I didn’t sleep great last night. I go through phases with this book where I’m great and I’m writing happy stuff and then a chapter later the shit has hit the fan again. Like life. Life is like that.
A few days ago I wrote this scene where a few of the characters are together for a holiday and I poured so much imagery into it, wanting the reader to feel like they were also there with the characters experiencing those scenes. And then last night I started the next chapter and had to describe one of the characters coping with grief and bereavement over the holidays and what that feels like and looks like and sounds like.
When I wrote the first scene, I felt happiness. I pulled up some of my favorite holiday memories and poured them into that chapter. I ended up having such a good day because of it. Reliving so many good things and watching these characters I love having those good things felt amazing.
But, yesterday I had to delve into the painful memories of my own first holiday after my mother and cousin passed away. I was transported back to that feeling of emptiness. I remember not wanting to decorate, not wanting to celebrate, not wanting to do anything. There was so much hopelessness, compounded by the glaring difference between how empty I felt and how everyone else was still just going about their way, filled with holiday cheer and glad tidings. (You can read about my first holiday without my mother here and here.)
To write about death I have to relive it. The only way to bring life into my characters is to reminisce about a time in my own life when the grief was almost too much to bear. And for me it hasn’t even been that long. Just two years since my cousin passed and a year and a half since my mom did. So, it’s all so fresh still.
It’s hard. Writing about death is hard. And I realized last night that this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to write about grief and about death because through losing so many close friends and family members in my short 32 years I’ve learned one thing about Americans: we don’t know how to grieve.
As a culture we’re still kind of cowboys at heart. We blaze ahead and push through our grief, almost obsessively. We play violent video games and watch gore-infused movies where death is the main theme, but we don’t know how to process the complicated emotions of mortality and grief.
I see this in my own family members. I see it in my friends. It’s like our culture is allergic to admitting how much we miss someone and how integral to our lives they were. We don’t want to admit our lives will never be the same without them because that reality feels like too much to bear. But, it doesn’t make it any less true.
My life permanently changed when my cousin passed away suddenly. It changed my relationship with his sister, who is a best friend to me. It changed my relationship with every other family member as well. It changed how we speak to each other. It changed how we view each other. We are each forever changed. Everything is different now.
In the same way, my life permanently changed on March 15, 2015, exactly three years ago. I was sitting on my toilet when my phone rang, an unfamiliar number with a familiar area code came on the screen. I never answer strange phone calls. But, this time I did. And it was my brother-in-law telling me that Mom had cancer and she was dying.
17 months later she was dead. And our lives will never be the same.
I want to write about death because I’m still trying to survive it. I want to talk about about grief because I want the reader to know they’re not alone and they’re not broken or weird or messed up for dealing with the many different facets of grief and how it can present itself.
I want to do this. But, sometimes it’s hard. And that’s just the reality of it all: living through the loss of a loved one still hurts, regardless of who they were, how it happened, or how long ago it was. But, we have to do it anyways.
Because that’s life.
Here are a few details about my book. I’ll add to this as I go so you can see the whole thing happening before your eyes.
Setting: the South and the Midwest, present day
Characters: three adult siblings (major) and their families (minor)
Chapters so far: 10
Chapter goal: between 20 – 25
Agent: none, won’t be querying or submitting until book is finished
Publisher: none, see above
I’ll check in again soon to update this list and tell you where I’m at mentally as well. I hope you’ll stick around, especially if you’ve considered writing a book yourself or you have written one. Maybe we can learn something from one another.