2/17/15

How Losing Someone is Like a Book Character Dying

I had other plans for last week. But that's why they say life is what happens when you're making those plans.

My grandmother passed away, and it seems too callous for me to simply jump into my scheduled posts about Demonslayer without acknowledging her. At the same time, because of Demonslayer's nature, I couldn't ignore the project completely.

My work often carries with it a death of some kind - in the past or present, natural or caused.  Demonslayer breaks the mold for me, pushing more into George RR Martin territory.  In its 9 serials (the combined length of 3 full books), I kill off 7 characters.  Not nameless, faceless bad guys or innocent side-standing witnesses.  7 characters we get to know, good and bad, some of them major players whose deaths cause tremendous shock waves for everyone else.

That kept tumbling through my mind as grief took its course. There's a fine line for those of us who usually hold personal matters like this close to our chests. And I thought for a few days I'd rather grieve at home in private than face the rest of my family.

But like in books I've read and Demonslayer itself, I found more comfort and commonality at my grandmother's funeral than I could've imagined. We came together from different cities and states to honor her. We shared memories and the hope that her life would be celebrated, not just her passing mourned. It was a healing experience of community and represented a deeper meaning of family.

My grandma had a special way of supporting my long-standing obsession with writing. If I was staying at her condo, she'd give me a beautiful sunny space by the back patio door and some quiet time to write. If I was visiting, she'd ask me what I was working on and listen with enjoyment to my explanations. Then she'd add, casually and honestly, that she didn't read books. And I'd just smile and say with acceptance, "I know, Grandma." These were the meetings of two people who could connect with each other and still be ourselves. We could share in each other's lives as writer and non-reader with appreciation and respect. Although, I admit when my grandma discovered a love of old, thick novels later in life, it pleased me. It still does that we had one more hobby in common on top of everything else.

So how is grieving in real life like what book characters go through? Before last week, I probably would've argued they're nothing alike. Book characters aren't physically real. They're struck down by words alone while the rest of life goes on.

But when you look at the basics of what's happening, it's all the same. Someone - real or imagined - who used to be here isn't anymore. They're missed, they're longed for, they're remembered, and they're celebrated by those left behind. And just like in books when the surviving characters gather together for strength and to pay tribute to the one they loved, I think real people should remember the importance of being around others. There's a time to grieve in private and a time to realize you're not the only one holding onto memories of the person you lost. Get caught up with work or cooking or watching TV, but allow yourself to be in the moment sometimes, too. Lean on someone. Talk about it. And as my aunt said, be part of their legacy.

One of my favorite pictures of my grandma when she was younger.

My grandmother, Virginia Dunn, was a rare gem of a person. She was the only human being whose whistling made me happy instead of irritating me. She rode horses and took tap dancing lessons as a girl growing up in Pennsylvania. She lived most of her life with one kneecap because she fell on the ice and broke the other one, so it had to be removed. We both loved music and played the violin, although she was much more natural at the piano than I am. She'd watch any show on TV I wanted to watch when I stayed with her, including "Jackass" and "Unsolved Mysteries." She taught me how to shop sales and clearance racks, and I never looked back. When I see my grey hairs now, I picture how beautiful and classy her silver hair was, and I relax about how I'll look when the grey takes over. We both looked fantastic in red, and we both read old, thick books.

2 comments :

  1. I believe that people become authors and can write about people in make-believe lives because they have known and been involved with people in real life. Authors need to understand motivation, relationships and outcomes of choices and beliefs. This is a beautiful tribute to your grandmother, which I'm sure she would have been pleased that you wrote.

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    1. Very true. I couldn't write such great characters - even the villains - without knowing so many amazing people. And I think a lot of books could benefit from a better understanding of motivation and relationships specifically. Thanks for sharing!

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