My wife’s work partner and close friend, recently lost her 19- year-old son. He was on his friend’s motorcycle when a sixteen-year-old girl swung into the intersection, hitting and killing Vincent. The girl did not have a driver’s license and the reason she was out driving was because her mother had asked her to drive to the store and buy her a pack of cigarettes. 

Sherry, my wife’s friend, has obviously been grappling with a ton of grief. She had a memorial for him in her back yard with family and friends (Vincent was in a different state when he died and he was so badly injured that that he was immediately cremated afterward.) I didn’t attend the memorial, but I heard about it. Try writing about this experience, the memorial of a loss like that. Maybe you tell it from the dead child’s POV. Or maybe like in Huckleberry Finn, the child is not really dead, and there’s been a mistake, and the child is in the backyard listening to the accolades people heap upon when they think he’s dies, praise he never got while alive. Or maybe we learn about him, his quirks and shocking secrets as the guests vent and share. Or maybe we write about it from the other mother’s POV, her regret of asking her unlicensed daughter to carry out such a trivial task. Or maybe we write about it from the daughter’s POV, how this one night will change her life forever. Or maybe the daughter is now a woman when the piece begins, and a friend (or even her own daughter) has killed someone accidentally, and the piece starts with this: “I have something to tell you.”  

This is part of the statement Sherry read last week to the mother and daughter, and courtroom, in Arizona…

My son, Vincent, is dead.

He was all of 19 years old.

I will never hear his voice again. I will never again feel him wrap those beautiful, long arms around me, and embrace me. I will never hear his infectious laugh or enjoy his funny stories. Vincent was my best friend. I will never be a grandmother to his children because he will have no children and he will never fulfill his dreams.

My husband doesn’t sleep at all, he loses weight and is depressed, barely speaks to me, our whole family is falling apart.

I’ve come to realize, driving my car often, that when I reach an intersection, my heart skips and then beats rapidly, out of control. I tend to hold my breath. I become hyper aware of how dangerous it is to be crossing this intersection, and what it must’ve been like for Vincent on that awful day.

I have attended counseling sessions, and grief groups, buying every grief book, looking up every website on loss, trying to find a way to heal, to deal with this enormous hole and move forward. To just survive. I recognize I need more counseling in order to overcome this tragedy, and the relentless feelings of loss and grief that are burned into my heart and soul.

Have you, and your family, really thought about who Vincent was? What life he could’ve had? You need to know who Vincent was, and I want you to meet him now…

Try writing a eulogy for someone very important in your life. Try writing one for yourself, or the person you always wanted to be. Try writing one for your best friend, or lover.

When my mother died, my father tasked me with taking care of all the arrangements, which also meant writing and delivering her eulogy. As I’ve shared, my mother was a polarizing figure, to say the least. At that point in my life, I was still working at Nordstrom, in a leadership role, where essentially 60 percent of my time was meeting with various teams and doing motivational speaking. Still, giving that eulogy for my Mom, in front of a ragtag embittered family, was the hardest speaking gig I’ve ever had. I was certain someone would spring up and shout, “Liar!” or worse. Trying to characterize her truthfully, yet without malice, was, in a word, tricky.

Try writing a eulogy for a person you dislike. Or set your piece at a funeral where you’re seated in a pew hearing someone else give the eulogy. What truths do you hear? What are they leaving out? What are the secrets? How does it make you feel, listening to this person speak so glowingly about someone who was an awful human, someone you loathed?   

Here are some truly amazing works on our subject at hand:

This simple poem by Mary Oliver says so much:

And here she turns death/loss on its head…

More Mary…

How do we process grief, loss? How does it transform us, and those who love us as they watch us struggle?

What do we replace loss with? Addiction? Relentless sullenness? Anger? Conviction? Each of these is a terrific genesis for a piece that will rock your readers.  

How do we reconstruct our lives after a devasting loss? In what ways does it change us for the better? What are some attributes or even instincts that, once hidden or buried, show themselves afterward?

Go deep on the pain of loss, the massive weight of it. Also, try to impart a spark of hopefulness. The universality of that touches people right in their core…