When It Comes to Writing, Everything Old is New Again
I mentioned in a previous blog post that I was returning to the Friend Grief series. That doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my Fag Hags book. I have new, exciting plans related to that, so now would be a good time to sign up for my newsletter. In the meantime, I can tell you why and how I’m going back to the stories of people grieving their friends.
I finished the Friend Grief books in 2016, almost a year after I had started working on my next book. In doing so, I kept the promise I made to my friend Delle Chatman in 2006, to write a book about people grieving their friends. Despite the fact that I’d never written a book before, she was enthusiastic and supportive. Six months later she was dead.
She was not, however, out of my life. I frequently heard her voice and now and then, she’d make her presence known in a typically dramatic way. One of my favorites was when the linens on the ofrenda at our church mysteriously caught fire just before the start of a Mass for her birthday. In the past few months, I’ve felt her close to me again, but this time with more of a gentle nudge.
Since early in this pandemic, people have suggested I add another book to the series, this time about friends who died from this frightening new virus. I always said no. I had no interest in writing about grief again, but my excuse was that the stories I was hearing all sounded the same. That was true, until it wasn’t.
Late last summer, themes began to emerge in the stories people were telling about grieving their friends, themes that I found interesting. Within a couple months, I knew my objection no longer held. But I still resisted. I made a couple of vague comments to colleagues who were supportive, much more supportive than I expected. It began to weaken my resistance. So I brought it up with my therapist.
I wasn’t in therapy when I wrote the Friend Grief series, but I should have been. The stories I heard from people I interviewed as well as those I researched took a toll on me. “They’re not reading the phone book to you,” a friend observed. No, they weren’t. They were telling me about the pain of losing their best friend, and in the case of most of the men, describing it for the first time. I thought I was handling it all pretty well, that I was able to be objective. That was somewhat delusional. It took awhile for me to recognize all the ways I was affected. So when the series was done, I was relieved.
My therapist specializes in grief, so she understood my reluctance. It’s hard enough to handle our own grief, without taking on someone else’s. Why would I want to do that again, willingly?
So at the beginning of January, I started research for the book, with a working title of It’s Not Like They’re Family. It will be one book now, reworking the stories in the series, and adding more. Much of the new material will be about people whose friends died during this pandemic (whether or not from the virus). It will be published later this year.
I can’t do this alone, so I’m asking for help. These are the kinds of friend grief stories I’m looking for:
People working on the front lines (medical or not) who have lost colleagues.
People in the arts who have lost colleagues.
People who have created or participated in new kinds of rituals for honoring the friends who died, including but not limited to online memorials.
People who are long-term survivors in the AIDS community, who are confronting their second pandemic.
People who have been unable to share the grief of losing their friend because of in-person restrictions on funerals that are limited to immediate family.
People whose friend’s family did not notify them of the death.
People whose grief for their friends motivated them to make long-overdue changes in their lives.
If you or someone you know fits one of these categories, contact me with a brief description of your situation. I will respond with a list of questions for you to answer by March 28. Phone interviews are a possibility, too. Sharing your story does not guarantee inclusion in the book, but it may be used in a different format.
I’m grateful to have my therapist, as well as my amazing friends and colleagues to support me on this new/old project.
And I’m pretty sure Delle’s happy, too.