putting it into words

In the time I have been writing for Glow, there is something I have not told you about our loss.  I have not told you about the book.

I wrote a memoir after Zoey and Gus died.  But really, I started it earlier.  Just a few days into our hospitalization, I knew I was going to want to write about it.  Or at least have the option.  So I started taking notes.

I took notes on what the doctors said.

I took notes on what the nurses said.

I took notes on what M. said.

I took notes on how the room looked.

I took notes on how the door handle had to be jiggled in just the right way to open.

I took notes on the torturous route from the hospital entrance to the Labor & Delivery Unit.

I roamed the corridor outside the NICU and took notes on the pictures and plaques and thank-you letters sent by the families of babies who lived.

I wish I had taken more notes.

I took notes on what the ethicist said.

I took notes on what our friends said.

I didn’t take many notes on what the social worker said because she was so unhelpful, but I wish I had, because she was so unhelpful.

I took notes on what we ate for breakfast.

I took notes on the bar and grill where I would pick up our dinner, and on the drinks I forced myself not to steal when no one was looking.

I took notes on Zoey.

I took notes on Gus.

I wish I had taken more notes.

When M. thought I was writing emails, sometimes I was taking notes. 

On our last night in the hospital, after Gus died, after M. was taken away for emergency surgery, and after Gus’s body was taken from my arms, M’s mother spoke to me: the staff was going to need the room now, to clean it.  “If they come, they come,” I told her, but I had to take notes.  Even if it meant the gore had to be mopped all around my feet, I had to take notes.  Besides, my sneaker was already smudged with M’s blood.

I took notes for an hour.

The next day, I took notes about our drive home.

I took a few notes on the funeral.  I took lots of notes on planning it.  At the cemetery, I have taken notes on who is buried near Gus and Zoey—especially children—on the back of an envelope when I had to.

But always I wish I had taken more notes.


In the first six weeks after they were gone, I wrote five pages.  Then, on the weekend we went away to our friend’s secluded ranch, I wrote thirty.  By the end, I had written 300 pages and two drafts. 

“It must have been so therapeutic,” people would say when they found out.  “It must have been so cathartic.”  I suppose it was, but the point was never to purge.  It was actually the opposite: the point had been to retain.

In the hospital, when I was afraid and did not know the future, I did know this much: This will have been one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life.  And I knew that if I did not do something, I would lose all the details, all the moments, everything that was giving this time its textures.  Everything that makes a memory a living thing.  

So I wrote a memoir to stamp it all onto my mind.  And now I find that I cannot remember much of what happened outside of what I wrote.  The story has become the memory.

The first section of the story is an account of the week M. and I spent in the hospital.  Monday.  Tuesday.  Wednesday.  Thursday.  Friday.  Saturday.  Sunday.  Day-by-day. The next section recounts the spring and summer that followed. 

(Did you know that they died on the first day of spring?)

Some parts were easy to write.  Some were hard.  The hardest task was reconstructing moments where my notes were shoddy and my memory porous.  What did the doctor say when…?  Was that conversation before or after the one where…?  You would think the hardest task would have been writing about the deaths of my children.  But that was easy.  I wrote about our daughter dying, and our son dying, and our shock and our wailing and my many dissociative states quickly and in one afternoon.  After all, I had very good notes. 


300 pages.  Two (official) drafts.  And now the book is languishing.

It needs more.  More episodes from my life, and from our life, before.  More memory—but I worry that I have already used all the memory I have.  Even worse, it also needs a new structure.  Something more reader-friendly with a smoother flow.  It’s daunting.  Basically, it’s as if your house needed a new house. 

I worry that I don’t have it in me to write the book I have come to see in my mind.  With Ellie and Ben and a new job, I worry that I don’t have the time—or, more to the point, the focus—to try.  This is not the kind of writing project you can pick away at twenty minutes here, twenty there.

I won’t lie: I could use some motivation.  Encouragement.  Help.  Whatever you want to call it, I could use it.  Not to deal with what happened, not to pull myself out of it, but to plunge back in. 

To write the book this book needs to be. 

What creative outlets did you turn to after your loss?  How did others respond to your efforts?  Are you still engaged in them?