My mother died last week. She was eighty one, and had had an amazing life, and was getting frail, so it was a blessedly sudden and speedy release for her, but a terrible shock for the rest of us. Grief is a strange, exhausting business. It comes at you in waves over which you have no control. Every time you think are okay to stand up it knocks you down again. And again. The frequency of this reduces in time of course, but not always the intensity. I know that with my father, who died fifteen years ago, I can still feel the loss of him like a hammer-blow to the back of the head.
So I was somewhat taken aback when a well-meaning acquaintance to whom I had broken the news about Mum said: 'Oh but this is the sort of thing you write about all the time isn't it'. As if writing about Love and Loss (which, yes,I do) might somehow lessen the punch of such dramas when they occur in my 'real' life. I was kind to her. I swallowed my tears. I said I saw her point, but that writing about such things was like swimming, while experiencing them was like drowning.
Nora Ephron famously said of life's experiences that for a writer everything is 'grist to the mill'. Yes, it can be. But only after a process of fermentation and resurfacing and the protective, refracting prism of the imagination. In the meantime the tsunami of real life hits the writer as hard as the next person. Joy is joyous and pain hurts like fuck. The shock of loss renders the mind blank. On hearing that Mum was dying I couldn't even think how to open my front door.
Writing is tough. But nothing like as tough as the business of being alive.