There’s Plenty of Grief to Spread Around

I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, trying to find a new way and new reason to write now that my life has been turned upside down. I never liked wasting my writing — I liked to think that whatever scene I wrote had a place in the story. Writing comes hard for me (even when I’m playing the quantity game rather than the quality one) so writing for writing’s sake was never on my agenda.

This month, though, is all about the words, so it doesn’t matter whether the scene works or not. It doesn’t even matter if I scrap most of the book. It’s important just to write something so that when it comes time to put the story together, I will have bits and pieces to work with.

I always knew the mother and daughter in my story didn’t get along. The mother needs someone who will argue with her, someone who has no sympathy for her grief. I’ve been assuming that the daughter found out about her mother’s cyber affair and accused the mother of being a hypocrite, and that is how I wrote the scene. Now I know that when it comes to grief, there’s enough strife to spread around, so I could probably leave the daughter in the dark about the affair.

Real mothers and daughters (not just storybook mothers and daughters) don’t see eye to eye when it comes to grief. Daughters often feel as if their mothers are carrying on too much, since grown children may come to terms with their loss easier than spouses do. Grown daughters often feel as if they’ve lost both parents when the mother becomes steeped in sorrow. Sometimes the conflict goes the other way, with the mother feeling estranged from the daughter especially if the daugher did not visit the sick father very often. (Not everyone can handle seeing a person dying slowly and in great agony and would prefer to remember the person as healthy and vital.) 

Grief should bring families together, but often it tears them apart. All that anger surfacing. The denial. The recriminations and guilt. Not everyone goes through the stages of grief in the same order. Nor do they go through them at the same time or with the same intensity.

With so much emotion to deal with, it does seem as if the daughter doesn’t need to know about the affair. In fact, I’d just as soon she didn’t come to visit her father while he was dying, at least not toward the end. A friend of the mother’s stopped calling too, which left her to deal with her dying husband without much of a support group. Which is why she had to find it online. Which is where she found her cyberlover.

If the daughter doesn’t know, though, I’m not sure how the mother will explain to the daughter why she’s taking off to meet the guy, but maybe the estrangement between the mother and daughter is such that no explanation is necessary. I’ll guess I’ll have to wait to see what happens when I finish the book.

Excerpt From My NaNo Novel

My grieving woman novel is taking shape. Amanda and her twenty-nine-year-old daughter Thalia are having problems that seem to antedate her husband’s death. I’m not sure why the daughter has such a problem with her mother, but perhaps we don’t need to know. It could just be more of the unfinished business the woman has to deal with.

In the scene I wrote today (keeping to my writing schedule, yay!), the daughter accuses her mother of hastily redoing her old bedroom:

“This doesn’t look at all like my room any more,” Thalia said. “There’s not a trace of me here. You could hardly wait to get rid of me.”

Amanda opened her mouth to reply, but for a few seconds, no words came out. She’d completely forgotten that when they first came to this parsonage, Thalia had been a sulky thirteen-year-old. Trying to put a smile on her daughter’s face, she’d promised Thalia she could decorate the room any way she wished. Amanda hadn’t expected pink paint and eyelet ruffles, but she’d been appalled by the black walls and red curtains that gave the impression of dripping blood. The posters of movie vampires and band members who looked as if they’d crawled out of a crypt seemed almost cheerful by comparison.

When Thalia went to college, David claimed the room for a den, but it had been Amanda who been cajoled into doing the work. “Shouldn’t we at least wait until Thalia’s out of college?” Amanda pleaded. For once, David had not been thinking of their daughter. “I need a place to work here in the house. We can put in a sofa bed. Thalia can use it during the summer.” But Thalia had never come back, and secretly Amanda had not blamed her.

“I wish this house were bigger,” Amanda said. “Then we could have kept your room for you.”

“Yeah, right.” Then, sounding like the little girl she had once been, she added, “couldn’t you have turned the parlor into Dad’s den? Nobody has a parlor and a living room anymore.”

“I wanted to, but Dad said he needed a place for receiving visitors. He always thought it was important to keep the living room for us, so we could have some privacy as a family.

“I’m glad he had a place to get away from you.”

Amanda flinched at her daughter’s words, but didn’t bother to correct them. When David had moved out of their shared bedroom into this room after his diagnosis, it had been to spare her his relentless pacing and allow her to sleep undisturbed, not to get away from her. Or so he said.

Could Thalia be right? Maybe he’d mentioned something to her that he wouldn’t say to Amanda. The two often excluded her from their conversations. She used to worry about feeling jealous of her daughter, but she hadn’t been jealous, not really. She’d liked that David and Thalia got along so well. She and her father had been virtual strangers.