In September 2006 my eldest daughter, Ruth, challenged me to utilize National Novel Writing Month to fulfill my life long dream of writing science fiction. Each year since I have participated in the daunting challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. What an exhilarating experience seeing my stories come alive and discover where my characters would lead me.
I take time off early in the month to concentrate on writing and get a jump start toward the goal. Even though the fewest words I have written is 75,000, I still feel insecure each November 1 and worry about reaching my goal. Something might happen to thwart my goal.
That “something” happened November 1, 2010. My heart was not in my writing. The prior Wednesday my mother entered the hospital with what was determined to be a rapid onset leukemia. On Saturday the Doctor told my brother that Mom had 24-48 hours left. So, Monday I dreaded the call, which came at 1:30 PM. When my brother couldn’t finish “Hi Dave…” I knew the end had come. My mother now slept in the hope of the resurrection.
Unlike the year prior when I wrote over 5,200 words on November 1st, in 2010 I wrote just over 2,700. More than that my heart was not in the writing, so distracted was I waiting for the news. Amid the travel to Florida for the funeral, participating in the arrangements, grieving with family, and the funeral service, I wrote some each day. I wanted to retain some connection with my writing even as I was connecting with and grieving with my family.
By the time I returned home on November 6 I had reached just over 6,100 words. That is a lot of words but when compared to the year before I was way behind my output of 36242. Even in grief life goes on and I found the habit of writing in November assisted my ability to focus on something other than my grief and I did exceed the 50,000-word goal. I also knew my mother had been pleased with my writing so I also wrote in part to honor her memory.
But November 1st remains difficult. The year after Mom’s death I told a friend my concern about writing on November first. She suggested I incorporate some of my mother’s characteristics into a character and so honor both my mother and my writing. That I did and exceeded my output from the prior year. Since then the malaise of grief hung over my first day of writing. I found myself procrastinating, checking email, Facebook, and games on my phone fascinated me. My reaction to this was self-recrimination. How could I waste this much time when I really want to write?
How? Because I am still grieving over the loss of my mother and five years later the loss of my father. After the excellent advice from my friend the first Nano after Mom’s death, I went into denial. As if by not thinking about or acknowledging the reality of November 1, 2010 I could somehow participate in the writing month as I had the years prior.
But grief does not work that way. No matter what I do to suppress my grief, it will rise to the surface one way or another. My procrastination in subsequent years was my subconscious grief telling me things were not the same as before—that things will never be the same. That’s what the transitions of life, especially death of a parent, do. They tell us of the inexorable progress, as a popular film expressed it: the circle of life.
Mom was the family matriarch as Dad was the patriarch. They lived to see the first of their great-grandchildren. Now in my family I am the patriarch and my wife the matriarch. We recently learned that grandchild number six is due next May around Mother’s Day. How better to honor my parent’s legacy than to provide a similar legacy to my children and grandchildren. I relish the time with my family and long to see them all grow, not just physically but also mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
To that end I will spend time with them, share my life with them, model life and living (including grieving), and shower them with love.
By facing my personal November 1 challenge, by acknowledging my grief and loss, by writing about it as I have here, my challenge becomes an opportunity to grow into the person I desire to be.
I still miss you Mom.
I still miss you Dad.
I’ll see you both in the morning!