When a Parent Dies

Dad and Nick
Dad & my brother Nick circa 1977ish

My father died in 1985. I miss him every day and can get choked up even now, all these years later. I thought until recently I was weird because I hadn’t “gotten over it.” Then I realized, I had gotten past it, but not over it. I realized I used that in my work all the time.
When I need to write something funny, I remember the moment I realized I could make someone laugh: we were Dad’s apartment in NYC where he lived with my step-mom. I was eating a yogurt and watching TV with him. With no notice or reason, knowing I would crack him up, I started missing my mouth, getting yogurt all over my face – all the while acting as though nothing was happening. My dad started laughing hysterically.  That moment is one of my favorite memories. Once my yogurt cup was completely empty and we had stopped laughing, I remember smiling and observing that considering my face was covered with yogurt, I was still hungry. I went and got another yogurt and went through the exact same routine all over again (I’ll milk it whenever possible. Yes, even that bad dairy pun).
Writing The Curse of Addy McMahon took me nine years and I now think it’s because it took that long to reach into my heart to the painful emotions, because my main character lost her father the same way I lost mine – to lung cancer after smoking cigarettes. I eventually got to the point where I’d written and rewritten it so much that I was able to work through those feelings and put it into the book.
Use your pain, your experience and your love and memories to bring your writing to a deeper level. This is what people mean when they say “write what you know.” It’s not literal, but it is literally transforming.

Recent Comments

  • hilary graham
    May 17, 2012 - 9:08 am · Reply

    My father also died when I was young, and I love your distinction of getting past it, but not over it. And like you, it completely informs my writing. Thanks for posting this, Katie.

    • katie
      May 17, 2012 - 9:32 am · Reply

      Thanks for commenting, Hilary. You know when I realized it wasn’t weird to still feel the pain of him not being here? When I heard Mavis Staples talk about how she misses Pops every day. Hearing her really helped.

  • Kathy Rupff
    May 17, 2012 - 1:45 pm · Reply

    Thank you, Katie! I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts and the details about your love for your Dad and how his loss has affected you over the years. I had wanted to know how much of yourself was in “Addy McMahon” and now I know, at least in part (smile). Thank you for clarifying what “writing what you know” means… Obviously…this takes a lot of courage! Thank you so much for inspiring me and others…

    • katie
      May 18, 2012 - 6:44 am · Reply

      Thanks, Kathy. It took a long time for me to figure out what “writing what you know” meant!

  • Ann Eisenstein
    May 18, 2012 - 7:02 am · Reply

    Thank you for this poignant piece. I appreciate the reminder to “write what you know”. Moreover, I love that you were able to reach back through the pain and pull out the laughter! ADDY MCMAHON is a wonderful treasure because of that. Thank you for all you do – the captivating books and the inspirational blogs you write and the motivating work you do with children.

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