I went to a memorial service for a lovely neighbour recently, let’s call her R.M. At the age of 25 she’d been diagnosed with a rare and disfiguring illness, and told that not only would her lifespan be very limited, but she would probably spend most of it in a wheelchair, and in a nursing home. We watched a slide show of her life, starting with the pretty little blonde girl with a big smile through to the beautiful and stylish young woman. Then we saw her with her husband and three delightful children…and as time progressed we began to see the terrible toll the illness took on her.
But only on her looks. R.M.’s spirit never flagged. She moved with her husband and young family to Canada at 35, leaving behind her support system of family & medical advisors to start a new life in a new land. She insisted on an active hand in her own treatment, because the disease was very rare and she was willing to do research and keep her ‘medical team’ informed of new developments. She worked full time, quilted, sewed, embroidered, travelled, raised her children, enjoyed her grandchildren, and got to cuddle her great-grandchildren. And she could be counted on to turn up at church and community events, and fundraisers when her neighbours needed help. Her song and dance and comedy routines were highlights of community concerts. And she remained close and loving with her husband to celebrate more than a half century of marriage.
Now, often when someone is gifted with beauty and then faced with its loss due to injury or disease, the response is to try to hide away. Not R.M. She was a beautiful woman, yet over the years her disease took its toll on her looks, with mouth cancer adding to her disfigurement. But you didn’t notice her looks, because she was so very much…well, she was so very there.
And when the disease fianlly took its toll – many years after her predicted demise – the whole community turned out for her memorial service, and it was a pretty colourful event because R.M. had insisted that no black be worn for her. We were all to celebrate her life by wearing bright colours. She wanted to be remembered with smiles and joy. Over and over again, we heard the words courageous, brave, joyful…but the phrase that stuck in my mind was “A woman who lived her time well.”
I’m glad you’ve stayed with me this long, because you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with writing romance. Well, here’s what I learned from R.M.: She discovered early in life that she had talents that brought joy to other people: dance, music, acting, comedy. She organised and took part in theatre, and even appeared on television. An extremely shy woman by nature, she took joy from the pleasure her talents brought other people, and so she put herself out there despite her illness and pain.
Now, as writers we complain bitterly about the need for promotion. I’m among the naturally shy and absolutely hate appearing for book signings or even discussing my work. And I’m now a bit ashamed of that attitude because, as R.M. taught me, surely if you have a talent that brings pleasure to other people you should get out there and demonstrate it? When you think about it in that light, ‘promotion’ takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes both an adventure and a gift that we use to offer our work for others to enjoy.
So thank you. R.M., and may we all become people “…who live our time well”.