing desperately that I could have been there to hold her and tell her everything was going to be okay as only a parent can. Other dreams were a replay of that morning consumed with guilt for not stopping to insist that she drive her father’s Jeep with four wheel drive on that cold morning.
However in complete contrast to these nightmares I also had good dreams, wonderful dreams, when my perfectly vibrant Hannah would come visit me. In these dreams she and I would sit together on our back deck; me with my coffee and Hannah with her tea talking about her day or planning her future. Sometimes I dreamt of her childhood. I replayed memories of her as a tiny toddler full of life and wonder, then watching in awe as she grew into a beautiful young lady about to embark onto womanhood.
Nightmare or a cheerful memory, each morning when I opened my eyes I was faced with the knowledge that my daughter was gone. More times than I can remember I woke to the sounds of my own sobbing. This is why the morning of March 8th 2014 stands out so vividly in my mind. Instead of waking in grief I woke to a very different feeling; a feeling I thought I was no longer capable of having, nor did I even know I was missing. It was happiness. This renewed emotion however was not given freely; it was instantly accompanied by guilt and confusion. Was it okay for me to feel something other than utter and complete sadness? Lying in my bed trying to make sense of my night’s dream which had allowed me a reprieve from my usual pain, the answer quickly came to me. This dream that I had, the one that made me smile, had been a gift from Hannah. I believe it was her way of telling me that there was hope for me to keep living.
I called my twin sister, Jen, and told her about the dream and how different it felt to wake feeling happy rather than my typical feelings of anger and depression. I explained that what I experienced wasn’t just a dream; it was more like I was watching a film. I told her every detail of my dream’s storyline as if I was recapping a movie; the location, the women’s friendships their struggles and their triumphs. Jen loved the story and encouraged me to write it down. I’m guessing my sister thought it would be good for me to have a place to focus my energy and do something constructive with my time in hopes of pulling me through my grief. But seriously, what was she thinking? I am a 44-year-old mom with no writing experience. Me write a book, she must be crazy, right?
Over the next few weeks I found myself remembering the dream and wishing I could experience the laughter and the close-knit friendships of those women again. Maybe my sister was right? Why not take a shot at writing? What was I afraid of? What’s the worst thing that could happen? No one will like it. Big deal, after what I had just gone through I was no longer going to be confined by the small things or fear of others’ disapproval. Remembering how Hannah “Turned Her Can’ts into Cans and Her Dreams into Plans” I began to believe in myself. So, to honor Hannah’s memory I now to try to live my life as she lived hers; ready to say “Yes!” and not let ideas and initiatives fade away unrealized.
With the continued support from my family, friends and the encouraging memories of my daughter I began to write. Two years later I am proud to say what began as a dream has now become the first book in an intended series An Evening at Franc’s. My first novel, Book Club, An Evening at Franc’s, is now available and the second in the series is in the works. I arm myself with humor, sass, and a tall glass of wine to tackle some of the most important milestones in women’s lives: dating, marriage, parenting, divorce, career, illness, tragedy, and the inevitable effects of time and gravity. I hope you enjoy the book. It’s a lot of fun. You’ll laugh out loud.
In Book Club, An Evening at Franc’s, the reader is introduced to Franc’s Italian restaurant and its longstanding VIP diners. Behind the scenes of the choreographed service of the front room, readers see inside the life of third generation owner, Frances Giuliani, from the sudden loss of her father, to the chaotic rush of the kitchen and extended family members. Tonight’s VIP guests are one of Frances’ favorites, the ladies of “Book Club.” For years, she has watched these same women fill the center booth of her dining room for their monthly gathering. Frances quickly learns that Book Club is about anything, but books. It’s about the unbreakable bonds of female friendships and the healing power of wisdom, love, humor, and of course wine!
Seated in the infamous tufted leather booth of Franc’s swanky Manhattan restaurant, the ladies of Book Club are armed with a lot of wine, humor and wisdom as they take us on a ten-year journey through the ups and downs of life, love, sex, careers and the inevitable effects of graying and gravity. Diane (a widow and floral shop owner) is poised to enter the dating scene as she heeds warnings from Sarah (an Advertising Executive and the reluctant poster child for online dating gone wrong). Melissa (a stay at home mom) attempts to find common ground with her teenage daughter while trying to find her own identity and Ali (a morning news anchor) struggles to stay relevant in a world obsessed with youth and beauty. Rita longs to reconnect with her husband and real estate business partner, while author and feminist extraordinaire Bette finds room in her life for a man. Kathy (the group’s rock) is beginning to show signs of breaking as she defends her emergency room nursing staff as the hospital undergoes a merger.
Frances has a strict policy about never mixing business with pleasure. However, a night spent with too much champagne and her handsome general manager Derek is all it takes to make her question breaking the rule.
As she tends to her guests in the dining room the romantic tension between she and Derek in the background continues to grow. Should she let her guard down and take a chance on love or stick to her rule of not getting involved with anyone at work?
As time passes my family continues to heal. We will forever feel the pain of our loss, but have begun to put our lives back together as best we can. We are now able to feel joy and happiness most days. We take great comfort in knowing just how blessed we truly are to have been given seventeen years with Hannah. People have asked me if now knowing how this life of mine has going to unfolded, knowing that our daughter would be taken away at such a young age, would I do it, again? Without hesitation the answer is “Yes!” I wouldn’t trade my time with Hannah for a life without tragedy. She is precious to us and will always be one of the best things in our lives.
Jeanette Dashiell discovered her love for writing after the untimely death of her oldest daughter, Hannah, in January of 2014. While being consumed with grief, she felt joy for the first time in months after waking from a dream about the unbreakable friendships among a group of women. Taking it as a sign from her daughter to begin living again, she began to write the story in her dream. With the support and encouragement from family, friends, and her own book club BABs “Books and Booze” (which Jeannette founded with her friends in 2006 and is still going strong today) the first book in the series, Book Club, An Evening at Franc’s, is now finished.
Hannah Dashiell was pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor when she was killed in the car accident. A scholarship fund has been set up in honor of Hannah’s legacy of generosity and caring. A percentage of proceeds from these books will go to a community foundation scholarship fund for young women entering the medical field.
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A little R&R in Palm Springs with great friends!
While many people dream of becoming an author, local author Jeannette Dashiell literally wrote her first novel after experiencing her characters in a dream. She had no prior writing experience, even if writing her first novel was a dream come true.
I met with Dashiell at Village Books. For someone who recently suffered the tragedy of losing a daughter, Dashiell appeared vibrant and even enthusiastic on her journey as an author. She says that writing the novel provided a healing experience. She channeled her grief into the creative process.
“I had never thought to write before this dream came to me. In fact, in the beginning, I wrote just to get through the day. It was my way of distracting myself from the overwhelming pain of losing my daughter. It wasn’t until much later that I thought to myself, ‘Why not give it a shot? Put the story out there for others to read. What’s the worst thing that might happen? People might not like it, big deal. After what I’ve gone through there’s nothing that can faze me,’” Dashiell says.
The characters, a group of women who formed a book club that met at Franc’s restaurant in Manhattan, holds a resemblance to Dashiell’s Books and Booze club that also meets on a regular basis. But the author says that the characters in her novel came to her through a different avenue—as dream characters.
“I wanted to see this group of book club women again,” Dashiell recalls. “I wanted to join them in the booth at Franc’s and listen as they told stories of their lives while drinking bottomless bottles of wine. I wanted the laughter and quips to continue. I wanted to know how they found resolution and triumph over their obstacles. I wanted to know the ending.”
For most authors, it’s not enough to dream about writing a novel which in fact is an arduous task in itself. Successful authors create space in their lives to piece a novel together or they carve out time in their day to sit down to the task. Dashiell is no exception and she fought with distractions.
“I’d like to say my writing process is pretty structured, but I can’t,” Dashiell says. “Don’t get me wrong. I do set certain days aside each week for writing. However, a friendly head nudge from our older dog Molly or the pawing of our rambunctious younger dog Lola can quickly lure me away for a game of fetch in the backyard.”
What began as a dream and a healing balm for the author’s grief of losing her daughter Hannah, transformed into a delightful read that qualifies as quirky women’s fiction.
“I am happy to say that I have heard from lots of readers that say they really connect to and like the characters in my book,” Dashiell says. “And they wish they could be part of the book club seated at Franc’s each month.
“Each character has attributes and quirks that I can relate to: Melissa with the challenges and rewards of parenting and Diane’s journey to begin living again after the tragic of loss of her husband. Sarah’s necessitate to have things in order, Kathy’s strong will to defend those in need, Ali’s fight against our society’s obsession with youth and beauty, Rita’s commitment to her marriage and Bette’s realization that a woman can have it all.”
Now that the writing bug has bitten Dashiell, she started writing her second novel following the character Franc and her family. It’s part of a series.
“This next book also continues the story of third generation restaurateur, Frances Giuliani as she continues to struggle with her feelings for the general manager, Derek,” Dashiell says. “Her strict rule to never get involved with someone she works with is quickly becoming less strict. The complexity of Frances’ dilemma is compounded by her well intentioned, yet overbearing mother Sophia whose sole mission in life is to find her daughter a husband.”
In the course of our photo shoot, I worked on recreating Franc’s restaurant atmosphere at the Colophon Café and at Village Books. And while only some of the photos turned out due to the low-light ambiance, I enjoyed meeting the author behind the independently-published novel, “An Evening at Franc’s.”
It takes courage to grieve the loss of a loved one. And it takes courage to write a novel. But it helps to have cheerleaders on the sideline.
“With the encouragement and support from family and friends I sat down to the computer and began to write the story in my dream. My writing soon became a lifeline through my consuming grief,” Dashiell says.