Thursday, March 30, 2017

#SOL16: Writing a Memoir

original watercolor and mixed media painting
 & digital remix (M.A Reilly, March 2017)

I have begun to assemble, write and rewrite what I hope will be a memoir based on Rob's illness and death, and the grief process my son and I have come to know during the last 19 months. I spent most of last weekend assembling the first 350 pages--and these represent the time from the initial diagnosis in August 2015 through June 2016. For some odd reason, I find rereading the posts, emails, and other artifacts I have written and now assembled works best between the hours of 2 a.m. and 8 a.m.

There are two things I notice as I reread: Dev and I have come a good distance since last year. I had no idea when I started writing about Rob's illness, death, and our loss that this record would be so important--that I would forget so much.  As I read some of what I wrote a year ago, I didn't recall feeling so lost and bereft, yet because of the record, I had a written and visual record of the many things I was feeling and learning.

The second theme that seems to be emerging is that the definition of grief is not stable. What grief means and how it is expressed changes across time. It does not hold still.


During the next few weeks I will dig into the writing and see what through lines seem to be emerging--lines I can tug and use to shape the work. My goal is to write an honest account of what it has meant to travel on this journey: a woman in her mid-50s who was awoken by a phone call and learned that her beloved 60-year-old husband had lung cancer. I want to retell the six months of Rob's illness, his many fights to survive the three staph infections, the treatments, the long hospital stays, the drugs that confused him, and eventually his death. I want to show how all of that opened new sorrows sometimes too much to bear and possibilities.  I want to show how all of this affected our then just turned 17-year-old son and myself.  Mostly though, I want to write about the enduring power of love and how even that knowledge some days does not dull the hurt.

Now a single mom, a widow with a child finishing high school and off to college next year, I want to share how these last 19 months have (re)shaped me and him, requiring each of us to learn new definitions of bravery--the two most critical being: asking for help and claiming responsibility for our lives.


  1. Mary Ann, I am glad that you are turning your inner challenge with grief into a memoir. Your journey has been a difficult one but one that has led you to discover the truths of journeying alone. I look forward to hearing more about this new venture for you. I hope you consider adding your own artwork to capture your transition over time. What was it that Rob said? - lead a beautiful life

  2. Oh boy! I am with you through this......I understand......I too in my 50's with eight kids (one still in high school) husband had just turned 62. We had no idea that he was dying. None. Until the very end. I want to read we are forever changed and continually evolving in accepting our loss.

  3. I am so glad that you are writing and sharing. There are many of us grieving who need your resource. While my story of loss is different, I hope to some day be able to share my writing as I know I too am not alone...although from 3-8 AM it seems as if we are.

  4. I know that first the writing is for you and your son, but it will offer many others a friend in the days of sorrow and change, Mary Ann. I hope that your journey will be shared through publication. It will be valued, as it has been this month. Best wishes!

  5. I have yet to take that on. I'm going to follow you 😍

  6. It makes perfect sense that you write this book. I know you will help countless people through your honest reflecting on your experiences and on all you are learning. I've told you many times, nobody I read challenges or inspire me the way you do, and I know that a book will have an even greater reach, a wider influence on so many lives. Many thanks for all you continue to share. I think of you every day, wishing you peace and hope.

  7. Thank goodness you are writing a book! With every post I read, I think, This is a book. She needs to write a book. I want to read this book.

    1. Thank you Elizabeth for your encouragement. Means a lot.


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