Friday, July 26, 2013

Gloom, Despair, & Agony on Me: Trading the Pathos for Prose

It's been a rough year and a half.

Some of you out there know what has been going on with the Kelly household for a while now, while others may have no idea at all. So it's time to exorcise the demons, so to speak. It's time to reflect upon the past eighteen months and try to make some sort of sense out of this long journey of darkness and despair that I -- and my family -- have recently taken.

The unanswered emails, the missed deadlines, unmailed books and stories, unwritten fiction, the utter lack of communication; all of it comes down to one word. One black and gloomy word that carries the very weight of the world upon its narrow and trembling shoulders.


Between February of 2012 and June of 2013, we have seen the deaths of four close family members. It began with the loss of our sister-in-law, Debbie, who succumbed to a long illness, then continued with the death of my father, Robert, who passed away after many debilitating years with Alzhiemer's Disease. Those two deaths alone were enough to drag the spirits of my family to the depths of despair (yes, I know that's an overused and somewhat corny term, but when you're experiencing it, it fits like a well-worn glove). Then in October, my father-in-law, Carroll, suffered a massive stroke and died a month later. A short reprieve of emotional healing followed before we were hit hard again with the unexpected death of my wife's young cousin, Heather, who had just given birth to twins -- a boy and a girl -- at the age of 26. After her return home from the hospital, Heather put the babies down for a nap one morning, laid down for one herself, and never woke up.

So, you see, we no more came to terms with one death, before being hit with the sledgehammer force of another. This would be difficult for one person to deal with -- even a person of faith like myself -- but when the entire family shares the grief equally, it can be devestating. You can be brave, put your trust in God, and carry on, and folks will say "They're taking it remarkably well. I'm not sure I could have handled it if I were in their shoes." What they see is the courageous front, strong and seemingly at peace with the situation. What they don't see is the tender underbelly of pain and grief lying underneath. The tears, the doubts, the fears, the awful anger... directed toward Old Man Death and, yes, admittedly and shamefully, toward the very Lord Himself.

People deal with grief in different ways. My way is a strange sort of apathy. I grow depressed, lazy, and tend to procrastinate. This is what happened  to yours truly as the visits to the funeral home grew more frequent and standing, grave-side, at the cemeteries grew more and more unbearable. I concentrated on my family's emotional well being and spent less and less time on my writing. Manuscripts became overdue, ordered books gathered dust on my desk, signed, but unshipped. My desire to even write at all dwindled from a brilliant flame to a lukewarm ember. The Beneath the Bed fund-raising story -- that helped finance my daughter Reilly's trip to Europe -- should have been mailed out months ago, but instead lay in a stack, printed but unsigned. My friends and fans, editors and publishers, first grew concerned, then gradually grew irritated at my blatant disregard and inactivity. I found myself sitting down before the computer monitor, fingers poised above the keyboard, staring dumbly at a blank screen, uninspired. Sometimes I would write a paragraph or two, or if I was lucky, a complete page. Then I would save the literary pittance I had managed to produce and turn the Word document off, only to waste precious time on Facebook and Twitter, which, for some odd reason, gave me comfort and occupied, and diverted, my troubled thoughts.

Yes, grief is so powerful that it takes hold of one of your greatest and most profound joys and lays it gray and shallow at your feet, to be neglected and trod upon. Life is a fragile thing and, at the loss of such, things like promised stories and manuscipt deadlines seem insignificant in comparison. Questions such as "Who will be next?" and "Will my children suffer and want in the event of my death?" come uncomfortably to mind, particularly in the dead of night.

Luckily, my faith in God carried me through those dark months, as it did my wife and three children. We believe in Heaven and know that our loved ones; the four we recently lost -- as well as my mother and grandparents, who passed on years before -- will be there in joyful reunion when our time comes to leave this mortal world.

I'm back at work now, picking up the pieces, trying to glue them back into some semblance of an ongoing writing career. It was difficult at first, getting back into the swing of things, but it grows easier and better every day. Stories are reaching completion, manuscripts are landing on the publisher's desks, and books and stories that folks paid good money for are gradually making their way to the post office. For those who waited, thanks for your patience and your understanding. For those of you who were impatient and sometimes cruel, I find no fault in you, for I know you believe that your reactions were justified... and perhaps rightly so.

The Southern-fried horror skillet is back out of the cupboard and on the blazing eye of the stove once again, cooking new tales of darkness and suspense for your literary supper plate. I've always tended to use my life experiences to fortify and season my fiction, and I'm certain that these past months of grieving and soul-searching will eventually prove to serve me, and you, the reader, in the same manner. In time, they will make it into your anxious hands, beneath your reading lamp, and upon your book shelf, where sadness and woe evolves, Phoenix-like, into the written word... and pathos transforms into prose.


Anonymous said...

Grief is a rust that grows inside of us all.

This last year I found out my youngest brother was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. My younger sister was likewise fighting cancer - and my older sister had a couple of heart attacks.

Everyone is fine now - but for about half a year I was out of step. That's the only word to describe it. My reaction time was down. Deadlines were impossible, e-mails were forgotten, crap that needed to get done kept piling up on my table.

As I said - my story was happier than yours. My brother is in remission. My younger sister has beat her cancer as well. My older sister is hanging in there - but just worrying about other people - or worse yet, grieving for them as you have done.

Best thing to do is exactly what you're doing. At the end of the day those who have passed would not want to look down and see you slumped in grief. Your happiness and continued creativity is the single best memorial that you can construct.

Lay that skillet on the fire with a vengeance. Throw in your tears and grief, your bandages and your scars and your wounds. Let it sit and simmer and serve it up hot.

It is a truth to remember.

We beat the reaper with our muse - whatever it might be. A carpenter will leave houses behind - homes that people will live in.

A storyteller - such as yourself - will leave a thousand tales that will outlive grief and death and the ache of the grave for as long as folks have eyes to read.

Good to see you back up on that horse.

Ronald Kelly said...

It's good to hear from you again, old friend. And thank you for your encouraging comments. Very well said and taken to heart. We storytellers are survivors, both in life and in the writing business. I know we both have weathered storms in the past; your words will help give me that extra push when I need it. Thanks.