I was sick for the first two days of Tribe 2017. Really sick. So sick, I was literally locked in my hotel room, hotel staff waiting on me as necessary (and only as necessary) because I had a fever from a virus that would result in full body hives if I didn’t take 5 different kinds of antihistamines (yes, 5. at the same time). It was awful. I didn’t think I’d be able to make it. All I was hoping for was that my friend and business partner would be able to relay to me the most important things she learned.
But the universe has a funny way of saying it needs you to see something really important. And the universe decided that I’d be able to attend the last day of Tribe 2017, and broke my fever. I didn’t know it then, that the universe had something truly special for me, I just thought, YAY!! I get to see the rest! I don’t even have any pictures. . . (I’m a photographer as well. . . so that’s disappointing. . . )
Blissfully unaware of a life changing event coming my way, I sat through amazing authors and speakers talking about the best ways to make my writing even better. I met wonderful people and shared stories. We were half way through the day, and I was just grateful for being able to make it this last day, when Jeff Goins brought on a young author, Nathalie Brenner.
Her’s was an interview type talk about self publishing. Jeff wanted to share her story because it was happening right now and would be relevant to our pursuits as fellow authors. She had a story she felt she must write and decided, after much contemplation and serious commitment to getting it done, to self publish her memoir on grief. I thought the information on the specifics related to self publishing was really interesting and more specific than I had recalled when I co-published a story in a collection of shorts stories with a cohort of authors a few years previous. I wrote down numbers and advice. But in the back of my mind, her intro about her struggle with grief in the face of her mostly joyful self was compelling.
I have long been obsessed about how we process grief. I lost my husband 10 years ago this year; this month actually. 10 days prior to her talk, to be exact. I had been told things like, “you need to get over it,” or “he’s in a better place.” I had also been told things like, “I know this isn’t like what you went through…” when someone wanted to talk about grief. It made me CRAZY that people thought of grief as a competition. I just felt like, grief is grief is grief. It’s not a competition and I haven’t suffered any more or less than you. If it’s your deepest loss, it hurts just as much as I did. I’ve long wanted to write about it, but have been scared to fail or to succeed or to hurt other people. And so, when people tell me they are writing about grief from a very personal place, I am riveted.
And then Jeff made an ask; one Natalie didn’t know was going to be made. He asked us if we could support her. My hand shot up like someone had just offered me a million dollars for free if I could just get my hand up faster than anyone else. I meant it. I was going to read her book. I even decided to forgo waiting to get a hard copy and bought an electronic version (I’m old school about books). I couldn’t wait to read it.
The catch was, it wasn’t even out yet. It wouldn’t be out until the next day. I was traveling that next day to ANOTHER conference, so I didn’t see it until I sat down later in the evening. I had dinner and prepared for my next conference starting the next day. Around 8pm, I went to settle in and read a bit before going to bed so I could be rested for the next days activities. I downloaded her book from my Amazon library, and started to read.
By 9pm, I had read 61% (it’s 370 pages) of This Undeserved Life and I was sobbing. The tears were so heavy, when I sat up in bed, they hit the floor; I saw them pool on the floor. I stopped reading, went to my computer and wrote her a message on Facebook. When I realized she may not get it there, I went to her website and sent her another message there.
Her story was raw, beautiful, personal to me. I needed her to know I saw her. I needed her to see me. I needed her to know her words could move someone so completely, they couldn’t even wait to finish the book to tell her how much. I even said in the message, “I don’t care how this ends, the bottom line is Thank you. and it will never be enough.”
Why her book moved me is deeply personal and actually has almost nothing to do with losing my husband. In fact, the why is probably best kept for another post, but here’s the thing. The way she opened her chest and put her beating heart on a page for me to watch fill with love and deflate with pain made me understand how perfect I am in my own pain. I don’t have to “get over it.” I don’t have to BE anything I am not. I am me. I am enough. My pain is mine. She gave me the understanding I am joyful even in my pain. I am still full of pain in my joy.
I can’t give away what this book is about because I don’t know if anyone else will experience it like I did. I think many will have a transformative experience. I think mine is unique because, in my opinion, I am not her audience. I am not a mother. I have never been pregnant. I am also not a religious person in any way and she has a very connected relationship with God. BUT, I am a child. I am adopted. I have felt loss. I understand feeling like I am a bad person for having feelings. I am human. It is on these levels I will always think of her as a mentor. I have Tribe and Jeff Goins to thank for that.
We thank conferences or speakers at conferences for the wisdom they gave us for the kind of conference; how to be a more successful writer, how to be a better manager, how to best choose security software, which video games are the best or whatever things you love to do. I thank this conference for giving me back me. You all, my Tribe forever, now, helped me see that I am already the writer I am supposed to be, not the one I thought was trapped.