The book I never meant to write

 

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.

25 Comments

  1. Kim

    Thank you for writing this book Danny. I needed something like it in my own journey 4 years ago but it did not exist. Now it does, and will be a good thing for many who find themselves bereft. I’m looking forward to reading if, & getting to know Patti a bit. She seems to have been a truly extraordinary woman. I’ve learned much from all your other books, & expect you’ll take us on an interesting journey in this one as well. Your honesty & humility in all this belies the fact that you’re one of the most interesting creative minds of our time, one who bravely does what most would not dare.

  2. Darlene K Campbell

    Wow, can you come walk beside me for a bit? I’ve ordered the book today!

  3. jrwilsondesign

    Hi, Danny, you’ve brought me to tears. “Creative License” helped me through a hard time in my life about 5 years ago. I learned so much about myself and magical things happened when I would draw, so much so that the act became a bit reverential to me. I am not surprised that you have gotten through or learned to live with your grief by doing so. I am sorry for your great loss and for Jack’s. My mother died a year ago. For some reason, I have not managed to draw but I at least tried to write at length about particularly difficult or memorable times in the months following. The releasing of thoughts and emotion in any form helps to balance. Your book is on my wish list for Christmas, and I look forward to reading and being inspired by it. Jack will read it when he is ready. We all have to grieve our own way. Blessings to the both of you.

  4. janicefried

    Anyone who is able to use their creativity as a means for healing is an inspiration to me. I look forward to seeing/reading your book(s).

  5. Chris

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this book. It brings tears to my eyes, not because of sadness but because it touches me so much. I lost my mother at young age and the sadness was a heavy load at that time and long after, but I learned to live. I know so well what you mean when you say that people live on inside of us. This is where I can feel all the members of my family and friends who have already passed away. They have been part of my life and now, somehow, they, their thoughts, how they lived their lives has become a part of me and it makes me a stronger and better and -oddly enough – even a happier person than I have been before. I’m looking forward to reading your book and accompany you on this strange journey through life.

  6. lynn cohen

    Danny, I have ordered your book and look forward to reading it. It also sounds like, given all you said here today, that it will be something to share with my clients I see as a psycotherapist. In the past 22 years I have sat with many, many people through their grieving.
    It will also prepare me for losses I have not yet had.
    I am already a huge fan, and have been greatly inspired by, all of your art books. I cannot imagine not adding this one to my collection.
    I’m glad this experience has been so rich for you. I am glad it has helped you make peace with it all. It certainly sounds as though you have completed a circle.
    Thanks for sharing it all in your book.

  7. Nicolette Anderson

    Danny, I look forward to reading your book, as I have all of your others. You continue to inspire me in so many ways, and I know that this book will be the same. Thank you for sharing your personal journey with us.

  8. Elsie Hickey Wilson

    Thank you, Danny, for this gift to us all! When I first heard you were writing it, I felt I just could not bring myself to read it. Patti and you and Jack had become sort of “family” to me as I read your books and used them as inspiration to write and draw my own life journey. Part of me did not want to believe it happened. You and Patti and Jack were somehow still there. Yet, there is no other way to walk down th road and not do the honor to Patti and not draw the experience, not share the journey. Everyday Matters, it cannot be put into a box. It must be lived, held in the hand and gazed upon. As our lives can be lived, drawn, written, your life helps us live. My copy was preordered and will arrive soon. Thank you more than I can express……but I’ll read it and draw my thanks.

    Elsie

  9. AnAis

    Can’t wait to receive mine…
    Even before reading it, I thing you have made a great work, Danny…I’m sure

  10. Linda Kelly

    Thank you for sharing such a personal journey. As a writer, I admire your courage. As someone who is learning to sketch and to keep an art journal as a result of reading your books and taking a class with Jane LaFazio, I am learning to appreciate what art can express that sometimes words cannot. Those we love are always with us, and I know that Patti’s light is shining within you and around you, supporting you and celebrating your very personal accomplishment.

  11. Carol r.

    Danny, “Everyday Matters” as you taught me in your book of this title. I have been sketching with abandonment ever since ( about 2 years now) . I feel the moment in each of my pictures. Several years ago, I lost a precious 7 year old granddaughter to kidney cancel. Shortly after her death I wrote a poem about her struggle and also a happy book about some of her experiences going thru this time. I made a few sketches at the time but have never done any thing with the book or shared it with anyone. I have not because the ending is sad, she dies in spite of all her battles. Only yesterday, her mother, my daughter said– do you ever intend to do anything with that book? This daughter became an oncology nurse after her experiences of thirteen months of treatment with this child. This same daughter has been diagnosed with Ovarian cancer and so another battle has now come into our path. Life is tough but this family just keeps on going forward. God gives us the grace to make it thru each day and we are forever changed with each new challenge becoming better not bitter. I want to read your new book but at the same time, I am afraid I might experience more pain that I avoid as much as I can. The time will be right when I read it. I know you have poured out your heart and it will help countless people. When we are unselfish enough to share our own then we help others. God bless. I feel like I know you because you have and are, making an impact on my life.

  12. ann'sart@studiohyde

    I’ll be ordering your book when it is online here in the UK, I hope it will be. You are a brave man to publish such a personal tragedy in your lives and although I don’t actually know your family personally, it is very clear to me (and to everyone) how very much you loved each other. Somehow I think if Patti is looking down (or sideways, or whatever it is) I’m sure she would be proud of you and Jack. You are Honouring her by leading your lives to the full.

  13. Melissa/Foodie for Two

    Just ordered my copy from Amazon! I was telling my husband about the book and couldn’t help my eyes from tearing up; I look forward to reading about your journey and seeing the beautiful illustrations. Thank you for sharing such a personal story.

  14. cheryl carr

    My copy came today, the day after Thanksgiving. The perfect, quiet kind of day where I can sit back and absorb your words about love and loss and memories–because in the end, that is all we have. Thanks for writing this.

  15. Brenda Swenson

    Very few people are willing or able to express themselves in the way you do. In each life tragedy strikes…either we can become closed off and bitter or we grow. Wish I knew the words to thank you for your generous spirit and amazing talent of putting words and images to paper.

  16. Anna

    I haven’t yet read the book, as we don’t have it here yet in the UK. I have it pre-ordered on Amazon and can’t wait! Just to say though, I have enjoyed the images from the book you have shared on your website, and I love Everyday Matters. I show it to my art students regularly, getting them to see the beauty and value of their everyday lives.

    Also wanted to say thank you for all your writing, your books and blog. I am planning on putting my own drawing and writing material into a book (and you have helped me with my motivation), as I have also learned lots of life lessons and want to share them. Reading your ‘sharings’ encourages me with this, in that I see I am not alone, others are doing it too. For me personally, if writing comes from the heart then it helps me and contributes to my life whether I have had the writer’s experience or not. I have not had your particular experience, yet your writing and illustrations move me. Other examples of this are Joe Simpson’s experience of surviving a near fatal mountain accident in ‘Touching the Void’ (no pictures) affected me very deeply even though I have never mountain climbed; and The Flying Scotsman by Graham Obree whose bravery and honesty was life transforming for me (and I am not a professional cyclist, in fact I don’t cycle at all at the moment).

    So, thank you again for sharing your experiences – and in the meantime I shall eagerly await for the postman to deliver AKissB4YouGo!

  17. Beth Berman

    It should arrive in the mail today. I am very much looking forward to it.

  18. Warren VT

    Danny,
    I would just like to take a moment to say thank you for what you have added to “my life”. Thru art and sharing you have reopened my eyes to what is important and what actually makes a fulfilling life. I own everyone of your books and each time I reach for either one I am renewed with a sense of purpose.
    Bless your strength & resiliency.

    • Warren VT

      Everyday does matter. Thanks for helping me through the most painful part of my life.

  19. Mary Ellen Bratu

    Hi, Danny.
    I’ve followed your blog for a long while now. I’m drawn to the genuineness in your words and your art. I just finished “A Kiss Before You Go”. Your abiding love for Patti, your deep despair over losing her, and your fearlessness at putting all of that on the page and then sharing it with the rest of us is to me the best of what we can offer one another in this life. As a clinical psychologist I’ve long been interested in creativity as a vehicle for loss and mourning. I can tell you that with this book you join a long line of remarkably gifted artists who faced debilitating grief at profound loss and then used their creative gifts to fine a way through. It takes a generosity of spirit to offer this whole process out to the world and I see it as such a gift to humanity. On behalf of the many clients who’ll surely benefit from your book as they struggle to get through the day, I can’t thank you enough.

  20. Angie

    I just wanted to thank you for writing “A Kiss Before You Go”. The UPS man delivered it to me this afternoon and I spent the afternoon reading it. I lost my husband on May 5 of this year. It was sudden, unexpected. He was 56. We were together for 37 years; since I was an 18 year old girl. It was helpful to me, healing, to journey with you in your book. So many things you went through, I have experienced ( am experiencing) also. So, thank you for sharing. The ripples from the pebble you cast will touch many lives.

  21. Nita

    My copy of your book has just arrived, and I’m printing out this post to put in it. Thank you!

  22. Joyce

    Danny, I got the book last week and read it in the first couple of days. It moved me so much. By drawing your way though the grief, you captured the time and feelings in a way you never could have done by looking back on it. Your love for Patti shines though. Your book “Everyday Matters” got me drawing again quite a few years ago, then in the last 2 years drawing has helped keep me sane as my 29 year marriage ended and my brother-in-law (and childhood friend) died unexpectedly…lots of art journaling through the grief. Thank you for both books.

  23. j

    beautifully put

  24. Stephanie

    Hi Danny,
    I just read your book tonight in one sitting.”A kiss before you go.” I can’t help but get tearful for you and feel the agony of loss in your words and pictures. I also saw the hope, the change and the future in the beauty of it all. As a mother, wife, daughter the thought of my own mortality scares me silly. Sometimes the fear of either dying or losing my husband envelopes me whole. I usually write it off as crazy female hormones…but tonight your story made me hug my husband especially tight.
    I too am an artist. I really appreciate the humanity, beauty and rawness your words and paintings have brought into my reality. Thank you for sharing your story.

    -Stephanie

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