When your husband dies — or anyone whose death hurls you into a leftover life you could never have imagined — friends give you books. They mean well. Both the friends and the books. Many of these books have familiar names; they have spent time on best seller lists with their catchy titles promising a way out of the pit, or more audaciously, an opportunity for growth. I didn’t want to grow. I wanted to build a time machine.
When my husband died, I received these books. Piles of them. I cracked each one, starved for ten simple steps I knew I could not believe in, starved for hope, starved for magic. I found none of these. I did not want platitudes, even if they were served up in delightful alliteration. So I began to search for something else: the simple, honest reflection of my own experience. An in-the-trenches account. I guess I wanted to know whether or not I was losing my mind... not that I much cared, but it would have taken the edge off to discover that even if I was, I was not alone.
That’s how this book began. I had kept notes during my husband’s eleven month war against cancer — only because giving words to what was happening to him, to me, to us, quelled the panic a bit. I convinced myself that where happy endings are concerned: if I wrote it, it would come.
It did not. Instead, we got the story of AfterImage. So that is what I wrote.
Grief is both complicated and excruciatingly simple. It demands enormous energy when you least have it. It fractures your experience of everyday life. I am sitting across the dinner table from a friend, but what I am really doing is grieving. I am watching a movie, but what I am really doing is grieving. I am breathing, but what I am really doing is grieving. Writing AfterImage gave me time to be all in one place — body and mind together at the keyboard — and that was a relief, no matter how horrible a place it was.
So... I can say that I wrote AfterImage because of the gap on the shelf of books in my den where my heart lay. Because I thought there must be a similar gap on other people’s shelves as well. And that is true. But mostly, I wrote it to save my life.