Writing during times of turmoil

Etta 1
My mother-in-law and my daughter

We all have times of crisis in our lives. Mine is happening now. In two weeks, the one-day writers’ conference that I’ve been planning since last July takes place in Selma, North Carolina. I’ve worked events before, and those last two weeks before D-day are critical. The slightest mistakes can throw a wrench in the whole works. I’ve been dealing with everything from getting a key to the venue in hand to making the road trip to Raleigh to pick up the book talk author’s books and the square reader instructions. The day itself will go fast. The success comes from the prep and follow-up.

Then my 87-year-old mother-in-law in Virginia fell. Now, suddenly, I am deployed as her durable power of attorney and in charge of all her paperwork and moving her into assisted living – in the next three weeks! I’m getting ready to make my third trip to Virginia to pare six rooms of an independent living apartment into a one-room studio apartment. All of it is sentimental stuff that means a lot to her, and sends me back into the traumatic stress of the death of her son – my first husband – 20 years ago. I am emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted.

So into my email this morning pops Sheree K. Nielsen’s blog post, “Turning Lemons into Lemonade – Writing Through Life’s Storms.” Her post is on Suite T, Southern Writers Magazine’s blog, and it is worth a read, as is the link to the poem she wrote while undergoing medical treatment.

Like Sheree, I have not stopped writing during this crisis. Every day I write three morning pages, and I even finished a piece of creative nonfiction on another topic and submitted it to the North Carolina Literary Review before the April 1 deadline. There’s no time, but I make time, because I feel compelled to write.

I write down the details of what I see and sense around me, and what I am experiencing. My mother-in-law’s neighbor, Judy, gave me the best advice, based on a strong faith we both share: Don’t see this as an insurmountable task – we all have aging parents that we help through transitions in their lives, and the bright side is that she is recovering from the fall, and the fall revealed what we’ve known for more than a year now — she needs more assistance.  The emotions that surface are turbulent, but look at this as an opportunity for my daughter, myself, and my mother-in-law to bond as women, facing a challenge together. Sharing her faith has made all the difference in the world. The writer’s conference will come and go. This moment with my mother-in-law will last the rest of our lives.

I know the details that I am capturing in my morning pages will turn into a poem or prose piece in the future. It isn’t easy to write when you are worried and exhausted, but I’ve found this is the time when my senses are most active. I see the elders having their hair done in the health center hair salon, and how important that is to their well being. I see the humor in finding the countless things she has squirreled away in her apartment to protect them, as she protected her husband and her son when they were alive. I see the strength in my adult daughter as she leads our task, working tirelessly to move items despite a sore back, and then taking time to buy a bouquet of flowers from the nearby Kroger. I watch as she borrows a scissors from the nurse’s station, snips off their stems, puts them in a vase of fresh water and places them where her grandmother can see them, then kneels down for a quick photo before we have to say goodbye – until the next trip.

Write. Even in the toughest times.  Write.

Etta 2 Etta 3

 

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