Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dealing with Death

I've heard it said that writers write to practice "the good ending," to go over what would make a satisfying conclusion to their own lives. And readers read the books/plays/poems/essays to practice their own endings, to define more clearly what they want their lives to be and how they wish them to finally turn out.

I'm not sure I'm convinced, but I do tend to rework elements in my life into novels and plays, trying to make sense of them or end them differently (resolving open issues or redoing mistakes or missed opportunities). Perhaps, though, I'm also practicing for my own death, not just my own life.

Death has been cropping up in my writing a lot lately. I'm revising (a.k.a. "rewriting," since that's what it always seems to end up being with me) a play about death. It's actually the second play about death I've written (or is it the fifth, now that I mentally go through my various plays?), but it differs from the previous one because no one in it is actually dead.

The death theme of this play, though, has turned ironic, and not in a good way. The premise is farcical, where a woman has to face an entire family that has decided she's close to death and might as well kick the bucket sometime soon. And until then, she needs to act like she's dying.

Morose, yes. Did I tell you it was a farce?

Strange, though, that my husband's grandmother died last weekend. And she was about the same age as my character. It was sudden, though not entirely unexpected, but we're all pretty devastated by it. Both of my children have been teary-eyed for the past few days, and my husband and I have kind of wandered around the house, uncertain what to do without her. She was a sweet lady, smart and funny and genuine. She gave love unconditionally. We'll all miss her.

But the guilt is awful. I feel as though I've been practicing her death.

Even worse, this same sweet grandmother is in one of my novels--the one I am slated to revise (a.k.a. "tear to shreds and nearly start over") once the play is revised. I had actually read a little of it before I found out about grandmother's death, and I realized that I'd changed her name from my previous 5-6 drafts of the novel. Right then I thought, no, I need her actual name in there, and changed it back. And then I found out she'd died.

Now I'm set even more on keeping her character in it. My husband thinks she'd like being in my novel. But her real death casts deeper shadows within the novel itself, and it will make revising more painful. It might help me work through my own regret and sadness, and help others work through the losses in their own lives, too.

I just hope Grandma Mae likes it once it's finished. She lived a good life, filled with love and family. And this novel might be the best way I can remember her, giving others a chance to know her when they read the book, even though they never met her.


  1. Personally, I think that's a fine way to memorialize someone.

    Sorry for your loss.

  2. Yes, sorry for your loss… it’s always hard losing someone close. Leaving her in your book sounds like a good idea to me.

    It’s weird, how we as writers, tend to put subjects into our writing that dwell in our subconscious.

    I think she would be honored to be in your work, and even in future work… I wish you and your family the best.