Monday, March 18, 2013

Experience Makes Better Writers

So, my mom passed away on March 4th. Many of you know about her courageous fight against cancer. Hers was very aggressive and we knew there would be a dark night when she wouldn’t win.

One is never prepared to lose their mother. Especially if you have good one like mine. My mom was one of the best. We spoke on the phone nearly every day, she was the person I went to for advice and she was my best friend (next to my husband). I wasn’t the only one whose life she touched. Hundreds of people braved a big snow storm to attend her funeral. The place was packed because she was well loved in the community. And the funeral turned out just the way she wanted it. It felt perfect, despite the snow.

Those last few days of her life were hard. She was in extreme pain and nothing could assuage it. It was hard to watch, hard to know how to help her. Yet she stayed the lovely person she always was, so patient with us and the confusion clouding her mind. I slept on the floor beside her hospice bed those last few nights. Somehow I knew she would have wanted that. My sister, dad, and I took turns ensuring she had her medications up until the last, just in case she had pain she could not communicate to us. And then the night she slipped away, her breathing grew less labored until it stopped completely. When the room grew still during the early morning hours past midnight, I didn’t need to touch her body to know her spirit had left it. The most beautiful part about my mother was gone to places the pain could not follow.

Losing a mother is a defining point in a person’s life. Perhaps that is why many children’s books and movies kill off the moms—it’s the ultimate moment of no-return. The hero(ine) must move on from that point forward. The hero’s journey fits perfectly with the event.

When my mom was first diagnosed, I started a book about a daughter whose father was dying of cancer and he asked her to go on his bucket list vacation for him. She does, but begrudgingly. I dove into the book almost flippant with the thought of her losing her dad. Now I have a profound understanding of how hard that really would be for my character. She would not act as nonchalant as I had made her.

All our life experiences make us better writers and better voices for the human condition. Especially those pivotal moments in our lives like I’m going through. Pivotal moments are sometimes the happiest—like a wedding day, the day we land our dream job, or the day we find true love—but usually they are the saddest or most trying. As hard as it is, I’ve learned the trying moments are the ones especially we should write through. It is when we understand each others' hearts and can relate to one another the best.

In my non-fiction story of my mom’s bucket list vacation, we had a happy ending. She had always wanted to see the fall colors in the New England area--and the lighthouses. She was able to make that trip with me. She and I have memories of being together in Maine that will last forever. 

I love you, Mom. I always will.