A couple weeks ago, I attended a co-worker’s funeral. She was only eight years older than myself, and both her parents survived her. I think that was the most upsetting part.
The day before, my co-workers and I attended the visitation, and one of the most beautiful parts of this tragedy was the line out the door: friends, fellow graduates, co-workers, church family, etc. It was heartening to see the community gather like this. And standing in that line brought me to tears several times. And sometimes, I feared reaching the head of the line because I had no idea what to say to her family. And I didn’t say anything. I hugged her mother and cried with them, but I found myself in the position that so many writers fear: devoid of words.
Except I wasn’t. I went out the same night and bought a notebook. Because I could feel words zipping through me like a short circuit. This was the third time I saw a mother bury her child. The last time, it was a thirteen year old killed in a car accident. When I found out, I wrote for an hour or so and ended up with a 700+ word long document which has since fed several poems and stories.
Death is actually one of my favorite topics in fiction. I’ve written numerous stories about survivors and grim reapers. After hearing a story I wrote about a boy who “works for death,” a friend recommended me Mort by Terry Pratchett. I adore Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and The Book Thief. Bridge to Terebithia and Pan’s Labyrinth are two of my favorite films. I’ve even looked into connections between death and Peter Pan.
So if I write about death all the time, why is it so hard to speak about when confronted with it in real life? On the way to the visitation, my co-worker observed that everyone at work seemed more on edge than the previous year, and I pointed out it likely had to do with all of us dwelling on the death and saying nothing about it, perhaps because we don’t know what to say. Or perhaps because we don’t know how to say it.