An Interview with Roberta S. Kuriloff, author of “Framing a Life: Building the Space to be Me”

“Framing a Life: Building the Space to be Me” addresses the concept of home in a very thoughtful way. What imagery and emotions does the word “home” conjure up for you today, and how has that evolved over time?

Home ideally represents togetherness, family, caring and security. It is what I have experienced over the past 27 years with my spouse. As a child, “home” was an orphanage, separated from family, although my father visited us on the weekends, and now and then we visited our extended family. My family, while in the orphanage, were the kids with whom I lived. We established our own little families to feel like we belonged.  

Your memoir also explores loss in many forms. Can you tell us about a few of the ways you found solace during these times of intense grief?

Somehow as a child I came to believe that everything in life had a purpose. It helped me survive my pain and sadness. My imagination carried me to being Superman’s daughter, flying above my life, or Roy Rogers’ daughter, riding into the sunset, or sunrise. Best was when my father took us out for the day, and later weekends, where we spent time with relatives. 

Your mother died when you were very young, yet you continued to write letters to her throughout your life. Can you tell us about that? Do you still write letters to her?

I communicated with my mother through my diary letters to her, addressed to “Dear Eva,” a few of which are in my book. Doing so made me feel connected to her. I stopped writing the words “Dear Eva” when I became an adult. I still write in a journal, pretty regularly, which helps me process my life. I have about 35 diaries/journals.  

Tell us about navigating your spiritual journey and reconnecting with your identity as a Jewish woman. What advice would you give other spiritual seekers?

I have always been a spiritual seeker, believing there was more to life than the one we presently live. I’ve explored various religious ideas and beliefs, as well as books about people who experienced past lives. I don’t relate well to traditional religion, but am still drawn to Judaism and Jewish history, as it defined my family, especially my father’s life growing up in Ukraine, and his experiences as a Jewish survivor, as well as my personal experiences with others who questioned my religion. Yet, I’m also drawn to understanding religions and how humans use it to justify their actions. Being a “spiritual seeker” for me is really looking at life from a higher, challenging perspective, not from the perspective of organized religion telling me what I can and cannot do.

Similarly, can you describe your journey to understand how you fit into your cultural and religious ancestry? Was it challenging? In what ways?

While living in Maine, I went on vacation with Mary Ann to Germany and Russia. My first trip out of the U.S. was eye opening. I discovered German friends who questioned their parents regarding how Jews were “handled” in Germany. They were very progressive. In Russia, I visited a synagogue, as well as had dinner in a Jewish restaurant with a bunch of young Russian men, the latter being a fun evening, especially exchanging little gifts. I discovered my openness to new experiences, as well as to my relationship with food. I’m not afraid to challenge myself, not afraid to challenge my beliefs. 

How does your memoir explore relationships of all types (familial, romantic, friendships and with yourself)?

I believe I am very honest and open in my book. I explore and share my experiences of romantic relationships with men and women, my mixed sexual feelings, and the difficulties that arise in friendships when one grows and changes and some friends don’t. When my romantic relationships ended, I still stayed friends, like with Mary Ann and Ernie. I meditate and examine my mind and dreams to better understand my feelings; therapy helped with the latter. 

Can you discuss your experiences as a “home kid?” What does that mean to you, and how do you think it continues to inform your identity as an adult?

I still consider myself a “home kid.” It is in my DNA. I see life through that “role,” but at the same time see myself separately from my life’s definitions. I’m a cautious person, but also enjoy living life fully, even when it hurts. I face my fears and pain. I believe the “home kid” experiences made me a more sympathetic attorney with clients. I’m not afraid to share my life with clients and friends; it’s a good learning lesson about survival. But then, most lives are, of course, a learning lesson.

How did your experiences as a lawyer, feminist, lesbian, activist and hospice volunteer inform your approach to this memoir?

I believe my experiences allowed me to be very open and honest in writing my memoir. Working as a lawyer taught me that everyone has challenges, stories to share, pain, love, fear and hidden questions. People are open to sharing when they feel listened to. In all my roles, I am open to learning from, and sharing with, others because we all experience similar fears, hopes and dreams. The best part of being a lawyer was sharing with clients, almost like therapy, for the client and for me.

What do you hope people take away from this book? 

Life is difficult, tough, but fun and challenging as we make it. Most of us have choices, and we can choose to be positive or negative, happy or sad. Even those people who suffer from pain and loss, have choices, albeit very difficult. It is how we look at life: half-empty or half-full, as I shared in my first book, “Everything Special, Living Joy.”