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.