I’m fortunate to have Dr. Virginia Simpson as my guest author this week. Her book, The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life is now available at bookstores and on Amazon, and I loved reading it.
Thank you for being my guest, Dr. Simpson.
After your father died during when you were young, you wrote that you became very anxious about death. Can you tell us how you moved from that point to becoming a bereavement expert?
My father died when I was 12, during a time when adults didn’t take into consider children’s feelings or whether we even grieved. I kept my feelings to myself and became fearful of everything, especially death.
By the time I was an adult, I thought about death a lot and was terrified. I was in my late twenties when I made a conscious decision to learn everything I could about the thing that scared me the most, and that’s when I began to study death. Reading Stephen Levine’s book Who Dies? opened me to a new way of considering death and inspired me to begin my education and career in death, dying and bereavement. I have never regretted this decision because it expanded my understanding of life and death, and taught me the value of using our pain to create more meaning in our lives. As a result of these lessons, in 1995 I founded The Mourning Star Center, a nonprofit which provided free support to grieving children and their families. I was privileged to watch families heal and sad children find their smiles.
My work with grieving people and being with people at the end of their lives is an honor and a reminder of the importance of daily gratitude and focusing on what’s going right in our lives.
What is the most important message you want to share with care providers?
I don’t know that this is the “most important message,” but I would like to say: Be kind to yourself and know that you are doing the best you can under difficult and heartbreaking circumstances. And please, get outside help and support.
What do you hope that your reading audience will get from reading The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life?
I believe anyone who has ever had a mother will relate to the complexities inherent in the parent-child relationship. I hope parents will gain a better understanding of how their words and attitudes affect their children, and I hope children will gain a new respect for the lives their parents lived and the challenges they face. Numerous adult children have told me that The Space Between has inspired them to reach out and work harder towards better communication with their parents.
As a specialist in death, dying, and bereavement, it was important for me to provide useful information while also giving voice to the challenges and real emotions of being a caregiver. Watching someone you love fade away in bits and pieces is difficult and heart wrenching—and yet, also rewarding. I wanted readers to recognize the importance of communication and to see that even a difficult relationship can be healed.
I was privileged to witness my mother turn into pure love and to know there were no spaces left between us when she died.
This is something I wish for everyone.
What surprised me the most is how much work I still had ahead of me after I thought I’d finished the book. I had to learn a whole new business and world, from writing tip sheets, reaching out to respected authors to request blurbs, being a guest on podcasts/radio shows, contacting book stores about launch parties, and planning and attending launch parties. Book marketing is a lot of work and it continues. I also had no idea how much fun this would all be.
In your book, you’ve disclosed some powerful family secrets that propel your story without taking away from the theme. How many drafts did it take to get it right?
That’s a good question. I wrote and edited each chapter numerous times. Because the nature of memoir requires we go beyond reciting the facts and dig deeper into the story to excavate meaning, rewriting was crucial. Each time I read a new draft, I understood the events with greater insight. What had been hidden was revealed.
Were you concerned about how your family would feel when you published your memoir?
The only family member whose opinion and feelings mattered to me was my mother, and she was already gone before I began writing The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life.
My desire to “live out loud” and no longer be hostage to secrets outweighed any concern about the potential anger of one violent family member.
What are you working on next with regards to writing?
I’m working on a memoir about my relationship to men, which will be structured around the two years I spent with a fabulous older man when I was in my twenties.
I have two great working titles but haven’t yet decided which I’ll use.
For more information, Dr. Simpson can be reached at drvirginiasimpson.com.