Before Izzy left, I’d heard the phrase, “Throw yourself into your work.” Of course, I had, but it was in books and movies where the mom was a mess and the dad “threw himself into his work.” But I didn’t know that experience of flinging oneself into a project in order to keep your mind occupied and away from drowning in grief was really a thing.
When I write a novel, that phenomena is always in play to a certain extent anyway. I become focused on the world, the words, the characters… My brain is wholly occupied by the story. Now, in the After, writing isn’t only my career, it’s become a survival mechanism.
When someone you love dies, and especially if that someone is your 10-year-old daughter, the first order of business is survival. To put as many days between yourself and the loss, so that one day, you wake up from your shock and three months have gone by. (That’s how long the actual shock lasted; three months. I still went to book signings, went out in public, etc, because–I realize now–I was in a mild state of shock that where the underlying principle was KEEP GOING, NOTHING TO SEE HERE )
And survival is the order of the day. When Izzy first left I wanted to go with her. That morphed into “Well, this is fucking awful but thank god I’ll be dead soon.” Which became, “I’ll be dead soon, but in the meanwhile, I need to do something with this life to make her proud and make sure Talia’s life is beautiful.” That further morphed into “Make something of this life for Izzy, for Talia, and for yourself” (though on really bad days, the idea that I won’t be here without her forever is still a huge comfort.)
So if I were to tell someone who has newly been put into my position a piece of advice, it would be to get through the days. That’s it. That’s your entire job. And I would sincerely hope that there is a support system in place to allow you to do that. And if not, you can throw yourself into your work.
Writing a novel, or going to a book signing, or traveling is me throwing myself into my work. I am fully capable of signing books and smiling and having dinner and functioning like a ‘normal’ human being, (with the occasional bursts of sudden tears, like sudden squalls). But there is a catch. Without fail, the signing ends, the book is out, the trip is over, and every bit of the pain I wasn’t allowing my brain to dwell on, comes roaring back and there’s a crash. Usually a bad one, though they have improved over time. My mind is able to compartmentalize like a mofo, so that many people would have never have guessed, even in the early months, that I was a newly grieving mom.
That, as you can imagine, led me to endless months of me questioning myself as said mom. How can I be this okay? How can I travel? How can I write a book? Write a book? How can I get out of bed? What the fuck is wrong with me?
For MONTHS I struggled with this on a daily basis, and now I do when I’m in the throes of work. I question how, despite the compartmentalization, I’m this okay. It has taken me long months for the graces and serendipities of this experience, the signs from Izzy, the plan that is clearly in place, to sink in as being real and not just an amazing story of coincidences.
But moreover, I learned to take my days.
I learned that no matter how “okay” I feel, the bad shit is coming. It’s still there. Being in the throes of my work–and being legitimately excited about it; being authentically happy to talk to my readers is not the same thing as not caring that Izzy is gone. This seems like a simple concept, but when the chasm of loss is so deep and so wide as the loss of a child, it is very easy to question one’s sanity in every aspect.
There is covering up and not facing things, of course. That’s another tightrope to walk, and no, I have not watched a video of Izzy taken recently or close to when she passed in more than a year. So there’s that. But there is something to be said for surviving by any means necessary. When a thought that I’m “too okay” comes, especially during this last novel cycle, I remind myself to “take my days.” Take the good days and run. Have them. Be in them. Because the crash is coming. The grief is going nowhere. The ways in which to manage it, and growing the time between her death and now are the only variables.
And by taking my good days and not staining them with guilt, when the bad days come, I am a little stronger than I was before. I put a little more space between the agony of her departure and today. None of that closes the chasm, but adds another plank on the rickety bridge across it.