Maria Stuart

Maria Stuart
Howell, Michigan, USA
February 17
Maria Stuart is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer. She lives in Michigan with her husband, their teenage son, and Ted, the hyper labradoodle who keeps her from sitting at the computer too long. You can check out her website at or Follow @mariastuart on Twitter.


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JANUARY 23, 2012 12:29PM

Connecting via Words With Friends

Rate: 6 Flag

photoMy father was a terrible speller. A voracious reader with a brilliant mind, he had some incomplete synapse in his brain that kept him from stringing together letters correctly to make words. If he were alive, he’d never, ever understand my affinity for Words With Friends.

For me, fewer things are more delicious than playing M, U, Z, J, I and K tiles in double- or triple-word spots. Well-placed words like “QI” and “JO” make me swoon. Once I played “JOYRIDER” in a spot with double-letter and triple-word bonuses; I racked up over 100 points in what remains my greatest WWF move ever.

I love words. I love spelling, too. Unlike my father, I am a human dictionary; I innately know how to spell (well, most words, at least). After winning a goldfish in the fourth-grade spelling bee, I went on to become a newspaper editor. Need I say more? 

Since I now work at home, I use WWF as a reward, meting out playing time for writing a blog post or finishing a freelance job.

Without that bit of self-control, I fear I’d stay in my pajamas all day long with the television on, spelling this word and that on my iPad, grousing about the letters I drew and talking to myself.

It’s something my father would never have understood.

This past holiday season was the sixth without him, even though I think about him every day. Usually it’s a fleeting thought: “Oh, that’s something Eugene would’ve loved,” or I’ll smile at something funny that he once said or did.

When we realized my father was dying, it was too late for conversations or anything more than holding his hand. I hope he knew that we were there for him. Sometimes I think about his last few days in the hospital, in a coma, on a ventilator, and I comfort myself with the thought that maybe, just maybe, it was the way he wanted to leave: He wasn’t big on sentimentality.

Shortly after he died, as I was waiting for a lunch date to show up, a man walking into the restaurant took my breath away. From a distance, it was my dad. The height, the bearing, the profile: it was him! But the closer he got, the more I realized I was wrong.

I burst into tears, right there in the restaurant.

Was the man the product of a daughter’s heart longing to see her father again? Or was it my father, all right, spiriting in for a brief moment to say hello? 

Maybe it was grief, plain and simple.

My son’s elementary school principal told me children grieve in waves. I’ve learned that’s how we all grieve: Some days, big waves; most days, water lapping gently on the shore.

Big waves happen more for my mother, I think, than the rest of us. She and my dad were married a long, long time, and his death left a huge hole in her heart and life.

But as the two of us got caught up over eggs and coffee at a favorite breakfast place yesterday, my mother told me that she had finally packed up my dad’s bathrobe and his favorite shoes. The bulk of his earthly possessions had been passed along earlier, but those things held special meaning for my mom, and it was hard to get rid of them.

She teared up as she told me about folding the robe. I understood her emotions, but I was glad that now, nearly six years after my dad’s death, she had conquered another wave of grief, that she was ready to move forward a bit more. 

So it was that I thought about my dad all day, wishing once again that we had had the chance for a more proper goodbye, to hear him call me “sweetheart” one last time.

I struggled to work. With Words With Friends as a carrot, I started dinner and emailed a freelance piece to a client, before gifting myself some playing time.

I zipped through the various games in progress waiting for me. The final one had me flummoxed.

“What am I going to do with all these vowels?” I thought.

There were three Es. And a U. I could deal with the U, but three Es? Three?

I scrambled the letters once to get a handle on creating a word. Then, I scrambled them again.

Something drifted into focus.

Could it be?

With my finger, I swapped the position of the last two letters, a T and an E.

I shook my head in disbelief.

E-U-G-E-N-E-T. Eugene, my dad’s first name; T for Tolot, his last.


I laughed out loud, delighted that my dad had come by to say hello again.

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Incredible- how we communicate with our dads, or they visit us so unexpectedly. Your piece resonates a lot with me. I will come back to this again.
Oh how I love this story. Your analogy about grief being like waves describes the experience perfectly. Like you, I had one of those big waves wash over me in a public place once a few years ago. My dad died in 2005 - 4 years later, I was hard at work overseeing the remodel of one of our rent houses. I was with one of my contractors in Home Depot when a man walked up beside us and stood staring at the plumbing supplies. His back was to me and I could see the side of his face. I stared... hard. A lump welled up in my throat. He looked exactly like my dad from that angle - same hair, same build, even the same style of clothing. I burst into tears right there on the spot. And I couldn't stop thinking about that man all day long. I still think about it and wish I would see him again.
Grief - such a curious thing.
When we remain open I'm convinced there are ways our loved ones do speak to us. Every time there is a shooting star I know it is my mother saying hello and I have others who say "hello" too.

This is a wonderful story. You have the rhythms of grief exactly right. The waves eventually recede leaving only the comfort of good memories.
I miss my dad. And my mom. Thanks for this.

On the other hand, I wish you hadn't told me about Words With Friends. Sounds addictive. Now I'm going to try to forget I ever heard of it.
PS. I'm a former newspaper person, too. So... I also dearly miss the newsroom. All those interesting people within earshot. All those interesting stories to pursue. Sigh!
Maria! What a fabulously cool story. There's no doubt in my mind that your dad was saying hello. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to download Words with Friends.
Gotta love the game..The first time I played on this game I get easily get glued on it..I find it fun and cool..I use the ANAGRAMMER in times I'm having a hard time..
I have tried playing with this game and its really cool and interesting..Me and my co workers love to play this game when our boss is not around..We also use the ANAGRAMMER to give us a clue in times we are having a hard time..
I adore this game! I can't get enough of it. Sometimes I'll have 10 games going at one time and I get anxiety and feel the pressure, but it's all in good fun! It's the best money I've ever spent on an iPhone application.I also use the ANAGRAMMER to give me more hints..