Friday, August 4, 2023

Last Echoes


I once walked a family member through the process of writing a eulogy. They were grief stricken by the loss but also about to step into battle with the surviving family members over the inheritance.  Before the death, the family found themselves in a tangled web of nastiness.  

When I arrived in town to help the family member tasked with delivering the eulogy, I found that he had written very little for the service the next day and what he had written was a mess of ego-based, one upmanship of the family members he was outraged over. A self rightous attempt to gain control, He was ready to air the dirty laundry of the family to the captive audience attending the funeral. My writing skills kicked in and I began the very painful rewriting process, moving him away from using the pulpit to shame the relatives and toward telling his father’s life story.  My message was strong, clear, and unwavering. 

“ You are retelling the highlights of this man’s lifetime.  Your are telling this man's final story. It is the one and only time it will get told succinctly to those who have gathered to say goodbye. This is the last echo of his life.

I surprised myself that I was able to tease a decent eulogy out in the wee hours of the morning before the funeral.  But then again, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  It’s how I approach the ending of most of my stories.  The ending is the echo of the heartbeat of the story, whether it’s a picture book, a graphic novel, or a YA novel that I’m writing.  My two published picture books and my other stories that are out on submission end with that echo…the bookend of a circular story if you will.

 Egyptian Lullaby Illustrated by Hatem Aly  (Roaring Brook Press)

Hello, Little One:  A Monarch Butterfly Story Illustrated by Fiona Halliday  (Page Street Kids)

As an artist and writer, I tend to be somewhat metacognitive. I spend a significant amount of time reflecting on my process and analyzing my intentions.  My why as an artist is the desire to provoke discourse.  I want to challenge thinking and create dialogue so that people communicate, connect, and think…even small children.  That ending echo is the most important  beat of the story.  It ensures that engagement occurs and for me, what is art without engagement?

I love the quote that April highlighted in her last post and her description of serpentine endings. 

"One way to end the poem is to turn it back on itself, like a serpent with its tail in its mouth." ~ Maxine Kumin

Her post helped give me context to what I do.  She helped me name and identify my approach to endings.  I hope that our two posts back-to-back bring to you some thoughts and reflections on your own writing process as you explore… HOW DO YOU APPROACH ENDINGS?

For me…whether it’s a picture book, a graphic novel, a YA novel, or the eulogy at the end of one’s life, the ending is the final echo of the story.


Carmela Martino said...

"The ending is the echo of the heartbeat of the story."
How beautifully put, Zeena!
Thanks for sharing your eulogy-writing experience. How wonderful that you were there to help your family member tell the story that really needed to be told.

Tina Cho said...

Beautiful post, Zeena! I look forward to reading your newest book!

Linda Mitchell said...

Excellent food for thought...I don't know the answer to this. I have to think about it. But, I love that I am now thinking of it.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

I, too, love your description, Zeena, of the end:
"The ending is the echo of the heartbeat of the story."
I can't wait to share that with my students and writers!

April Halprin Wayland said...

✨Love ✨ this, Zeena.