A Time to Grieve Part IV: Rebuilding and Remembering

Ijtg_book_4_covert’s been six months since my last post about my grief journey following my mother’s death on May 22, 2016. I was going to wait until May 22—the one year anniversary of Mom’s death—to write this post, but with Mother’s Day coming up, today just seemed like a good time. And, I recently received Book Four of Kenneth C. Haugk’s series, Journeying through Grief in the mail from Mary Lewis, the Stephen Minister and Grief Ministry Coordinator at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi. This was the church my parents helped to start in the 1950s. The church I grew up in and was marred in on June 13, 2013. Mary’s letters and the booklets have been a great blessing to me over this past year, and this final mailing is no exception.

In Book IV, Rebuilding and Remembering, Haugk says:

Part of what we do during grief is to develop a new relationship—a continuing bond—in which we don’t disconnect from our loved one, but instead reconnect with him or her in a new and different way…. There are many ways to have a continuing bond with a loved one.

Haugk goes to on to share examples, personal stories of ways that people have kept that bond alive—using a grandmother’s recipes for Thanksgiving; curling up in a husband’s favorite lounge chair to feel close to him; lighting a scented candle as one man’s wife often used to do.

Mom and me circle 1953

Mom and me circle 1953

For me, this past year has been about working through the stages of grief in ways that have surprised me, knocked the wind out of my sails (depression, weight gain, etc.), and then encouraged me, as I began my book tour in March for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. Reading stories from those years of caregiving for Mom at book signings has reminded me of God’s grace in allowing me to forgive her, to ask her forgiveness at one point, and to begin to heal what was a very dysfunctional relationship.

This coming Saturday I’m traveling to Nashville for two book events. The second one is a book reading and signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, with Nashville area contributors Kathy Rhodes and River Jordan. That will be at 1 pm at Barnes and Noble in Cool Springs Mall in Brentwood. But Saturday morning at 10:30 I’m meeting with a group of women in nearby Thompson’s Station, Tennessee. They have formed a support group for caregivers, and one of them read Tangles and Plaques and asked the group’s leader/hostess to invite me. I’m sure I will benefit as much or more from their stories as they might from mine, and I can’t wait to talk with all of them.

Mom peace lilyMeanwhile as Mother’s Day approaches, I’ll continue to heal, and hopefully to share that healing with others. As Haugk says:

Nearly every grieving person I’ve talked with has told me they’ve become more caring and compassionate with others who experience losses. They know what it’s like to lose a loved one and are much more sensitive to other people’s needs.

I hope I’ve become more compassionate. I think I’ve become a better listener.

This beautiful peace lily sits by my front door, as a reminder of the love of the people at St. Peter Orthodox Church in Madison, Mississippi, who gave it to me for my mother’s funeral last year. I love that it’s blooming right now, near Mother’s Day, and near the one year anniversary of her death. I hope it will bloom for many years to come.

Sometimes This Happens . . .

Susan signing 2I have heard stories from best-selling authors about having only one or two people show up for a reading/signing at a bookstore. Or about sitting at a signing table at Books-a-Million or Barnes and Noble and having no one or only a couple of people even make eye contact or stop to ask about your book. Now I know what that feels like. I drove out to Collierville yesterday afternoon for a signing and reading for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.

It wasn’t the fault of the good people at Barnes and Noble at Carriage Crossing in Collierville, Tennessee. They did a great job of promoting the event:

Listing on the EVENT page of their web site for several weeks prior

Large sign on the front door for several days prior to the event

Nice signing table right inside the front door with another sign and copies of the book

Announcements over the PA system inside the store before the signing, and again before the reading/discussion session

Set up a dozen nice chairs in a sunny area by the windows, right next to the Starbucks Café inside the store

Table and signAnd so how many people showed up? ONE! Cheryl Wright Watkins, a writer friend who lives in the area, who had already bought the book at another event, came just to show moral support. If she hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have had anyone to talk to for the thirty minutes I sat at the signing table and then the thirty minutes I waited for folks to show up for the reading/discussion. We had a great visit, enjoying our Starbucks drinks and catching up on our busy lives. And I was happy to see that this lovely bookstore seemed to be doing well, at least based on the foot traffic on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when people tend to be at outdoor events.

I knew it was a risk scheduling an event in Collierville, since I only know a couple of people who live in the area. But I thought I’d give it a try, and the booksellers who organized it for me were so encouraging. I’m sorry they now have so many books to return. Hopefully they’ll keep a few in stock.

Door signThe experience was humbling and also gave me a great appreciation for all the other events I’ve participated in this spring with wonderful turnouts. Whenever anyone takes time from their busy life to go to a bookstore and meet an author and buy her book, it’s a victory for the literary world.

Thanks so much to the wonderful booksellers at Barnes and Noble in Collierville for hosting me. I wish you much continued success!

Advance Praise for Cherry Bomb!

I’m pinching myself so I’ll know this is real. These six AMAZING literary rock stars have written blurbs for my novel, Cherry Bomb, which releases in August. This has been a six year (plus) project, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Or more pleased with Joe Lee at Dogwood Press for being such a great publisher. Thanks so much to these very busy, successful authors whom I’m honored to call my friends. I can’t believe they said things like, “deft narrative control,” “rising star in southern literary circles,” “beautifully written, thoughtfully conceived,” and “rendered with passion, acumen and concision.” Cherry Bomb launches on August 8 (just three months away!) at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi (my home town). Here they are!!!

Cassandra King

Cassandra King

“In CHERRY BOMB, a troubled young artist finds a way to heal a horrific past in the intriguing world of street art, graffiti, iconography, and abstract expressionism. With deft narrative control, Susan Cushman weaves an unforgettable story of triumph and redemption that will linger long after the final page is turned. An impressive debut by a rising star in southern literary circles!”

Cassandra King, author of The Sunday Wife

Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson

Using the life of real abstract expressionist artist Elaine de Kooning as a jumping off point, CHERRY BOMB fearlessly explores the intersection between art and spirituality, creating it as a palpable place where healing can occur. This is a bold, frank book, and Susan Cushman is a brave and talented writer.

             —Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of gods in Alabama and The Almost Sisters

Harrison Scott Key

Harrison Scott Key

“Any book that opens with a young woman painting graffiti across the steeple-ridden town of Macon, Georgia, is my kind of story. Cushman depicts the South as it is, not the sentimental claptrap some people want it to be. No cliches to be found here, just God and art and beauty and pain—just like sitting in church.”

Harrison Scott Key, author of The World’s Largest Man

Beth Ann Fennelly

Beth Ann Fennelly

“How does Susan Cushman do it?  Out of the most unlikely materials—a teenage graffiti artist, an abstract expressionist painting teacher running from her past, and a reclusive nun who paints icons—she weaves an intricate tale that teases us with surprising connections.  This generous first novel is a tale of family and resilience and the healing power of art.  Beautifully written, thoughtfully conceived, CHERRY BOMB surprises and redeems.”

Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi

Julie Cantrell

Julie Cantrell

“By mixing the work of historical creatives with the risqué endeavors of a modern graffiti artist, Cushman takes a unique approach to examining the experiences of a young girl who turns to art while finding her way in life.”

Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Perennials

 

Corey Mesler

Corey Mesler

“Susan Cushman, in her marvelous first novel, tells the touching, parallel stories of two female artists, one famous, one not. The intersection of their lives, rendered with passion, acumen and concision, will entertain and enlighten you. The story moves as quickly as running paint, and, in the accumulation of detail, becomes a canny meditation on art and individuality, on spirituality and hope. Its indelible characters, especially its young graffiti artist, will take up residence inside you alongside Scout Finch and Frankie Addams.”

            —Corey Mesler, author of Memphis Movie and Robert Walker

How Jackie Kennedy Stayed Slim; Managing Cravings

indexKathy McKeon, who served as Jackie Kennedy’s live-in assistant and sometimes nanny to her children from 1964 to 1977, has written a memoir, Jackie’s Girl: My Life With the Kennedy Family. In an excerpt published in People Magazine, McKeon reveals (among other things) Jackie’s secret for staying thin. A typical daily diet for her would look something like this: A boiled egg and tea in the morning, cottage cheese with fresh fruit at lunch, and a poached chicken breast or fish with a salad or steamed vegetables for dinner.

The memoir excerpt also reveals that Jackie often sneaked into the kitchen at night for ice cream… “just one spoonful… but a big spoon.”

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you know that I struggle with eating disorders, weight gain and loss, up and down up and down for all of my life. Finally just over a year ago I managed to lost 17 pounds by maintaining a 1000-calorie diet for about six months and working out on the elliptical 2-3 times a week, but then I gained most of it back last summer when I got depressed after my mother died.

article-1370573-014E7F3300000578-65_468x405So… A couple of months ago my husband and I both decided to try again. He wanted to lose at least 20 pounds, and I wanted to lose 30 or more. We started out on this together during Great Lent, which is a time of fairly serious fasting for Orthodox Christians, but also just a good time for self-discipline. I’m pretty sure he’s lost at least 15 pounds, and I’ve lost 12, and we’re still going. We laughed one day when I said we should publish a book with our weight-loss secret. It would be a short book. Only two words: DON’T EAT. Seriously. He would eat one TINY meal a day, and I would eat 2-3 TINY snacks a day. I didn’t count calories, but I’m sure I’ve been staying under 1000 most days. I’m still at it… considering it a long-term lifestyle change, not a “diet.”
But I also allow that BIG SPOON of ice cream (or other treat) whenever I have a craving. Just not a big BOWL. It’s all about eating TINY amounts of food when you’re in your sixties and your metabolism has screeched to a halt.

Susan B. Roberts, coauthor of a Tufts University study on cravings, says that people who manage their weight best give in to cravings at times, and do it happily. I’m finding that works for me, too. No more guilt. And these “legal” binges can prevent the “illegal” ones that can end up in the consumption of hundreds of unwanted calories. (I’m still working on chips—which are super hard to eat in moderation.)

I’ll probably blog about my journey again as it continues, so please stay tuned. It’s helpful to know I’m not alone!

Discovering Elizabeth Strout; More From Joan Didion; DeSoto Magazine

static1.squarespace.comI never read Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Olive Kitteridge. I did see the movie, and thought it was good, but a little slow or depressing or something I can’t quite put my finger on. I probably should have read the book first, because the movie dissuaded me from reading it.
But then a writer friend encouraged me to read Strout’s book, My Name is Lucy Barton, and I just finished it at the beach. It’s terrific. The prose, the phrasing, the pacing, the style, the voice—all combine in an unusual novel that reads more like a memoir to me. The immediacy of this first-person-narrated novel is what stands out to me the strongest about the book. My friend wanted me to read it, I think, to help me as I’m starting out to draft my second novel. It’s not that the subject matter is similar, because it’s not, but I think this book serves as a mini-MFA course in capturing dysfunctional families without the rage and hatred which often accompanies them. In that way it reminds me a bit of Jeanette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle. In both cases the narrator—one fictional and one real—were neglected and/or abused as children but remember their parents with great love, and an unending need for that love to be returned. Lucy Barton is definitely worth the read, and I’m inspired to keep working on that second novel. Eventually.

9781524732790My other “beach read” (although I did very little reading at the beach with my four grandchildren there!) is Joan Didion’s South and West—a collection of vignettes from a notebook she kept back in 1970 on a trip through the South (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama) and also from an assignment for Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976, a piece she never wrote. I love the section on the South. I pictured her staying at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Biloxi in the summer of 1970,  as my newly-wedded husband and I were just down the street at the Broadwater Beach Hotel on our honeymoon! She captures so many things about “my” South that I can appreciate, even visiting my mother’s hometown of Meridian, Mississippi and mentioning places I recognize. And like Richard Gilbert’s Dispatches From Pluto (about the Mississippi Delta) Didion captures these things as an outsider (Gilbert is from Great Britain; Didion from California) and tries to put aside preconceived ideas as she engages people she meets with questions and records their candid responses. And as she says:

 The isolation of these people from the currents of American life in 1970 was startling and bewildering to behold. All their information was fifth-hand, and mythicized in the handing down.

My favorite of her observations were at the Mississippi Broadcasters’ Convention in Biloxi, and in a private home in the Garden District of New Orleans. I won’t quote them here… it’s much more fun to read them in the book!

Cover DeSoto Mag MayI’m happy to share that I have a short piece in the May issue of DeSoto Magazine, “Tangles and Plaques.” You can read it online, subscribe for a hard copy, or pick one up if you live in Mississippi or Memphis! The article is really a short excerpt from the introduction and one of the posts (“Effie and the M&Ms”) from my memoir, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.

article DeSoto mag

 

 

 

So, last week was a blog-free week for me (first one in a looooong time) as I was at Seagrove Beach, Florida, with my husband, and our kids and grands. Seagrove is my favorite place on earth, and even though it was a bit windy and almost chilly a couple of days, there was plenty of sunshine, and of course the magic of the waves hitting the shore as four little girls giggles and jumped up and down, returning again and again to the construction of a sand castle on shore by their parents or to help Pops fly a kite. It’s all magical to me. This year we hired a professional photographer (for the first time) to take some pictures, so I’ll share them in a future post once I get them downloaded. Thanks, always, for reading!

 

 

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