Archive for the ‘Judith K. Witherow’ Category

Saying goodbye to a friend is hard to do.  This afternoon I learned that Judith K. Witherow has died.  I knew she had multiple health issues and that she had been in the hospital for a long time and that it sounded very serious. Her long-time partner Sue Lanaerts was with her on January 27th when she died. Judith’s two living sons were also with her.

I felt very sad learning this news. The sadness was very heavy — a physical presence.  I was on the floor doing yoga when two thoughts came to me. The first was the thought that she is done with her suffering. The second thought was that she can still offer us her guidance.  Judith was very wise. We are lucky to have had her for as long as we did.  Still, it is hard to say goodbye.

Goodbye, Judith.

I am running this review of her book that I wrote four or so years ago when her book first came out. The review originally appeared in The Huffington Post.


I was  reminded of the quote from the late poet Muriel Rukeyser — ‘’What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open’’ — when I read  Judith K. Witherow’s collection of essays, Strong Enough To Bend, Twin Spirits Publishing, 2014.

In her collection of essays, Strong Enough To Bend, Judith K. Witherow describes herself as a “back up writer, one of many who stand in the background, providing the harmony and staging the recognition for those whose names are on the covers of the books or the mastheads of the publications.”  

She describes Strong Enough to Bend as her solo performance.  And what a performance it is.  I found that I could not put Strong Enough To Bend down — except for time to recollect how much the essays reminded me of friend’s lives and my own.

Native American lesbian and truth teller, Witherow starts her collection with essays on her background being raised poor in the northern Appalachian mountains.

“We never lived in a place that had screen doors or screens in the windows. This allowed everything, including snakes, to come and go at will. We learned at an early age to pound on the floor before getting out of bed.”

In the second section, Judith talks about how she came out with three sons that she gave birth to during a marriage to an abusive man.  Raising her sons in the 1970s a time when lesbians were losing their children to custody battles with ex-husbands, presented Judith with an ongoing dilemma of when to officially come out to her children. It’s not surprising that her three sons, who were raised by Judith and her long-term partner, Sue, knew that their mother was a lesbian far before she told them and were fiercely protective of their two mothers.  

She devotes another section of the book to her multiple health issues which stem, no doubt, from her poverty ridden childhood, and to her struggles with the medical establishment. In 1979, Judith was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  Judith’s health issues are numerous and it is clear that we are lucky to have her with us on this planet.  Hers is a voice that we were not meant to hear.

A strong feminist, Judith is a role model for valuing herself. In the 1996 U.S. presidential election, Judith was a write-in candidate prompted by her belief that she “was the best qualified of any of the candidates.”

Judith K. Witherow (second to right) with me (far right on the end) with Janet Aalfs on the left and Renée Bess. Judith, Janet and Renée were doing a reading at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia and I was hosting.


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