The Story Economy Blog

I Should Really Stop Writing About Death


I should really stop writing about death.

I was going to.

I specifically told an editor, “I’m tired of writing about death. I’m going to write about happy things next time.”

And then I wrote about death.

In fact, I wrote the essay, “Love Medicine,” for my May Cincinnati Magazine column, about death. My husband said he thinks it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. I don’t know about that. But I do know that I wrote it almost against my will. I wanted to write it, of course. I loved writing it. It just wasn’t what I started writing when I had the idea to write about the role of medicine in my life.

It’s where I wound up though.

I wound up right back there again a few weeks ago when I started working on another essay. It was going to be light! Funny! Irreverent! I told my editor all of these things.

And then I wrote about death. The piece is also happy and a little triumphant (it's due out this summer—I'll share). But still, I couldn’t keep death out of it.

A colleague of mine teasingly calls certain kinds of sad-but-happy stories “iron lung” stories. The first time I heard him say this was after I wrote a speech for an executive we were working with. “It’s a good iron lung story,” he said.

“Huh?” I asked.

“You know, a woe-is-me-but-I’ve triumphed-story.”

I hadn’t realized that’s what I was even writing, but he was right. Who doesn’t love that story? We need that story. I’m amazing at writing those stories for clients.

I just didn’t think it was all I could write for myself.

But here I am, writing sad-but-happy stories about death when I specifically said I wasn’t going to. Am I just a one-trick, iron-lung-story pony? I used to write funny and light things, about how handstands can solve the world’s problems or jumping on the trampoline with my kid or why I love sewing or how my dad hated Ronald Reagan. Although . . . that Ronald Reagan one actually was kind of about my dad dying.

But, whatever.

The point is: I can’t be the iron lung girl!

And yet, death won’t go away. The weird thing is, I’m not even trying to shoo it away. I realize now that it’s a part of life. My mother, bless her practical-Depression-era-childhood-self, always says, “Death is a part of life.” I grew up hearing that all the time. Every time I would hear it, I would do the equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and saying, “Blah blah blah, I can’t hear you!”

But now I’m listening. Actually, I’m beyond listening. I’m breathing it. I’m infusing my writing with it.

I’m actually a happy person. I don’t walk around sad. I’m not trying to make other people sad. In fact, I’m trying to make other people feel less sad. Less alone. Less like they’re somehow selfish for remembering, pondering, and reflecting on their lives—which have probably included any number of setbacks and sorrows.

I’m not sorry if my writing makes you cry. I am sorry for your sorrow though. I’ve been there. Do you know what I recommend?

Writing about it.

So, there you go.

Very soon, I will have Big Fantastic Exciting News to share about a project of mine (which—shockingly—is NOT related to writing about death).

Here’s to a spring that is finally getting started, at least in these parts.

PS. The photograph is via Unsplash by Charles Deluvio.

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