In grad school, I had an internship at a small rural hospice in Michigan. There, I learned the importance — and effect — of anniversaries. The date of a death can affect families, friends, and communities for years.
I know it’s worked that way for me.
A few days after the glee of the New Year, thoughts of
and becoming an orphan,
shove aside my natural optimism.
Among the most important anniversaries I mark are:
January 6, 1978. That’s when my stepfather died. My sense of invincibility died that day, too.
February 11, 1999. My mother died. Nothing prepared us for her quick demise. The shock of it left me reeling, unsure I could depend upon anything fully again.
In reading their posts, I realized, yet again, the slender line we mystery writers tread. Most of us touch upon deaths frequently in our work. But ours are exciting versions, not the thick sadnesses that envelope hearts when the reality of those losses hit anew. For people who write with humor that line squiggles upon itself and tangles in unexpected ways.
Often, I find myself feeling like I’m walking on a balance beam made of gelatin. How can I respect the gravity of death, of murder, while grinning at the amusing ways Sasha unravels the clues?
It’s during these first two months of the year that I stumble most, feel least sure.
During Malice Domestic last year, I was on a panel with guest of honor Robert Barnard. During the discussion, I said something about not thinking one could make death funny (Yeah, yeah, I know it can be done; I was going for a deeper point). Later, Barnard took me aside and said, "Young lady, you can make anything funny."
The problem is, right now, I’m not laughing. I don’t want to make death funny. To me, it’s not. It’s real, difficult, and empty.