It’s been five years since Gina Mingoia lost her father to cancer, but the grief still comes in waves.
It hits her in the most mundane ways: Driving on the Long Island Expressway, stepping into an ice cream parlor, tuning a guitar string, falling asleep at night.
Everyone processes grief at their own pace, in their own way. Overcome with emotions, Ms. Mingoia, 24, began typing her thoughts into the Notes app on her iPhone.
Those vignettes have now been published into a debut poetry collection entitled “The Dust Settles: Grieving through Poetry and Prose.”
Though she never considered herself to be a poet, Ms. Mingoia, a Shoreham native, has been using writing as a means to heal since before her father was ever diagnosed with cancer.
She began writing to cope with the sudden, tragic loss of her classmate and friend Thomas Cutinella who died at age 16 after colliding with another football player on the field during a game in 2014.
“I didn’t even know that I was writing poetry,” Ms. Mingoia said. “I would just have the uncomfortable feelings and write them.”
The following year, her father, Salvatore, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and died Oct. 9, 2017. He was 56. A Suffolk County police officer with nearly three decades on the force, Mr. Mingoia is remembered as a loving, dedicated family man, a die-hard Mets fan and a lover of music. Ms. Mingoia recalls happy memories of making music together, her dad strumming a guitar as she sang.
He even helped her mix a song she wrote in honor of Thomas Cutinella called “I Wish (Tom’s Song),” which is published on YouTube.
She also remembers her dad as an ice cream addict with a collection of ice cream scoops and malted milkshake maker that she and her sister, Samantha, still break out on occasion to remember him. “He took ice cream very seriously,” she said, unable to suppress a smile at the thought.
As she went on to earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, Ms. Mingoia said that’s when she began to write poetry more intentionally. “I was working at the writing center at LIU Post and we’d have writing Wednesdays,” she explained. “I’d write poetry there and realized, I had been writing poetry the whole time! I had a very narrow view of what poetry was.”
Sharing such a vulnerable part of herself with the world was initially frightening, but Ms. Mingoia hopes it can help others heal.
“We don’t talk about grief, so when somebody does, it’s like ‘Oh, I’m not weird for being angry’ … It helps people see that they’re not alone,” she said.
The 100-page collection is organized into three main sections — the beginning, the middle and the healing — which primarily cover her experience grieving for her dad.
Ms. Mingoia’s words string together human love and loss, balancing moments of raw heartache with sweet moments where you can’t help but laugh aloud. Her poems capture her dad’s unique spirit, from performing headstands in their family kitchen to serving peanut butter and jelly on Ritz crackers to console his daughter’s friends through high-school breakups, but also gets at the universal experience of grief.
It was self-published through Lightning Tower Press, which Ms. Mingoia co-founded with her sister with support from their mother, Denise. “She has really believed in us,” Ms. Mingoia said. “And hopefully [our dad] is proud.”
The book also contains a guide of resources to help those navigating grief, from helpful podcasts, reading and activities, to seeking bereavement counseling.
It was officially published on Oct. 9, which coincided with the fifth anniversary of her dad’s death. As it began hitting shelves and as family, friends and community members gathered for a recent release party and signing at Wines by Nature in Wading River in December. Ms. Mingoia said it felt “unreal.”
Currently busy working on a doctorate at Stony Brook University and teaching college-level English classes at St. Joseph’s University, she said she’d love to continue writing poetry books and perhaps a novel one day.
“I’d love to revisit [the topic of grief] in another five years,” she said, explaining the reasoning behind the final section’s namesake. “There’s healing, but it never really ends.”
“The Dust Settles” is available online through retailers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon and Ms. Mingoia is also hoping to connect with local bookstores and gift shops.
For more information, follow @lightningtowerpress on Instagram.