Death. Dying. Terminal illness. Words – and experiences – we tend to avoid, not want to talk about and, most certainly, not want to experience. Yet, as Founding Editor Renata Khoshroo Louwers says, these are topics that touch everyone’s life at some point. Which is why she and her husband began Months To Years, the online quarterly of creative nonfiction, poetry, photography, and art, as a response to their own experiences with loss as well as a way to support others.
Even the name, Months To Years, Renata explains, refers to the expression doctors often use to communicate regarding terminally ill patients. “When asked to estimate a patient’s lifespan, they will (because no one knows for sure and they prefer not to be too precise) typically say ‘months to years,’ ‘weeks to months,’ ‘days to weeks,’ or ‘hours to days.’ Ours is a literary journal about mortality, death, and dying. In a sense, whether sick or well, we all have ‘months to years.’ The name is meant to capture this aspect of diagnosis and also to remind us that we are all terminal.”
As editor, Renata holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Boston University and is pursuing a certificate in Creative Nonfiction from the UCLA Extension Writer’s Studio. She is a former newspaper reporter and lifelong writer. Both she and my husband/co-founder, Tim Louwers, are writing memoirs about their experiences related to their first spouses’ illnesses.
“Months To Years is truly a labor of love and purpose,” Renata tells me. “Tim and I are a husband and wife team [and JMU Dukes fans!], and we co-founded the magazine (and the associated nonprofit) in 2017. We were in our late 40s/early 50s when we both lost our first spouses in 2014. My first husband, Ahmad Khoshroo, had bladder cancer. Tim’s first wife, Barbara, died from early-onset Alzheimer’s at age 50. We experienced ‘until death do us part’ at a much younger age than any of us could have ever expected.”
It was after Ahmad Khoshroo was diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer that Renata began writing personal essays. “It was a means of processing the experience,” she shares. “The experience of losing a spouse inspired us to want to create a space for meaningful and thoughtful writing about death and dying. It is such a taboo subject in our culture . . . the idea of using writing and art to process the experience and share it with others appealed to us.”
The greatest joy Renata says she experiences in creating this new publication “comes from the notes of appreciation we have received from readers and contributors.” While the greatest hurdle has been simply wrangling the technical aspects of the website. “I did it by myself (with some ‘for Dummies’ books!). I am a writer, not a techie, so it was a very arduous process.” [Editor’s note: The site and publication look great!]
Renata also credits their “fantastically talented team that includes Design Director Barbara LaBounta and Editorial Assistant/Storytelling Coach Renusha Indralingam. Both have volunteered in hospices previously. They are also volunteering their time for us and donating their talent.”
Readers of Months To Years will find compelling essays and poems about mortality, death, and dying. “Some are dark, some are funny, all are poignant. The lovely photos and design further highlight the power of the written works.” And Renata shared that they are excited to have recently started a collaboration with the Stanford Medicine SCOPE blog. SCOPE re-publishes one excerpt per month from a Months To Years essay.
Months To Years is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and in the future Renata anticipates expanding their mission to include support resources for younger spouses of the terminally ill. “We are a self-funded organization (but will soon establish a donation button for those who wish to support our mission)! We do not sell advertising in the magazine because we want to keep the focus on compelling storytelling about death and dying. Both Tim and I are active in patient/caregiver advocacy work related to cancer and Alzheimer’s. We also both served as fellows (and continue to support) at the annual End Well Symposium in San Francisco in 2017.”
The most current issue of Months To Years can be read online as well as published via the Joomag platform. Readers can also download and/or print a PDF. Joomag also offers the option to purchase magazine hard copies on-demand.
For writers, Months to Years has rolling submission deadlines of March 1 (spring issue), June 1 (summer issue), September 1 (fall issue), and December 1 (winter issue).