Our brains are our personal aquifer. Everything we have ever done, seen, or felt nestles between our ears. Our memories are like water moving through the chaos saturated rock of every day life. The constant pulse of the present slows the flow of these memories until, over the years, they become a trickle.
Three weeks ago, a young friend of mine died suddenly. The circumstances of her death were tragic. Unexpectedly, memories of my life with her family began flowing again, gushing up through the years into right now.
Within a few days of learning of her death, I wanted to write about grief and how we handle loss. It shouldn’t be too hard, I thought, as I sniffled into one soggy tissue after another. After all, you’re a writer, I told myself. You can express these feelings and share them, adding compassion and depth to your work.
It was much more difficult than that.
At first, I thought I would write about her, the girl I knew and our times as a family. But that seemed too much like a memoir. Or perhaps, I could chronicle the last year of her life. But that seemed too much like tasteless prying. How did I want her to be remembered?
Remembering her through my fictional characters as a beautiful child, a gorgeous young woman and a loving mother sounded like an excellent idea. So, the next time I need a sprightly little girl, a daring young gal, or a fierce warrior, she’ll be ready to step into my story.
Writers can, if we choose, let the dead speak through our words and let our memories speak for the dead. And, if we are able to do so, it is our obligation.