Writing through grief (or trying to, incredibly badly)
It turns out it’s hard to write comedy when your dad’s just died.
My lovely dad was taken into hospital suddenly at the end of August 2021 and died of Covid at the start of December.
From the moment he was admitted, everything moved so quickly that I didn’t have time to process what was happening till he was gone. The whole experience and aftermath was horrible. Even the way we found out he’d died was traumatic.
And though he died over eight months ago, I think it’s only just starting to sink in that he’s gone. I miss him terribly every day. He was funny, always kind, always supportive, and loved my mum and the rest of us unfailingly. I still can’t believe I won’t see him again, berate him for not doing enough exercise or cut his hair really badly again.
I call my mum every day on Facetime now, and see her sat alone in the room they shared for years, with his chair empty in the corner. They were together for 66 years, so I can’t even begin to imagine how much she misses him.
I’ve spent so much time trying to avoid cliches in my writing that I forgot that parts of life itself are a cliché – especially the ones attached to death and grieving. I’ve found myself working my way through all of them: anger, tears, laughter, listening to ‘The Marble Index’ by Nico on repeat. At times I almost felt like a bad actor observing myself going through all the stages. Little did I realise that the stages come back again and again till you feel like you’re starring in your own dark telenovela on repeat.
And my phone – that constant companion and source of amusing memes, distractions and frustration – seems to have an uncanny knack of posting a photographic memory of my dad when I fell least equipped to see it. His face will pop up and poleaxe me in the middle of whatever I’m doing. Sometimes a video of him plays. Thanks Apple.
And when you can’t cope with anything but getting through the day, things that you used to consider important start to fall away, and one of the first things to go was this blog. Hence I’ve not even visited this website in a year.
So what’s all this got to do with writing? When he was in hospital, I was in the middle of writing a comic novel, while simultaneously trying to edit a comedy script. The script had been requested by a couple of different people, so I didn’t want to delay it. I persisted.
But it turns out, your dad dying doesn’t put you in the best frame of mind for writing laffs. But because I was so concerned with keeping on, I forced myself to write. But the more I wrote, the worse the writing was, and the worse I felt. The grief was compounded by bad writing. And so on.
Writing had let me down. I needed it more than ever, but at the same time it found it near-impossible to do. And a massive pain in the arse to be frank.
And with impeccable timing, in the weeks after he died, I was suddenly beset by rejection, notes, bad news and writing disappointments. I’d submitted some work to different places before he went into hospital, and now they were returning to me like incendiary devices I’d carelessly sent myself in the post – at the time I felt least equipped to deal with it.
On one hand, these paled into insignificance compared to my dad dying, on the other the blows felt much more intense than they did before.
But it also made me laugh. The whole period was so doom-laden and filled with misery that it started to feel like a parody. Even my dad would have found it funny.
So I put the brakes on. I stopped writing till I felt better.
So what is my big message, my piece of wisdom to impart? Just that: stop writing if it’s not working. Writing can wait. Submitting can wait. And rejections and all the other negatives of writing can wait as well. It’ll all still be there when you want to come back. And you don’t have to wait for something horrible to happen before you do it.
Pic: © Robert Mellor