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.