The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 42

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 42

Tragedies Help the Writer

Bad things happen to all of us. No one’s life is perfect and if your life is wonderful today, trust me, it won’t last forever. We, as human beings living in an imperfect word, will experience illness, loss, betrayal, accidents, and death.

How we deal with these set-backs and tragedies is important. Often, we survive and become stronger. We accept and move forward. We become wiser.

Tragedies on the road of life are a blessing to writers. They open doors to empathy and understanding. We know what something feels like, because we’ve been there.

Let me tell you about one of these awful moments that grew me as a person and a writer.

My mother was the dearest, sweetest, most caring woman in the world. I grew up on a chicken farm on the end of dirt road in North East, Maryland, the only child of Finnish immigrants. We didn’t have much money, but my mother did her best to give me the finer things in life. She sold cracked eggs to pay for my piano and voice lessons. She taught me now to cook and clean and to be a responsible, hard-working citizen. She made birthdays and holidays special for everyone around her.

After my father died and she was in her late 70’s, she moved to a senior residence about 10 minutes from where my husband and I lived in New Jersey. One of her favorite things was to go for a ride with me, particularly along the Jersey Shore. She really liked the Atlantic Highlands and the wonderful views of the ocean there.

One Tuesday afternoon, planned to pick up my new car, a wonderful little aqua-colored convertible. I called my mother the night before and invited her to go for a ride with me the next day. She was very excited.

I picked up my fabulous little car the next afternoon and drove to my mother’s apartment, planning which scenic routes we would take.

I rang the doorbell. No answer. I rang again, several times.

My mother was never late for anything and I had just spoken with her the night before. Something was terribly wrong. I felt a chill.

At my request, the superintendent of the building, unlocked the door. She was lying there, unmoving, seemingly asleep. I touched her shoulder. It was cold and hard. She had been dead for several hours.

The emotions that ran through me are hard to describe, even for a writer. Horror, grief, sadness, regret, nostalgia, love. Memories of a warm kitchen and her pulling out a fresh-baked apple pie made with apples I had picked myself. Her wonderful flower gardens with gladiolas and tulips and daffodils. Her voice, singing old Finnish folk songs as she gathered eggs. She and my father dancing the polka at a Scandinavian dance party.

Taking care of me when I was sick. Cheering me on when my grades were good or I won an award in school.

All of it gone.

I got over it and moved on with my life, raising four daughters and writing magazine and newspaper article, children’s stories, poetry and novels. But this (and other sad and terrible moments) have impacted my thoughts and how I put words on paper.

I don’t have to imagine sadness and loss. I’ve been there. And today, I am a caring and empathetic person because of my experiences with loss and tragedy.

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