I knew writing about the death of my daughter would be painful.
“It’ll be like peeling off my skin one layer at a time,” I said to a writing mentor this past spring before beginning the project.
We were sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Worcester, Mass., for the annual New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference–children’s as in the audience I wanted to write for. A top New York editor had just sent me two pages of feedback on a middle-grade manuscript I’d written.
“This is really good,” my Newbery-Honor winning friend said, after scanning the editor’s encouraging comments. “So you are going to make the changes and have your agent re-submit this book to her, right?” she asked.
I sighed, wishing it were so simple, then handed her a copy of an article I’d written for The Boston Sunday Globe Magazine about my seven-year-old daughter Ruth, who’d died in her sleep the winter before.
“I want to keep writing for children,” I said. “But I don’t think I can. Ruth’s story is like a bird circling my head. I think the only way to make it go away is to write it.”
“Then, you know what you need to write,” she said.
And so I did, getting up at 4:00 a.m. most days throughout the spring, summer, and fall to finish the manuscript I’d begun several years before–about how Ruth been born in Uganda and abandoned at birth, how she’d been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and sent to Maine for physical therapy, and how my family fell in love with her and brought her back to Uganda to complete her adoption.
That’s where the original story ended. What remained to be written was how Ruth had defied all medical expectations only to succumb to a rare, undiagnosed condition one horrific winter night in 2011. That part–the part I’d do anything not to write–would cost me my skin. Yet, if sharing Ruth’s story would help other children like her, how could I not write it?
And so I did, turning away from my computer when the jagged words on the screen cut too deep.
I didn’t realize what a toll the book had taken until a favorite cousin and her family came to visit this past weekend. How had her children gotten so big? Had it really been more than a year since we’d seen them? Had I truly been so busy? Or just so morose?
Yesterday, as members of our small church shared memories and blessings from the past year, I wondered where mine had gone and quietly resolved to spend more time doing things I enjoyed, having friends over for dinner, taking weekend trips with the kids, making more room for fun and games.
“Small moments of happiness,” I said to myself as I went to sleep last night. “This year I will re-graft my skin with one small moment of happiness at a time.”
Hopefully, this will include putting smiles on the faces of more kids like Ruth.
“The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” II Corinthians 5:17.
What are your hopes and/or resolutions for the new year?