August 2008. Denise loved to create a beautiful environment, indoors and out. Here she's taking a break from pruning a bush in the garden

Denise was born in Richmond County, Brooklyn, New York on the 19th December 1950. She died from recurring ovarian cancer in Brentwood, Essex on the 7th March 2011.

Please feel free leave a comment for Denise at the bottom of the page. Comments are moderated, so it might take some hours before your comment appears.

I obviously mostly know about the years we were together, but please help make this page about the full story of the wonderful woman Denise was, and a tribute to her life. If you have pictures you want to share, or if you want add more text about her life than what fits into a comment, please email it to me at, and I will add it to this page.

The page is a work in progress and will be updated frequently. It was last updated on the 17th March.

Denise was so multi-facetted. She was bold and brazen, while at the same time being very shy and private. When she opened her heart, she gave herself 110%, and she always gave people a second chance if they deserved it. She was amazingly knowledgable, the result of a bunch of very strict nuns in her schoo, who beat the knowledge into her head. She should have gone on a quizz show, I’m sure she could have made a fortune that way.

I met Denise in 2002 in an internet chatroom, and we quickly fell in love. That led to many extended weekends and holidays in New York and London, before we got married in 2003, but I’ll let Denise tell the story about how we first spoke with each other in her own words

He was trying to rescue her from mediocrity. She was cursing her phenomenal bad timing, having met the right man, once again at the wrong time. Don’t ever settle, he advised, it will kill your soul. She was trying to tell him that her soul had long ago numbed itself from the disease of hoping. It’s a suckers game, she told him, you wish and believe and what happens, nada into eternity.
What about you? he asked, what about your heart? She was silent for a while and answered, I don’t have one, not anymore. He heard her in her voice, tinged with defiance and regret, some traces of gentleness. He took a chance, Yes you do, you have a wonderful heart that loves and needs love in return. She bit into her lower lip, Fuck you, she hissed, fuck you and that bullshit.
He wanted to comfort her, tell her he had fallen in love with her but he dared not. He formulated a plan and knew one day, she would say that she loved him. All he answered with was, Why so afraid? And she answered, When I fall in love it’s the fucking beginning of misery. Happiness ends and misery begins, that’s how love goes for me.
He laughed, Well what if I told you its possible that love is the when misery ends and happiness begins? She laughed, Yeah you tell me that Ill say fuck you! Oh yeah, Baby, he replied Ill do that as well! Quiet sure of yourself, aren’t you? she asked. Cocksure, baby, he replied.
A shiver went thru her and she became afraid. It doesn’t matter, she advised, Im doing as I said, Im going to have a good life, so what if its devoid of love and passion, simple caring is good enough.
Just good enough will kill you, Baby, it will make you crazy. Im crazy all ready and she laughed and she knew she wanted this wise tho somewhat too sure of himself Mr. Man.
She grew quiet, and for a few moments she took down her self constructed barricades. You better get her and rescue me before I settle in.  At the other end of the phone, he started to smile. He took the last drag on his cigarette, Sure Baby, that I’ll do!
She laughed and this time there was no tinge of regret or melancholy. Then do it.
They said their goodnights and three months later in a cozy room in New Jersey, they said hello.
After they kissed goodbye at JFK, they started to look forward to kiss hello in Heathrow.

19th April, 2003

Denise's first dance as a married woman

After about a year of courtship, we decided we had collected enough frequent flyer air miles. Denise accepted my proposal, her boss Greg sponsored a pent house in a fancy hotel i St Pete, Florida, and her sister Diane conducted the ceremony that made us husband and wife.

Getting pet passports and all the paperwork required to bring animals into the United Kingdom is not straight forward. So while sorting this out, Denise continued to live in America until December 2003, when she arrived in Heathrow with Pip the dog and the cats Bully, Bully-Brother and Tissy. We had a tiny car, and Denise was carrying enough clothes and stuff to get by until GDK, her previous employer, could get everything shipped across the Atlantic. So the car was REALLY full. Pip was happy to be out of the shipping crate and sitting on Denise’s lap amongst bags and bags, and the poor cats were still in their crates, crying all the way.

Shortly after moving in, Denise wrote this poem about our local church yard by St Thomas of Cantebury (yes, that’s the name of the church, even though it is in Brentwood)

St Thomas Church Yard
Here is where we walk
You and I, arms entwined, our memories
A collective hodgepodge
Of misinformation and passion gone awry
What of the ones buried here
Named, forgotten, dead bones upon dead bones
Until all that remains are the ashes and the ghost of ashes.
So am I, named from another life
A life of ashes and bit of happiness purloined
From dreams and wishes.
I could be the tail of a kite, taking off above the spire
Pure and holy, back to God or the ground.
I could form a birdseye view of you, the path we walk
the crumbling headstones, the blades of grass crushed under your feet.
It is all I can do to let you rein me in
Your touch so tender, the scent of you fresh, of green citrus and pine.
I match my step to yours
Not so misinformed as I am frightened
And scared of love

Within weeks of moving thousands of miles away from everything she knew, Denise found herself a job, grooming dogs in a local pet shop. She didn’t want to just sit around, she needed to meet people, do stuff, so what was more natural than to get a job, she asked.

2004 was a really good year. We made the most of life. Both of us were working locally, so we had mornings and long evenings together. We were also keen to explore our surroundings together. We had day trips criss crossing South England.

In April we had a lovely long weekend in Wales. Denise did most of the planning work, and she found this gorgeous B&B that was also a working farm. There was two guest rooms in the main house, and one of the small outbuildings had been converted into a guest house which we rented. The farm had sheep and ducks and a dog that kept wanting to come into our cabin to meet Pip.

One of the attractions was that the children of the guests could come out with the land lady in the mornings to collect eggs from the farm’s hens. Denise loved animals, so she made sure to wake up bright and early, and was ready and roaring to go by day break.

Denise loved animals of all sorts. On our holiday to Wales in 2004, one of the activities the farm had planned for children was they could be allowed to help collect eggs in the morning. Denise could hardly wait until morning before she jumped out of bed to get a basket. There was also the most adorable lamb, happy to walked on a lead.


Later in the year, we did the grand tour of Western Europe. We were talking about where to go. Holland? Belgium? France? Spain? Denise had such an appetite for life and for adventure, that we ended up doing it all.

In Amsterdam, where joints are legally sold in coffeeshops, we went to town looking for different varieties. I remember sitting on the edge of a fountain, suddenly feeling very sick. Denise quickly got hold of some chocolate and held my hand till I back on earth again.

Denise enjoying Amsterdam, 2004

We also saw Anne Frank’s house, which touched Denise deeply. She always had a spiritual connection with dead people, and managed to combine this easily with her strong catholic faith. I don’t know if it was Anne’s ghost, or just the pent up emotions, but Denise was unusually quiet, when we afterwards walked along the canals.

The main location for the holiday was Lourdes, where we spent some days seeing the grotto where Saint Bernadette saw the Immaculate Conception and walking around in town. On the way to Lourdes, we stopped at the small cloister where the remains of Saint Bernadette are kept.

Denise also had a very practical side to her. So as a pre-caution, she filled up several large plastic bottles with water from the spring in the grotto. The water is meant to have healing effects. Till this day, we have some of that water still in the loft. Maybe that played a part in giving Denise the strength to deal with her cancer later on.

Denise lighting a candle in Lourdes, 2004

Following Lourdes, we criss crossed the Pyrenees between France and Spain. At some point we came across a small market town, where farmers were herding cattle and sheep in for the market. We stopped, and Denise immediately made friends with a several of the locals so she could talk with, and pet, as many of their animals as she could get away with. Her ability to make friends with everybody, regardless of language and culture, is one of the things that identified her. She just had that wonderfully winning smile, and wasn’t shy about jumping in feet first.

Denise making friends with a young girl who was very proud of her horse that was going to be shown at the village fete


Denise and Pip cooling down in a refreshing mountain stream in the Pyrenees


Denise absolutely adored her dog, Pip. She would tilt her head and say "who's the mother's baby?", and Pip would tilt his head and bark in reply. Here they're practising it on a beach in Arachon in France , 2004

Denise loved to use her hands, and she regularly crocheed and knitted. She loved to knit socks, all different colours and textures. A few years ago she got herself a spinning wheel, and start to spin her own yarn. She was so proud when the thin string of wool turned out to be regular so it could be used.


Sock-knitting while caravaning in Denmark 2007. Denise was suffering from back pain at this time, and was probably already sick, but it was to be nearly 6 months more before she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

In her own words from 2009

Autum comes first with a change of light.  No more bright, challenging get outside and do something sunshine bursts thru the windows.  Fall light is seductive, subtle. It doesn’t challenge it coherces, it rushes you to complete summer activities when your heart knows the summer has passed you by.
I noticed this change of light yesterday as it dappled thru the window panes of my back door.  Look husband, I said, fall is here. See the light all muted, lying on the floor.  He attributes my melancholy to chemotherapy but acknowledges the weather is changing.  He tenderly humors me while the cat goes to lie in the patch of sun.
I have marked this summer by cannula insertations, syringe pump drivers and bouts of neausea.  The tomatoe plants grew in the garden without my help; the slugs got the better of my corgettes, the herbs, wild and independent owe nothing to anyone. I, on the other had have a list of debts to be paid.  Friends and neighbors, a husband, doctors, nurses, all owed gratitude, love and miracles.  All have pushed and proded me into the possibility of a future. All believed beyond belief that I can get through this illness with glad grace and a heart full of hope.
Maybe the fall is about hope. The hope that even with the dying of things, rebirth is eternally possible.  That next year’s garden will be bountiful and the slugs will have  moved to a new location.  Those wishes are for next year.  This year remains to be played out between the autumn light and the winter’s early darkness.



Denise, a day after she had a full hysterectomy and had her liver scraped (the blue marks are the results of a doctor trying to take a blood test). 7 hours under the knife. Instead of crying, she ate the pain and offered it up to those she thought needed it. She was an amazingly defiant woman!


Denise had an allotment garden for a couple of years. It was a constant battle against quickly growing weeds, but she was determined to make the garden work. Here she's putting up a support for runner beans.


Denise and her sister Diane, Florida 2005

In Denise’s own words from 2010


Today the autumn light arrived
dappled and peering thru the Rowan trees.
Carry me, carry me I whispered
I wait for time and God
I wait for the hours to tick along
dull and droning as sick bees
I raise my hands in surrender
Here I remain
I want to write this to you
how my life is tangled between light and time
and I am helpless to stop either element.
Oh Love, I offer this at your table


Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, Denise had a G.I. haircut to avoid having lose strands of hair falling out when she started chemo theraphy. Doesn't she look cool?


Denise’s second cousin Amanda has sent this poem-chant. She explains

written in the Irish Bardic style of old, this is dedicated to my second cousin Denise Zappola Petersen. She believed in my writing, and for me, this is the highest tribute I can give to her and her memory. Slán agus beannacht leat, Denise. Siochan leat!
Deep in the mists of Time, they wait
Deep in the mists of Time, they wait
From the Light, they watch us
From the Light, they watch us

Through land, sea, and sky, they journey
Through Heaven, they journey
Until at last they come to the shores of a silver sea
And are embraced by the Divine

Our ancestors, our blessed dead, they are still with us
Human spirits, living with the Divine, they are in our heart
They are ours, and we are theirs
Their love flows to us, and our love flows to them
Deep in the Mists of Time
Flowing out from the Divine Light

The wheel of life turns, and our blessed dead are always there
Sharing their wisdom, their thoughts, their guidance, and their love
We go on, and they go on, our beloved ancestors are always there
Just beyond the veil, they are there, still reaching out to us
Our beloved ancestors, our blessed dead, are still always with us

The forms will change, but the circle of life remains the same
It’s the song of our ancestors, the blood of our heart-kin,
That will always run through our veins, it’s a song that will never change

The flame of love is strong, binding the blessed dead and their living kin
It’s the song of our ancestors that will always run through our veins
It’s a song of love that will never change

Their peace, their happiness, their strength, their connection to the Divine
Makes the flame of love, the song of love, burn ever-brighter in their heart-kin
Our blessed dead are in the arms of the Divine, they share this peace with us
Deep in the Mists of Time, from the Light, the Divine and our ancestors are with us
It’s the song of our ancestors, the flame of Love, and the Wisdom of the Divine
That will always run through our veins, it’s a song of love that will never change

And the wheel of life, the circle of life, is always turning
Until one day we will be reunited with our beloved ancestors
In the arms of the Divine, on the shores of a silver sea, deep in the Mists of Time
It’s the song of our ancestors, the flame of Love, and the Wisdom of the Divine
That will always run through our veins, it’s a song of love that will never change.


Peek-a-boo. Orleans, France, 2004


Denise blowing a kiss

9 times out of 10 when there was a camera pointed in Denise's direction, she'd say "get that f***ing camera out of my face". So a shot of her blowing a kiss is a real rarity. April 2008.


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  1. Thank you for sharing Denise’s heart and spirit with us through this tribute. Although I counted her among my friends, I didn’t really know all that much about her; I knew that she loved and adored you, that she loved animals and working with yarn in different forms, that she had a heart the size of a planet and a warm and occasionally wicked sense of humour.

    It’s lovely to learn a little more about her, and to see more photos of her.

    Her spirit and joie de vivre and just her general love for life – and for the photographer! – all shine through so very clearly.

    I will always be glad to have known Denise. She made my life richer through her friendship, and I will remember her for the rest of my life. I am so very glad that she found love. She could not have hoped for a more loving, caring, devoted husband than you, Tomas.

    An amazing, incredible woman.

    God bless you, Denise, and keep your memory bright in the hearts of all who knew and loved you. And please, Lord, be with Tomas and with Denise’s family and loved ones through the days, weeks and months ahead.

    Love you, Ms. D.

    Your friend, always, Ms. M

  2. I can’t take it in that Denise is gone – only physically, in my heart she will always have a place. She came and played in my wool shop and entertained me and the customers with her outrageous humour. She was the instigator of the knitting club we hold fortnightly in Starbucks. Everyone in the club ask after her and i give them the news. This time it won’t be so easy – how can I say that she lost her battle. She didn’t give up easy though and it hurt to see her sometimes. I didn’t know Denise before she became ill, so it is lovely to see the photos of her well and happy. Nice memories for you to cherish Tomas. She loved my dog Kipper because I had to take him to the shop when Ozzy died – she brought him biscuits and said she was going to dognap him. We had some lovely days out buying wool and stuff at NEC and Alexandra Palace and we had a lot in common, the animals, the wool and the gardening – such a shame I couldn’t have had her company longer. God Bless you Denise, and look after Tomas.
    She always said love you when you left and I loved her back.

    Cash and Carron……… Denise knows what that means. XX

  3. Her cousin Ticia

    My cousin Denise was a brave, intelligent, funny, kind, talented woman. When we were young, we spent a lot of time together and she always made me laugh. I consider her the memory keeper of the family. As we watched some relatives pass, she was always a pillar of strength. I’m sure she has touched many people.

    Tomas, thank you for bringing her happiness. We will all miss her and will keep her memory alive.


  4. Alex (senred)

    This is the most beautiful tribute to the most amazing woman I have ever been blessed to know and to love.

    Denise was and always will be beautiful, inside and out. Her compassion for others can not be over emphasized, her hand and heart was always outreached for anyone that needed. She never asked for anything for herself but always was there for those she could help and I can only imagine that those numbers were many. I know she was often there for me through the trials of my mother’s illness and I will never forget the love she transcended over the many miles that seperated us.

    Thank you Tomas, for finding such a treasure and for making her yours. You completed her life and you made her world a better place. May God hold you in His hands during this difficult transition and time, but please take comfort in knowing that you will see her again. She will be there to take your hand as she was in this life. Believe that.

    She was an angel among us. I thank God for the privilege of calling her my friend, my “heart sister” (her words to me).

    Denise will always shine bright within my own heart.
    Beautiful woman, beautiful soul, who REFUSED to allow this illness to define her.

    I love you, Denise
    and so do my tazzy boys.

    Love always, Alex

  5. Susan Giammarino

    Oh Denise,
    As much as I know that your in a better place and with your brother & our grandmother & your Godmother & my mother, it just doesn’t seem fair. You were always oh so positive & tried to keep me that way when I’d complain to you about my stupid little problems on FB chat. But you always always made me laugh.
    Like that time in Century’s & we were looking thry lingerie and one of the items was pricey the way you looked at it, picked it up looked at the price & your hysterical tone like your dad would have….”fuck that shit” & flipped it back onto the other items strewn about. I laughed my ass off outta the store coz it was the way you sounded when you said it.
    I know we’ll all be together again I just don’t know how many more losses I can take from Cancer. But you were a fighter & had the best outlook out of all of us put together.
    I’m proud to call you my cousin and can only pray that if I ever ever have to endure one ounce of the fight that you took on, that I would have gained some knowledge & strength from you thru the years that we had as family.
    I love you
    Luv, “Suz A Loo”

  6. Rose Simmons


    It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, I was glad to see you on face book. I am so sorry to hear you are gone, I imagine you are in a better place. I’ll never forget you & must thank you for reading my cards about 30 years ago, you told me I was going to meet a bearded dark haired man, I didn’t quite believe it since I was always attracted to lighter haired men. Guess what, I married that dark haired bearded man & I thank you for pointing me in that direction. I will miss you even though I haven’t seen you in a while, but I have good and fun memories of hanging out with you & the family, I always thought you were so cool.(LOL) I had a lot of laughs with you & your Granny on Mc Clean ave. Had lots of memories of all of us kids, you were in Catholic school & I remember seeing you going to school wearing a helmet,(just for fun),(LOL) I sometimes think about it and still makes me laugh.

    Hanging out at 20 Seaside, was always an adventure with everyone, all of the crazy family & friends.
    I suppose you will see everyone who is in heaven. I can’t write any more, I am too emotional. Rest in Peace.

    PS – Should you see RoRo say hi.

    Little Rose

  7. Tomas,

    I heard about Denise today. I am truly sorry for your loss.

    Denise was a great character and my life is better for having known her.

    Please let me know if there is anything that I can do to help you at this time.

    Peter Kember

  8. Anthony La Monica

    A poem for Deniise
    Grandma’s hands on Sunday mornings
    Summer days at south beach
    The pear tree in the garden
    …A song we loved to sing.
    At last you sleep sweet cousin
    Please visit my dreams
    so that we may play again
    between the shadows
    and the souls

  9. Dear Denise,
    I’m so happy I got a chance to meet you as a young adult. My vauge first memory of you is when you came to adopt that orange tabby that lived out in my Aunt’s back yard. I was so happy to meet a relative who shared my interests: writing, reading, working with animals, tarot cards, and history. I’m glad you got a chance to come over and see us. 🙂

    You were a fantastic writer, and if I can have half of the talent you had, I’ll be happy. You always encouraged my dreams of being an author, and I hope one day they come to fruition. I know you’ll be there to see it in spirit.

    Walk in the far green fields of Eternity in peace with your other loved ones. May your soul take flight on bright wings and may you rest peacefully with the Divine now. Not all that is gone is gone forever, after all. <3<3<3

  10. Laura Giammarino -Denise's Cousin

    Dear Tomas,
    It is with great sadness that I write this. I can’t tell you how very sorry I am for you. I know how much you loved her and how much she loved you. I was so happy to hear that she married such a wonderful man. She deserved it! I am so sorry that her life was cut so short. I loved Denise like she was a sister. She was always there for me when my mom and grandmother were sick and dying. She had a heart bigger than the universe. She was a beautiful, intelligent, brave,funny,loving and giving person. She was unselfish. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body. She was just like my mother and granny. I know that she is in heaven now and not suffering anymore. I will never forget her. Her memory will live on forever in my heart and in my mind. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you get through this most difficult time. She touched so many people! I know how much you must miss her already. Please take care of yourself. You and Denise will forever be in my thoughts and prayers.
    With Much Sympathy and Much Love,
    Her Cousin,

  11. ana mijangos

    I never met Denise. But a really good friend of mine that lives across the pond does. Her name is Stella. Stella has told me many great things about Denise. I am truly sorry for your loss.
    With much sympathy,

  12. Lyna Holder

    Kære Tomas
    Vi har lige fået besked om Denises alt for tidlige død af din far. Det er et chok, selvom vi selvfølgeligt godt vidste, at hun var meget syg. Vore tanker går til dig i denne skrækkelige og sikkert meget ensomme tid. Vi håber, at du snart kommer hjem til Danmark, og at vi får dig at se.
    Mange kærlige hilsner
    Lyna og søn John

  13. Dear Tomas
    I could talk a lotabout my daughters good qualities, but will just mention her stubborn happines for live, and her awesome courage. That’s what I admire most about my lovely daughter in law.
    The Church and the Catholic fait meant a lot to Denise, and I am a stranger to it. But I think that she, in her kind, pleading, but also somewhat stubborn way, has said to God: Listen up! It’s no good you call me home already. I know Tomas will be so sad,, and I’m not sure he is ready to be alone yet.
    God bless Denise.
    With love
    John, Tomas dad.

  14. Raj Muthukrishnan

    Dear Denise,

    When I saw you first in Brentwood you have taken me with a surprise because of your love and affection. I wasn’t wrong as well, because it was the same you shared to my son Suraj and wife Suganya. I still remember my son picking up the chopsticks which you taught him on how to use them in 2005. We all miss you a lot.


  15. Dear Tomas

    When I met you and grew to know you I grew to know a very special, gentle man with a love and empathy not commonly met and without knowing it you helped me come to terms with parts of my life which were making me very unhappy at the time. When you met Denise and you married her I was truly delighted, because if anyone deserved happiness – in my book – you did.

    Now I see and read here that Denise was truly your equal in love and compassion. Two very special people who really ‘deserved’ each other in the nicest possible way. I wish I had met her but you have made her come alive for me and all your friends. Through you she will live on forever. Not just in your heart, but in the many of those who knew her and now in the hearts of those who have been introduced to her through you.

    Bless you both


  16. Dear Tomas and the Bully family,

    I guess no matter what words of wisdom we try for comfort, its never quite enough to take away the hurt. I really am so very sorry to lose such a wonderful friend in Denise. Both you and the “wussup DK” helped me when i needed you most and never gave up on possitives to make me feel stronger to get through my troubles.

    Thanks Dk & Tomas I Love you both always!

    Jenni xx

  17. Tomas,
    I’ve been coming here for months, looking at the pictures of Denise, reading the beautiful tribute you left of her life. I’ve wanted to post, but just could not find the words. Denise and I never got the chance to meet. We only knew each other from the internet and phone calls but I loved her like a sister.

    At times she was brass and I loved that about her. She made me laugh, she helpled me when I cried and she was one of the best friends I’ve ever known. I miss her terribly even though we did not talk often the last year of her life, I knew she was there if I reached out. I feel a profound emptiness and sadness for the world that she is no longer with us.

    I know that she is watching over all those she loved though. Thank you for this page. It helps and I hope it helps you as well. I know one thing about Denise, she was never happier than when you and she found each other. She deserved that happiness and I’m so very glad she found it in her life that was just too brief.

  18. Dear Tomas,
    As you know, I never knew your beloved Denise but I feel that I have got to know her through your words. This tribute to Denise shows what an absolutely amazing woman she was and it is my loss that I never met her. I think we would have liked each other if we had met because we have many things in common – sock knitting and animals being two!

    Denise may have left before she should have but it looks like you packed in a lifetime of love with each other.

    Good thoughts to you always, Tomas.


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