In the U.S. we’ve been in this pandemic for a year now, and the problems associated with it have brought a multitude of issues and perhaps some insights into what is permanent for each of us regardless of the constraints we face.
In 2020, I struggled with grief as four members of my extended family died. Yes, they died: two by suicide and one of a cancer that she had shared with no one except her husband. All four created a special dilemma for me and our family. Survivor’s guilt. Questions: Could I have intervened with the suicides? Why didn’t she share her illness with me when I thought she was my best friend? How do I comfort others while deep in my own despair? What is appropriate, what will help, and what will deepen the grief? How did COVID impact some of this?
Some students enrolled in the creative writing class I’m teaching this semester at Edison State Community College are drawn to the issues of what is transitory and what is permanent, what should be revered regardless of the stress, depression, and losses we are experiencing. And they have experimented with micro-fiction (100 to 300 words), a relatively easy way to create in a short amount of time. As one of those students, Victoria Derstine, recently wrote to me, “Grief can come in many forms, and we all see and cope with it differently.”
This week I’m sharing a story by Derstine and another student, Jordyne Shoemaker. You might believe Derstine’s story is romantic, unrealistic. I was comforted by it and see in her story behaviors for which we might hope when faced with dementia of a loved one or the inevitability of our own decline and demise. Read it and see what you think.
WHEN IT’S TIME
By Victoria Derstine
“Is it snowing?” a woman named Willa peered through the frosted windows.
“Yes, dear,” her husband replied, his good-natured expression dominating as he bobbed his head in the affirmative.
“Oh,” Willa said. Puzzlement drifted over her face as she looked at the flakes drifting down. After a moment, her eyes brightened again as if something had clicked. “Then it must be time for dinner.”
“Indeed, it is,” her husband agreed. “Let me get the mixer down for you.”
Willa hummed happily as she opened empty cans and poured them into her KitchenAid mixer. “I’m making your favorite,” she informed him. Her husband smiled and retrieved a jar of applesauce from the pantry and spooned it into a bowl.
“Sweetheart,” Willa said, after she had swallowed the bite her husband lifted to her mouth, “When did Jessie say she was coming home again?”
Her husband put the spoon down and smiled at her, tenderly using the sleeve of his flannel shirt to wipe a smudge of applesauce off her lip.
“You’ll see her soon, dear,” he promised. Tears welled in his eyes, but it wouldn’t do to let Willa see him crying. It always upset her terribly. Instead, he smiled brightly at her. Willa smiled back. Suddenly, she grabbed his hand.
“Now!” she declared, “It’s time for dancing!” Her husband smiled and let her lead him to the living room. “I’ll put a record on. Let’s listen to Elvis.” Willa turned a dial on their radio. A man’s static-strangled voice crackled over it, “And now, the weather.”
Willa’s husband took her in his arms as they waltzed to the weatherman’s symphony. Snowstorm Headed Your Way No. 9.
Willa sang along loudly, “Take my hand, hmm, hmm, we’ll make a space in this life we planned.”
“And still I’ll stay,” her husband murmured, “until it’s time for you to go.”
DATE WITH THE DEVIL
By Jordyne Shoemaker
When she entered the church, she felt a sudden chill.
The girl closed her eyes tightly and made a rigid fist with her right hand to stop it from trembling. When was the last time she had stepped into a church?
After what felt like centuries of being addicted to drugs, she turned back to her foundation, what she was raised in. The church. And though it was past hours, the door was open for people like her seeking refuge and forgiveness. A way to grow from their despair and move past it. That was how she was taught so long ago. How far she had strayed!
“What was it you’d told your mother? You don’t need church to be a good person?” a voice sneered behind her. The Prince of Darkness. Most assumed they would cower before him, and many did not know that they spoke with him every day.
“Some would call me a good person. I called myself a good person as the 7-percent solution entered my body and took me on the thrill ride of my life,” she replied. “It didn’t hurt anybody but me. I still would be hurt if a kid got hit by a car, that is, I have a conscience. I was a good person, but … .”
“You were weak. Proving to your mom that you can’t function without some supposed higher being holding your hand.”
“I know I’m not doing what I am supposed to. I’m afraid,” she admitted. “Maybe I do need that. Whether you say he is here or not.”
The second voice vanished as quickly as it came. Right in the middle of the aisle she fell to her knees and bowed her head. Alone again.
But then she raised her head and saw the cross on the wall. Maybe she wasn’t alone after all.
Why do I share my college students’ work with you, my readers? I want you to know about their complexity and to show you the ways in which they use the power of words to explore places where their characters confront the dilemmas that are a part of the human condition.
In the two pieces in this column, the authors explore dementia, relationships, drug addiction, and religion. I encourage you to consider using writing as a tool for coping, for healing, for developing your creativity, for bringing a sense of satisfaction — for whatever you need as the pandemic continues. As you might have already guessed, I use writing in many of these ways.