An Author’s Perspective: Mothers and Daughters

Apr 12, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Gabrielle St. George

Trigger Warning: I write funny mystery novels, but this guest post isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, especially with Mother’s Day around the corner.

My mother died one week ago. Her life was long, but it wasn’t easy. She suffered from mental illness, which meant that as her child, I also suffered as a result of her mental illness. Our relationship was complicated, but I loved her and always did my best to take care of her—a responsibility I took on from a very young age.

Gabrielle St. George

The nursing home where my mother spent her last two years was four hours away from where I live. I endeavoured to find her a place closer to me, but due to the high level of care she required, I couldn’t. I was the only one in my mom’s life. Generally, people don’t stick around if they don’t have to when mental illness is in the picture. In my mother’s case, friends and family members who bailed included her other child. If I ever write that book, my selfish, older ex-sister will be the villain, and she will get her comeuppance, dramatically and justly, for abandoning our mom and breaking her heart. Writing about a person’s bad behaviour is an author’s superpower—revenge is a dish best served cold.

My regular visits became near daily for the last two weeks of my mother’s life. In my humorous Ex-Whisperer Files mystery series, the first draft for the third book, How to Bury a Billionaire, was due in six weeks. I felt like I was failing my editor by requesting an extension on my deadline. Still, by the time I returned home from my eight-hour round-trip drive to sit at my mom’s deathbed, hold her hand, and try to calm her Alzheimer’s-ridden brain, I was exhausted and sad, and writing funny wasn’t going so well. Life happens. Death happens, too, and from that, there is no escape.

I used the long stretches on the road constructively by listening to audiobooks. The first one was I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy—well written and raw, but not my cup of tea, and it turns out not the best timing for me. I was glad my mom’s suffering would soon end, but I wasn’t glad to lose her. Can a sixty-year-old be an orphan? Because I mostly felt like a child about to be alone in the world. After my mom passed, I realized I was right; in a way, I was alone in the world because most of us only get one mom, and even if they’re not so great, their absence leaves a void that physically hurts, even if that child is sixty.

Yesterday I made the eight-hour round trip again—this time to pick up my mom’s ashes and bring her home. Collecting her from the crematorium was morbid, and I was shocked by how little was left of her and how heavy the box containing my mother was. I safety-belted her into the car seat next to me and got us a couple of coffees at the drive-thru because it felt rude to order only one. I didn’t turn my audiobook on—creating a distraction didn’t seem like the right thing to do. The two of us drove in silence, but that felt rude, too, after a while. So I chatted with her. I patted her box and told her she did a great job and that I was proud of her and loved her. My mother is sitting at my kitchen table now, where she has sat thousands of times over the years. She’ll stay with me until I bury her with my dad next month. I think she’s happy to hang out with me for a while.

As writers, we use much of our lived experience in our work. I don’t believe there’s a writer who doesn’t. Of course, imagination plays a huge role—I write murder mysteries, and I’ve never murdered anyone (yet), but to a large degree, most of us write what we know. Right now, I know I’m way behind on my deadline for my third book. I’m hoping I’ll soon feel like I can write funny again so I can get that first draft finished and sent off to my publisher.

Will I ever be able to look back on the experience of losing my mom and find any humour (my coping mechanism) in it? Maybe even draw upon it in my writing? I sure hope so because one thing my mom and I did do together was laugh a lot. I’m already smiling when I think about taking my mom-in-a-box through a Tim Hortons drive-thru to order us a couple of dark roasts—a little more time to heal, and I may be able to chuckle about it. Pain and beauty, sadness and joy, fear and love weave together to create this amazing human experience we call life, and out of that lived experience, art is born. I think I’m almost ready to write again. Thanks for everything, mom—the good times and the bad. I wouldn’t be able to create art if you hadn’t given me both.

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Gabrielle St. George is a Canadian screenwriter and story editor with credits on over 100 produced television shows, both in the USA and Canada. Her feature film scripts have been optioned in Hollywood. She is a member of the Writer’s Guild of Canada, Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers.
Ms. St. George writes humorous mysteries and domestic noir about subjects on which she is an expert—mostly failed relationships, hence her debut soft-boiled series, The Ex-Whisperer Files, which launched with How to Murder a Marriage in 2021, was followed by the second book in the series How to Kill a Kingpin in 2022, and the third book How to Bury a Billionaire publishes in 2023.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


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