the status of things, part one

October 5, 2019

This morning I waited until the boys left, until I heard the car start up and pull away, and then I lit my favorite candle and made a second cup of coffee. My laptop sat open and ready on the kitchen table, the first time I’d even looked at it in weeks. The house was blissfully silent.

I’d prepared myself for this, written in my journal just yesterday that this morning would afford me the perfect block of free time to finally sit down and work my way through everything the only way I really know how: by writing it out. 

There were tears in my eyes the moment I sat down to write. This, too, I had expected, was prepared for. Thinking about my mother in any real, solid way always begins like this, and opening myself to the intense reality that she is no longer here—and hasn’t been for nearly six months of my life—is like opening a fresh wound every time. I have learned that to be functional—that is to work, to be a good mother and wife and friend—I have to compartmentalize my grief. Though it doesn’t always work out,  I urge my body to dispel my sadness when it is less harmful for me: in the shower, when alone in the car, layered on top of some other emotional outburst.

But then there are times when my grief rushes through me and all I can do is hold on, wait for it to pass. 

Almost a few years ago now, I wrote two novels and two novellas, and stand by the belief that they needed to be written solely to expel the blah from my body. I needed to get those books out of me so that what came next could be something good and real and special.

Good and real and special came in January in the form of a new novel that I tentatively named Avery & Lark. It poured out of me in those early weeks as though desperate to see the light. I spoke little of what I was writing out loud, not wanting to spook my creativity, and as time went on and my word count climbed rapidly, I began to feel that this was it. The book. 

I was so excited that I didn’t tell my mother. I was going to keep it secret until it was done, until I had something fully formed to show her. I experienced a small thrill each time I spoke with her on the phone and failed to mention the book. She was going to be so surprised, so proud, so in awe.

And then we found out she was sick.

My words slowed to a trickle as I sat, day after day, thousands of miles away in another country, waiting to hear about her latest test results, our phone conversations growing shorter and shorter as her confusion and exhaustion grew. Eventually, the distance being too much, I flew back to Canada to see her, wholly unprepared for what I was walking into. One week later, she was gone. 

For weeks afterward, I sat down dutifully at my computer and tried to keep writing Avery & Lark, but nothing came. I felt lost. I hadn’t realized until my mother was gone just how desperately I had been seeking her approval and praise. And that it was no longer an option nearly broke me in half. This novel—it was for her. I had been writing it for her. That she would never be able to read it simply hurt too much. 

I put the novel aside, told my therapist and myself that perhaps it was best to take a break until the pain subsided even a little. I had little doubt that I would find my way back to writing at some point—when my heart was ready. 

But days turned into weeks turned into months and here I am, now in October, having written nothing in six months. To lose my mother and subsequently my words has been too much to bear at times. Writing was always something I could turn to no matter what. Now, I have only one underlying thought: My mother will never read another word I write. The woman who taught me to love reading, who read my childhood short stories and poetry with rapt attention, who told everyone she knew when I wrote and self-published my first novel, will never have the chance to see what I am truly capable of.

It has been hard to shake this thought. There are more days than not that I question what the point is of ever writing another word when there’s no one else whose approval and praise I sought the way I did hers. The magic, as I see it, is gone, and I’m left feeling numb.

But, I don’t want to feel numb. I don’t want to spend another six months feeling lost and out of place because the thing that most grounded me, that most excited me and made me feel like me is still too difficult, too painful. I want, more than anything, to find a way to write through the pain.

Just as there is no getting over loss, only getting through it, I need to have faith that this numbness will eventually subside and I will emerge on the other side, open and ready to write once again. 

I’m thinking that it’s okay if I continue to write for my mother as though she were still alive to read it. In the same way I often look at my son and worry over how much my mother is missing, writing, for the foreseeable future anyway, may still give me pause. But the moment I see my next book in print, my mother’s name under the dedication, I will know how proud she is of me, even though she isn’t here to tell me herself. 


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