The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother Daughter Love At the End of Life is a touching, honest, raw, and moving memoir by Dr. Virginia A. Simpson. In it she shares not only the time in which she cared for her mother as she passed from life to death, but also how the past was brought to the present during this process. Fellow bereavement colleague and friend, Barbara Rubel, introduced Virginia to me via email. We discovered that we live less than 15 miles away from one another. Since that time, Virginia and I have had an opportunity to visit, share, and support one another’s recent books. The following is a snippet of one of our times together.
Virginia, did you always dream of writing?
I've written for as long as I can recall. When I was a little girl, I "published" a newsletter for all the kids on our block, and as an adult I kept a journal and would write stories for myself. I always wanted to write a book, but didn’t become serious about it until ten years ago.
When did you know that you wanted to share your relationship with your mother, the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship, and care giving of your mother?
I was participating in an online writing group led by a New York Times Best Selling author and each week had to produce pages. Once I began to write about my mother, I found that the story took hold of me and didn't let go until I'd written the last page. Because of my work in the field of death, dying, and bereavement, I knew that I wanted The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother Daughter Love At the End of Life to go beyond simply being my story—I wanted it to help others.
You delve quite a bit into your past. Did this experience give you new insights? Did your writing change how you viewed yourself, your mother, and your experiences? What did you learn?
I learned more about my mother, my life, and myself through reliving past events as I wrote The Space Between than I had all the prior years when I kept a journal or through years of therapy. The writing allowed me to see my mother as a woman, to understand her struggles and how life hurt her. Through this understanding my heart opened and any long-standing resentments I’d held towards her disappeared. Through writing about my real experiences as her caregiver, I began to recognize how harsh and judgmental I was towards myself. Eventually, I was able to forgive myself for not being perfect.
What was the biggest challenge in writing The Space Between?
The biggest challenge was pushing through the pain as I re-experienced some days of my life. I cried and cried and cried because the events were as real in the writing as they had been in the living. Memoir is not simply a linear story. The events we write about need to have a “take away”—some insights or information useful to the reader. These insights came at a price because I had to continue to rewrite in order to find these deeper meanings. This meant repeatedly reliving some tough days and moments as I wrote draft after draft.
What was the biggest surprise, joy, or lesson that you learned?
Because we live our lives so quickly, we miss things. In the slowing down inherent in writing a memoir, I was able to step back and appreciate my mother’s strength, courage, and love. I recognized the depth of love we had for each other, a love that allowed us to work out anything that stood between us. My mother taught me how to die with grace and dignity, and I can only hope I’ve learned the lesson well.
How did your experience as a grief specialist help you construct your memoir?
Because of my work, I thought it was important for my memoir to be more than simply my story. I wanted to create something that would help others. Keeping this in mind, I spent more time talking about hospice, burnout, and the emotional challenges of being a caregiver than I probably would have if I were only writing to tell my story.
I imagine that The Space Between could be a useful tool for those who are care giving. Can you address this?
I added in a lot of information about hospice, caregiving, burnout, and the tough emotions that caregivers may experience. I mindfully chose to add in a lot of my inner turmoil and challenges, knowing full well some readers might think I was whining. I wanted to give voice to the things that people never admit to themselves or others so they will understand that their emotions and thoughts are a natural part of being overwhelmed by the difficulties inherent in being a caregiver. Caregiving is an immense challenge, and watching someone whom you love die is torture.
Do you have other writing projects on the horizon?
I’ve started a book, which on the surface is the story of my relationship with a dynamic older man when I was in my twenties, but underneath is an exploration of a young woman whose relationship with men is complicated by the early death of her father and the sexual and physical abuse by her brother.
Tell the audience a bit about yourself:
An ideal day for me would be at the beach with my husband on a mild winter day watching our Golden Retriever play with other dogs. My husband and I also like to visit the local wineries in our area and talk with strangers we meet while we’re sampling wine.
I’ve traveled all over the world and hope some day to get back to Bora Bora and South Africa, but right now my travel plans involve book launches and signings.
My needs are simple and because I take nothing for granted, every day is a gift I cherish.
The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life (She Writes Press, April 2016) is available at the following:
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-space-between-virginia-a-simpson/1122601912
On Twitter: @drginni12