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Writing About Difficult Times in a Memoir

Writing about difficult times in a memoir requires some fortitude.

Recently, in a store, I looked up to see a woman enter, a woman I had not seen in a few years. She was someone I knew from 40 years ago and, as we live in the same area, I continue to meet regularly . We spoke briefly, superficially as one does on meeting someone one has not seen in a while, and soon she asked me, “Do you know what happened to Ronnie (not her son’s real name)?” Well, I hadn’t, but her tone made me fearful. I sensed I was about to learn something bad.

“He died this summer. Of an aortic embolism.”

Ronnie was 44 and in apparent good health and one day he died!

Mary  and John (not their real names) had two children. This son who had just died and a daughter in frail health who lives in Arizona for its dry climate. They have no grandchildren.

What I remember vividly about Mary and John is that as young people they were full of enthusiasm. John is a high school graduate who had realized  some financial success  without the coveted degree. His earning power permitted the family to live in a lovely home. Mary worked part-time and took care of their kids. There was an up-and-coming air about them. No college but they were making out all right! John was competing with the college boys and keeping up with many of them financially.

Then, a few years later, John fell sick. It was a chronic illness that I need not mention here. At first, he compensated  and things stayed much the same in their lives but with time it was no longer possible for John to maintain the drive he had known for years during his younger manhood. He entered middle age as a compromised wage earner. The couple did what any intelligent couple would have done. They downsized to a smaller home in another part of town and cut their expenses. Mary began to work full time. John stayed home and took care of that front. Their kids got older and went to school on grants and scholarships. Thanks to Mary and John’s reduced circumstances, the kids were able to get loans.

They were as they say, “Still doing all right.”

As John’s illness progressed, Mary had the misfortune to fall sick herself. Soon her full time work became part-time. Again as any reasonable couple would do, they sold their (downsized) house and moved to an apartment in an older part of town.

So now, in the store I was talking with a woman whose life had become hard. Her spirit however seemed good. “I will not have grandchildren,” she said. “That makes me sad, but it’s not my choice. All I can do is choose to be all right with it.”

John’s health was continuing to deteriorate and Mary told me that she could see a time when she would not be able to care for him any more.

It was hard not to picture the young couple she and John had been–full of enthusiasm about what life would bring. In the roulette of time, they had not been one of the winners–at least financially.

Writing  about difficult times in a memoir is necessary. As I have thought of Mary, I have wondered how I would write this life. It does not seem, from my outside perspective,  to have been an easy one.

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