Brain Babies: Writing Through The Pain
I want to talk about this, but even thinking about talking about it is hard. It’s been a while since I wrote anything for the Brain Babies column on HorrorTree. Some of that is because I’m busy, some of it is laziness, some an utter lack of ideas for topics. But the main reason I’ve been quiet is that my life was torn apart on June 9 of this year.
My wife Liz died suddenly.
She had high blood pressure, and was taking medicine for it, for a long time. She’d been suffering headaches, off and on, for as long as I’ve known her (21 years). But, nobody had any idea this was coming. In her sleep (thankfully), her brain hemorrhaged, and she died.
She was 43.
The death certificate said the time elapsed from “the event” to “actual death” was seconds to minutes. So, she likely didn’t suffer. Small comfort there.
Her family and mine, and many good friends have stepped up to help take care of me and my kids, for which I am profoundly grateful. Another comfort.
She left me a substantial sum in life insurance, and Social Security is paying survivor’s benefits for my kids. So, we’re not in trouble financially anymore. Comfort number three.
But, she was more than just my spouse. Liz was my best friend. She was my sounding board for ideas. My audience for new jokes. My barometer for what’s too fucked-up for mainstream readers (if she hated it, only a few publishers were gonna touch it). She was my touchstone. My go-to for comfort, solace, laughs, snuggling, sex (she really, really liked sex. I miss that a lot).
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the different stages of grieving. I’ve hit ‘em all. But, the two overriding emotions, the two defining characteristics of who I am now, are anger and pain. They are my constant companions.
Sure, I can joke (usually gallows humor, but that’s not new for me). I can laugh, and play, and have fun. I go to work, five, sometimes six days a week. I function. People tell me I’m doing well. They’re impressed. But, they don’t know. They have no idea how fucked-up I am. Always.
I am writing again. And, just like before, sometimes it’s easy; sometimes it’s pulling teeth. But, here’s the thing: when you lose your partner, when your life has been shattered by something so catastrophic, it affects you in every way. My grief bleeds into my fiction. I see death everywhere. This is actually a plus for a guy who writes mainly horror, I guess.
I edit, too, for a small press in Washington State. It’s uncanny how many horror stories feature a dead spouse (or partner) as a pivotal plot point. Every time I read one, it triggers me.
I don’t want to be a tragic figure. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable when I walk in the room (“Oh jeez. There’s the guy who lost his wife. What do I say to him?”). I don’t want pity.
I do want people to cut me some slack, which they mostly do. I might miss deadlines. Don’t hate me for it. I just can’t seem to get motivated to work on stuff right now. Seems so unimportant. Once your spouse dies on you, pretty much everything else in life fades into who cares?
Except my kids. My kids are still paramount above all else. I mean, of course. Also, we’re all we have left, me and them.
I’m not sure I’m going to submit this to Stu. I’m not sure I want this out in the world. It’s not even so much about writing through grief as it is about just coping with it. But, maybe that’s enough. Maybe someone out there reading this is going through something similar. Maybe seeing that you’re not the only one feeling this, not the only one suffering a thing that cannot be abided, will help.
I’m trying to keep it together, and most days I do a passable job. But, it’s a thin veneer between me and despair. I have help. I hope the rest of you do, too.
So, there you go. My rambling, semi-coherent rant about grief with a nod to how it affects my writing. Thanks for listening. I don’t know if any of you will get anything out of it, but it helped me a little to write it. It helps to articulate my pain. A little. Comfort number four.
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Ken MacGregor writes stuff. Sometimes, he edits stuff too.
He has two story collections: AN ABERRANT MIND, and SEX, GORE & MILLIPEDES, a young adult novella: DEVIL’S BANE (YA winner of the 23rd annual Critters Readers Poll), a co-written (with Kerry Lipp) novel: HEADCASE (available in serialized form), and is a member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers (GLAHW). He is a somewhat regular contributor to HorrorTree with his column Brain Babies. He has also written TV commercials, sketch comedy, a music video, some mediocre poetry, and a zombie movie. Ken is the Managing Editor of Collections and Anthologies for LVP Publications. He’s curated two anthologies: BURNT FUR for Blood Bound Books, and STITCHED LIPS for Dragon Roost Press..
When not writing, Ken drives the bookmobile for his local library. He lives with his kids, two cats, and the ashes of his wife.
Ken can be found at the staggeringly egocentric-named website kenmacgregor.com.