“Everything I write is an emotional catharsis.”
This holiday weekend was tough. Yes, there were visits with great friends. Yes, there was time spent with a good book. Yes, there was delicious Smores-flavored water ice from Rita’s. Yes, there was a chance to live vicariously through my characters as they journeyed to one of the places I most want to visit, the beautiful island of Nantucket. Yes, there were thoughts of our brave servicemen and servicewomen who defend our freedom every day. There were all these things and more. But there were also memories of last year’s holiday, and with those memories came a heavy heart. Memorial Day weekend was the last time I got to visit with Gram. It was the last time I got to look into her sweet eyes, the last time I got to kiss her cheek, the last time I got to tell her I love her and that I’d see her soon. Every detail of that day is etched into my mind. I remember what I was wearing. I remember where I went afterwards. I remember what I bought at the store later in the afternoon. And most of all, I remember feeling reassured that she was doing better, that she was getting better. Then, only a few days later, everything went horribly wrong.
So it’s been difficult lately. Next month will be more of the same, because even though we’re all determined to focus on the good, it’s also impossible not to remember the awful. I’m lucky, though – truly, indescribably lucky – to have my writing to escape into every day. I’ve talked about this before, how working on DEAR ELLIE last year got me through such a heartbreaking time. And again now, I have been turning to my characters and their story as a way of healing. Writing has been cathartic beyond anything words can explain. I’ve said several times that Sofie and the others have become like friends, even family of sorts, over the past two years and three novels – and like friends often are, they’ve been there for me when I needed them most. They’ve given me a place to channel my emotions and thoughts. That’s been especially true with my current manuscript. For as painful as it was to put my book-babies through a sudden, unexpected, jarring loss, it was also therapeutic. I’ve learned a lot from watching my characters grieve, heal, and start to hope again. As ridiculous as this might sound, those characters have truly taught me so much. They’ve taught me that even though time doesn’t heal all wounds, it does give us the strength to move forward. It does allow us to find the peace – or at least the grace – our loved ones would want us to uncover. This is how Sofie explains it:
The thing about grief, though, is it doesn’t ever disappear, not fully. Even when it’s faded, when it’s become less a part of everyday life and more a part of the subconscious, it’s still there. It still plays a role in shaping who we are from that point forward. It still takes a place among all the blocks which build our whole. And, I’m slowly coming to recognize, that’s not necessarily bad. Maybe the struggles make us even more grateful for the blessings. Maybe the horrendous makes us even more grateful for the beautiful.
It saddens me at first, how life’s forced us to change, but as I tell Brandon about the house that’s no longer ours to keep, something transforms inside. It’s like … sitting here, staring the fairy tale in its face, I finally realize it’s just that: a fairy tale. Sure, it’d be wonderful to hold it in the palms of our hands, to wrap our fingers around it and keep it safe, but it’d be more wonderful to step beyond its constraints – however magical they seem – and create our own castle, our own happily-ever-after, our own storybook.
I guess it’ll be that way for awhile. Maybe forever. There will always be reminders. But strength lies not in our ability to forget the bad times. It lies in our ability not to allow them to block out the good ones.
Helping Sofie and Brandon figure these things out has helped me figure them out, too. Gram won’t ever get to read this manuscript, but in that way – and in many others, like Sofie’s love of her grandmom’s chicken soup – she’s still a part of it. Just like she’s still a part of me. Just like she’ll always be a part of me. Just like all four of my grandparents will always be a part of me. I may not be able to physically hear their voices anymore, but they’re still there. They’re still inside me. And these lessons I’ve learned, these lessons I don’t know I’d have fully understood if not for writing, if not for helping my characters find their own sunshine again … I guess all I can say is that I’m forever grateful.
And thank you. To Sofie, Brandon, Ellie, and the others, all I can say is thank you – for letting me tell your story, for showing me how to heal, for reminding me that beauty can be found anywhere. Everywhere. No matter what happens with the books I’ve written about you, I will never regret a single moment, because it’s given all of you to me. Again, that probably sounds silly, but I don’t mind. I know that it’s a blessing. I know that it’s therapeutic. I know that it’s life-altering.
And above all, I know that it’s one of my greatest joys.