October 8, 2007

The Toughest Thing To Write, Was Not

Writers are often called upon to perform unpleasant tasks, such as write an obituary, or to report on a tragic news story. For me, the most emotional, yet easiest piece I ever wrote was the eulogy for my mother. For many years, she battled both cancer and systemic Lupus. Unfortunately, there was plenty of time for her and the rest of us to contemplate her death. There was no hope, as the oncologist told her: "Ann, there is nothing we can do for you."

As I and my family kept vigil at her bedside, there was no avoiding the fact that she was going to pass on. Somewhere in my mind, I began to formulate the words which were to become her eulogy. As morbid as that sounds, she was my mother, and in those final, meditative moments of her life, I had time to summarize all that she meant to me and to the rest of us. From there, I was able to envision my thoughts and emotions, and ultimately put them on paper.

In fact, because I am one of those fiction writers who often insert my actual memories into the many pieces I author, I was able to steal a vignette from a short story I typed out on an old Smith Corona typewriter before I was married. On the way home from my parents house on the night my mother passed away, that scene played out in my head just as I wrote it all those years earlier, but the reasons why I opted to put it on paper were just as valid then as on the day she died when I chose to put it into her tribute.

The scene in my short story was crafted from a memory I had as a small boy. I couldn't have been older than the age of five because my little brother was an infant then. I can still see myself sitting in a chair at the kitchen table of our home as my mother cooked dinner for all of us. She was tired and her back was hurting, but she seemed happy. Dad came home from work, and he walked up behind her and kissed her on the cheek. When he walked away into their bedroom, my mother began to sing, softly to herself. I don't think she knew she was singing, or that I was there watching her, in awe of her beautiful voice. The song she sang was "Ave Maria." Perry Como would sing it on his Easter special every year, and my mother would never miss a performance. At times, she would sing along with him, the light from the television reflecting on her face, revealing her misty eyes.

She stayed like that in my mind for decades with her bright red hair pulled back, and with her family all coming home to enjoy her delicious cooking. She was at peace with herself, and I always look back on that moment whenever I’m feeling depressed or going through a hard time for inspiration.

My mother suffered a myriad of illnesses for most of her adult life which can now be attributed to Lupus. Her fight with cancer lasted well over ten years, and she needed at least three surgeries on her spine. Still, just being home and cooking for her family was enough to make her smile and sing the only song she loved so much it made her cry.

It was natural then, on my ride home the night she died, that I chose to immortalize that memory and share it with all of our friends and loved ones who came to show their respects for her at her wake. I removed that scene from that short story, in effect killing the fictional character that lived it in typeset, and returned it to its rightful owners. You see, I was the young voyeur that day, watching from my chair as she inspired me with her beauty and toughness. However, she was the one who lived through the pain and discomfort and became the example to us all. Her eulogy then, was easy to compose, as I had been writing it for my entire life in all of my stories and essays. She was one of my major influences, and she was my inspiration for that short story which was actually all about her in the first place.

As an author, I imagine everything, and yet, create nothing. As for every project I begin, I start from my birth, borrowing from all of my experiences until I've completed my latest manuscript. With the toughest assignment I ever undertook, it was, ironically, the easiest, because my writing was always inspired by my mother. I merely needed to summarize everything she was and will still be to all of us who remain. One day, when my own story ends, perhaps someone will be kind and pen a few words about me. Hopefully this won't be difficult for that person, as I wish to live my life with dignity and leave a proper example for my children, just as my mom did for me.



Elaine said...

What a wonderful post about your Mother. Mine too was not blessed with good health and died days after my 26th birthday. It had a huge impact on my life and who I became.

It's nice to have met you, maybe I can pick up some writing tips, Lord knows I need all the help I can get!

Mr. Grudge said...

It is very nice to meet you too, Elaine. I'm sorry to hear about your mom. You know, I appreciate my wife even more now that my mother has passed, because I realize how much a mother means to a child, and we have two wonderful childen who love her dearly. I enjoy your blog because of your focus on family and your natural ability to tell a story. Also, you're a nurse and my sister is a nurse. Nurses have a special place in my heart also because of the wonderful care they gave my mother, and also to my father during is last health crisis. Thank you for reading my post. I'll keep checking out Elaine's Place.

Lisa McGlaun said...

My mother will celebrate her 77th birthday tomorrow. I am her only child and a writer so I know this task you speak of will fall to me, just as it did to you.

I am so afraid of that time..for many reasons. Thanks for sharing this because, I too, know that everything I write is rooted in memories of my mother and my childhood.

Best Wishes...I love reading your blog.


Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Lisa, Happy birthday to your Mom! As writers, we think of everything in terms of how we can deliver what we see, feel, and imagine to an audience. You love your mother, and I know that you are dreading the future because it is natural to do so. The old saying "To be old, is to be young again" has meaning on many levels. In my case, and now yours, it was because we have to provide care for our parents, sort of becoming their parents. In doing so, we take on responsibilities and worry about the futures of our parents. That includes, quite possibly, their passing away. Yes, she was always my mother, and she was sharp and coherent until the end; but we had to take care of things for her, along with those wonderful folks at The Good Sheppard Hospice. My mother was only 73 when she died, too young, in my opinion. Your mom is still young as well. I wish both you and your family long, healthy lives full of happiness. Thank you so much for reading my blog.

Kristyn said...

Your mother sounds like she was a truly beautiful woman! It's great to hear that you were inspired by someone so close to you.

I love my mother dearly, she's not blessed with good health, she has a rare neuromuscular disorder and diabetes, so your entry really touched me. Perhaps it's the impact a mother can have on the life of her children. I think I'll call mine in the morning, she's having surgery the day after tomorrow.

All the best,

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Kristyn,
Thank you for your kind words; my mother was indeed a beautiful woman. She was an artistic, talented artist, who in spite of her aflictions, created wonderful paintings and sketches as well as arts & crafts. I am so sorry to hear of your mom's poor health. I will keep her in my prayers and I hope her surgery goes well. Thank you again for reading my post.
Be well,