I have some darling friends who remember occasionally to ask me what I’m writing, or what I plan to do now, after Mom’s passing.
That’s a very good question. The very one I keep asking myself these last few weeks: what now?
I managed very little writing last year, in the midst of Mom being with us. During the weeks I was couch-bound with my knee injury, I finished another novella (unpublished at the moment), but later, with caring for Mom? Not happening. And now? Still not really happening. (Although I do have a start on a new story; more on that later.)
There are times as writers the words flow so fast we can hardly get them down quickly enough. Times when we can’t help attempting to capture our emotions on paper, whether that means joy or sorrow. Grief, though, is such a strange blend of emotion—not just sorrow, but anger and apathy and disbelief. We hardly know what we're feeling. We peck out a few words, but they sound stupid. Or inadequate. A story we love just refuses to sing for us any longer. A concept we’ve longed to write suddenly seems the most pointless endeavor ever known to mankind.
Depending upon who we are and what commitments we have, though, we keep pressing on. In retrospect, I’ve done some of my best work, if most raw, while riding the wake of grief. Ten or so years ago, while trying to write a young British campfollowing wife, newly widowed, I found myself pouring out the real-life grief of losing a child, freshened by the recent stillbirth of a friend’s baby. As hard as that situation was (and I still get choked up thinking about it—almost more than thinking about my own loss), it was an honor to be there for my friend, to help her walk through a situation so many women experience but I’d never wish on my worst enemy.
Is it any less an honor to be a troubadour of words, to offer support and comfort and understanding through my stories? It doesn’t always feel that way when grief takes over, picking us up like a rogue wave and tumbling us over and over, scrambling what’s left of our fragile brains and finally leaving us spent on the beach, just trying to breathe and get our equilibrium back. The words slide out of our reach, as impossible to capture as the foam on those waves. Writing? What is this writing of which you speak?
But after everything, when breath returns and we stagger back to more solid ground, we find ourselves the ones who can toss encouragement to others in the same situation. Like with real riptides and rogue waves, the advice is the same: don’t fight it! Go with it, ride the wave! Don’t exhaust what energy you have in fighting the power of an ocean, sloshing under the influence of the moon’s pull—nobody is that strong.
Still we try to fight. We think we have to “hold it together” for others. Maybe we’re just afraid what will happen if we give in and let the tears come. Will the tears ever stop, or will we drown? Although, sometimes it feels like drowning would be the easier choice. (Think Jars of Clay ... “it’s the breathing that’s taking all this work.”) But laundry needs washing, and people need fed, and it’s those needs of the living around us that keep us from our own dying.
Again, the parallel with writing. The story itself demands telling. On the days I’d like to lie down and quietly die, as a writer, God sends out the noisy, nagging hounds of my characters’ voices, reminding me that my job isn’t finished yet, that someone out there needs to hear what I have to say. And that humbles me to tears. Who am I, to attempt to offer life and hope to others? When I struggle so to live out my own calling?
A calling it is, though, and so I always know, however much the wave tosses me or the riptide yanks me farther down the shore than I expected, that God will eventually tell the wave to spit me back out on the beach ...
Where I’ll catch my breath, drag myself back toward land, dry out, and—at some point—start writing again.