May is motherhood memoir month

The Barbed Wire Within

When I sit down to write about my recently dead mother I am overcome by a sense of dread. I want to write this memoir, I tell myself; it is an important story that needs to be told.

the hard edges of writing difficult stories tear like barbed wire on the inside marika-vinkmann

Her death was untimely in many ways, a wrongful death I might have prevented, had I not been somewhat ambivalent at the time, eager to go back home and spend Thanksgiving with my real family. In my absence, my older brother, who our mother trusted to take care of her, and who she had signed over everything to, put on Lorzepam, a heavy anxiety med, and morphine. He moved to a group home where she was given occasional sucks of water from a dirty sponge. When she lived more than the two days our brother got nervous, and I flew back to Las Vegas. By then she’d been without food or much water for eight days. Basically euthanized. And my brother now has a truck, trailer, and house she paid for, plus most of her funds.

photo from

So it’s not a fun story, but still I should be able to sit down and tell it in a forthright manner, weaving in the understory of siblings and messy family lives. Yet each day, while I do write scenes and pull out photos, using them as a form of ekphrasis to help the writing, I find myself veering away from the real story, throwing my energy into other endeavors.

I’ve been trying to name my feelings, trace them back to my thoughts, see the link between my actions and lack of results. As I seek to understand this feeling in the pit of my stomach, like balled up barbed wire, I see it rise and grow into my head, tangling my mind, piercing the inner side of my right temple and the lower quadrant behind my ear until I quit writing, a headache as my excuse.

A head and stomach filled with barbed wire is not a good image to foster writing. I will have to think of something else, something that will serve me.

It helps to hear other writers have similar struggles. “…the first step… is chaos… it’s what makes a piece of writing alive, raw, and vibrant.”

I envision the barbed wire transforming into a vine, maybe roses, or more likely the many blackberry vines that grow in the Pacific Northwest where I now live. Residents of this wild place have a love-hate relationship with these abundant, fruitful vines that threaten to take over every open space, climbing across creeks and pathways, devouring whole sheds or houses even. We pass by a car every Sunday, parked too long in the same space; the vines now fill even the interior spaces.

blackberries take over- photo by Molly Frances

I am not sure this image is much of an improvement on the barbed wire within when I sit down to write; I am still raw with jagged edges, but at least now the thorns look natural and fruit appears on the vines, able to feed rather than bind and confine.

It is almost May, time to commit to getting this memoir done, even in skeletal form, in this coming month. May is (Motherhood) Memoir Month, but you don’t have to a mother to have a motherhood story- it’s just where you begin.

Do you have story you feel is important, or an image that helps or hinders your writing? I’d love to hear about it. I invite you to follow my journey, even write along with during the month of May, and beyond.

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