My new book, A Kiss Before You Go (I’ve taken to calling it AKissB4UGo, but then I’ve always been a Prince fan), is about to arrive in stores and I’ve been thinking a lot about the last couple of years in which I made it. It’s the favorite of my books, the one I love the most, yet, of course, it’s a book I never wanted to write.
To write a book about losing Patti seems like insanity. To take the worst thing that ever happened to me and turn it into art and share it with everyone? It’s a crazy idea.
The first time I gave the book to Jack, the person to whom I had dedicated the book, his reaction was, “Dad, I already went through this once. I don’t know if I want to go over it again.” For him, reading the book was reliving the worst of times. But it hasn’t been like that for me and I’ll try to tell you why.
My life changed so much while I wrote it. I started it bereft, confused, having no idea where my life was going to go, if my life could even continue. I didn’t know if I could be a father. I didn’t know if I could go back to work. I was going through feelings and fears unlike anything I’d ever been through before. But, despite all of the pain, it seemed like an incredibly important time in my life. The time in which maybe I could learn some things that Patti seemed to pick up over the last 20 years. How to accept what life gives me. To see the good in other people To understand the real value of being alive. Little things like that. That first summer Jack broke his wrist and the doctor told us that once the bone healed it would be stronger than ever. The place where you break becomes the place you can lean on.
I’ve been keeping an illustrated journal for so long. I’ve recorded the things that I’ve eaten, the places I’ve gone, the people and critters that surround me. But after Patti died, my journal had a whole new purpose. This time seemed like it was full of lessons. And it seems like if I let those lessons and experiences and revelations slip through my fingers rather than taking them as blessings and gifts I would be wasting the most important experience of my life. I would be doing Patti a disservice, a terrible one. She learned to turn the horror of her disability into a life transforming act. She had become wise and generous person over the years she spent in that wheelchair. She helped others. She had developed grace.
And while I may not be able to hope for the same, every day I sense her spirit in me. And that spirit was guiding me to seek the importance in life. To understand… something, I didn’t know what. So I became like a student taking notes in class. Writing down my thoughts, my dreams, the revelations that I was handed as I looked at these everyday things around me. Suddenly scrubbing the floor, buying some ice cream, watching my dog sleep in the sun, felt full of significance. I didn’t fully understand that significance, I don’t know that I still do yet, but I was damned if I was going to let it slip to my fingers. So I wrote in my journal and I drew and painted the things around me. I captured them and held onto them. And slowly but surely I filled book after book with drawings and truths.
A good book is a journey. The hero confronts difficulties and emerges transformed. But my journey wasn’t fiction, it was real life. It didn’t have such a neat conclusion. There wasn’t a moment where I stood on a mountain as the sun broke through the clouds and revealed the truth in all its glory. Life isn’t that easy.
But there’s no question this journey has changed me. It revealed and reordered my priorities. It has taken away my greatest fears. The fear of losing everything. Material possessions. Loved ones. And the greatest fear of all, the fear of my own death. But I am not nihilistic, cynical or jaded. I am purged.
I sit in my home alone as I write this. My wife is gone. My son is gone. My dogs are asleep. And I am fine.
Because Patti — even though she’s reduced to the ashes in the cookie jar on the bookshelf in my living room — is also inside of me. I don’t mean this in a spiritual, mumbo-jumbo kind of way. I don’t mean it in a Jesus, afterlife, heavenly kind of way. And I don’t mean it in a ghostly astral projection, Patrick Swayze kind of way either.
I just mean that the memory of Patti Lynn Gregory, the example that she set, the warmth and caring that was in her, affect me every day. She lives on in this feeling inside me. And that is something I need to share. I need to share it with the people around me and I need to share with people around the world. And that’s with this book is for.
Have these words made you want to read my book? Or scared you off? Have I made it seem heavy and grim? I promise you it’s not.
I’ve lived through sad and scary times. But this book isn’t terribly sad or scary. It’s about life. It’s about love and it’s about how you carry on. Which is something that all of us need to keep on doing, whether we’ve suffered a loss or not.
These days, I’m a positive and fulfilled person. And I don’t regret anything that happened to me. In the time since I started writing this book, I’ve learned how to be happy in my own skin. To accept what happens to me. And to be truly glad of each day. I haven’t completed the journey and there are certainly times I feel like I still have a long way to go. But I know I’m headed in the right direction. And I’d like to share with you what it’s been like. So that it will matter. And so that Patti’s life will matter.
Okay, in the next days and weeks, I’d like to tell you more about the book and how it came about and what’s in it and show you some the things that aren’t in it so you can get a good sense of what it’s all about. I’d also love to hear other people’s impressions of the AKissB4UGo. What do you think? You can find out by picking up a copy at your local bookstore or online. And then please, please write to me and let me know if you like it and what it means to you. Oh, and share it with friends. As I’ve said, my goal in all this is to share my experience so others can benefit from it — the more the merrier.
Thanks, and stay tuned.