The holidays can be especially difficult for anyone traveling an unwanted journey. Judy and Roy Smoot’s soulful, bittersweet new book, It All Belongs: Love, Loss, & Learning to Live Again, offers a safe space for reflection and introspection. This book is intended to be used as much as read. This beautifully illustrated book immerses readers in an engaging love story while revealing spiritual practices, therapeutic elements, and inspiration for anyone who has recently lost a loved one or those coming to terms with a life-limiting medical diagnosis.
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When Grief Invades the Holiday Season: New Book Offers Timeless Message of Hope
“You have a large mass in your right temporal lobe.” When these 10 words rocked Judy Smoot’s well-sculpted world, she and her husband, Roy, began a 10-month journey through brain cancer surgeries, treatments, stroke therapy, unexpected and tender moments, fears, anger, and beauty.
KENNEBUNK, Maine — It All Belongs: Love, Loss, & Learning to Live Again is an exquisite juxtaposition of perspectives tracing Judy and Roy Smoot’s final four years together. Much more than a book, It All Belongs is an immersive experience that opens a rare window into uncommonly candid end-of-life realities through a soulful mosaic of expressive art, journal entries, poetry, and deeply personal writings.
“This is a book to be used,” Roy Smoot explains. “It’s filled with ideas, tools, and examples to help guide individuals and groups in discussing and contemplating their inevitable journeys of love and grief.”
When Judy, a spiritual director who used expressive arts to help others cope with chronic illness, receives the devastating diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme, she must put these spiritual practices to the ultimate test. Because she knew how making art sustained her, Judy continued to paint or draw until the end of her life. Judy models her practices for others as she lives fully into her mortality. But that’s only half the story.
Following Judy’s death, Roy, Judy’s husband and soulmate of nearly 40 years, enters a world he didn’t know existed, a world he didn’t want to know, a world of searing pain, grief, and grace beyond anything he could conceive. It All Belongs invites readers to follow Roy from the raw angst of navigating immediate day-to-day realities to his deep introspection. In constantly journaling through his travels, including a long road trip out west and a spiritual quest in Iona, Scotland, Roy mirrors Judy’s work to find his path through his devastating grief.
This unique pairing of perspectives offers spiritual tools and healing practices to help readers face end-of-life realities by exploring the beauty, light, and joy tucked within even the most tragic circumstances. It All Belongs encourages readers to listen deeply, explore purposefully, and fully embrace this sacred time.
“Hold nothing back in your questions, rantings, thoughts, emotions,” Roy Smoot writes in the book’s introduction. “As this book’s title affirms, everything you feel, think, ask, experience, live through, and release is a sacred part of your journey. It all belongs.”
About the Authors
JUDY and ROY SMOOT met in college at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio; they were married following graduation, and for the next four decades, they lived and loved in Georgia, Florida, Ohio, and Maine.
Roy enjoyed a successful banking career; Judy served as a Wellstreams spiritual director, a Dominican Associate, and an Expressive Arts Florida Institute (EAFI) certified expressive arts therapist. Judy established Always We Begin Again (AWBA), a nonprofit organization to support people with chronic illnesses. Later in life, they made their home at “Sunrise Ridge,” their cottage and retreat center renovated and created in the breathtaking beauty of Ohio’s Hocking Hills.
MELINDA FOLSE is a writer, editor, and collaborator on a mission to tell stories that make a difference. She believes this story will strike a meaningful chord in every life it touches. It All Belongs is her eighth book, joining Grandmaster, Dream Catcher, and Lessons Well Learned as her favorite explorations of lives and passions well lived. She lives in Fort Worth, Texas.
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In your own words, give me a summary of your book.
It All Belongs presents a rare, profoundly personal window into the roller-coaster realities of navigating end-of-life, written from two perspectives. Judy was a spiritual director who used expressive arts to help people cope with life-impacting events. She received a deadly, terminal glioblastoma multiforme diagnosis – “You have a large mass in your right temporal lobe.” She then modeled spiritual practices she shared with others as she faced her life’s end. I walked with Judy through her brain surgeries, chemo, radiation, clinical trials, and stroke rehabilitation over ten months before an owl hooted three times to call her home. I then mirrored Judy’s work to find my path through devastating grief to find how to live again. It All Belongs offers readers fundamental tools and deep inspiration for making peace with life-ending experiences every day to everyone.
What do you want people to know and remember?
Judy taught us how to live and how to die. She taught me how to live again when she was gone after 41 years together. We hope to offer our lessons to all who read and experience our book.
What made you want to share this very personal and painful story with other people? Why did you decide to write it?
As friends and family read Judy’s meditations and writings and saw her art done before and during her treatments, they told her she should have it published to help others. When Judy asked me to have her writings and art published, I promised her I would. As a few select friends read my journals, they told me the same thing to help people dealing with abysmal grief step by step. I had to keep my promise to her. Like we did in our lives, we did this together.
How involved was Judy in writing this book—the first part primarily?
It sounds like she might’ve been very motivated to share her experience.
Judy was an artistic journaler for more than 20 years. It was a deep part of her life and spiritual practices. She wrote her raw, beautiful, painful, loving observations, prayers, and meditations to reflect her views of life and death before and during her treatments, combined with her art. She was incredibly motivated to share her experiences to help others. It all flowed from a sacred place deep within her. Everything she wrote and created was hers alone.
Why did you choose a traditional method of storytelling—a book—instead of a blog or something online?
That is a good question in today’s electronic world. I believe her art, words, and use of secular and sacred texts will be best experienced with a reader’s eyes, hands, and heart. Our book has pages and space to write your reactions, thoughts, and art as you journey with us. Journaling was a massive part of my healing therapy, and I know how vital it was to engage my heart and hands to write my observations, poems, and stories. I hope readers will do likewise.
What’s the reality of getting a book published now?
It’s a monumental exercise, especially one so personal and vulnerable. Seeing this final product, holding it in my hands, was overwhelming. Melinda Folse was our engine, collaborator, and guru to get this across the proverbial finish line.
How did you go about it?
I knew about Melinda’s book writing and publishing skills and asked her to lead it. She then connected us with Jenkins Group in Traverse City, Michigan, who were invaluable in bringing this book to life.
Is this book self-published, or did you have a publisher?
Melinda’s firm, SparkPoint Press, indie published it with The Jenkins Group in Traverse City, Michigan, serving as book packager who coordinated the design, production, and printing.
What advice would you give to people about writing a book?
Be patient. This was a five-year process, sifting through more than 900,000 words of journal entries and hundreds of images of Judy’s art. Pour your heart into it and don’t skimp. When you hit a wall, take a well-deserved pause, then get back at it. Lean on people who know you best to offer support and constructive criticism. Remember WHY you decided to do it and hang onto your reason. Pray however you pray.
How did you handle going over these difficult parts of your life while you were writing?
I sobbed, often uncontrollably, reliving not only our difficult steps, fears, surgeries, treatments, and the first words about her right frontal lobe but also that our great times were coming to such a tragic end. I smiled as I remembered good times in our remodeled cottage, being her Sherpa as she completed her two-and-a-half year expressive arts studies in Sarasota, and unbelievably tender moments during her treatments and worst times; tender moments which would never have happened had her GBM not invaded her brain.
For you, was this a cathartic process or did telling these stories bring back a lot of grief?
Both, absolutely both. It was another step in healing for me. Melinda often told me as she distilled almost a million words from many journals, and hundreds of art images, “I feel Judy’s presence. I hear her talking to me.” I too, felt Judy’s presence many times. Still do. It was also a way for June, my current wife who is a good friend of Judy’s, to learn much more about what we went through. In fact, June told me another reason she fell in love with me was because I kept my promise to Judy to have this published.
Tell me the two or three most memorable moments for you in this experience. How about a two-part answer? From my journaling time, I recall amazing conversations with a high school girl in the Grand Canyon, with a young mother at a local pub, on Iona with a young couple facing her cancer diagnosis, with a fellow widower at a pizza shop as his family sat nearby, with a middle-aged man and his young friend in a mall–all prompted by their noticing me off by myself writing away and feeling safe enough to ask me what I was writing. I recall a kind stranger buying my dinner at Gaylan’s in Bar Harbor as she noticed tears falling to my journal pages. From our process of publishing this memoir to Judy, feeling her presence about what to include, who to ask for help, truly feeling from Melinda her increasing deep knowledge of Judy’s heart and soul. Judy was touching her from heaven, or whatever our next life phase is.
What do you hope readers will learn from your and Judy’s experience?
Life is everything together. Our title, It All Belongs, says it all in three words. Pain, horror, joy, grief, love, caring people, amazing healthcare professionals, surprising gifts from strangers, and much more—it all belongs. Friends and co-workers sometimes told me, “I don’t think I could do what you and Judy are doing,” as we traveled our ten-month dance with cancer and death. I told them, “You don’t know what you can do until you have to.” We are stronger than we know, with help from others and whatever faith tradition we follow. We hope It All Belongs is a tool and possible guide for your journey or a loved one’s journey.
Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would’ve handled differently as you found out about Judy’s illness and went through her treatment?
Oh my! So many things initially come to mind, things to maybe heal her better or keep her here longer. Mostly wishes, but not reality. I know we were incredibly blessed with beyond-amazing people at The James Comprehensive Cancer Center at Ohio State. Not only was their expertise world-class, but their hearts motivated their work. We became their extended family and vice versa. I recall her lead oncologist
not being able to be at our last meeting when we were told there was nothing more to be done for her because he cared for her so deeply and couldn’t face her. I recall her surgeon visiting us after her first brain surgery on Thanksgiving, the day after he had removed most of her GBM tumor. I remember her hospice nurse bathing her and anointing her for her journey home to heaven before Judy left us. Nothing different, nothing at all.
Who were your most valuable support people to get through something like this? People who could walk with me without trying to fix me were most valuable. They let me be me: messed up, fragile, confused, quiet, loud, vulnerable, explosive at times. They talked about Judy with me versus never mentioning her name. They listened and listened. Two told me how angry they were with God for separating Judy and me. Such incredible honesty from them. Friends, family, nuns (Sr. Noreen, Sr. Joan) who were spiritual directors with Judy, her spiritual director, a hospice counselor named Kermit, Katherine, Amanda, my brother David, and my wife June.
Is there anyone you wish would’ve come to your aid?
Interesting question. This may not answer your question directly, but may I share a realization? As time passed, I had to expend more and more energy to initiate connecting with people. Part of me held a bit of anger about this. Yet, I realized that life moves on after loved ones die. They were incredible support sources beyond anything I had hoped for. Yet, their lives moved on for them, and they had to move on. It helped me spend more time by myself writing and moving forward, literally step-by-step.
In the desperate fight against cancer in our medical system today,
What did you find most confusing?
Most confusing was all the various options, treatments, advice, billing, and side effects of one medicine on other medicines Judy was taking (one instance was especially frightening when we almost had to run to the ER at Christmas). It was a barrage of information that was hard to process in a terrifying time.
Caring medical professionals who seemed to understand what we were facing, our fears, our lack of familiarity with all their medical expertise, our difficult decisions. They cared about us. We were not merely their next patient that day.
A few, very few medical professionals didn’t listen to us and our fears; they were more concerned about following their protocols. Insurance processors blocked clinical trial options until her doctors went to bat for Judy with giant bats.
What’s next for you now that the book is finished?
Doing all we can—June, Melinda, and I—to get this book into the hands and hearts of people facing, or who will face, similar circumstances, whether it’s cancer or not. This is a mission to serve and to honor my promise. And keep another promise Judy and I made to each other many times about the survivor of who would die first. I will love and live. Now … with June!!