I Write Because I Want My Mom’s Death to Mean Something

March 16 marked the twentieth anniversary of my mom’s death. It’s a strange fact to realize how much time has passed, how much my life changed, how much she is missing. I’ve spoken about her many times on my blog and across other social media channels, most recently in the context of writing a middle grade novel-in-verse about losing her to the opioid crisis when I was eleven years old. But I haven’t truly explained how her untimely death has fueled my desire to write for decades.

Maybe this is too heavy for many to hear, but my dream is not just my dream. It’s my way of coping. Granted, I wrote stories long before my mom passed. In elementary school, I literally asked to stay in from recess just so I could write. In fact, one of the last notes my mom wrote to me was for my fifth grade graduation. In it, she told me she was so excited that I was writing stories. She was an avid reader, you see, and definitely inspired me to fall in love with reading, too. Some of my fondest memories are going to Borders or Barnes & Noble with her. My proudest moment as an author to this day was having a book signing in a Barnes & Noble where she used to take us to pick out books. (Thank you, B&N at Oak Park Mall!) 

Now, it’s 2023, and I’m still an author, writing, striving to succeed. And it isn’t easy. I’ve hit so many bumps in the road. Leapt over hurdles that felt too tall for me. And there’s still more ahead. Potholes and deadends and surprise curves and finish lines…with a new starting line right behind it. 

The journey of “success” in writing and publishing is never complete. I realize that. And neither is grief. It’s why I can’t give up at the end of my week. I want to be able to look back and say my grief is more than just grief. I don’t want my pain to simply exist as pain. I wish for it to be  something larger than me. Something that can live outside my body instead of continuing to fester inside. Then, maybe, just maybe, my stories can be out in the world and help others in a positive way.  

I know that’s why I set out to finally write a book about losing my mother at a young age. To this day, I haven’t found a book in the middle grade section about losing a parent to addiction, and I hope like hell my book can be that book for other kids like me. I don’t want other children feeling isolated and alone like I did in 2003.

But it’s 2023. And I am still trying. 

If her death can mean something, help others, then maybe I can live with that reality just a little bit easier. The truth is, though, even seeing the book on the shelves won’t fill that hole. Nothing ever will. That might be uncomfortable. But that’s the truth. (Even though no amount of therapy has changed that tick in my brain.)

Storytelling has always been my passion and my pain. It’s both beautiful and strange to share that with others every day. But I don’t believe in hiding. I especially don’t believe in forgive and forget. I believe in forging ahead, knowing my feelings may change. For example, I just became a mother myself a few months ago. That reframes so many things I used to think about my own mother and her reality. I often catch myself wondering if she looked at me the way I look at my daughter, but I also understand I’ll never know for sure. Not really. But in that empty space is possibility. 

A story taking shape. 

Maybe one about grief. Or yearning. A mystery. Self-discovery. 

Grief forms a new shape in my soul every year. Sometimes, I think of those shapes as my books taking place. 

Like when I first learned she died and I wrote the first draft of Bad Bloods, which features dozens of children surviving in a harsh, judgmental world on their own. Later, when I learned it was a drug overdose, the Timely Death trilogy was born (where my protagonist Eric is coping with his mother’s untimely death, her legacy, and all the characters have two identities). Then, after wrongly assuming it was a large amount of drugs for years, realizing it wasn’t at all when I finally got old enough to request her autopsy. (Hello, Tomo trilogy, a dystopian story about a drug that allows users to see the future.) 

Every year I get older and learn new things, and my imagination forms a new reality, a new story, and I write it down as quickly as I can. It helps me breathe. But getting those books published isn’t up to me. It’s up to how hard I’m willing to try—and a sprinkling of luck along the way.

Sometimes, I worry my luck has run out. Then again, that’s why I keep a “Make Your Own Luck” painting on my desk.

I will keep trying, and part of that reason is because I, instinctually, can’t quit.

Grief is an ever-changing process. Art gives us the ability to cope with that reality. Storytelling fosters community, especially when we don’t have it readily available in everyday life. It connects us in a way that makes us feel seen. 

I’m not sure that will ever change for me.

Her death will always mean something to me, though it may never mean anything to the larger world. I also realize a book deal probably won’t change my feelings. I’ll most likely live my entire life with this grief. But grief isn’t something to feel ashamed of or fight off, hide from or wish away. 

Grief can be the fuel for dreams. 

And I can live with that today. 

Tomorrow, too–and with each new story it brings. 


Two quick photos I wanted to share: My mom hated to have her picture taken, but this is one I cherish, because it’s how I remember her best: sitting in her La-Z-Boy, reading, snacking, drinking Sonic iced tea. And added beside it is her bookmark she was using. I still have it, and it means the world to me.

Rest in peace.

18 thoughts on “I Write Because I Want My Mom’s Death to Mean Something

  1. After reading this, what can I say? In love there is pain, and in pain, sometimes love. Pain masks many things, and who knows, that marker might have said it all. Only someone who loves in pain would have hold on tight to that marker, and she did. May God bless you and your family in many ways, prosper you beyond limits, and may you become a beacon of light to those who will read your words.

  2. Shannon, I lost my mom too some years back. Just soldier on. She would expect you to do so. I am sure she is so proud of you that you have come this far. 🙏🙏🙏My prayers to your mom as well.

  3. May I offer my condolences for you loss Shannon. Your insight into writing struck a cord with me. My elderly mothers sadly passed away in the early days of the pandemic. It’s been three years now and my grieving process has been a long and difficult one at times. Writing has always been an outlet for me, now more than ever since I lost my mum.

  4. I have read wonderf things yiu ve written but this is packed with so much
    My own mother died of what I call enforced loneliness. Mothers. Reasons for writing. Forgiveness. Or not. Our children
    So much. Thank you
    God bless. I’m printing this. Keep it coming.

  5. Thank you, Shannon, for sharing your memories of your mom, your vision for “making her death mean something,” and your process for grieving in a way that helps you to grow and to heal. Prayer, blogging, and poetry have been part of my process for grieving the death of my son from an aneurysm. May we both continue to heal and to learn.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story with me. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your son. It’s so touching to know we aren’t grieving in our words alone, though I wish others didn’t have to experience grief. I’ll do my best to keep healing and learning!

  6. One of the most powerful things I do as a paraeducator is have kids write in journals almost every day. I hope as they improve their language skills, they’ll gain the even more important ability to organize their emotions enough to express what they are feeling. To me this is the first step toward controlling their own future.

    1. Thank you for doing that! One of my high school teachers gave us time to journal every day, and it started my love for journaling. I journaled SO much between 17-21, when I needed it the most. I don’t so much any more, but I still hold those diaries so close. They really helped me process my feelings in a time where society wasn’t talking about mental health as much. Journaling is so important.

  7. Shannon I’ve only just seen this, very moved by this blog. I have someone very close to me who lost their mother at about the same age as you were. The support available was pretty minimal and not that helpful, and I think a middle grade book that can appeal to kids in that situation will help to lessen their feelings of isolation, perhaps give them the courage to reach out. It takes a lot of courage for you to write about this, but as you say, it becomes something you have to do, it is part of your process and drives your creativity. Huge Respect to you

  8. Reblogged this on Penny Frances and commented:
    Huge Respect for this young American writer, whose blog I’ve been following for years. I urge you to read this very moving and brave piece about how grieving for her mother, who she lost as a child, has driven her creativity.

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