The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 27

Tragedy Makes Us Grow and Become Better Writers

I have a nice life, with a great family, a caring husband and wonderful children, but I (like most of us) have also experienced times of grief and tragedy.  None of us escapes the sad times and now, in retrospect, I can consider those times learning experiences that equipped me to be a better writer. 

I can imagine what it might feel like to fly like Superman, to kill an intruder, travel to Mars on a spaceship.  But deep sorrow must be felt in order to understand the depths of sadness, to know that visceral feeling of losing someone permanently. 

My father was only 72 when he died a long lingering painful death from Multiple Myeloma, a bone cancer.  A few years later, I went to pick up my mother to take her for a ride in my new convertible.  She didn’t answer the door and when the superintendent of her apartment building let me in, we found that she had died in her sleep. 

One death was expected, in fact, welcomed as a release.  The other was shocking and unexpected.  It took me awhile to get over both of these events. 

I spoke with a therapist to help me through the grief process and he suggested I write down my feelings, even if it was one or two words scribbled in large letters across a page, even if was not in complete sentences.  “Be your true self,” he said, “let it all out, rage, anger, sadness.  Whatever.”

And I did.  Now, when one of the characters in my novels is sad for whatever reason, I feel it inside as I write.  It’s in my gut and it comes out through my words.   Here’s a poem I wrote about my mother (the Finnish word for Mom is Aiti). 


The last cake was in the oven,

The last sheets, ironed and crisp,

tucked neatly under the mattress,

Then she pitched forward and died. 

Chaos descended upon the world

And the starched and pressed white shirts,

The angle food cakes made without

an electric mixer, went away. 

She was my mother, beautiful, laughing,

Running, daring, organizing the world,

Re-arranging the universe

So it made sense to her. 

Today, I order my chaos with words

Re-arranging dots on my computer screen,

Extending ink on a legal pad,

Seeking knowledge, painting word pictures,

Creating my own angel food cakes

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