In my final week on Orcas Island, where I’d lived alone for three months to focus on writing, every ending made me cry. The end of a book. A hiking trail. A meal. A football game. With each one, I choked back sobs and wiped away tears, wondering how I’d become so fragile. After a few days, I figured out the pattern. My life on the island was about to be over, filling me with so much grief that all other endings did the same.
About a month ago, I started to experience similar, spontaneous bouts of distress. I’d be in a meeting, on a walk, or spending time with friends when my heart would start to race and a lump would rise in my throat. Having been through this before, it didn’t take long to pinpoint the cause. I’m nearing the end of a book I’ve been working on since 2012, and no matter how exciting it is to approach the finish line, I always get a bit sad when I finish a piece of writing. For the past eleven years, I’ve been hanging out with this cast of characters on a world I created, and all of that is coming to an end.
But there’s another layer to the grief that accompanies the completion of this story. My dad, who passed in 2020, was one of its first readers, critics, and fans. When I wrote the Acknowledgements section of the first part of Aret back in 2016, I began with this:
Before reading Aret, my father (who reads about five books a week) had never read a single book in the fantasy genre, as he had zero desire to do so. But because he is meticulous, highly critical, and frank (which also happens to be his name), I asked him to be one of my first readers, then burdened him with each major revision (I believe there were four or five, although he estimates the number at closer to a hundred). With each reading, he’d take several pages of notes, and we’d spend hours together so I could “defend my dissertation” while he inundated me with questions and critiques. Although I know he’d prefer it if I wrote about spies, the Old West, fly fishing, or the Napoleonic Wars, he worked tirelessly on Aret. Dad – thank you.
I wrote those words with the confidence of someone who had no idea what life would bring. It never occurred to me that Dad would die before I finished the story. I thought we’d be on the journey together – him brutally criticizing every word while also celebrating the characters and plot points that brought him joy. As I reach the final page, there is a huge, unmistakeable void in my writing process. Dad should be here to see how it ends, and he isn’t.
A few days ago, I looked through photos of my parents’ visit to Orcas, back when the world of Aret was just coming to life. I found this shot of Dad and me at the Little Summit in Moran State Park:
And this one of Dad beating me with an imaginary baseball bat after I accidentally took him on an hourlong hike that was supposed to be half a mile:
(Anyone who’s hiked with me knows this is par for the course, but Dad was unamused.)
Photos and memories like these help to balance the grief of his loss with gratitude for the silly and loving relationship we had. He helped me develop a thick skin, along with a greater ability to accept criticism, and that made me a better writer.
Thank you, Dad, for everything. What I tell myself is that you would’ve hated the way I ended the story, and you would’ve fought me on it, and it would’ve been a whole thing. So maybe it’s better this way. 😉
But really, I just miss you, and I wish you were around to help me navigate and celebrate this ending.