Know Your Reason: Why I Chose to Write a Story About Grief and Love

Courtesy of iStock/Asawin_Klabma

When I started working with Author Accelerator, a book coaching company, in May 2017, one of my first lessons was to dig into why I wanted to write this story. Why this idea? Where did it come from? Why did it stick with me and refuse to let go?

My story is about a widow searching for the answer to her question: can I love again? I’m not sure what reason I originally gave my book coach for why I wanted to write this story, but with time, I came to realize that I must write this book to rationalize my fear of losing my husband—the man that has become the center of my universe.

This fear of death, and specifically of losing the one that I love, has been fostered in me since I was a little girl. My parents are very close, and by very close, I mean they do everything together. There are no girls’ trips or guys’ weekends. There is just my mom, my dad, and the life they have created around and with one another.

My dad has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD (along with a list of several other respiratory diseases). You wouldn’t really know how advanced the disease was if you met my dad. At 76, he still works. My mom helps him load his oxygen tanks and his lunch box in his car four days a week, and off he goes for several hours of work.

He’s a happy guy, always cracking jokes and laughing. On one visit to the ER last year, Mom and I watched in horror from where we had been told to sit in the hall after Dad let his oxygen run out and didn’t tell the nurses he needed it continuously. The doctors called code blue and ran behind Dad’s curtain. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and it didn’t match the winded laughter from my dad that I was hearing. Later, when dad was settled in ICU, the nurse remarked, “Mr. Ingram, I’ve never seen anyone laughing while they were in code blue.”

This is the character of my kind, positive, not-going-to-give-up Dad.

My Dad wound up in ICU again last week. He just couldn’t regulate his breathing with his inhaler or by cranking his oxygen up to 10. A scan of Dad’s lungs clarified what was happening. The scan showed pockets within his lungs from the COPD, lots of scar tissue, and fluid in his lungs. But worst of all, the scan showed that Dad’s disease is progressing.

The doctor suggested palliative care. We weren’t given grim timelines. Still, we weren’t ready to process the reality that palliative care brings to the foreground.

I’m not ready to think about all the maybes, could bes, or even will bes for a man living with a progressive lung disease who plays such a prominent role in my life or an aging woman who has built her whole world around that man and whose happiness is important to me. Thinking about these things brings grief and sadness. Thinking about these things brings me back to my fear of losing the man I married and created my life around.

I know that, someday, death will come.

And, even in the midst of that finality, life will continue.

My deep gut-level reason for my writing, the reason a story about a widow questioning if she can possibly love again has latched onto me and won’t let go, is because of the very fact that life will continue. Someone (more likely, many ones) will be left behind to navigate the effects of love and loss, and what I am truly exploring through my main character’s (Alexandria) grief is the best way to continue to live despite the pain.

Symbolism

Courtesy of iStock/Aleksandar Nakic

Courtesy of iStock/Aleksandar Nakic

Even on her deathbed, her frail hands planted seeds for tomorrow.

That was my takeaway as I proceeded out of the theater with a silent crowd. That was the image that replayed in my mind the next day.

I started following Joey and Rory Feek’s story on Facebook about the time Joey’s battle with cancer was coming to its end. I was drawn to Joey’s battle—not in a morbid sense, but because I was humbled by the way Joey gracefully accepted her story. It seemed that the world that watched and commented on the pictures her husband posted on Facebook struggled more with Joey’s fate than she did. She was at peace and the world was not.

Joey’s husband, Rory, had begun blogging about his life with Joey long before they knew the battle they would face. After Joey’s passing, Rory took the images and video footage he had captured and created a film, To Joey, with Love. I went to see that film knowing I would cry, and I did, but as a writer I tuned into the “more” that lay beneath the surface.

Writers use various story elements to bring their stories to life. I can no longer leisurely read or watch a movie without looking for these story elements and how the writer will carry them out. Symbolism is one of those elements. Symbolism is a story device that is used to indirectly express the themes and ideas of stories. I don’t know if Rory deliberately illustrated his themes and ideas with scenes of Joey planting seeds and gardening or if Joey’s life was just a great example of the theme of faith I recognized in the movie.

Joey displayed an admirable faith in the very way she lived her life in the midst of an unexplainable, life-robbing disease. She sang hymns of faith, even recording a CD of her favorite hymns during her final treatments. She prayed for healing, and she continued to plant seeds after the doctors had given her a time frame that ended months before spring’s usual transplanting season.

Perspective is everything. I cannot tell you if everyone in that theater interpreted the scenes and theme of To Joey, with Love similarly. I can, however, tell you that a good story will resonate with your ideas and beliefs. A good story suggests (plants) ideas (seeds) into your subconscious. And these ideas (seeds) stick with you and replay in your mind long after you have put the book down or walked out of the theater. Talented writers know this and achieve it through story devices such as symbolism.

That is a skill.

That is something I would like to do with my story.

I am still working on my story. It also has an element of faith. Faith is an idea that resonates with me, so it makes sense that I am drawn to stories and movies with this element.

How about you? I would love to hear what types of books and movies resonate with you. Does there seem to be a common theme? Not sure? Here’s a hint: what scenes or symbols play over and over in your mind from your favorite book or movie? Please leave a comment here on the website or on my Facebook page.

And just in case you might be interested, To Joey, with Love, is only in theaters for two nights. The first was the one I attended, and the next showing is October 6th. If you happen to catch it, stop back by here and leave a comment about your interpretation of the movie’s theme.

Shifting Into Unfamiliar Skin

 

 

Courtesy of iStock/BorutTrdina

Courtesy of iStock/Borut Trdina

I recently flew to San Diego to attend a writing conference. The night before the conference began, I met a friend from last year’s conference and a friend of hers for dinner.

The three of us sat around a table overlooking the water and discussed our journeys as writers. We instantly connected as we shared about our children, work, and love of writing.

Excitement filled us when we each described the stories consuming us, but that excitement faded when the conversation turned to something else: finding time in the midst of our many commitments to write.

Fortunately, our spouses supported us in our pursuits.

Unfortunately, we let our emotions get in the way when they tried to assist us in what seemed to them like the best way: cooking, cleaning, and helping around the home.

Each kind, loving act from our husbands was met with questions:

  • Is there something wrong with my cooking?

 

  • Why are you doing that?

 

  • I thought I was supposed to do that?

 

I laughed with my writing friends as we discussed our puzzling commonality, but underneath our laughter was guilt. We knew our spouses were only trying to help and that it would be difficult to pursue our passions without their support. It was confusing that we questioned their help, especially since it was offered from their love for us.

Why were we resisting?

Our conversation around the dinner table stayed with me long after the restaurant closed for the night. A splinter of it reemerged on my flight home four days later.

A sweet family with three children under the age of 8 was seated in my row. I watched and engaged with them on my flight home.

The mom reminded me of a piece of myself that seems to be changing into something new.

She lovingly played games with her children, looked at pictures with her children, and snuggled with her children. She laughed and assisted when the smallest one spilled her juice and wiped the cookie crumb trail from her son’s shirt and lap.

She never tired of her motherly duties.

I reflected on my own motherhood. My youngest child is entering her second year of middle school. I am reminded of her growing independence every day.

My middle son just received his license and doesn’t seem to be home as often anymore.

My oldest son is one semester away from a college degree and, outside of hugs, he is long past snuggling with me.

My cherished role as their mommy is shifting.

My writing friends and I had uncovered another shift: the balance between our roles as wives and authors. The responsibilities of our new roles as writers was blurring with our previous responsibilities as wives and mothers. We were not only shifting into new roles, but trying to maintain our old roles. This left us with questions about our identities and where we fit in.

Our roles seem labeled by our responsibilities—responsibilities which wrap us in a certain identity that we package with a bow and present to the world. That identity seems to unravel when our responsibilities shift.

It’s easy to see why we would resist the shift.

Change is difficult. It requires vulnerability, letting go, and taking chances as we shift into the unknown. Yet, to reach our goals and dreams, the shift is necessary. The shift is where we learn, grow, and transform into something new.

The transformation comes not when we mold ourselves into roles and responsibilities that box us into a broad identity, but when we let life mold us into our most unique and authentic selves.

I hope that you will let go of the packaged identity that seems safe and defined and grow with me. It’s the only way to achieve the most distinctive you!

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