Thursday, May 6, 2010

Time Travel

Yesterday I started proofreading my galleys for Through the Veil. I am rereading many of these essays for the first time in well over a year. In fact, the last day I had this manuscript spread out before me was the first week of October, 2008, when I was preparing to send my book proposal, along with a complete manuscript, to Canon Press.

Jeanne, my mother-in-law, lived with us at that time, and her health had been quite poor for months. In October she began to have intense pain in one foot and leg. A trip to the emergency room to rule out a blood clot revealed that her port-a-cath was infected, too. The leg and foot pain increased each day as I helped Jeanne go for blood tests, special circulation wraps, and consultation about surgery to remove the infected port. My days were too full that week, always worrying and calling doctors and trying to read the pain level in Jeanne’s face. I pushed Jeanne’s wheelchair down hospital corridors and watched her grimace while three different nurses tried without success to draw blood from Jeanne’s impossibly fine veins. As my mother-in-law grew more discouraged and the pain grew worse, I carried the pleasant, more hopeful weight of a book proposal and full manuscript submission—but I found little time to proof two hundred pages, and my deadline was approaching.

So one afternoon when Jeanne took two narcotic painkillers and lay down for a nap, I left the house and went to a coffee shop to spread out the last fifty pages or so of my manuscript. I worried about Jeanne, and I thrilled at the thought of finding a publisher for my first book. I drank coffee, ate chocolate, and proofread, returning for a couple of hours to the Middle Eastern life and friends I had loved so much. When I finished, I stacked the pages, tucked Jordan and Syria back into the place of memory, and drove home.

I remember sitting in the driveway that afternoon, not wanting to go back in the house, to the claustrophobic intimacy of being a caregiver.

Today I return to the Middle East of my memories as I sit at my table and proofread this book for the last time. Jeanne is gone, and I have written of our life together—over two hundred pages about living as an extended family, the caregiving, and the hospice care Jeanne began to receive just days after I sat in the driveway, reluctant to leave my book and return to my life.

I’m nearly done proofreading Through the Veil. It is time for me to return to the caregiving book, but I am reluctant to re-enter the writing project and stand face-to-face with those difficult memories. I’ve completed a new essay that may well be leading me into my next book. But I can’t leave Jeanne yet. I must go back to the manuscript, back in time to sit a while longer with my mother-in-law, to finish telling her story and mine.


  1. It will be bittersweet certainly, but what a blessing to have had that time with her and to have been inoculated against the fearful and selfish avoidance of the dying that our culture maintains as a norm.
    Have you read Final Gifts? It's been a long time ago, but it was a very meaningful read for me and just underscored my experiences with my grandparents as I experienced their deaths. A good reminder that at the end, very few can maintain the illusion of a spirit-less afterlife.
    -Missy V

  2. Missy, Thanks so much for the recommendation. The GFU library has Final Gifts in their stacks, and I just put in a request to have the title pulled for my summer reading pile.