Thursday, November 11, 2021

I'm Good at Titles. But this time, I'll defer to the Queen.

In a 1992 speech, England’s Queen Elizabeth II characterized a year filled with turmoil for her and her family: “…it has turned out to be an 'Annus Horribilis'.” 

Can I just say, about the last 12 months for me and my family: Ditto.

Let’s get this over with quickly: One year ago this month, we lost my mother-in-law (at age 100). Later that day—Friday the 13th if anyone is keeping track—something quite upsetting befell one of my kids, who was 200 miles from home, alone. (It’s not my story to tell, so I won’t, except to say: who mistreats a person when they’ve just confided they lost a beloved grandmother that morning?). That Monday, I landed in the hospital for five days with a nasty case of pancreatitis, Zoom-watched the funeral, and had gall bladder removal surgery. A few days after I arrived back home, my other kid spent Thanksgiving Day in the hospital, 100 miles from home, alone. The next day his car died on the NJ Turnpike.

My husband Frank and I have been married for 33 years, and I had never seen him more beaten down and frightened as when he dropped me at the door to the Emergency Room. This was eight months into the Covid pandemic; we live in crowded New Jersey, in the county with, at the time, the highest Covid infection rate. Alone was the watchword for every family experience that month: grief, fear, pain, the unknown. Alone in the ER, the hospital rooms, alone without a wake or normal funeral, our kids alone far away dealing with their problems alone.

Last week over dinner, the four of us (three at home, one via Skype), recalled how difficult last November was for us individually and as a family—and that the difficulties didn’t end then. From last December through this October—individually and/or collectively—we’ve weathered break-ups, college career derailments. Jobs were lost, teaching gigs disappeared. Clients, facing their own difficulties, cancelled. My husband’s business wobbled; our finances strained. For more than one of us, there have been more/other surgeries and health challenges and injuries.

Have you noticed yet that this blog post—my first in more than a year when I haven't featured a guest blogger—is not about writing?

Or maybe it’s all about writing. In the middle of all that muck, I reluctantly, and probably permanently, put aside a developing memoir manuscript on a beloved topic. I sadly turned down some memoir manuscript editing projects I knew would require more of me emotionally than I could, at the time, give them.

I nearly stopped writing altogether. I did stop writing for a long while.

And me, the writing coach, editor, and writing teacher who typically counsels any clients and students who are worried they’ll never write again, “Be kind to yourself,” could only hear a mental loop about what a lazy writer I was—for not writing as my life lurched from one crisis or emotionally, physically, and financially debilitating situation to the next.

I am trying now to be kind to myself. It’s not easy. Yes, the writing is there, waiting, and yes, I’m making eyes at it again.

The easy analysis would be, as Nora Ephron, once advised, for those of us who write nonfiction about real life: “It’s all copy someday.” Maybe. But it’s not easy copy. At least not yet.

Yet, we’ve all come through. Me, my beloved husband of 33 years, our two adult sons—we are all okay, together, close, healthy (or nearly so). Frank reinvented his business. My ankle is healing, finally and very slowly, after the worst injury in a life already plagued with constant ankle injuries. Hearts are whole, bodies (mostly) healed. Sometimes, money solves problems: a new car relieves worry, new (ankle-friendly) shoes make everyday routines secure. Sometimes (more often), people do: a wondrous new physical therapist, a son who realized what Frank’s business needed and then did it, everyone focusing on doing rather than complaining.

Sometimes, the old chestnut proves itself: time heals, or at least allows us the time needed to move along, move on, move toward or away from people, situations, emotions.

I may never write about any of it beyond this back-to-the-blog post. I may, like the Queen, simply slap the annus horribilis label on it and watch as it moves away in the rearview mirror, as I, we move… 


Images: Flickr/CreativeCommons - Queen (Mags); Jacket (Sajith TS); Hurricane (NASA Goddard Space Flight); Sunrise (Andre W).