When my daughter died in 2005, I wrote young adult novels. I don’t know that I’d call them “happy stories,” but they were often called “clean reads” because they didn’t have “content” or “swears” and I’m still proud of them, in a way, though it feels like someone else wrote them. I gave talks about how to choose the more marketable story ideas to write and I believed in my own shit.
I don’t feel like I am the one choosing the stories I write anymore. I believe that someone/something/the universe calls me to write stories. Some mornings I wake up and feel called to write something that had never occurred to me before. And so I write it.
I try to leave myself open to this call. Even if I’m working around deadlines for contracted books, I want to make sure that the universe can be attended to.
If I don’t listen, then maybe the calls won’t come anymore.
Is this the “lesson” I was supposed to learn? To write the stories that God (if that’s who is calling me to write) inspires/pesters me to tell? I no longer think that God works that way. I think that whatever form or personality God takes, God has less interest in us learning particular lessons and more interest in having a relationship with our true selves. So our job is to always go deeper and find the truer self that is still hiding.
That is a lesson I learned from Mercy’s death. There are so many good lessons. And somehow, not one of them is good enough to justify her dying. Not one of them makes me say, it was worth it.
I remember reading that Emma Thompson said once that “I really like human beings who have suffered because they’re kinder,” and I was angry about it. If you read the whole quote, you’ll see that she didn’t really like admitting it, either.
I’m not sure what I think about it now. There’s truth in it. People who have suffered tend to see pain more easily in others, and to know how to help it. They tend not to make assumptions and they know which are the terribly wrong things to say.
But is that the same as saying that God wants us to have painful experiences so that we learn lessons? I don’t think so. I suppose what I believe is that life gives us plenty of painful experiences just fine without God’s intervention. I like to believe that I would have learned compassion without having my innocent daughter taken away from this life. But is it true? I don’t know. I really don’t.
Still, if I had to choose between a living daughter and my own compassion, I’d choose her. If I had to choose between her life and all the best-selling, award-winning, great Mormon novels that I’ve written since her death, and add to those all the books I might yet write — I would still burn them all down and take her hand in my own and bring her home with me.
But that isn’t one of my choices. And so my books are in some weird way a monument to her. Not to the child she would have been, because I have no idea about that. My writing is a monument to the hole that should have been filled with her. My writing is a howl into the void, a demand that she not be forgotten, even if I don’t know who she might have been.
This is what I do as a mother, and a writer, and as a new person born of grief.