My Mother is a Candle

photo 1

My mother is a candle.

Losing a parent is not something that one can prepare for, no matter how long and hard the battle is that leads up to death. In my mother’s case, that battle was very long and very hard, the end-result of years and years of smoking, and one fatal decision to ignore a lump. Yet despite the months of deterioration that led up to her death, the end was a shock. People asked me if it was sudden, and I was surprised that I couldn’t find a right answer. Yes, it was sudden, as in the end game lasted only a couple of days. But it was more than the end game. It was a long, slow decline in physical and mental health. My mother, independent, smart, sharp, and loving in her own critical way, began to disappear long before she took her last breath.

I thought that the last dire diagnosis, which was unassailable, had put me in the mindset to prepare for her death. Only two weeks before she died, I told a friend that I was ready—that I knew it was coming and I was calm and at peace. My friend presciently told me that it wasn’t going to be so easy, and that it would be okay if I allowed myself to be emotional over her death. I thought a lot about that comment as I sat by my mother’s side during her last three days, and as her rhythmic breathing began to slow, then slow some more, I felt the fear begin to build in me.

When it finally happened, so surreal but so absolutely real, the tears came, as well as the guttural anguish that I thought I had been immunized from in the lead-up. It wasn’t about allowing myself to be emotional—the grief came in uncontrollable waves. And it still does…

In all honesty, my mother would be appalled that I am writing this. She was adamant that upon her death we were not to eulogize her. “Get on with your lives,” she commanded us, as if we could just move on from her. I can’t. I won’t. I don’t ever want to.

My mother is a candle. It will burn for seven days on my counter. Then it will go out. But it will burn forever in my heart.

Hello, I must be . . . Writing

Hello, I must be . . . Writing

So, it’s been a while since I’ve written on this blog.  Without getting into the gory details, I was too busy dealing with family illnesses to be able to write.  Actually, it wasn’t that I was too busy–it was that I couldn’t.  I couldn’t write–an act that to me is a joyful exercise–while I was in the midst of some not-so-joyful stuff.

My wife kept telling me that I should be writing.  She said that writers do their best work when under emotional strain.  That their writing under such conditions brings out their best, most pure feelings.  That some of the most famous novels were written by authors who were suffering.

Well, if that concept applies generally to all writers, I guess I am the exception to the rule.   I just couldn’t do it.  Not one word, for a long while.  Not here, not on my new book project.  But, as with all things, time acts as a salve (any fans recall where they read that line before?), and I feel capable of writing again.  Thank goodness!

I am busy finishing up the new book, but not quite ready to give any spoilers.  Umm, ok, a little spoiler:  If you grew up at or around a small steel town in the late 70s, the scenery will be very familiar to you.  ‘Nuff said (for now).

The most common question I’ve been asked by my readers is how I come up with ideas for my books.   The truth is that every day ideas pop into my head for a new book, and they just come from my observations.  What I read, what I watch, what I see.  A person walking alongside of a country road — there are a whole slew of potential stories there.   A story in the paper or on the web might trigger an idea, or even standing in line at a grocery store.  I see something or somebody, and nuances frolic through my mind.  The ideas are always there.  But, to state the obvious, it’s what you do with the ideas that matter.  A quirky thing that I do though, is avoid reading any book that I think might involve the same situation or general story line as one I’m working on, because I don’t want to risk that something I’ve read is going to find its way into my writing.   When I was writing Sandy Cove, I was watching television one night and a promotion for Nicholas Sparks’ Nights in Rodanthe came on and I had a mini panic attack.  I didn’t even know what that story was about, but I knew that Rodanthe is in the Outer Banks and that Sparks’ books are love stories, which was exactly what I was writing.  I did the “lalalalalalala” and put my hands over my ears.  Ok, it’s weird, but I wanted to be sure that I didn’t taint my writing with his story line.

Writing is such a personal thing.  It’s about what’s going on upstairs, in the author’s head, at any given time.  I couldn’t write like Stephen King, because I don’t think like Stephen King  (Who does?).  I hear it in my head and I write it (okay, that is a little freaky–like Stephen King).  And it’s revealing bits of yourself to the world, which is in itself a leap of faith that the world won’t think badly of you.  It’s fun and scary and exhilarating to know that people are out there in the world, reading your words.   But that means you have to write.   Which reminds me–back to work!





The other night I attended a surprise party.  My friend had been making plans for months to surprise his wife for her milestone birthday, texting and emailing the details to their friends, and ultimately, the party went off without a hitch.  This was the second surprise party I attended in the last few months, and both were successful in their purpose:  Each time the unknowing recipient was completely in the dark until the ruse was revealed (and was also obviously taken aback and somewhat unnerved).

Every time I attend a surprise party I think of Gomer Pyle saying, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!” in his exaggerated Southern drawl.  He got it right:  once is not enough, three times is about right.   Adding the surprise to a birthday party gives it a little zest.  A party is just a party, but make it into a surprise party, and you’ve topped it off with an exclamation point.  And you’ve created a memory.

As we get older the years begin to slip by and birthdays begin to melt together.  They may mean less to us, but  sometimes we need to add that exclamation point to remind us that all of them are important.  They still mean something.

The other night, hours after we shouted “Surprise!” and after the husband read his wife a poem he had written, after the food and the drink and dessert , the party came to a close.  We started to say goodbye to our friends, and as we hugged each other, I saw the birthday girl wipe away a tear.  Exclamation point.

Birds of a Different Feather

Earlier this week I watched and listened in awe as New Jersey governor Chris Christie accompanied our President to view the destruction left behind by Hurricane Sandy, and then repeatedly praised the President in front of the assembled media.  Mr. Christie, who had spent a good part of this election cycle as the standard bearer for Mitt Romney, didn’t have to do what he did, and he certainly didn’t have to do it over and over again.  In public.  In front of the cameras.  So, why did he?

Over the years our society has shown an amazing cohesiveness when confronted with unthinkable adversity.  9/11.  Katrina. Joplin. And now, Sandy, to name just a few examples.  We circle the wagons and come together to provide support and aid to those around us who are suffering.  When our neighbor hurts, we hurt, and we want to help.   It is a humanistic response to a primal instinct.

When disaster strikes on the level of Seaside Park or Long Beach Island, one struggles to comprehend the utter destruction that our eyes take in.  In image after image, video after video, Governor Christie, at one destroyed community after another, looked shell-shocked, and broken.  His state — his home — was devastated.  And he clearly appreciated having the President there to lend him support–someone for him to lean on.

I remember reading once that comedian and political commentator  Al Franken, prior to becoming Senator Franken, attended a dinner function in Washington, DC, and when President George W. Bush entered the room, everyone rose and applauded, including Franken.  The man standing next to him, knowing of Franken’s outspoken criticism of President Bush, scoffed at Franken, to which Franken replied something along the lines of, “He is my President, and I will stand in salute of him when he enters the room.”

In this year of the corporate “personhood” of unrelenting, vile political advertisements, Chris Christie showed his humanity and his dignity in a time of crisis.  He put aside politics and stood by his President’s side as he struggled to keep his composure.  And then, when he stepped up to the microphone and spoke, he said what was in his heart.

And Another Thing . . .

Steven Recht's thoughts and musings about . . . well . . . everything

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing

Steven Recht's thoughts and musings about . . . well . . . everything

Reed Next's Next Read

Steven Recht's thoughts and musings about . . . well . . . everything