Grief hides in the most unexpected places. A few weeks ago my husband and I were sitting in a restaurant listening to the waitress rattle off the specials: Cuban sandwich, kettle chips, quinoa salad.
In an instant my throat constricted and tears burned behind my eyes. Barb had introduced our critique group to the Cuban sandwich. Now Barb was gone and I was crying in the bathroom of a restaurant because someone had mentioned the lunch special.
I met Barb on August 11, 2007. I’d just decided to become a writer. I hadn’t actually started writing yet, but I’d done my research. I’d discovered Romance Writers of America and my local chapter, Romance Authors of the Heartland. I was terrified at that first meeting.
Barb and Cheryl St.John spotted a new face in the crowd and instantly put me at ease. Within a month they’d invited me to join their Friday Night Critique Group. (That’s a story for another time.) For the past 8 years I’ve spent more than 50% of my Friday Nights with these ladies.
|Friday Night Critique Group|
We’ve rotated out members, and I’m the writer with the least seniority, but the core group remains.
The very first critique I attended was at Barb’s house. Pages were read aloud and critiques were offered by each person in turn. I was shaking so badly I could barely read my own words. Since that inauspicious start, I’ve published six books with Harlequin Love Inspired Historical, contracted several more, and dealt with all the ups and downs of agents, editors and reviewers.
Barb was there for it all. The good, the bad and the ugly. When I struggled with a proposal on my second book, she said, “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. It’s sophomore book syndrome. You’ll get through it.” Her absolute, unshakeable confidence gave me confidence.We lost Barb this past September. She’d been ill, but none of us realized quite how ill. Or maybe everyone understood but me. I suppose it really doesn’t matter. We’d been visiting her in the hospital and texting back and forth.
I was grocery shopping when I received the news from Cheryl.
The doctors have told Barb that she needs to put her affairs in order.
She was gone within 48 hours.
|Lizzie, Barb and Cheryl at Writer's Retreat|
I asked Mary if she’d let me write this blog because I thought if I wrote about how one moves on after a loss, maybe I could move on myself. I thought if I could write about writing through the pain…well, maybe I could write through the pain. That’s the price we all pay as professionals. The world does not stop because we have.
Barb was a fellow writer, she understood the process. We laughed, we cried, we argued, we made up. Until she was gone, I had no idea how intertwined she was in my process. I had no idea how much she meant to me personally. I had no idea how much I’d miss her.
With apologies to Mary, here’s the truth—I don’t know how to write through the pain. I finished up a continuity series with two other writers. I honestly have no idea what I wrote during the final edit. I haven’t gone back and checked. I received a request for a light, comic read I’d begun ages before. I really, really struggled putting together that proposal. But what was I going to tell the editor? Thanks for the great opportunity, but I’m just feeling it? Opportunities are rare in this business.
|Click to Buy on Amazon|
I’m always honored to be on Seekerville, and I even searched the blog for my own answers. I found a beautiful article by Jane Myers Perrine http://seekerville.blogspot.com/search?q=perrine that really helped me (and inspired the title for this blog).
I’m slogging forward, one day at a time, one word at a time. During the worst of it, the lovely and talented Julie Hilton Steele asked me how I was doing, and I said, “Not good.” Oddly enough, saying I wasn’t doing good made me feel better. It felt good not having to hide.
I started writing dozens of apologetic emails to Mary that all boiled down to this: I know nothing. I’ve learned nothing. I have nothing to give. Until I finally decided that’s what I can give: My honesty.
Grief is a messy, confusing business that happens to be full of guilt and confusion. All of which takes place while you’re just trying to get through the day.
And while I’m certainly no beacon of learning, knowledge and wisdom--here’s a few tidbits I’ve picked up along the way:
That thing you’ve been putting off? Now is the time. NOW. If people could actually die of embarrassment, I’d be writing this from six feet under. Take a chance. Hit send. Stop making excuses and finish that book of your heart. God put that book in your heart for a reason.
The world forgives you. God forgives you. I said something stupid to Barb in the hospital and I was mired in guilt. My husband said, “She’s known you for eight years. She’s your friend. She knows you say stupid stuff. She knows what you mean in your heart.” Let go of the guilt. We know you. We know what you mean in your heart.
If you need help in your life right now. Ask. A couple weeks ago, a friend called me after 9pm and asked if I could meet her for coffee. I was in my pajamas. I was without makeup. My hair was, at best, an end of day disaster. I met her. Here’s the thing: I don’t know if I helped, her, but she certainly helped me. She made me feel important, useful and needed. She asked me for a favor but she gave me a gift.
It’s not too late. I know what you’re thinking: Yes, it’s far too late. No, it’s not. Send a ‘thank you’ note to your high school English teacher, tell your brother you’re sorry you let your mom and dad believe he ran over the downspout. (We all know who *really* ran over the downspout. Sorry, bro.)
People are always saying, “Live like there’s no tomorrow.” To which I reply, “Tell that to my mortgage broker.” I’m not encouraging you to eat butter cookies all day and spend your life savings on a trip to Bermuda. But stop putting things off.
Healing on the inside is vital for getting those words on the page. After you’ve done something that gives you a boost, set a timer. Write for 15 minutes. Then 20 minutes. Build your writing muscles again.
Things get better. They do. It’s not overnight, it’s not magical, but the pain does ease over time.
Say a prayer for people going through a year of ‘firsts.’
How about you? Have you had to meet a deadline when it feels like your world is falling apart? How did you manage? Maybe we can figure this out together!
Leave a comment or any advice you have about writing through grief. All commenters will get their name in a drawing for three copies of The Rancher's Christmas Proposal. Three books, three winners.
Sherri Shackelford is an award-winning author of inspirational, Christian romance novels for her dream publisher, Harlequin.
A wife and mother of three, Sherri’s hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul.Sherri is putting the final touches on three more books for her Cimarron Springs series, and will release all the details as soon as they are available.