Grief goes with…
A Dairy Queen in North Platte, Nebraska.
A dead deer.
A wrecked 1971 Super Beetle VW.
A semi truck full of frozen turkeys.
A calico cat named Alex.
A best friend named Karin.
I took a writing class in Santa Fe last month with Emily Rapp. If you’re not familiar with Emily’s work, she is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, The Still Point of the Turning World, which chronicles her experience parenting a child who is dying of Tay-Sachs disease and not expected to live past the age of three. Grief, pre-grief, anticipatory grief, whatever you want to call it–it can’t help but permeate the pages. If you’ve not read the book, you should check it out. Undeniably sad, it’s beautifully written.
I should mention that it was a great class–Emily is smart and funny and though some of what we discussed in class were things I already knew about writing, I always enjoy hearing how someone else talks about craft. In addition she provided great writing exercises and my fellow students were fantastic. I also always enjoy writing in community with others.
One of the writing exercises sparked what has become the start of what I hope is a pretty good in-progress essay pairing my grandmother’s death:
The downstairs den had become a makeshift hospital room for Grandma and the hospice nurse had explained to my sister, my granddad and I that our grandma was “actively dying” and we might see her slip in and out of consciousness, she may experience loud breathing, what is called a “death rattle” and she may begin to fidget and maybe even seem to look at something beyond what we could see.
In the waiting time everything slowed down. The air felt thick, heavy to walk through, hard to breath in and it was quiet, except for the sound of grandma’s breath, the rustling of her sheets as she pulled at them, the sound of granddad quietly crying. I held her hand, a hand that had once been like mine with its short thick fingers but had become thin and soft. My sister held her other hand and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of granddad.”
with me hitting a deer in Nebraska:
The sky had turned light gray when out of nowhere a brown mass I could not identify came towards me in slow motion and I screamed and slammed on the brake as the mass hit the windshield spider webbing and bending the glass to within inches of my face. My friend Karin, who had seen the 18 wheeler behind us but didn’t understand why I was braking, grabbed the steering wheel to pull us off to the shoulder.
The driver side window not open, but gone, shattered into a thousand pieces of gravel that I would later find in my socks and my underwear. Karin found the emergency kit and lit the flares as I stood chain-smoking on the side of the highway shaking, my teeth chattering, blood dripping down the side of my face.
Although the two events happened within weeks of each other, I’d never made a connection between them. In fact, I’d not written much about my grandmother’s death–maybe because I’ve been so focused on writing my memoir and focusing on my mother’s death. And “Hitting a Deer in Nebraska” had become one of those stories I tell at cocktail parties.
When I asked in class “Are these two events related?” my fellow classmates answered with a resounding, “Yes!” and so I’ve been working on it ever since.
I’d never thought about how the experience of hitting a deer paired with grieving my grandmother’s death–though the more I write the more I see the connections. I’m making meaning of the story.
Maybe I’m forcing the two together, but it seems that there is something in being so close to death: my grandmother’s, my own, and being in that foggy place of not knowing what is next, not knowing where I was…. of being fully in moments of grief.
I hope for my essay what Emily says she hopes for her book, that “…readers ….rethink their notions of tragedy and normalcy. I want them to find beauty in our human fragility, in the precariousness of all our lives, and I want this to act as a catalyst for them to live and love more boldly in their own lives. To make their lives big and rich and full and meaningful, however that might look for them.” (1)
A tall order for sure, but one worth aspiring to…
(1) Quoted from Amazon.com’s Author One-on-One: Cheryl Strayed Interviews Emily Rapp