Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
I missed you! Hope you’ve all been well since these last few months! As for me, much has happened in my life since my last post. Unfortunately, very little of it good. I know that this site is supposed to be strictly about middle grade books, so I might get fired or suspended for veering off course, but if you just bear with me, I’m going to alter things slightly…just this one time.
You see, a little over a month ago, my father passed away. He’d had cancer for years and deteriorated quickly over the past few months, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t bracing myself for a while, but even when it’s expected, it never makes it any easier. Shortly after that, my grandmother, my dad’s mother passed also. She was in her late 90’s with Alzheimer’s and didn’t know about my dad, so it wasn’t related, but still very freaky with the timing.
Now, needless to say, I have not been in the best of spirits. I try each day and am honestly mostly fine, but there is the occasional overwhelming feeling of grief, where you just don’t know what to do with yourself. So, that got me thinking a little. If I am having such a difficult time now, and I’m an adult, well, relatively speaking, how difficult would this be for kids? Thankfully, I didn’t have to go through this then, because who knows if I would have been strong enough. I mean, I know this happens every day to some kids, where they lose a parent, but how do they cope? How do adults cope even? Because, I have had a very rough time even accepting that it’s real. How does anyone get by this?
Usually, the thing that has always gotten me through any type of despair has been pouring myself into my writing, but for those who know me, you know I write humorous middle grade and it’s a very tough thing to get into a “Let me be funny now” mindset, when you can’t stop thinking about loss. Still, I have to admit, writing does help, because it lets me escape. That focus on writing “funny” helped force me to go to that place.
But, what do you do if you don’t have writing? I know some people read to escape also, and I did that also. I read A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck, and really enjoyed it. It takes place in the 1950’s and is about an eleven-year old boy named Jack Fair, who teams with legendary director, Alfred Hitchcock, to solve a mystery. I picked this book because I love Hitchcock movies and it made me think of my dad, because he loved them too and introduced me to them. My parents took me to see Rear Window as a kid and I was Spellbound (Another Hitchcock movie btw, so yay for me for doing that!). But anyway, combining those factors, A Hitch at the Fairmont, was a fun read and seemed perfect for my current mindset.
As a matter of fact, getting back to reading, I was originally going to make this post about books which dealt with the subject matter of coping with death or loss, but I just thought how utterly depressing for right now. Don’t get me wrong, I think those books are necessary and important for kids, but it just wasn’t what I needed to research right now.
Then, I thought about posting about uplifting books about the human spirit of going on and persevering in dark times. Triumphing over tragedy, but I figured that would reek of phoniness, since I am nowhere near triumphing over anything.
So, what this is, Mixed-Up Filers, is a question post really. How do all of you cope? What things do you do to get by in those times? Do you have favorite books to read? If so, what are they? Do you write? Anything?
I am very curious, because I have wondered a lot about kids in that situation. And don’t be shy. Even though, I didn’t want to write about good books which focused on dealing with death or sadness, doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about what some good books might be for that topic.
So, let me hear from you Mixed-Up Filers! And next time, I promise to be back in a totally middle-grade mood!
May, you have had a tough time lately. I am sorry you’ve had to go through this. I like some of these ideas, particularly nature walks and movies that make me cry. Fortunately for me, I haven’t suffered much loss in my life, so I don’t have much experience to draw on. I hope you feel better soon.
Be patient with yourself. Grief can take a ridiculously long time and I don’t think there are shortcuts. If writing’s not calling you now, I think that makes sense. I had to do a lot of things to just eat up the present tense time–it’s no way to live in a long-term way, but holy cow, it was all I could do. I was young enough (not a kid–24) that I wasn’t mad at myself for lack of productivity during that time,
I found some comfort in beloved books, when I had the concentration for them. But really, I just had to ride it out.
Riding it out is all you can do. Am writing. Push myself to get started, but once I do, I feel good in the moment.
Jonathan, such a genuine post. My brother died right as VIOLET RAINES was coming out. My dad died in 1996. I had promotional obligations, including a filmed interview with Scholastic and a contract to write another MG novel within a few months.
I knew my editor wanted humorous, but as you said, that wasn’t in me. Instead, I turned in a manuscript that met every point on my proposal yet caused my editor to tell me it was too effectively sad to publish after Violet.
I was so broken, lost weight, couldn’t sleep. My daughter later told me I looked frail and my skin was gray during that time.
Two things—maybe three—kept me from sinking during this long & grievous spiral: my husband left for Canada for three+ weeks so I had to attend to everything for my three young children. I still had to make sure they were on time for school, pack lunches, help with homework, and try to get everyone to their many after-school activities. That didn’t make the pain go away, but it did keep me from slipping away completely.
My mom had just lost her son; somehow, though, she recognized my condition. She came to my house and repainted some rooms so they’d look good for Scholastic. She cheered me on for anything I was able to accomplish. She kept me company when I could not be alone.
I couldn’t concentrate to read. I could barely stay in the house–too isolating. I walked trails, but I’d weep as I walked.
Comedy was already something I loved, but I really felt the value of it after my dad died. What a gift—alleviating people’s unknown burdens with humor. I felt it again after Chris died, but it took me a long time to get to the point where I could even watch TV.
You’ve had a hard year, Jonathan, and grief WILL color your work. That’s okay; this post you’ve written here is heartfelt and strikes a chord with people because it’s so honest. The writing will come back and there is still joy in this life. But mourning is truly a journey of finding your way back, not to the old you, but a new you.
Make strong efforts to be with your family, and spend time with friends who aren’t afraid of you (and your sorrow) and who don’t rattle off pat answers. If you can read, do it. And watch anything that lifts your spirit–days and nights as you heal.
Sorry for this long comment, and I’m going to let you finish, but I just have to say one thing: dog.
Definitely looking into a dog! It actually helps to write humor now. Changes my mindset. Forces me to think about something else.
I am sorry to hear this, too. I lost my sister two years ago, so I’m right there with Rosanne and you, Jonathan. I spent a lot of time gardening (which, granted, is not what most kids would want to do). I had to learn to take it one day at a time and not worry about planning out my weeks/months like I had done before my sister’s passing. I needed time to cope with everything, so learning it was okay not to push myself into a frenzy of activity was hard to do but so worth it.
As for children…
When I was young I lost my grandfather, who was by far my favorite person in the whole world. I remember spending a lot of time lost in memories of the times spent with him–the things he used to say, the interesting things he did, and the one-on-one time I had with him. The ache of missing him was hard to handle sometimes, though, so I found that getting swept away in a grand adventure or fantasy helped to set my thoughts and emotions aside for just a little while. And I talked about him with others who knew him…which was hard at first but got easier the more I did it. Acknowledging someone who is gone is hard for some kids.
That’s very true. This has been made easier by having tons of my father’s friends contact me to say what he meant to them. It was nice and comforting to hear.
Jonathan, I’m so sorry for your loss. My mother was killed in a car accident 2 years ago and I am still reeling in some ways. I’m hardly the model for successful coping. But yes to poetry, yes to getting outdoors every day.
This is a bit of a tangent too but at the bookstore we often get people in looking for a book for a grieving child and there are many lovely ones. We have a little section in parenting for just that issue. But I think those books work better if the child has read them or had them read aloud before a situation of grief comes to their life. In the actual throes of sorrow I think kids need a break and permission to laugh and tolerance for silliness. I tend to steer people toward the Mad Labs, and those really adorable joke books that National Geographic puts out.
Laughter is tonic for the soul. I’m glad you’re sticking with the humor writing. I bet your writing in time will gain depth and sharpness out of all this pain.
I agree about the humor necessity. Well, at least for me. I can’t do sad books or movies mostly, because that’d sink me. I need the humor outlet. I’m very sorry to hear about your mom.
Jonathan, I’m so sorry for your loss.
Being outside helps me a lot. Having a set routine for basic things (food, writing time, sleep) helped. (I had a lot of ‘wait. What am I supposed to be doing right now?’ moments – the routine was good.) I said no anything extra with less guilt. When I dove into a journal for 5 minutes every morning, my day worked better, even when I couldn’t see the page through the tears. As for reading: I was pulled into and able to concentrate on entirely different books from my usual fare – it’s as if the grief allowed a shifting neural pathway access. This was oddly comforting, too.
Wishing you peace through this journey.
Routine is good. Though, sometimes when I sit down to write, there are moments of just staring at the screen and thinking about other things and not being able to concentrate. It’ll get there, but slowly.
Sometimes I purposely read something I know will make me cry because I need to get the good cry out. Same with films. To Kill a Mockingbird is a good one to get the tears out. Or I’ll read or watch a biography of someone who has experienced a lot of challenges, and that inspires me.
I definitely watch films which I know will get to me. Watched the movie Little Boy right after. About a boy whose father is overseas in World War 2 and the boy thinks he has he power to bring him back and keeps trying, You can imagine how that went down with me 🙂
I’m so sorry for your l loss. Walks in nature are comforting, and so is reading poetry.
Love nature walks. Never was a poetry person, but I know so may who love reading it. I’m the world’s worst person for critiquing poetry, since the only thing I look for is if it rhymes nicely. 🙂