My mother died in 2012 and within a year I was writing a memoir about our relationship and the experience of helping to care for her during her last eight months. For the first few years after her death I frequently had the feeling of wanting to pick up the phone to call her. I don’t know exactly when those feelings faded, but at some point they did, and I didn’t even notice they were gone. Until today.
I announced a couple of weeks ago that my memoir about that time, My Mother’s Cross: Cancer, Kink, Sex, and Death, is going to be published in the fall of 2019 by She Writes Press, and I couldn’t be prouder. I also couldn’t be more overwhelmed. I had no idea how much work goes into publishing a book after you finish writing it! Today I was working on the book summary sheet and cover memos and feeling frustrated by the challenge of writing about the book I’d written. I know this book inside and out, but I’ve been hung up on writing a short hook and summary to help promote it.
I took a short break to take a walk around the block, made a quick stop at the grocery store on my way home, and as I walked into my apartment building I was hit with the sudden need to call my mother and tell her about my writer’s block. She’d fix it. She was always my best editor and loudest cheerleader. If I could just pick up the phone or drop her an email everything would be better. And I couldn’t. She’s gone. The wave of grief almost knocked me over.
Writing My Mother’s Cross has been enormously healing. It’s also been a way of creating distance between my self and the experience of losing my mom. Telling our story is exciting because personal story telling is a powerful force for social change, helping to shift cultures and solve problems. Mainstream US culture has serious problems talking about sex and death, and especially about the ways that sick or dying people might be sexual. But telling our story suddenly also means remembering my mom in a much more immediate way again. I find myself wanting nothing more than to share this experience with her, and yet the experience is only possible because she’s gone.
Grieving and growth go hand in hand, and it feels wrong sometimes that we can’t show our gratitude for the lessons taught to us by those who’ve passed on. What we can do is share those stories and those lessons so that they continue to live.