Around this time last year, I finished what I thought was my final edit on my book before starting to figure out how to get it published.
Not only did I finish it, but my friend Segun shared the first 5 chapters of it with his advanced graphic design class and gave them the assignment of developing a book design. I visited the class and was shown more than a dozen versions of what the book could look like if I brought it into print. It was a thrilling moment. I even reserved the url for the book title, confident that I would get it into print one way or another.
It’s tricky, this business of writing a memoir. Life is messy and unfinished, and it’s difficult to tie it up with a pretty bow at the end.
Last year at this time, the book was called “Butterfly at the Grave”. Now I wonder if I should call it “The Unfinished Business of Living, While People around You are Dying”.
The book has been growing in me for more than a dozen years. It’s the story of my stillborn son Matthew and the huge impact his short life had on my life. It started growing even before he was born, when I was sitting in the hospital waiting for him, on an unexpected sabbatical from my life. During those three weeks, I wrote in my journal “some day I will write a book and it will be called ‘The Journey of a Woman’.”
The problem is that while the book was gestating in me, other deaths happened that changed my life just as much. When I started writing it two years ago, I was pretty certain it would focus solely on Matthew, but then one day I realized that I couldn’t ignore the impact that my Dad’s sudden death had on my life.
And then… while I was trying to wrap it up… well, Mom got cancer. I wrote this in the last chapter, just before finishing the first draft a year and a half ago…
“On Mother’s Day this past year, I was having an especially horrible day. After spending the afternoon with my mother who was experiencing the ravishing after-effects of her first chemo treatment, I came home completely spent and emotional. It finally hit home just how devastated I would be if I lost my Mom. Our relationship hasn’t always been an easy one, especially in recent years when I and my siblings had to get used to the idea that she married again after Dad died and things shifted fairly significantly. And yet, despite the challenges, I love her deeply and I don’t want to lose her.”
You know the rest of the story. I lost her. So… how can I now end the book on that note when I know just how much her loss means to me?
I’m not sure. This book still wants to be born, and at some point I just have to say “finished”, but I suspect it’s not finished yet. I think a few more chapters are going to emerge before I finally see it in print.
Life is unfinished, imperfect, and messy. I suppose that, even when it’s in print, this book will always be unfinished.
Grief is a class we never get a final grade in.