Last month, the phenomenal writer Sherman Alexie published a memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, about his life with and complicated grief over the loss of his mother. I heard him interviewed on Morning Edition on my way to teach 6 am yoga (I almost couldn’t get out of the car), then later on Fresh Air. His voice trembled and he broke tears both times. His struggle to make sense of her death felt so familiar. Yesterday, he published a letter explaining that he had to take a break from the book tour because he was reliving the pain of her loss night after night after night, in public.
He closes his letter with this:
So here I am—the son and the mother combined—who needs to take a big step back and do most of my grieving in private. My memoir is still out there for you to read. And, when I am strong enough, I will return to the road. I will return to the memoir. And I know I will have new stories to tell about my mother and her ghost. I will have more stories to tell about grief. And about forgiveness.
The son and the mother combined.
I have been working on my own memoir, the story of losing my mother. It’s interesting to me that Alexie feels he has finally internalized her now that she’s gone. For me, the grieving has been a process of separation, of extracting myself, my dreams, my desires from the confusing slush that was our complicated, entwined, life before… taking the me out of the us that I knew of as “me.”
Writing a memoir, especially about grieving, is a hard process of exploring the myths and realities of your own life, and sometimes re-categorizing them. You learn things about what you thought was true that move those experiences to the myth category. And you learn the deeper truth underneath the stories you used to tell. It’s an exercise in resistance, too… overcoming the resistance to face those things. For the past few months, I have not overcome that resistance. But things keep cycling back around… such as birthdays, mine and then hers.
So, this week while I’m on retreat, I shall return to my book. Dig back into the muck that was us, and see what kind of shiny me I can find in there.