Another in a series of reviews of the things said to me upon the death of my daughter, this one likely more personal and less common.
“At least you’ll have something to write about.”
Never mind that this is exactly what I’m doing right now—writing about my experience—this is never a good thing to say to a grieving human (and I’ll admit I probably have said it to myself at least as many times as somebody has said it to me, but that is no excuse, and I feel no better about the bullshit I tell myself than the bullshit others tell me).
Grief is not a productivity tool. It is just as likely to turn you into a pile of rubble as it is to motivate you to write or do anything. When Grace died, I was in the middle of writing a humor book, for crying out loud. I still don’t know how I managed to make it through writing that damn thing. (Except I included parts of my grief in the book, which likely made it a better book, but didn’t help get me from point A to point B.) Every single day since my daughter died I have struggled with the question: “Why does this matter?” Maybe this makes me a better writer, but it sure as hell doesn’t make it any easier, and there are many days where I look at whatever it is I’ve written and answered myself this way: “It doesn’t matter at all—what a load of crap.”
I don’t want to write about my daughter. I recognize again that this is what I’m doing right now, but I’m doing it in part to pull the cobwebs away. I’ve got to write about something else, but there is too much of a mess inside my heart to write about anything but this today, so I’ll write about this. I’ll write it and show it around and then maybe I can move on. (Please just let me move on.)
My daughter was somebody. Never mind that she never took a breath outside her mother, that I never got to feel the living weight of her until I had first felt the deathly weight of her—she was somebody. I cannot think of her as just compost for my writing shrubbery. These thoughts make me want to look at words and say “enough of this—it’s too crass to exist.”
I know I’m over-analyzing. I’m turning one thing (you can write about this) into everything (congratulations on having a stillborn daughter because now you have something to write about). I know this is unfair. I know it’s unfair to myself and whoever might say it. But that’s one of the great problems with knowing how to approach another person’s grief; you may be dealing with someone so sensitive that a single whisper might shatter them. Or you may have no affect on them at all.
I don’t approach writing the same way as I did before Grace. I don’t think of it as my “art.” I further don’t think of it a “calling.” I don’t consider myself a “literary” author. It feels more craft now than magic—but no less important or fulfilling or even magical. (It’s fabulously fulfilling to allow myself these contradictions.) I’m thankful for every single person I’ve ever touched or made laugh. Sharing the things I’ve written is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. I’m not actually writing about Grace. I’m just trying to reach out to you and touch your lapel. To tell you it’s okay. To make amends for my absence. To be a part of the universe.
I can think of a thousand reasons I’ve said or heard the words “at least you’ll have something to write about,” and none of them are actually appropriate. Life isn’t simply fodder for whatever we want to write—though it’s unmistakably true that living is often what helps me connect with other humans.
Almost every terrible thing that has ever been said about my daughter is forgivable, insofar as the person speaking is doing exactly what I am doing now, reaching out and trying to connect. The mistake comes from trying to make the person feel a certain way—feel “better”—using nothing but common, everyday words, trying to put a positive spin on whatever’s happened.
Connect. That’s all. It’s enough.