As many of you know, my dear friend–our dear friend–Rick Walton, has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer called gliosarcoma. I’m heartbroken. Every conversation is about Rick and my worry and concern and sorrow. Anytime anyone asks me how I am, I want to say, “Not so great. My friend is really sick.” (Sometimes I do speak of this, sometimes I don’t. But I want to, every time.) As I sit here now, I’m having difficulty breathing. My eyes fill with tears. I’m worried and misspelling things–typing more badly than I usually do.
Part of me wants to sob–has been sobbing. Every day since the diagnosis. All day on Thursday. Any time I allow myself. Now.
I want to cry out to God. And I have. Tell Him how unfair this is. How, for the last nine + years, Rick has been so ill with Parkinson’s. AWFUL things happening with him. Why this, now? Why this, too? He wants to get married again. He wants chocolate ice cream. He wants to be able to talk, not just whisper in my ear over and over and over until I understand him.
Yes! I know this is the way of things. This is life. “Every true story ends in death,” Ernest Hemingway said. But I don’t want it to. In the last few months good friends have lost lovers, fathers, spouses and children. I know this is life!
A few months back, I was shaken up by something in the family that knocked my footing loose. I was sobbing all the time then, too. I became so sad I couldn’t write. In fact, I didn’t write fiction for almost three months. When more bad news came, I was brought to my knees. At the beginning of this family thing, I was too anxious to write. Then the desire to write left. I realized I had to repair my heart. Or at least try to.
I’m not a scientist, nor do I claim to be one. Going through grief is different for all of us. But looking back, this was my process during those three-ish months when I couldn’t write like I wanted. It may be different during this newer sorrow. I don’t know. Each grief is personal.
Be patient. You will write again.
If the urge comes, be ready. Don’t worry about how well you’re writing. Just write.
Push yourself a little if it feels okay to you. Five minutes might be all you do. Or you may sit at the computer and do nothing. That’s what I did. Sat there. It was how I pushed myself. It was all I could do.
Do only what’s necessary. I graded student papers and fell exhausted onto the sofa. I made short work of the extra work my teaching job brings.
Count all writing as writing. I wrote for the blog even when I couldn’t write fiction. I wrote a few words–or no words at all–with Ann Dee on our book. I took days off. I didn’t write on Sundays. I counted tweets. (Not so many of those as I still don’t know what I’m doing on Twitter!)
Think about your work. How was going I to end that middle grade I started a couple of years before? What about the book for Zondervan? That needed a huge rewrite. How would I get through that?
Let your brain help you through. I’ve solved more writing problems not thinking and worrying over them, but letting the troubles stew in the back of my head. When I get to the part of the book that’s troubled me, many times it’s worked out because my brain did the work when I wasn’t fretting over it. I see the way.
Do that thing, whatever it is, that lets your mind veg. For me, that’s TV. For some, it’s cleaning. For some, it’s reading. (I had a hard time reading fiction, too, so this wasn’t a help for me.)
Complain. I bet my friends are good and sick of me. I whine a lot. About everything. And while I usually keep my mouth shut about serious family issues, this time I talked. A lot. Too much.
Shut up. I don’t even need to give an explanation for this.
I relied on God. No, the problems didn’t go away. I didn’t expect them to. But believing, having faith, hoping, it’s important to me. I needed that foundation to stand on.
These are just off the top of my head–some things I see when I look back over my life these last few hard, heartbreaking months.
By the way, when I finally eased back into my writing at the end of the three months, I finished two novels and began editing two more. I’m not sure if I could have pushed myself and written straight through my grief. Maybe I could have. But I didn’t have the creative energy I needed to even try. (Maybe just pushing along, no matter how hard, will work for you.)
Here’s another truth for me, for now: I know Rick wants me to keep on writing. “We’re going to make a million dollars,” he used to tell me. “We’ll build a writing commune. We can live there and writers can come and stay and create.” In fact, we spoke of this not so long ago.
How I want that. With you. How I do.