Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Personal Experience with Grief and Acceptance

To be completely honest, I have not created a blog in such a long time that I'm almost embarrassed to create one now. I even had a challenge remembering my log in credentials so that I could access my blog, but I guess when one is determined, one does what one must.

Life sometimes throws curveballs at us—some we can see by glancing far down the field and seeing that the pitcher is warming up, and others that you cannot anticipate because the speculation is so dark and terrible that you don't want to go there, not even in your imagination.

The loss of loved ones and the accompanying grief is terrible for most of us. In the last few years, I've had a couple of curveballs thrown at me: one I saw coming (the death of an aging parent), and one that embodied a scenario I could not have anticipated. I lost my Mom on New Years' Day in 2015 after a short illness and a blessedly long happy life. Prior to that, my only sister and best friend Christina went through all the terrors that can consume the life of a person afflicted with diabetes, from amputation to kidney failure to a year and a half in a nursing home where she had to learn to accept that she would not ever be well enough to come home.

It's very sobering to watch a beloved sibling who is still years away from an acceptable retirement age be forced to exchange a job she loved for a meager disability income and a bed in a facility where she first entered as a patient in the rehabilitation wing but drew her last breath in the hospice ward of the same facility.

Chris had always had a sort of cavalier attitude about being a diabetic. She didn't follow her doctor's advice and she played Russian roulette with her medications. After things had progressed to the point where she lost her left leg to the disease, I remember her telling me (still in that same calm manner she always had) that what was happening to her was her own fault because she had ignored all advice with the foolish assumption that she would somehow be exempt from the complications of the disease. She said she hoped people who knew her and were also diabetic would take the lesson to heart.

Chris passed away on July 9th, 2012 and I have her ashes sitting in a beautiful container on top of the entertainment center in my living room. She loved all forms of entertainment: music, movies, books, video games…you name it, so I feel her place of honor there is appropriate.

Now that I've brought up books (see how slyly I slipped in that reference?), one of the things Chris loved most was reading books. Especially ones written by her "little" sister Lisa Marie (yours truly). Chris was an endless source of inspiration because when I'd give her a chapter of my WIP to read, she'd always be so lavish in her praise and enthusiasm that I'd work twice as hard to deliver that next installment knowing my greatest "fan" was waiting to read it.

Her enthusiasm drove me forward and I'd published two award-winning, historical romance novels by the time her health began to fail. I had started on a third novel, entitled "The Red Parrot" and Chris had read the first few chapters and declared it my best work so far. When she passed away, my interest in finishing the book faded, and it has taken me time and reflection to realize that she had always provided the greatest incentive to me to keep writing. I had to hurry up and finish the chapter because Chris wanted to know what happened next!

So, I'm writing this blog now because I'm working on The Red Parrot again, and I have some news to share that would have thrilled my sister. The writing is going slow, but the urge to finish the story has returned, and in recent months I've started entering portions of the work in various writing competitions that offer judge feedback from editors, agents, and other published authors. My goal was to enter a few of the higher profile contests where the competition is fierce but the feedback is useful because I was curious to learn how the story would be received.

I've had calls this week from the Georgia RWA Maggie Award of Excellence contest coordinator and from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest informing me that my entry is a finalist in both competitions.

Prior to this latest news, The Red Parrot had finaled and/or won in several other competitions:

The West Houston RWA Emily

MORWA Gateway to the Best

Windy City RWA Four Seasons Contest

I can picture Chris giving me a thumbs-up and a proud "You go, girl!" and I think it's a healthy step forward to realize that grief does not have a beginning and an end. It is always going to be a living thing inside me, tamed by the embrace of those precious memories that will always be with me.

Grief  is not something that comes with a recovery period, it is more a matter of adapting and accepting how it has changed us and given us a new appreciation for the people who once enriched our lives and continue to do so when we remember them.

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