“When are you going to write a book?” has been an oft-asked question throughout my life. Although I have always focused on language, I never really gave the question much thought. My flip answers ranged from “probably never” to “when the time is right.” But privately I considered the prospect highly unlikely. I believed I would only author a book if it somehow occurred “organically” due to some (as yet unforeseen) passion for a topic that would naturally and effortlessly lead to composing an entire epistle.Seasons of Letting Go: Most of what I know about truly living I learned by helping someone die is a collection of autobiographical essays inspired by being my mother’s caregiver in Kentucky in the years leading up to her death in 2012.
It explores the emotions of caregiving and grief, chronicles my transition to a new life in Western North Carolina and details my process of letting go so that a time of healing and self-actualization could replace sadness and loss.
How did I come to write this book?
For several years in the late 2000s, I lived alternately in Costa Rica and New Brunswick, Canada, as the partner of a kayak tour operator I met through my work in ecotourism. Feeling that I’d found the love of my life, I was swept up in an international experience full of adventure and romance.
Back in the states, my mother was approaching 80 and becoming weakened by the combination of a leaky heart valve and a chest wall damaged years before by a radical mastectomy and cobalt radiation. I realized that, in order to be true to myself, I needed to transition away from the exotic life of travel, and back to what I felt was a much more mundane existence: living with my mom in my old hometown of Winchester, Kentucky.
I started a blog so that I would not lose touch with my writing or my large network of friends and travel industry colleagues. What began as simply being around to lend a hand morphed into the role of caregiver—and the blog became an outlet for stress and, eventually, a way to come to terms with my mother’s passing.
Flash forward to late 2015. By now I had moved to Asheville and was talking one night with one of my new friends who had also experienced a loss. She was working through her grief in a yearlong photography project—and I suddenly realized I had done the same thing through my blog. In effect, I had already written a book without knowing it!
Who wants to read a book about grief?
Caregiving and death are topics often avoided in modern conversation. It’s much easier to stay busy, push down our feelings and focus on conducting our daily lives than to talk about these stressful and emotion-laden experiences. Also, in the face of deep loss, we can tend to believe that to “get over it” would be to dishonor the dead. Often, many years later, people are still hurting and carrying destructive feelings—staying “stuck” in the infancy of their grief.The truth is, not only is it okay to talk about caregiving and death; by doing so, we can allow our grief to mature and, eventually, actually finish it. This allows us to move on with our lives in a healthy way, gaining new wisdom and strength through which we can actualize our dreams and visions in the world, all the while honoring the person who has transitioned out of this realm.
My book explores the universal emotions that surround losing a loved one. It begins by traveling through the psychological landscape that marks each season in the initial year of grieving—a process that began for me even before death, with caregiving.
When you are taking care of a person who can’t get better, everything you do or try to do is in vain. You realize “I have no control,” and “There is no way to succeed.” Along the way, a larger understanding sets in: “There is no right way to do this. I am not here to save the day. I am here to love.”
I learned the most important life lesson through taking care of and losing my mom, who, as it turned out, was ultimately the love of my life. I learned, finally, to let go.
With inspirational quotes, song lyrics and literary references sprinkled throughout, the book is not only my personal account of loss and grief, but also a universal meditation on hope and spirituality. The essays are accompanied by stunning nature photography, colorful illustrations and graphic design elements that take the reader on an introspective journey of healing.
Not everything in the book is about death and sorrow, doom and gloom. There are chapters about following your bliss and meeting fate halfway, so that you can realize lifelong dreams for yourself, both personally and professionally. One chapter is especially for cat lovers!
Lessons we can all live by
A chapter called “Fifties Here I Come: 11 Lessons from my Forties” offers salient bits of wisdom I learned during an entire decade. I wrote it on the eve of my 50th birthday, February 25, 2014. I leave you with three of the lessons.
LESSON 1: LOVE YOURSELF
“The most important relationship you have in life is the relationship you have with yourself.” ~Diane von Furstenberg
Last year’s birthday came at a time when I was still grieving the loss of my mom so heavily that I expected others in my life to somehow compensate for the internal void of having no parent left to celebrate my life in the way that only parents can. I learned then the final lesson of independence: that I really needed to only have expectations of my own self, and to face the fact that I was truly alone—and be okay with that. And that helped me to focus on my relationship with myself more in the past year than I ever had previously.
LESSON 2: LOVE OTHERS
“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” ~Thomas Merton
This is only common sense, but with those expectations mentioned in the first lesson always creeping into relationships, keeping the right attitude toward love of any kind can be a challenge. It’s good to be reminded day after day that what we love about others is what makes them different from us and it is not our job to shape them or mold them into something we think is best for them—or for us. I think I finally learned this lesson during my forties and am ready to practice it well in the next decade.
LESSON 3: ACCEPT WHAT IS
“Stop resisting. So much of our anguish is created when we are in resistance. So much relief, release and change are possible when we accept, simply accept.” ~Melody Beatty
During my forties, I think I adopted a more natural acceptance of reality, learning more about not pushing for things but allowing them to come to me organically. A huge lesson of grief is the acceptance that you cannot change what has happened, what is. Learning to relax into the “luxury of grief” and allow it to consume you for a period of time is actually healthy, and takes you on a tour through all of your emotions so that none is left unvisited—and then you are ready to move on, to move forward.
How to learn more
Seasons of Letting Go: Most of what I know about truly living I learned by helping someone die, essays, 2016, softcover, $19.95, amazon.com, by Frances Figart. Learn more at francesfigart.com.
On February 25, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., there will be an open house, launch party and book signing at the Gingko Tree Gallery in Black Mountain, which features the work of Joye Ardyn Durham, whose image is on the book’s cover.
Frances Figart (pronounced Fié-gert) is the editor of the popular arts and culture magazine, The Laurel of Asheville. She lives on six acres in the mountains north of Asheville with her husband and a menagerie of wildlife, cats and dogs.