Surprise! A New Book!
My new book "How to Say Goodbye" comes out this Summer.
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Hello, Grown-Ups Table!
I’m blown away by everyone’s big, brave “GO BIG!” drawings in response to last week’s dispatch. That one was a push - especially coming off the looseness of the previous week’s abstract doodles. Anytime we butt up against the comfortable little nest of our habits it feels hard. We feel resistance. Those, friends, are growing pains. And a lot of you stretched last week. Hope you feel proud, string beans.
A few of your GO BIG drawings are included at the end of this dispatch. The weekly GUT member art share is over on the chat in the Substack app every week. Join us.
Now on with the show.
This week is different. This week I have an announcement.
Announcement! A NEW BOOK IS COMING.
I have a new book called How to Say Goodbye, The Wisdom of Hospice Caregivers coming out on July 18. :)
How to Say Goodbye is the book I wish I had when I was losing people I loved and I didn’t know what to do. I was scared to say the wrong thing. Scared to do the wrong thing. I just wanted to hear from someone who had more experience with it than me… And of course there is nothing we can “do.” And there isn’t one right way to say goodbye. But for those of us raised in a culture that’s afraid to even talk about the end of life, hopefully this little book can be a starting point.
In How to Say Goodbye, I married the words of hospice caregivers I interviewed with drawings I created while the artist-in-residence at Zen Hospice Project’s guest house (as well as drawing of my own aunt when she was in hospice care.) The result is a simple, visual offering on how to be present with our loved ones at the end of their lives.
The brilliant physician BJ Miller, MD wrote a beautiful foreword, and the book includes helpful resources including reading lists for both adults and children at the end. It’s a very personal and meaningful project to me, and feels more vulnerable than other books I’ve made. Which is why I’m sharing it here, with all of you, first.
I know some of you are like, “Wait, what? Wendy swings from drawing rocket ships with kids to drawing people at the end of life??” Yes, I do. And I don’t see it as a swing at all. What I have always done (and encourage you and everyone to do) is to use drawing as tool to look closely at the world - a world full of joy and pain, inside and out. Sometimes that running around town spotting primary colors with a 8’ tall paintbrush. Other times it means sitting quietly and looking for long hours at hard stuff we’d rather ignore. Both are important.
Drawing helps us see. And our drawings offer an approachable way for others to look at the hard stuff, too.
“‘How to Say Goodbye’ shows us death as it can be and should be, but often isn’t: accessible, profound, moving, and beautiful. A unique and much-needed addition to the literature about death and dying.”
- Louise Aronson, MD, Author of ‘Elderhood’
While How to Say Goodbye doesn’t come out until July, my hope is to help get into the hands of people who would find it useful: hospice orgs, hospitals, medical professionals, therapists, anyone who might need it at some point. (Which is to say everyone.) If you know people who might find it helpful, please let them know. If an organization is interested in the book, you can write to me directly and I’ll put you in touch with the publisher. Also, presales of the book are super helpful in getting the publisher and media behind it, so if you are inclined to purchase a copy, now is a helpful time to do that. Thank you.
“A poem to mortality and the beauty of how we can cope with it.”
- Atul Gawande, MD, Author of Being Mortal
A Little Backstory
Several years ago, I had the honor to be the artist-in-residence at the Zen Hospice Project, a small residential facility in a house in San Francisco that provided care for people at the end of their lives. During my time there I drew the residents, their families, the staff, volunteers, the kitchen, everything. I spoke with countless people who worked there and passed through. Inspired by the dedicated caregivers there, I dedicated much of the time to speaking with hospice nurses and volunteers, and wrote down much of what they shared.
This little book combines the caregivers words with the images I drew inside the house. It also includes pencil drawings I made of my own aunt, Tildie, in her final days of her life. Tildie was a kindergarten teacher, an artist and a traveler, and a single, independent woman until she died. It was her death that pulled me towards the residence at Zen Hospice - and her death brought this little book to life.
I made the first version of this book several years ago as a limited edition artists’ book. I worked with designer Alvaro Villanueva and Solstice Press and using money Tildie left me, printed an edition of 200 books. I gave those copies away to people with the ask that they pass it on to someone else if it could be helpful. I ran out of books a while ago.
Then a couple years ago, after getting enough requests for a book that was no longer available, my agent Charlotte suggested we published it publicly so it could be of wider use. With a little time and distance from the project, and knowing that it would be safe in my editor Nancy’s hands, it finally felt right.
How to Say Goodbye contains wisdom from hospice caregivers, including “The Five Things” - a framework for a conversation of love, respect and closure. As BJ Miller says in the introduction, “This book is not pretty. Pretty is strategic and tidy. This book is beautiful. Which is to say true.”
The resource section contains book recommendations for both adults and children, supportive organizations, and information on creating advance care directives, which is one way we can help others when it’s their time to say goodbye to us.
“There are many kinds of grace in this little book – in its portrayals of the body language and expressions of the dying, the the simple language which clarifies what we can and should do when we accompany someone on their journey to death, in the underlying kindness that runs throughout.”
– Rebecca Solnit, author of Hope in the Dark
Thank you for reading. And if you are so inclined, thank you for ordering a copy. It’s a big help. I know I keep linking to Amazon, but ideally you’d order one from your favorite local independent bookstore. <3
And with that, GUT members, here is our assignment.
We’ve all lost people. And we are all going to die. It’s as common as day, and strange as night. People are here, and then they are gone. Where do they go? And what do we do with that?
Different cultures grapple with death and remember the dead in different ways. In Mexico there is Dios de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. In Nepal, there’s the Gaijatra festival, or the Festival of Cows. In the Hindu religion, there’s Pitru Paksha, a 16-day period when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors… Creating this book helped made me realize that as a secular American from the Bay Area, I didn’t have any real rituals around end of life. No traditions to keep people close after they’re gone. I don’t think I’m alone. Many secular, western folks like me feel at a loss when it comes to death, dying and grief. We don’t have a compass or tools for the Big Stuff. Somewhere along the way we lost our traditions.
If we are feeling a hole in our life around that, maybe we want to do a little digging into traditions past and reincorporate some old family, community or cultural traditions into our lives now. And maybe we can also make up some new ones that work for us here, now, today.
Maybe for us drawers, there is a way to use creativity to stay connected to our loved ones who have passed.
This week, I thought we could try something together - use drawing to help us remember someone who was important to us, and honor them with those drawn memories. (It’s also a fascinating experiment in how memory works!)
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