From a Mother

There has been such an overwhelming response to my earlier post about grieving, and so many kind comments. Buried in those comments are the words of a grieving mother. Rather than leaving her there, unseen, I wanted to share with all of you what I hope others need to hear. Please pause for a moment and listen to my dearest friend and Sam’s mother.

‘For the past month I have been feeling the anxiety building as the first anniversary of Sam’s death approaches. I cry more easily. I imagine his death with a depth that makes me uncomfortable. I find that all of the ways I have carefully kept myself insulated from the deepest pain associated with his death are less effective now, this too seems part of the process of accepting that he is well and truly gone from the world.

His spirit has been a strongly motivating force this past year. I have pondered my reason for being, made drastic life changes (one of those things that you’re not supposed to do, sorry but it’s been really good for me, I am financially poorer but richer in all other ways) and am trying hard to leave some good in my neck of the world.

I have also been making some art, which is far more therapeutic than I ever knew. I’m carving lino blocks for printmaking, most recently one with his kayak, one that says ‘for Sam’ which I will put under the other blocks I have made that say ‘shine’ and ‘love’.

I made some prayer flags and will block print them and those who attend the one year anniversary get together can write messages and then the flags will hang around his kayak. His dad and I have plans to go to the rapids where he died and hang some there as well. It’s a difficult place to get to, by land, by water and also emotionally.

I thank you so much Lisa for continuing the conversation about the grief associated with his death. For saying his name, for not letting this whole thing slip into the past. My biggest fear is the erasure of time and as long as I live I have to keep him here close by.’

As she says here, we say his name lest we forget. We say his name in order to allow others to grieve with us. For all of those grieving, never be afraid to speak their names, or to speak up about what you need as you grieve. There are many on that path with you who will understand.

Struggles

When I started this blog a few years ago I thought it would be about writing. That I would share my journey as I learned and struggled with stories and words. Those early posts are stilted and uncomfortable when I read them now.

Slowly, other stories started filtering onto the page in spite of myself. I struggled to find the balance, to keep the focus on writing, to not turn a public forum into a personal diary. But when I gave up trying to be writerly and professional and just started chatting, my friends gathered around.

I’ve struggled for almost a year to not turn this blog into a journey of grief. I come here and chat with friends, but as I’m sure you’ve noticed, some stories sink back into loss.

We near the first year anniversary of our Sam’s death and here I am, laying grief down in words again.

I struggle with wondering what he was doing a year ago today. Living his life fully, dealing with good and bad, stress and joy, friends and work, loving his family, just like we all do. And of course in his case, living fully as a river spirit. He knew what he did was dangerous but I doubt he had premonitions or hesitations or doubt in those last days.

jennie aug 2010 037

I struggle with thoughts about how I would live my life if I knew I had only days. We all ask ourselves that question at some point. But seriously, pause for a minute, move past the cliché of that question, and think about it.

I struggle with how to be around those who love him. Not ‘loved’ him. Their love for him didn’t end when he died. I want to dive deep into that dark well of grief with them, and yet life is all around us. We laugh and share and love each other’s company. And if in the midst of that, we fall into silence, or tears suddenly rise, it’s not awkward because we see and we know and we feel. There’s complete freedom in their company.

And so we look warily at the coming date knowing it is going to be so incredibly hard. And yet there will be a river float and once again all the kayaks will be bright flowers on the water. Afterwards there will be food and laughter, family and friends, in our mountains.

And stories.

I’ve never struggled in the safe cup of stories.

lookout point 007

 

A Simple Laugh

A friend of mine was discouraged recently about a story she’s been working on for ten years. Partly because of the amount of time (she’s on the fourth revision), but mainly because another writer laughed at her when she heard how long this story has taken.

So many things come to mind.

First, one writer laughing at another over someone’s process. No wonder my friend was discouraged (she said she can’t get that laugh out of her mind). It’s never okay to laugh at the expense of another, but especially when it’s around something that is an intimate part of who a person is. So it hurts.

Second, who cares how long it takes to write something? Some of us are fast, and some of us (myself included) are slow. My friend said she didn’t understand how authors could pump out a book a year. I explained how someone writes a book, then sends it off to an editor, and during the long editing and revising process, they work on something new. Granted, that doesn’t speed my writing up any, but for most it does. By the time book one comes back from editing, book two might be ready to go off to the editor, so there’s a cascade effect. Added to that, some people have a lot of time to write.

badlands 3

How long to write a book? Sometimes as long as it takes to grow in the badlands

Third, and probably most important: we don’t write on our timeline. It comes down to how long that story needs to be inside. How long that story needs to take, to be told. Some need to be like that kettle of cold water on the back burner, slowly coming to a simmer. Some just boil away and pour out.

We write on the story’s time.

I’ve been working on my current one three years. Do I worry about that? Yes, from a marketing standpoint, where I realize I’m ‘away’ from readers too long. But I don’t worry about it from the writer’s standpoint, because this story is taking a lot of time. It’s something new for me so I’m learning as I go, which also adds time. Plus, like I said, I’m just a slow writer. I meander along the story’s path, enjoying the view.

badlands 4

Fourth, some stories die and we might take a long time to realize it. I asked my friend how close she was to the end of this revision. She said she only had a few pages to go. I asked her if other stories were teasing her, waiting to be told, and she said yes. She had several ideas, and when she talked about them, she lit up. You could see the excitement.

So we talked about those manuscripts all writers have, that live forever in a box somewhere. Ones that someday we might go back to and try to revive.

This is her first novel. We talked about how we learn from that first manuscript. How sometimes that first one might go on to become a book or it might not.

I think she left, encouraged to knock out those final few pages. I think about how free she will feel when she’s out from that burden of perceived pressure to finish something. I think about how excited she will be to jump in to something fresh and new. Maybe something not tainted by another’s laughter.

And I think how easily a single word, a single laugh, a single expression, can be so devastating. Because I know the person who laughed, and I know she did not do it to be mean. I know she would be upset with herself if she knew the impact that laugh had.

By the way, I’m so close to finishing my three-year project. I thought I’d written the last chapter but as I finished I knew it wasn’t right, that I’d gone in the wrong direction on that path. And that I’d forgotten to let some characters face their fears.

So I’ll be redoing those last few pages.

Hopefully it won’t take three years.

But if it does, hey, that’s okay.

bridal veil falls

And sometimes the story just pours.