I spent New Year’s Eve day on the Pacific Coast Starlight train from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles after a weeklong getaway at my friend, Sue Crosby’s house in the Monterrey Hills. Sue and I had a great time walking the beach, wine tasting, shopping the Santa Cruz bookstore, and watching British TV shows in the evenings.
But the majority of my time there had been spent getting acquainted with my novel after having been away from it for about six months. I left happy with how much I’d accomplished, setting the goal to get back to writing every weekend. Settled in my cozy, comfortable seat on train 11, I watched the rows of crops and vineyards roll by, then the green hills, and finally the Pacific Ocean came into view.
The sight was glorious. As I watched it mile after mile, some thoughts came together about the parallels between my writing and the events of the last six months.
My new novel opens in 1890 Rome, with my young protagonist, Carina, going to wake her father in the early morning. She touches his hand, and it is cold, the skin and nails tinged with blue. He is dead.
I wrote that scene almost a year before I found myself sitting by my mother, Marguerite’s bedside this past August holding her hand as she died.
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
But it was what I needed to do. For my mom, for me.
For years I’d seen others deal with a loved one’s death and wondered how and when I’d have to confront it myself. I’d imagined the call, the rush to get there, the hospital room, the waiting, the tears. These I could see, and they happened, just as I thought.
What I never imagined was the courage it took to be present to my own feelings, to be there for my family, to stroke my mom’s cheek in her last minutes, kiss her forehead and say goodbye.
I never imagined how life-giving it would be. And how it would be seared into my memory.
I know my mother’s death changed me, in ways I’ll probably be discovering for quite a while. I see daily events in new lights, my perspective tilts and widens, life reveals new lens with which to view the world. This is unexpected, too.
I have written my heroine moving forward after her father’s death. And I am too, little by little. It isn’t easy. Life sometimes comes in multiples of messiness and sorrow. But I’m learning those are the times to use the newfound courage I’ve won and the perspectives I’ve acquired.
In this new year, full of bright promise and hope, I will continue this journey. The key, as my heroine learns, is how to move forward. It isn’t ever clear or certain, but she will forge ahead, take risks and so will I. As I hope, as I know, many of you will with your own daily challenges and those of the world.
In the spirit of my mother, Marguerite,