Monday, August 9, 2010

My Friend's Story and My Reply

The following thoughts are really important to me, because they were written by my dear friend Carol Lynch Williams on her blog entitled Throwing Up Words. (She helps writers and those who want to write become better at their craft.) It concerns a topic I'm all too familiar with, and that is facing the pain of letting go of someone you love. I found her insights so compelling that I wanted you to not only see into Carol's heart, but into mine as well. (I've included my reply to her.)

The takeaway is the flip side of the inevitable goodbye, which is holding on and loving our family and our friends hard. So run through the rain, laugh and cry and have fun every day. And above all, remember how very special each and every one of you are!

XO's from Colorado,

Alane Ferguson

From Carol Lynch Williams:

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.

From Alane Ferguson:

My newest book, DRAGONFLY EYES, follows the life of a girl named Savannah Anderson who dies unexpectedly, and who, as an earthbound spirit, looks back at the life she lived, wondering what could have been if her time hadn’t been tragically cut short. My forensic mystery series deals with my character Cameryn Mahoney, who dreams of becoming a forensic pathologist in order to give voice to the dead. Death is a theme I circle over and over again because I’ve lived it through the murder of my best friend, Savannah Anderson (I’m using her name in DE as a tribute). She was killed in 1979, and I can honestly say it is from that point that I divide my life: before, and after. Savannah was murdered by a serial killer, and I have never been the same. So to Carol and every other person who wrote such touching posts on this blog, i thank you for putting into words the reason why I write what I write.
The truth is, none of us gets out of here alive.
And while letting go is beyond painful, there is a flip side to the horror, and that is this: We must embrace the life we’ve been given every second of every day, and remind those we love that they made us who we are. Carol, knowing you has changed my life for the better. And because of YOU I am more whole. Your tender heart showed me how to love. (And right now – feel it – I am hugging you fiercely from across the miles!)
I believe grief reminds us to hold on to each other. In THE LOVELY BONES, when Susie’s spirit meets other victims of her killer, she says, “Our heartache poured into one another like water from cup to cup. Each time I told my story, I lost a bit, the smallest drop of pain.”
So we share our sorrow with each other, and then we go on to live and love and never forget
To Carol I want to say, “Those two boys knew you. And that made a difference.”


Paula@Reading Lark said...

You're absolutely right, Alane- sorrow changes us. As a teacher, I have been altered time and again by the deaths of students and former students- the most shocking of which was a young to-be mother killed for her unborn child. Ironically, this happened in my first year as a school counselor.

Since then, I remind myself each day as I go to work that I'm making the world a better place for that child, whose mother isn't here to do that for her.

Please keep writing the good stuff- you're making the world a better place for that child, too. :)

Alane Ferguson said...

I just saw this post and it made me want to cry. Thank you for that last line - I can say the same to you. We all touch each other. That's the good stuff...