From the Ashes of Pain Comes Great Writing

“Before I die I want to feel a great sorrow. This, perhaps, of all my wishes will seem the strangest to the reader. Yet, is it unusual that I should wish to have had a complete life? I want to have lived fully, and certainly sorrow is a part of life. It is my belief that, as in the case of love, no man has lived until he has felt sorrow. It molds us and teaches us that there is a far deeper significance to life than might be supposed if one passed through this world forever happy and carefree.” From the essay Before I Die by Edmund Carpenter.


My mom and me.
My mom and me.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been aware of a deep and abiding love for my mother. She has always been my best friend, my anchor, my sense of home. With just a few softly spoken words and a band aid, she could mend my cuts and scrapes and later, as my wounds grew to include broken hearts, she could soothe those, too.

When I graduated from college, I moved from Chicago—where I’d grown up—to San Francisco, where my parents have moved just before I started school.  Over the years, I spent most of my free time with her, lunching and shopping, or just hanging out playing backgammon and talking. We traveled and had many adventures together. We became closer than ever.

In August of 1999, I received a call from my father telling me my mother had been rushed to the hospital. She’d been vomiting up blood all night. I was living in Napa at the time, and I drove as fast as I could to the hospital. When I arrived, she looked at me, tears brimming in her eyes and said, “I knew you’d come.” And I saw the fear disappear from her eyes.

She spent three months in the hospital that time, and at one point they told us that we needed to make funeral arrangements—she would be gone within 48 hours. My sisters had all arrived by then, and we sat vigil around her, and six weeks later, we took her home. The doctors said it was truly a miracle—there was no medical explanation for her survival. We had loved her back to life.


I got another year and a half with her after that, and we made the most of it. But every time I kissed her goodbye, I’d cry all the way home, wondering if it would be the last time I’d see her. She was frail, and she was suffering. And it was impossible to watch.

I held her while she passed, and it was peaceful. And heart breaking. It was the most beautifully tragic moment of my life.

My mother was not only my best friend, she was my soul mate. The truly great love of my life.

It would be years before I began writing. I’m now working on my fourth manuscript and the one thing my readers can count on is a strong mother-daughter bond in the story. It’s what I know, it’s a part of me.

As writers we tend to write about what we know. Intentionally or not, we weave our experiences into our words. I believe that our best writing comes from our pain—from the challenges we’ve overcome, from the suffering we’ve witnessed or endured ourselves, from surviving great loss. What could be more authentic?

Riemann Family Funeral Homes can provide you with the arrangements needed in case you lost a loved one.

How have your experiences shaped your life? Have they changed you? In what way? If you’re a writer, where do you find your inspiration?

I love hearing from you. And to prove it, for every comment you leave, you’ll be entered into a drawing. At the end of the month, I will draw a lucky winner who will receive a $10 gift card (your choice, Amazon, Starbucks or iTunes). Winners will be announced in the first post of the following month.

16 comments on… “From the Ashes of Pain Comes Great Writing”

  1. Diana McCollum

    What a beautiful post! Death is the full circle of life. I believe the mother daughter bond is one of the strongest family bonds. My mother lives with us. So we’ve come full circle and now I care for her. Caring for mom, who is deaf in one ear and only 20% hearing in the other ear, and who has medical issues has been challenging. I’ve learned patience, I’ve learned to speak slowly so she can read my lips, and I’ve learned to appreciate her sense of humor in the face of illness. My daughters and I are also very close. Now they’ve grown I consider them my best friends.

    • I spent a lot of time caring for my mother in her last year and a half and, hard as it was, I considered it a privelege for all she’d done for me. Sounds like you have the same type of bond. How wonderful that you share that same bond with your own daughters. I was never blessed with my own children in this life, but I do have a beautiful step daughter whom I love like crazy. Thanks for stopping by, Diana.

  2. Unfortunately, I have experienced the ashes of pain. While our daughter was dying of cancer, my father died. It was a double whammy that took me to the floor, took my breath away, and sent me into a complete meltdown. Unfortunately, it happened when I was called back for a mammogram check. I knew something was coming because all the way down to the place, demons hovered over my head. I won’t go into the details because it is still traumatizing after eleven years. I completely melted down and lost control of me that day. Scared the people in the office, and I went home completely dead and empty inside. I stayed that way for three days and to this day, I cannot make an appointment or go to one for a mammogram without valium. The doctor said the breakdown would happen after all the stress I had of making sure my father was being taken care of properly and flying back down to care for my daughter, plus holding up my husband and other daughter. If I had gone down, I would have taken them down with me.

    To answer your question, yes I have used these emotions in my stories. I figure if I am crying as I write the scene, my reader more than likely would be crying, too.

    Huggles, Suzanne. Your mother was beautiful and raised you in her image.

    • Women are definitely the stronger species (mentally and emotionally), but sometimes that’s a burden I’d gladly give away. You continue to amaze me with your strength, Marlene. Love and hugs right back to you.

  3. What a wonderful post. Death is indeed part of life and to die knowing that you are loved and will be remembered, that is truly the meaning of success. It sounds as though your mother was a wonderful woman and she raised a beautiful strong daughter. Every day of my life, I try to be the woman my mother was. When I once was lamenting to a priest about a difficult period in my life, he simply said, “Put it in a book.” So I did.

  4. LInda Faulkner

    Yes, the pain of loss, disappointment at not achieving the things you wanted most dearly in life, and the pain from those who pretended to love me. All these go in my writing and I hope it enriches it. I lost my mother on July 28, 2012. I had hoped to go back to Indiana for her birthday on September 14th, but she didn’t make it. She would have been 102. A good long life. But, as you know, you’re never ready for that loss.

    • Linda – you’re right, you can never prepare yourself for a great loss, no matter what. But like the quote at the beginning of the post, these losses help us to live deeply. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I wouldn’t trade one second of my life. Even the bad stuff. It’s made me who I am–something (IMHO) to be proud of. I look back at the turning points–most of which I had no idea were turning points at the time–and I see divine influence at every corner.

    Lovely post. Hope you’re feeling better!

  6. My mom’s death was sad for the opposite reason. I spent all my years wanting a deeper relationship with her and never got it. It seems that her own life left her damaged and unable to connect in an emotional way. Having a daughter of my own now, I make sure I take the time to develop our connection. I can only hope that as she ages, going from teen to adult, our bond will continue. So far, so good!

    • BTW…. your story is beautiful. I’m so happy you were blessed with such a special soul mate. I imagine the power of your bond even helps you now. That’s the way a mom’s love should be (IMHO).

    • Nancy – I remember a conversation we had about this, sitting on a park bench one day. You’ve been blesses with a beautiful daughter who will fill that bond for you. How lucky you both are.

  7. Suzanne, this is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing, and for the way you shared. Your mom would have loved this. I myself have been so untouched, as yet, by sorrow that it’s more than a little scary. I try to get inspiration from seeing how others deal with their burdens, hoping that when my time comes I’ll have the same grace. Meanwhile, empathy is a very good workout for the writerly imagination.

    • Hi Gretchen — How wonderful that you haven’t experienced a great loss as yet. I have no doubt that when the time comes you’ll do exactly what needs to be done in your sweet, gentle way. But here’s hoping that that day is long off!

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