How Writing My Mother's Story Gave Me A Sense of Direction, Meaning and a Mission to Give Hope to Others
by Rea Bochner
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was young. A voracious reader, I burned through books, rolled new words on my tongue like I was savoring a fine wine, and listened as sentences and stories strung themselves together in my head. But in third grade, a painful experience with an English teacher taught me the crippling power of rejection. From then on, I tamped down my passion for the written word like a dark and shameful secret.
Years later, I was a mother, wife, and teacher with five years of sobriety and an underlying current of frustration I couldn’t kick. Taking a closer look, I recognized it as the aching need to write that I’d been ignoring for two decades. I had plenty of excuses: writing was a luxury with a family to support; I didn’t want the stress of financial instability; my creative resources were tapped from caring for a baby all day. But the truth was much simpler than that . . .
I was afraid.
What if someone read my work and didn’t like it? What if I failed? What if I succeeded? What would my life look like if I veered off the safe path and tried something completely different? These thoughts built a powerful wall around me, too thick and high for me to clear without a miracle.
Then, at the end of March, 2009, I got a life-changing phone call from my mother. She’d just received a prognosis of terminal cancer and would be moving to our family’s summer home in Cape Cod to die.
On that day, compelled by some unexplainable instinct, I started to write. I wrote every day for the next six weeks, as the rest of our family moved in, as my mother deteriorated, and finally passed away. At the time, I didn’t think about anything but putting pen to paper (or—more accurately—fingers to keyboard), and recording the most intense experience of my life. There was no pressure to do it perfectly, or even well. The writing was an outlet, and nothing more.
Before her death, my mother asked me to write her story. I didn’t realize it then, but I had already begun.
After my mother died, I looked back on the notes I’d written during those six weeks and was seized by a sense of mission. As my fellows’ stories of sobriety had been an anchor for me to cling to while I was getting my life together, sharing my experience could help someone else who was losing or had lost a loved one.
My writing was to honor the promise I’d made to my mother, to help me process what I’d been through, and to be of service to other people. Suddenly, the fears around writing were gone, because I was no longer making it about me.
For the next eight years, through a number of moves and the births of two children, I worked on the book. Even when family demands pulled me away from the computer, even when the fears cropped up again, I pushed on, knowing that I had to see the project through to the end.
While some may assume it was painful to relive my loss, it was actually a pleasure to spend that time with my mother on the page. I had the opportunity to look back on the experience with a new perspective and watch myself transition from child to adult, taking the reins of the household, raising a baby, feeding a family of ten, working with the nurses and caring for my mother in her last weeks of life. I was able to see and appreciate how it had shaped who I’d become.
My years of addiction were brought up fresh in my memory by writing about them in the book, which was a gift in itself. With a number of years of sobriety behind me, the novelty had long worn off. But walking through my disease again, I could see the stark contrast between who I’d been and the recovering person I am now.
It was both humbling and awe-inspiring to see what God had done for me, through me.
Finally, the day came when I made the final edits and printed out the manuscript to give to my editor. I called the book “The Cape House,” after the beloved summer home in Cape Cod where my mother passed away. As I held the thick pile of pages in my hand, it hit me: I am a writer.
I have never been prouder.
About the Author
Rea’s articles and short stories have appeared in a variety of publications, including the New York Times Bestselling Small Miracles Series. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, five children, and three cats. “The Cape House” is her debut memoir. Her fine website is located here.