Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

Writing About Elderly Parents

I’ve been having trouble writing about my goodbyes. The topic is so emotionally charged. I know my brain wants me to go there, but I’m hesitant, afraid—my inner critic feels threatened and wants to keep me well within my comfort zone.

Mum and Dad

I am passionate about writing. I especially love it when I’m on a roll, when the writing flows onto the screen. But some emotional content is tough to face, and writing about it is hard. Even starting is problematic.

Sometimes, my inner critic (I call her Shoshana), trying to protect me, tries to pull me away. “You’re tired—you need a nap,” “You can’t put off doing the laundry any longer,” or “It’s time to walk the dog. Now.” Sometimes Shoshana tries to distract me with emails I need to respond to or with an easier project that is calling me.

It can take a while before I become aware that I’ve been avoiding writing about a particular topic. When I do, I try to sneak up on Shoshana, so she doesn’t notice that I’m heading into the danger zone until it’s too late, until I’m on a roll.

I wanted to address the topic of coming to terms with my parents’ descent into old age, their ailing bodies and minds. I needed to explore my mourning over losing the parents I knew and loved. But my emotions were too raw.

From past experience, I knew that writing about the tough subjects helped me process them. My brain kept pushing me to write about my grief over my parents’ decline. It was like a compulsion. But Shoshana fought hard.

She balked at the direct approaches. I couldn’t bring myself to spell out the effect Dad’s encephalitis and subsequent brain surgeries had on him—his confusion poor memory, his limited mobility and ability to communicate. Putting Mum’s psychological problems into words…they didn’t want to show up on the page. I even had trouble using the phrase “my ailing parents.”

Writing about it was inevitable. I’d been agonizing over it for a couple of years now—eventually my brain would wear Shoshana down. But I had no idea how long it would take—a couple of weeks? A month? A year? Two?

I wonder whether this is going to work, whether writing about my difficulties writing will surprise her into complying.