Real Family Sagas and Fictional Family Sagas

When one posts about a tragedy like cancer in a public place, one wonders whether you should enable comments. Well, I know one of my frustrations when friends are going through hard times is not being able to express at least well wishes, and I went with on. And thank you all for those wishes.

Real life friends have been especially helpful. I sent out the news as soon as we found out to our family of friends, and Bryon appreciates the phone calls and the letters. He’s doing a lot better. The first night was a shock. He grieved, he didn’t sleep, and he was pretty exhausted. Yesterday he felt better and he had a good night’s sleep.

We talked about grief. How when you grieve, you might feel happy for a moment for some reason or other, and then you feel guilty because you have no right to feel happy when someone you love is dying. How you don’t want to think about your usual geeky pursuits because they feel frivolous. How you sort of sleep walk around at your worst. The best, Bryon said at breakfast, is a sort of unemotional neutral, a dimmed amiability, an upbeat sadness.

How am I doing? Stalwart wife that I am, I managed to stave off my emotional reaction until I got to work yesterday, at which point I felt safe enough (imagine! Feeling safe at work!) to have a good cry. It didn’t help that wonderful and supportive friends kept sending all these wonderful emails that I was forwarding on to the husband and elaborating on with insight. So, I exhausted myself yesterday. I spent the day sleepwalking through budget codes, and I stumbled home to watch a little television, sleep, and read. Not my most authorly day. It’s okay. Sometimes we can do nothing but be human.

Bryon had a lengthy conversation with his mother to let her know we’d be down this weekend. She seems to be doing a little better. His father slept all day. It goes without saying his grief is the worst of all. I can’t pretend to know what he thinks or how he feels. I’ve never been about to die and known it. Jay Lake has been very public about his battle with cancer, so I have some inkling there (Thank you, Jay. You may not realize how helpful what you’ve been writing has been as we’ve been riding this roller coaster with Bryon’s parents). For the last years, Neal has struck me as very tired, very frail, and very afraid. He was a big guy, a mechanic, and he has become a frail elderly one, and I don’t think he’s found that anything but terrifying.

We’re going to talk about hospice. I know Neal is religious and his minister has been visiting. Hospice is the intellectual version of that–helping both Neal and Phyllis to get ready for this change of life. Several people at work say it’s the best thing their dying relatives ever did. I don’t know how it will play in Southern Iowa.


Bryon and I grieve very differently. As you can tell from the post above, I process verbally. He needs quiet alone time, and does talk, but only after very careful, already finished processing. He apologized for what he thought I perceived as pushing me away the other night when he just wanted to be alone. I re-assured him that I understood, that I wasn’t offended, and that I was here when he needed me. For the next several months, Bryon gets a blank check with me.


I mentioned reading. I am reading a very good book right now– Prospero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter. The next time I get a crack at the journal, my plan is to discuss the book. It’s a family saga, and there are lots of good techniques in there I can use with the Klarions. The flashbacks and forwards are superbly rendered. It’s also making me think that I need more character flaws. They’re there, but sometimes the characters strike me as too nice. Need to bring out some of that not so nice. Anyway, there will be a discussion, a review, and a dissection. I’d like to figure out how to do what she’s doing in there, so I can do it, so I’ll have to take the book apart. After I’m done with it as a reader.


Not really looking forward to tomorrow, but wouldn’t want to be anywhere else this weekend than with my husband and his parents. Besides, I may have to cuff my crazy sisters-in-law just a little. Neither of them do crisis well. It’s a benefit of my background that I do crisis exceptionally well. You know, making lemonade and all that.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

2 thoughts on “Real Family Sagas and Fictional Family Sagas”

  1. Cath,

    Just saw your post from earlier this week. I’m so sorry and my heart goes out to you and yours. I just spent a couple of years dealing with a very similar situation with my brother, who lasted quite a bit longer than his original diagnosis. As always, one has to balance personal grief with support for one’s family, as I see you are doing. I have no doubt you will be a valuable resource for your family.

  2. Oh, Cath, I’m so sorry! I’ve been off the blogs the last few days and I didn’t see your posts until just now. Know my thoughts are will all of you guys. Words so of feel inadequate and I always feel like I end up spouting stupid platitudes, so I’m not going to ramble on (well, maybe I am rambling on already). Big hugs to you and Byron and your in-laws.

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