I was sitting at my office desk last year at the start of the July 4th weekend when the call came in on my cell phone.
It was my best friend who told me.
My ex-sister-in-law, Erica, became my best friend about 30 years ago when she and my oldest brother Chris started dating. Even after she and Chris divorced, she remained my best friend, and is still my best friend to this day.
“He’s gone, Mindy.”
“What … what do you mean he’s gone?” My heart slammed against my rib cage, and my whole body started to shake.
“I went in to check on your brother,” Erica whispered, “and … he’s gone.”
I gasped, and immediately burst into tears. I shot up from my chair, but as soon as I stood, my knees buckled, and I grabbed the table to prevent myself from falling to the ground.
Then I ran. I ran outside to tell my husband who was getting ready to mow the yard.
“Gary!” I hollered as I ran toward him and held the cell phone in the air. I held it up high, like some sort of proof that what I was about to tell my husband was true.
“Chris died, Gary,” I said shaking my head as hot tears rolled down my cheeks. “Erica called, and he’s dead, Gary. My brother is dead.”
I got to thinking today about sharing in this Monday Musing post how writers decide to put Pain on the Page for two reasons: the loss of two brothers, and situations this week that bring those memories even closer to the surface than they are already.
The first brother who passed away was my husband’s older brother, and only sibling, Donnie, who died in a car wreck in 2010 on Christmas Eve. Two years earlier, Donnie, his wife, my husband, and I all went on vacation together to Las Vegas. This weekend my husband Gary left for a business trip – to Vegas. I know Gary’s heart will break when he passes areas in Nevada that we all visited on our trip there—this in turn makes me hurt.
Although the year-anniversary of my brother’s death is still more than a month away, I got to thinking about Chris—more than I already do—because this weekend is Memorial Day weekend. My brother was in the Army and National Guard, and proudly served his country for 19 years. He didn’t die while serving (he died after a four-year struggle of fighting complications from pancreatitis and diabetes), but he had no qualms about putting his life on the line every day he was on tour to protect Americans and our freedom. One prime example of this is he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal while in Iraq.
People who have lost someone close to them will never forget exactly what they were doing, where they were sitting or standing, or the impact the acute pain made the moment when the terrible news was relayed to them—or worse yet, when the event happened right in front of them.
It’s not just someone dying that enables us to remember so clearly the specifics of the moment; any circumstance that brought about grief always leaves this permanent imprint in your memory. For some people, losing a job, a best friend moving away, or betrayal by a family member could be types of events that are significant enough to cause the form of deep grief that would affect an individual’s recall of details in the same way as if she had lost a loved one.
So, everyone has experienced deep distress due to death or some other pivotal incident. We writers, though, almost always use that ache in a cathartic release, and that’s where Pain on the Page comes in.
Haven’t you ever wondered how a fiction writer can describe an emotional scene so well that you wipe tears from your own eyes? You clutch your own chest? And you react this way about characters and not real people?
It’s not because writers are “just so talented” they can create these scenes that have absolutely no inkling of something similar that once occurred in their own lives. I’m telling you, writers take all their pain from past experiences, and put it on page after page of their writing projects.
Although I would much rather never have to experience any kind of anguish at all, at least I can lessen the heartache some by putting my Pain on the Page. When you read my debut novel Love, Texas – Population 2, and you come to a scene where the hurt is palpable, remember this blog post, and know that although the book is fiction, the pain the characters experience is 100 percent real.