Grief dialogues

Bob Bakken|DTT

Mid-South freelance writer, blogger and journalist Toni Lepeska (right) is joined by “Grief Dialogues: The Book” publisher Elizabeth Coplan with a copy of the book. Lepeska’s item reflecting back on the death of her uncle is part of a compilation of items contained inside.

A North Mississippi writer has contributed to a new book showing that grief is not something to be held close to yourself, but rather expressed in a way that fits your needs and personality the best.

Toni Lepeska is a freelance writer, blogger and journalist based in Barton who is known to DeSoto County residents for her past work covering events in DeSoto County, especially in Olive Branch. Lepeska has used her writing skills as a means of expressing her grief process through the deaths of her parents and her uncle, all in the past 12 years. You can find her writings on her blog,

She submitted a writing about the death of her uncle and her emotions about that period of her life for a new book titled “Grief Dialogues: The Book.” Her writing became one of 61 contributions included in the work published by Elizabeth Coplan, a Seattle, Wash. author and playwright.

Lepeska said her submission is called, “Standing in the Gap.”

“When people start dying, you have that hole, that gap and people can come into that gap and be parental figures, even just to help you get along in life,” Lepeska said. “Even though he was in his 80s and lived in Connecticut, he still was a connection with my late father because he looked like my father.”

There was more than just a physical resemblance that made her uncle be important in her life, Lepeska, an adopted child, explained.

“After my uncle died, I actually got to go through his things and I found out when my parents were trying to adopt me, they had asked him to be a reference,” Lepeska said. “He saved what he had written to the social worker. Those are connections and I think we all try to establish them in some way.”

Coplan explained “Grief Dialogues: The Book” is an offshoot of a play and a nonprofit of the same name she started as she dealt with family loss and the death of a friend’s relative.

“It started with a single play that I wrote, “Hospice: A Love Story,” that I wrote to reconcile the death of my cousin from ovarian cancer and the accidental and tragic death of my closest friend’s husband, and the fact that my almost 90-year-old in-laws did not want to talk about death,” said Coplan. “I wrote it (the play) to reconcile my own grief and it helped, especially when I would show it to people.”

Coplan said people responded to the play telling her their story. The play’s response led to the concept for the book, which has now been published and is available for sale.

“People really appreciate these stories,” Coplan said. “I cannot tell you how many times people tell me, ‘I thought I was the only one that felt that way.’”

Coplan added the purpose for the book is to get people to express their grief in the way that best fits them.

“I believe that out of grief comes art, either films or music and the written word,” Coplan said. “There are studies now that show that unrecognized or un-dealt with grief can create illness, domestic violence, a host of things. Grief is going to come out, one way or another.”

Lepeska encouraged people dealing with grief to read “Grief Dialogues” and see how others are dealing with a very emotional moment in their lives.

“When you read the story of another person, you feel like there’s somebody out there who would understand how you felt or what you went through.” Lepeska said. “Maybe they thought what you thought.”

Lepeska and Coplan are holding a book signing event and will read from the work, “Grief Dialogues: The Book” Thursday afternoon Nov. 15 from 4-5:45 p.m. at Master Jewelers, 5070 Goodman Road in Olive Branch. The event is being held in conjunction with the day being recognized as “Children’s Grief Awareness Day.”

More on Coplan’s work with grief may be found on her website,

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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