One can only say it is possible that writers live most fully when their work moves beyond performance, beyond entertainment or information, beyond pleasing audience and editor, when it does all that and yet represents their most important beliefs. – Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd
When I was about 10, I went to a slumber party at my friend Mary’s house. We played games that involved chasing each other from dining room to family room to hall to living room to kitchen in her house. We ate dinner and then cake . . . and then about 11 pm, I got so scared and sad that I threw up and asked Mary’s mom to call my parents so I could go home.
And they did come, Dad in his puffy blue coat, Mom a little tousled from sleep. They always came out into the night to get me, for every slumber party because it wasn’t until I was in junior high that I could leave my mother’s side for a full night.
I was always afraid she and Dad would die, and I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye.
Writing staves off the darkness of a goodbye.
All my life, my biggest fear has been that I will be abandoned, left behind, forced to say good-bye. Maybe this fear is typical, something most of us have but don’t talk about. Maybe it’s specific to me because I have known, since I really knew anything, that my mother had cancer and might die of it some day. Maybe once when I was too young to remember I was accidentally left behind at a department store when I hid beneath the slacks. I don’t know where the fear comes from, but I know it is very real to me.
As a kid, I cried every single time I left anyone or they left me. I cried when my parents’ friend Cindy went home after having dinner at our house; I cried when our Chevette pulled out of my grandparents’ driveway in New Jersey; I cried the entire day of my college graduation. I have just always known that every goodbye could mean that this will be the last time I see someone.
Goodbyes are simply a part of life, I know this fact, and yet, I hate it.
So I write because writing makes the goodbyes easier. In some sense, I suppose, it keeps the people I love close to me, but I don’t think that’s the real balm writing gives. Mostly, writing gives me a way to sort through my grief, to make sense of it, to hold it within the swoops and lines of letters.
One of my most important beliefs – writing helps people. Writers and readers – it gives us hope and camaraderie, even in the face of so many goodbyes.
The phone rang in San Francisco very early one morning. I got out of bed and answered it. Mom. Cancer. Again.
So began our years of goodbye. I didn’t know it then, that goodbye was coming. But still, this time I went to her when she called me home.
How does writing help you?
Thanks to your amazing generosity as my readers, we have already raised $110 of my $500 goal for the American Cancer Society. Thank you so much. Please, consider giving a donation to reach this goal by March 1 – donate in honor of someone you love or donate in honor of my mom because you would have loved her if you knew her. Thanks.