As I near the completion of another novel (Something about a Ghost), my feelings are mixed. I’m excited at the prospect of completing a new project—a land speed record for me, a novel in two months. This year, every novel I write finishes faster. In time, I might be Ray Bradbury, locked away in a basement, writing Fahrenheit 451 in four days.
Each time I finish a novel, there is a forty-eight hour period of celebration. Following the celebration comes the depression, the mourning. By completing a novel, I kill my characters. You must understand: when the book ends, so does their story. They will never say something new, do something new. They are dead, and when this realization strikes, I wish I still had work to do.
My therapist suggests I write a letter to my dead characters, telling them how much I miss them. I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s an idea. Characters, when you spend enough time with them, become friends, and no one likes saying goodbye to a friend.
In conjunction with the completion of Something about a Ghost, I struggle to come to terms with my grandfather’s ensuing passage. As of last Sunday, the Hospice nurses gave him one to two weeks of life left.
Papa Schwind is the grandfather I grew up with in Ohio. My Grandpa Dobie lived far away, in Arkansas, and he died when I was very young, so I identify the word “grandfather” most strongly with Papa. He lives five minutes from my childhood home. He was at my house for every birthday, national holiday, and random Sunday afternoon.
Now, he can’t get out of bed. He recently told my mother that he and Grandma were on vacation—that they would be going home soon. I’ve tried talking to him on the phone from far-off Arizona, but he doesn’t respond. I don’t know if he knows who I am on the telephone. If he saw me, maybe it would be different; maybe not. He’s drugged. He sleeps constantly. He truly is ready to leave.
Everything ends. Life. Novels. Summer. Let’s not forget it will soon be October, and I’m shocked. October is my favorite month of the year—the month of pumpkin-flavored everything, daily horror films, and spooky décor. I am ill-prepared, perhaps because of all that’s gone on this week: the impending loss of not only favorite figments of my imagination but of the man I’ve loved all my life.
In my imagination, Papa and my novel are on a timeline together. I call my family every day; I write every day. Papa fades; the characters in Something about a Ghost will, too. I’ve reached the level of literary maturity to know that finishing a novel carries a lot of baggage; so does death, because I don’t know how I’ll respond when the final phone call comes from Ohio. Will I cry? Scream? Fall apart?
Papa has been sick a long time. The man he was—the man I most remember—is mostly gone. He still smiles. I guess Sunday, when they first thought he was gonna go, he woke up and asked for a cookie. That’s Papa. He’s still in there, but I’ve already grieved. I’ve been grieving for two years.
Everything ends. People say every ending is also a beginning, and this is true. Papa’s life in Heaven will soon begin. The ending of my novel will release my mind and allow me to wander down new paths of creativity. Yet, I do not rejoice at the prospect of these endings. Instead, I feel a daily ache and wonder what beginnings hide in shadows so thick.