Late author inspires others to accept life in the present in new memoir 'The Bright Hour'

Katie Couric
Global Anchor

By Alexandra Zaslow

When Nina Riggs died in February at age 39, she left behind a literary legacy.

Over the course of the final months of her life, Nina, who happens to be the great-great-great-granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, would gather all her thoughts, fears, frustrations and hopes for her young family into “The Bright Hour: A Memoir on Living and Dying.”

“I was just blown away because she not only was letting me read it in real time, so I was getting to see myself develop as a character and our children develop as characters in her book, but the things she was writing about were in real time,” John Duberstein, Nina’s husband, told Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric.

While it’s hard for John to see his late wife’s book get published without her, it has also been the light guiding him through the darkness of his grief. He hopes her words will do the same for their two sons Freddy, 10, and Benny, 7, once they’re old enough to read it.

“The book is just such an amazing, amazing legacy she left for us,” Duberstein said. “I don’t know how much more I could ask for in terms of her death not leaving loose threads. I have this tone I can consult and really feel like I’m still sort of in a conversation with her.”

Nina wrote a Modern Love column for the New York Times, “When a Couch Is More Than a Couch,” back in September. In the piece, which got a lot of attention, the usually quick decision maker talks about struggling to buy a new couch after her diagnosis.

“Any time you’re going through something like this in treatment or when you’re going through diagnosis, you’re waiting for the next doctors appointment, you want clarity, you want finality, you want to finally be able to understand what’s going on and, of course, you never do.” Duberstein said. “At some point you just have to buy the couch.”

Just 6 months after Nina’s diagnosis, her mother, Janet Riggs, died of Multiple myeloma. She learned a great deal from her about how to make the most of the time you have left. She even opens the book with a quote from her mom that says, “Dying is not the end of the world.”

“If you have young kids, a spouse, or an ailing parent or a healthy parent, all of those lives and those interactions are still happening around you,” Duberstein said. “You can shut down, I suppose, but she and her mom totally rejected that.”

[Original piano score by Katie Couric]

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