It’s the end of a busy week, but oh! What joy it has held. A few days before the anniversary of my mom’s death, I found out that a little book I wrote while in lockdown in Durban is going to be published. It’s called The Grief Handbook and it is a guide through the worst days of your life.
I don’t want to pretend I was one of those people who sailed through lockdown (haha) or relished all the extra family time (hahahaha). There were moments when I did, of course, but it was mostly exhausting and overwhelming.
That said, since the beginning of the year I had been percolating an idea, and being in a completely different physical space in Durban gave me the mental and emotional space to get it all down on paper.
A hand through the hardest days
One of the hardest things about the hardest days of grief was that I didn’t know where to turn for solace. A friend gave me a very sweet series of religious books, but I’m not religious so they didn’t really speak to me. I read every book on grief I could find, but they were either very dense and philosophical, or very specific: a young woman’s battle with cancer, a dad’s fight to stay alive, that kind of thing.
What I wanted – desperately – was something I could sink my teeth into. A book that would cast some light on the darkness, but also give me permission to feel shitty. Permission to rage and vent and vomit it all out on the page. But also, you know, help me through some of the awkward stuff, like how to talk to people and how to ask for help in a way that would actually help.
My writing plan
I started talking about the idea of creating this guidebook at the beginning of the year. Just with my dear friend Jess, who is also a writer, and only on voicenote. I literally did not tell one other person (except my husband, on our anniversary date). It felt like a sacred act: to get down in words what was undoubtedly the most emotionally disruptive year of my life. (Not the hardest! That honour still goes to the first year with two kids, as this blog will attest… Some of those posts are *dark*.)
My plan was foolproof: I had 5 days alone in Durban, after I checked my dad into hospital for his knee replacement surgery and before I flew home to Cape Town. I had taken leave from work and, aside from a hospital visit during visiting hours, would do nothing but write The Grief Handbook all day long!
The surprise twist
And then… COVID-19 hit. And my kids arrived at the end of day 1 of my glorious plan. Pretty funny, hey? But then we had six surprising weeks in Durban, weeks when I had chunks of silent space to write (on the weekends) and vast grassy space to draw out the more practical parts of the guide. Just like when I was growing up, I took solace in the back garden with a book and a pen. I wrote the reflections in my dad’s office, which I filled with plants, and only later realised my mom’s ashes were watching over me. (This still feels a little spooky.)
It was hard, and healing. I was back in the home where I had been my whole life with my mom – and where I had been when she died. Being able to put my experiences into words felt like cleaning out the wounds. Seeing what I had learnt from this heartbreak of a year felt like putting on a bandage.
A publishing deal!
I wrote a first draft that was very wise and not very personal, and a second that inserted a lot more of my raw personal experiences. I polished it over and over, and then sent it out into the Great Unknown, trusting that if it was meant to come to light, it would be published.
And then, wonder of wonders, I got a publishing offer! And this week I signed my contract with Watkins Publishing in the UK, a delightful publisher of mind, body, spirit and personal development books. I’ll be working on it with a total gem of an editor, and I feel so blessed and lucky that I have been able to bring something beautiful out of this heartache.