Two funerals to attend this week. Two. The thought of two families suffering actually makes my brain unable to process. I’ve been forgetting things, crying when I least expect it, I’ve had panic attacks, and the sick headache I get when I feel too much stress.
I actually have so much to say, but the thing is, I can’t think of the right way to get the words out. Why? Maybe, maybe, some emotion is private.
Could this is true in writing, too?
I’m not absolutely certain here–but maybe some grief is too sacred or raw or hard to put on the page. So today’s post may be completely off, because this past week has been hard and I may not be seeing things clearly.
A million years ago, when I was writing KELLY AND ME, my first novel, I couldn’t figure out how to end the book. Then I remembered a story from a few years before (this is a flashback within a flashback. Don’t do this in your fiction.). A girl a few years older than I am had lost her 7-year-old son. At the breakfast table. An aneurism. No one saw it coming. He was just there and then gone. (I hate it. I hate it. All these years later I feel sorrow for that young mother.)
Isn’t this like death? We mostly don’t see it coming. Even when we know someone we love is going to die–because of illness–we are still struck with the loss. In a movie I can’t remember the name of, when a mother loses her adult daughter to cancer–and when the daughter’s spirit finally leaves her body, the mother says something like, “I thought it would better, easier, when she was gone. But it isn’t.”
Grief changes us.
I am not the same today as I was Tuesday morning.
So that means that grief changes our readers, too. When we write grief, we want to connect to our reader. Most everyone has felt sorrow. They may not have known someone who has died, but they have lost things that are important to them–a father or mother through divorce, peace, their place in school, who they thought they were, a bit of themselves because of abuse, their minds–the list goes on and on.
As hard as it is, we have to put grief on the page in a way that makes the emotion feel real. And this is difficult. In MY ANGELICA, when Sage writes a sad scene, she tells the reader of her deep, deep, deep, deep pain. Good writing isn’t telling. It’s sharing. It’s connecting. It’s knowing.
Rushing through an emotional scene–or through an emotion that a whole book centers around–can cheapen what you are writing. The truth is, when we grieve, we’re showing what our loved one meant to us. You’ve read the novel where someone dies and the main character doesn’t miss that person for every word of the book. In fact, they’re moved on rather early. I think one of reasons THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE works is that Jandy Nelson really explores grief. And her characters explore grief. And the reader does, too, with Lennon.
When I was young, my oldest cousin was having an affair with a married man. The man’s wife found my cousin and shot her twice in the chest, killing her in a bar. At the funeral Aunt Carol couldn’t stop crying. It was awful. It was horrible. Aunt Carol screamed and wailed. I stood back in the hot sun, weeping for my aunt. At her sorrow. Someone ran forward, grabbed Aunt Carol and hollered (in her own grief), “Carol, Carol, you’ve got to stop crying.”
“I can’t,” my aunt said. “I can’t.”
And she couldn’t.
Maybe this is the wrong thing to write about all the way around. But I want to remember these two people. And I want you to know something of how I felt to know them. And that the Williams girls are no longer who they were with these losses.
To John I want say, “You made me laugh. And I am sorry that it was so very hard at the end.”
And to Brandon I want to say, “You let people know they mattered. What is better than that?”
To their families I want to say, “I am so sorry. My words cannot even begin to touch the sorrow I know you must be experiencing.”
Because this is real. Sorrow is real. Grief is real. Our readers go through crap and back. And life goes on even when we think it should slow down and just let us take a breath.