Note: This is the second of three parts, a piece about how losing her mother at 11 years old has shaped Alaina Leary, a student at Westfield State University who is interning with Beetle Press this semester. Click here to read from the beginning.
By Alaina Leary
Growing up, I always knew my parents were my biggest supporters. That didn’t change when my mom passed when I was 11.
I felt a strong need to honor my connection to them – particularly my connection to my mom – and so, in seventh grade, armed with a notebook and many pens, I started a journey of writing about the year after her passing.
I had always been a writer, but my short fictional children’s books lacked substance and dedication. My mom spent many hours of her life listening to my stories, rubbing my back as I created characters for her.
I wrote for six months and ended up with a type-written, 365-page account of my life in 2004-2005, starting with the day that she passed and ending with my first visit to Camp Angel Wings, a camp for children who have lost someone close to them. I called my novel An Angel’s Wings.
My dad encouraged me to print the book out at a local free “book-creating” program that met weekly. Every other participant had created short picture books. The supervisor of the club was so impressed with my work that she passed on my book to the mayor of my hometown, Fall River.
The mayor met with me and gave me a citation for my work. The book was dedicated, of course, to my mom.
The experience prompted me to keep writing. I haven’t stopped working on writing fiction since, and occasionally, I write poetry.
I don’t know if I would have started writing as much as I did, or with as much passion, if it weren’t for losing my mom. I also don’t know if I would have had the same energy and commitment to this work without the support and love of my dad.
He and I had a very different relationship before my mom passed. Although we were always close, I saw him as the “strict one” and my mom as the one with her head and heart in the clouds.
After her passing, I saw a new side of my dad and our relationship. Every Sunday, he would sit down with me to talk about my mom in our little “therapy sessions,” as we call them now.
After my book was finished, he and I took turns reading chapters aloud to one another. I remember that while he was reading one of the scenes in the memoir where I am surveying my empty house after my mom’s death, my dad began to cry.
Before my mom’s death, I identified her as my best friend; she was television’s Lorelai to my Rory Gilmore.
Afterward, my dad slowly became like a Lorelai to me as we grew a uniquely honest and witty relationship, filled with inside jokes and long-car-ride stories, that has only grown to this day.
I called my mom “Mama Chicken” as a kid, and now I call my dad “Old Man” and “Dad Biscuit,” as he is identified in my cell phone.
Even though I’m a college junior, my Dad Biscuit contact is the most used in my list, hands down.
Here’s the excerpt from my book that moved my dad to tears as he read it to me aloud:
Mama, where are you when I truly need you? Dead, which is why I’m crying in the first place. This seems like a never-ending cycle of sadness. You die, I cry, and when I cry I need you to make me feel better, but you’re dead, which is why I’m crying anyway.
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