My mother died two years ago, the week after I completed my MFA, which makes me the oldest living member of my blood family. (My husband Gary has three years on me.) Mom was ill for the last several years of her life, in gradual decline, and we had been very close for the whole of my life. I began writing about her death on the very day she died, and then found I could not write at all. This past winter I gave up writing fiction altogether when I confronted the fact that I’d been editing the same story for a year and a half. This had not been my habit. (I’ve written drafts of four novels and my Masters thesis inside a year, I’ve never dwelled for 18 months on five thousand words.) Rejection notes were depressing me. I not only wasn’t writing anything anyone would publish, I really wasn’t writing anything at all. So I stopped, and then I returned to nonfiction. I wrote a “Junior Research Paper” with my Junior Honors classes, and in the spring I completed ten writing exercises with my WR122 class. These last were about my mother. And this week I’ve been working on an essay about dying secrets, the way we try to shelter the people we love from the knowledge of our weakness.
My mother tried to shelter her children from her dying, and I know I tried to shelter her from my sorrows as well.
But the truth I’ve come to understand is that to carry the pain of a loved one is not only a burden, it’s a blessing. I wish my mother were alive so that I could tell her that.