Saturday, May 12, 2018

On Grief, Guilt, and Not Writing

I know I'm probably the most inconsistent blogger in the universe. New Year's resolutions aren't really my thing, but this year I made several writing-related goals for myself. One of which was to post once a week to this blog. So far, nada. I haven't been able to get my act together before now. Mother's Day seemed an appropriate time to change that.

The main reason I haven't posted is because I knew I had to write this post and I knew writing it was going to be excruciating on a number of levels. I've started and stopped writing it too many times to count. Next to procrastination, avoidance is one of my favorite pastimes. But the only way to try to get over this is to get through it, so here I go.

On Christmas Eve 2015, my mother passed away. She'd had numerous health problems for a long time—primarily diabetes and heart disease. So her health had been declining for a while, but she was really bad the last couple of years.

My parents had tried to have other children, but one of my mother's health issues made it necessary for her to have a complete hysterectomy when she was in her early thirties. I was about ten at the time. So, as an only child, I was very close to my mother. We were more like sisters in a lot of ways. People always commented about how much we looked alike. But where I was quiet, reserved, and introverted, Mom was outgoing, vivacious, and bold. She was the cool mom and active in many of my school functions.

It was heartbreaking to watch my vibrant mother be sidelined by illness, especially knowing how much she hated not being able to do everything she wanted to do. Between pain from diabetic neuropathy and weakness from heart disease, she had to curtail many of the things she loved to do. To the point that I needed to be her primary caretaker while my father was at work.

In the last couple of years of her life, she really had to have someone with her at all times. Her blood sugar levels crashed unpredictably, she was unsteady on her feet, and she was on painkillers that left her incoherent and sometimes caused hallucinations. Although I didn't want her to be in pain, I was very concerned about what the pain medicine was doing to her.

She wasn't abusing the medication; she was actually taking less then what the doctors prescribed, but she seemed to be declining rapidly. She could barely walk towards the end and had several bad falls despite our best efforts. She was seeing doctors regularly and had been to the hospital a couple of times, because of the falls.

In the weeks before her death, I was increasingly worried that something was seriously wrong, because she was quite obviously retaining a lot of water. I brought it up numerous times, but it wasn't ever pursued to my satisfaction and my mother refused to push the issue. Understandably, she hated going to doctors, hospitals, and being subjected to one test after another. She just wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible.

As often happens with adult children and their aging parents, our roles became reversed and neither of us dealt with it very well. I resented that she wasn't taking my concerns seriously and, shamefully, I felt like she was just giving up. My mother hated being so dependent and became very irritated when I took charge. Things always had to be her way and me questioning her, suggesting what I thought were better solutions, or being pushy about doing things my way didn't sit well with Mom.

Stubbornness is a trait we both shared, so in those last few weeks we were butting heads a lot—something I deeply regret to this day. However, when push came to shove, I tended to let things go to keep the peace—which is an even greater source of regret. Maybe if I'd been pushier, stood my ground, been a bigger bitch, they would have caught the problem sooner and she'd still be alive.

The Friday before Christmas, I went to wake her up to get her ready for a doctor's appointment. She was hard to rouse and incoherent. I persisted trying to get her to wake up, but when she talked she wasn't making any sense. She had this slight smile, though, so at first I thought she was messy around with me. Mom had a wicked sense of humor. But I wasn't sure, so I threatened to get my father to take her to the hospital.

Like I said, she hated going to the hospital, so if anything could snap her out of it that should have. But all I could make out was, "No hospital." Nothing else made sense. So I got my father who had been working in his office. When he came, he didn't have any luck getting her coherent either, so we called an ambulance.

It turned out that she was suffering from sepsis, a severe blood infection, and she was put in the ICU. To this day, we still don't know what initially caused the infection. But I suspect the pain medicine concealed the symptoms of an infection until it was too far along. Initially, they thought that she would recover with treatment. They were even planning to send her to a rehabilitation facility to try to get her walking more stably.

Unfortunately, the day before Christmas, her organs started shutting down. We were told there was nothing more they could do for her, but make her comfortable. She died the next day.

Needless to say, my grief and guilt were acute.

Grief, because I lost my mother, my best friend. I'd never talk her again. Never be embarrassed by some ribald comment she made in public. Never laugh together at some silly rom-com or make snarky comments about some notable figure's stupidity. She wouldn't be there to share in my successes. I wouldn't have her shoulder to cry on when life was fucking unfair. And she wouldn't be there to kick my ass and tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself, to tear it up and let it go.

Guilt, because our relationship had been somewhat strained in her last weeks because of my pushiness. And because I didn't do more to keep her alive. I know it's egotistical to think I could've stopped her from dying when she did. But the idea that if I'd been more persistent, she could have lived months, years longer, still eats away at me sometimes. I know she'd be pissed at me for that too.

Some of you might be wondering what all this has to do with me not writing. After all, writers throughout history have channeled their pain, grief, sadness, depression, and every other negative human emotion, into brilliant masterpieces. That's kind of hard to do when you write romance and erotica—at least it is for me. Yes, I could have tried writing another genre, but I didn't. Staring at the blank computer screen and that annoying, incessantly flashing cursor just gave my mind the opportunity to go down dark paths better left unexplored.

So I avoided the problem altogether. I filled my days with unimportant busy work. I cooked, I cleaned, I did the laundry, I reorganized my closet, and so on. I lost myself in books, TV shows, and movies—only romances or comedies, so I was guaranteed a happy ending. I even played video games.

I avoided my computer for days, weeks at a time. I didn't even write reviews for all the books I was reading, which I also felt guilty about. As a writer, I know how important reviews are for sales. I pledged to myself that I'd eventually go back and write reviews for all those books I enjoyed and helped me escape my misery.

What changed, you ask? Well, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) came around again. The first time I got up the nerve to try NaNoWriMo was the November before my mother died. Even with everything that was going on, I still nearly managed to meet the fifty-thousand word goal. In the wake of my mother's death, that book went unfinished.

With NaNoWriMo 2016 quickly approaching, I decided to put on my big-girl panties, picked something from my idea file, and went to work. I think the breakneck pace and "don't think about it, just write" approach to NaNoWriMo greatly helped and I completed the fifty-thousand-words-in-thirty-days challenge.

Then on December 1st, with the book still unfished, I stopped writing. I'm sure you're wondering why? I was on a roll; I should have just finished the damn book, right? I've asked myself that question numerous times. Even though I was always great at starting things, but not so great at finishing them, it is much worse now.

After a lot of introspection, I think it's self-sabotage because of guilt. I know, there's that nasty word again. See, I suddenly had a lot of time of my hands to spend on writing. And the reason I had that time was because I was no longer taking care of my mother. I'm sure you can guess where I'm going with this.

Of course, my mother would be madder than hell that I was using her death as an excuse for not writing. I can hear her in my head berating me about wasting my talent and letting opportunities pass me by.

It's not that I haven't tried. I've kept an eye on calls for submissions, trying to think up ideas for them, even starting stories I'm excited about. But inevitably, the self-doubt starts creeping in—this sucks, I suck, no one's going to want to read this, it's the stupidest idea ever, and so forth, ad nauseam. I know this isn't unusual among writers, but it had become debilitating to the point that I couldn't finish anything and I was watching submission deadlines pass me by.

Come NaNoWriMo 2017, I started working on yet another novel. I completed the challenge and kept writing into December for a while, but ultimately stopped again. What can I say? I come from a long line of Catholics on both sides of my family and guilt runs thick and heavy in my blood.

As I mentioned earlier, at the New Year, I set a bunch of writing goals for myself—most of which I haven't met, but I'm working on it. Since I'm a romance writer at heart and like to end things on a positive note, I'll tell you that a few weeks ago, I did manage to finish a short story I'd been working on and submitted it. Naturally, I'll be overjoyed if it's accepted, but even if it's not, it's still a baby step in the right direction. I've also managed to write a few reviews. I finished this blog post, as well, so that's progress too.

Now, if I can just finish one of my mostly written manuscripts and get it submitted to a publisher, maybe it'll be published and I can dedicate it to my mom.

All the best,
Twitter: @RiaRestrepo


  1. Oh hon

    You went through a hideous time where all and any reaction would've been under-par for you, and OTT to your mother. That time was seen from wholly diffferent perspectives, and nobody can predict sepsis. It arrives from nowhere and it surges. It's wholly unpredictable. Severe infection just as often presents as hypothermia. I'm sure the doctors and nurses overseeing her care were horribly startled by her abrupt change in stability.

    I'm not going to try to tell you that you shouldn't feel guilty because emotions do their own thing regardless at the assurances and the facts thrown at them. I personally feel like you did your damndest. I feel it in your effort and your words. But in the same position, if my mother had resisted my attempts to pressurise care efforts in her direction, I know I'd have ended up feeling the same.

    Like I say, you've been through a LOT.

    Today of all days, I feel the need to make each day this year cancel out many less virtuous days from my first 41 years. I know what it is to feel stalled, and to be frustrated at being able to progress with nothing, even when you have hard-earned time on your hands.

    Let's hope the future is easier on both of us. I'll keep cheering you on to keep the fingers moving and obeying the imagination.

    Tig xxxx

  2. Wow you really have been through the mill here. I am a catholic too and know very well how guilt seems to hang around. My mum died in 2010 and I still miss her - still have guilt regarding a few things that happened towards the end. And I too know she would say "let it go and live" -
    I found this post as we are both in MM this week. I am sorry not to have commented on your mm post but the daddy thing is not a good theme for me. But i certainly look forward to reading other posts you publish ;-)

    1. No worries about not reading/commenting on the MM post. I get it. I'm sorry for your loss too. It still is hard thinking about her without breaking down sometimes, but at least I'm writing and submitting again, so that's something. All the best! :)