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Writing About Grandpa

by Rundy on May 7, 2010

A few days ago someone asked me to send them a link to something I had written about Grandpa some time ago. This started me poking through my writing on Grandpa, and thinking about it. Perhaps I have been avoiding it a bit–by omission if not commission.

There are two different parts to the puzzle: The practical, and the emotional.

The emotional I’m less certain about. I don’t know what to think, so it is easiest to not think. I think about Grandpa very little…unless I start reading my old writing, chronicling those days. That brings back emotions very vividly–powerfully, as if I am living the events all over again. It is not all bad–I chronicled three years, and there were good memories in there, too. But things are all mixed up. In looking up the piece of writing I wanted I glanced over another piece I had written and it made me miss Grandpa a lot, it made me glad he was gone to suffer no more, it made me happy and laugh, and it made me very sad and want to cry. That was all in one piece.

For me the writing is so packed full of emotions, so packed full of living, that it is kind of like drinking from a fire hose. That was life. Where I am now is a kind of “post-life” existence. Things are never so real and poignant anymore, you know.

Emotionally, I want to go back to that writing, and those days, and at the same time I don’t. The easiest way to deal with the conundrum is to just ignore it.

On the practical side, I want to do something with what I have written, but I feel a bit stymied. I made the beginnings of a start at trying to organize the writing into some kind of book form, but discovered I had some problems. The first was not exactly a problem: I realized I had two different books I wanted to write. I wanted to write one book as a reflection on Grandpa’s life–in essence capturing my view of Grandpa’s life both for me to remember and (as it were) to have something to share with my future children with which to say, “See, that was my Grandpa.” The other book I wanted to write was about my experience caring for Grandpa in these three years, and as I thought about that book I realized there was a very high probability I would not feel comfortable publishing it while Grandma was still living.

I could write the book about Grandpa (We’ll title it The Burden of Forgetting) and publish it now, but in starting that book I found it difficult. It is a little more “academic” articulating some things which I am not a first hand witness, and in general as a book written “about” someone else I want to get it right. And so I have this nagging feeling that I’m not really getting it “right” and so I get dissatisfied. It’s not insurmountable, but it keeps the project from lighting a fire in my belly.

The other book about my care giving experience (We’ll call that book How to Say Goodbye) I feel like I could really write from my gut, really get the power of the story, fairly easily. I mean “easy” in the literary sense…it likely would be an emotionally tumultuous experience. I’m a bit scared to start–maybe somewhat from the emotional perspective, but also because if I invest a lot into it I might have an overpowering urge to do something with the manuscript even while Grandma is alive.

I really would like Grandma to be able to read the story, but I really think she can’t. Earlier, when it looked like I would have a literary agent to shop a story around, my intention was to skate around the “Grandma” issues in the book I wrote. But the more I think about it, the more I feel that is a vital part of the story–and a part that Grandma can’t countenance. Grandma cannot believe (and I don’t see any profit in enlightening her) that one of the biggest burdens I carried those three years, and perhaps the biggest torment of my soul, was her and her attitude toward Grandpa, and how that forced me to live and what that forced me to do.

That is a very real part of my story, and it is a big unspoken elephant in the room if it is omitted from my story. But even more than that, it is to leave out a part of every care giver’s story. Probably every care giver has that “other person” in their experience–that family member or friend who rather than helping to lighten the burdens of care giving actually made them worse. In my past sharing of my experience with the public people have written to tell me how much they appreciated what I wrote because it made them not feel so alone in the care giving experience they were going through. For me to omit part of what I went through (and I know others suffer with) is, in a sense, to not lighten the loads of others, to not tell them “You’re not alone” when I could.

In the end, I don’t want to keep silent about the truth for the vanity and pride of someone. But it doesn’t mean I need to speak at a time which will cause unnecessary offense, either.

Comments on this entry are closed.

cindy nelson May 8, 2010 at 8:04 am

You’ll write both books when you’re ready – and the Goodbye book is truly the story that needs to be told. Trust your gut to tell you when it is time to both write and publish.

Even though you’re feeling the post-existence feelings, experiencing what I call a “sea change” life event at your age will affect the rest of your life. You’ll always be able to differentiate what is important and what isn’t – something alot of people never learn.

Whenever you publish the books will be okay – because you’ll be able to articulate for others what they can’t put into words. Truly will be a gift from your heart.

Cynthia May 14, 2010 at 6:46 am

I think that you have thought through all the difficulties and problems with publishing before the time is right. There will be a time and place.

No matter when you decide to write either book though, it will still be gut-wrenching simply by the nature of the subject and its powerful influence in your life. Life during those three years was “like drinking from a fire hose.” That phrase alone struck me as so poignant that it almost took my breath away. But then that is the essence of good writing along with shinning a light on the deep recesses of unspoken fears, joys, hopes and dreams that reside in the human heart.

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