With the passing of my grandma-by-marriage this week, I’ve given lots of thought to family. My own and my fictional ones in the books I write.
At the age of 98, 99 if she had made it to September, Grandma Jane lead a filled, full life. She left her earthly bonds surrounded by her family. Her son and daughter. Two grandchildren with their spouses. A great-grandson. We sat with her as she struggled for each breath, her lungs full of pneumonia, her age against any chance of fighting it.
My husband and I are now three hours away from our family. My husband’s sister called us a few days ago and said Grandma was in the hospital. She was sent back to the nursing home. Two days later, she was back in the hospital fighting for her life with aspiration pneumonia. Sister called us at 9 pm. to say they were in the ER and they would keep us updated. At midnight, she called to say Grandma was not expected to survive the night.
We threw off our pjs and whipped into our clothes. We grabbed a duffel bag and threw enough in to it to go for a couple of days. (God forbid you are ever in this situation, have a go-bag) We reached the hospital at 3 am.
Grandma left this world at 11 am that morning.
Nurses are angels on this Earth and don’t let anyone tell you differently. They had to know it was hopeless, but they came in time and time again when we asked them to take blood pressure readings. They asked if we were okay numerous times. They brought us coffee, tea, and cookies as the sun rose and the darkness fled from the windows. They went above and beyond to give us comfort in a time that no comfort could help. They did all they could to make an impossible time bearable.
So, what does this have to do with writing?
I have a bad habit of erasing my characters’ families. It is easier to write if they are only children with deceased parents or only one or a grandmother raising them. I didn’t start out giving this much thought when building my stories, but…how our characters interact with their families says so much about them. The inside jokes. The teasing. The memories. The stories.
I didn’t plan on so much family when I started writing my story for the next Authors of Main Street anthology until I realized I could use my family history to give Maggie a family history and the legend of the traveling cinnamon cookies.
From me to you–hug your family, keep them close, hold them in your hearts forever.
Jill James, romance writer