Writing as a Lifeline by Celeste Fletcher McHale
When author Celeste Fletcher McHale received devastating news about a loved one, she did the only thing she could…begin writing.
Maya Angelou said “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” The Secret to Hummingbird Cake is simply a story I couldn’t keep inside. Not another second. People ask me all the time if it was difficult to write and the answer is no. It was a relief.
Nothing prepares you for devastating news. I don’t care how strong you are, how many battles you’ve fought, how thick your skin is…when somebody tells you someone you love is going to die and they are helpless to stop it, your life changes. Immediately. After the shock wears off, the pain sets in. It sucks. And it frightens. And it stalks. But what comes next is the gift, even though it will be a good while before you recognize it. Clarity. And if you’re lucky, the clarity stays long after your loved one is gone.
During Lynn’s (you will know her as Laine in the book) illness, the world was somehow brighter to me. Newer. In retrospect, I imagine it was the first time in my life I ever truly looked around me and not just in the mirror. Much of the book is about my own very real struggle of self-discovery. It sounds really selfish, I know, but I think I WAS really selfish. Before she became sick, I loved my friends and family and would do anything for them, but in the end, I made most everything about Celeste. I simply didn’t look too much further than what I wanted or needed. All that changed in those 18 months. We couldn’t cure her illness, but her illness cured me.
Writing about her sickness and death was like tonic for my soul. For two years after she passed, I couldn’t cry. Not one tear. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. Then one day I was sitting on my porch with my laptop and I started remembering a night years before when she had come into my house unannounced at midnight. She’d scared me to death. I started typing what is now the first chapter. Months later, when I reached the chapter where we lost her, I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t see the keyboard and my fingers couldn’t stay still. I didn’t realize I was finally grieving her until I was finished with the book.
When you have friends who are more than that word, family without the validation of blood, sisters without the same parents, nothing… and I mean nothing is out of bounds. We didn’t keep secrets from each other. We didn’t lie to each other. We didn’t sugar coat our opinions and we didn’t soft petal the truth. And part of that was dealing with the unthinkable. A cancer diagnosis. And not just any cancer diagnosis, pretty much a death sentence. I know that sounds morbid and morose and that isn’t what I intend…because the 18 months from Diagnosis Day until Death Day were filled with more joy and more love than a lot of people will ever see or feel. It was an 18 month gift and I will be eternally thankful to have been part of it.
Celeste Fletcher McHale lives on her family farm in Central Louisiana where she enjoys raising a variety of animals. Her hobbies include writing, football, baseball, and spending much time with her grandchildren.
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