My mom died. There, I’ve said it. There’s no turning back.
Today I want to talk to you about the entanglement grief brings to an already knotted writing life.
Dealing with death is not an everyday topic here. When it comes to this blog, I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to inserting or sharing my personal life unless it is has some direct relevance to the topic. So I have not brought the last ten years to this table, the decade where caring for my elderly parents consumed my life.
When that journey began, I had no idea how deep it would impact my writing life. In fact, the caregiver displaced the writer.
When grief impacts the writing process
In the beginning I was still busily writing away. I had contracts for five completed books, worked at a bookstore, and had recently received my MFA in Creative Writing. I felt like I was on the cusp of reaping the reward of many long years staring at the computer screen and listening to the keyboard chuckle furiously as I typed string after string of sentences. Dealing with death was the last thing on my mind. I had an agent interested in my biggest work yet; but the stress and crush of being a caregiver for two parents in their 90s began its work. That relentless nonstop pressure resulted in unanticipated problems with headaches, high blood pressure and inflammation of the blood vessels in the brain. I soon found my writing abilities under siege.
Why the pressure? I know now that it was an ever-increasing response to the daily changes in my parents and their demands. Maybe I wasn’t dealing with death in a concrete way, but I was dealing with the everyday grief of a caregiver who cares for elderly parents.
When my dad died in 2008, the intensity increased. My mom had different needs than my dad. One day, after I’d spent an entire morning, hours, clawing my way back into a scene with a deep enough immersion to be able to write, imagine my dismay when my mom called out and blew me straight out of that fictive world.
My huge tower of cards holding up my fictional world blew apart; I’d lost the scaffolding that supported my fictive world. Between the physical problems and the increased stress and mental pressure, I never found my way back into that world.
Dealing with death adds a new dimension to the writing life
While it’s somewhat of a cliche to say that everyone copes with death in a different way, I’d have to say that everyone deals with each and every death in a different way. Death comes calling in many guises. This is not my first encounter with death as a caregiver but it is my first time for this type of response; the first time for it to leave such an imprint on my writing process.
Today I find myself feeling lost and disconnected. My mother died six weeks ago in early August on her 70th wedding anniversary. Imagine a rubber band stretched tautly, as far as it can be stretched, and then released. I’m that dangling rubber band hanging in space. After ten years as a caregiver, I don’t know who I am let alone know what I want to do. Where do I go from here? Where can I go?
Is it possible for a writer to go back to a work? Perhaps. But what if that writer has changed? What does that mean for a writer still in the throes of dealing with death? They say you can’t step into a river in the same place twice. Where does that leave me?
These are but a few of the questions I’m pondering as I go about my daily life. I don’t have any answers. Mostly, I simply wanted to let you know where I am as I embark down this new twist in the road that is my writing life.
Writers on grief and loss
How are other writers dealing with grief? Read this collection of writing on grief and loss by contemporary writers: Sorrow’s Company: Great Writers on Loss and Grief. If you have any suggestions or writings by other authors you’d like to share, please do in the comments below.