Friday, 21 February 2014

'seizing a pencil was a desperate act'

RMB: Pam, late last year you presented in Glasgow at a conference on ‘“Attentive Writing”: Healthcare, Authorship, and Authority’. Thank you for letting me turn a little of your presentation into a dialogue between the two of us (Penelope/RMB and Pam Morrison). I’m sorry if I’ve left you sounding even more lyrical than you are in actual conversation (but you wrote these lovely words). In it you were drawing on your own story, which we’re soon to publish as Fields of Gold: co-writing with your sister Annie McGregor the year-long journey towards her death.

PM: It’s the story of how we together found a way to navigate life’s most certain and possibly most cruel reality: You will lose the people that you love. Though the story is ultimately about death, primarily it is about life. Terminal illness is cruel, but it also potentially invites in grace, gratitude and courage. And love.

RMB: You’re from Dunedin New Zealand where you’re a counsellor in private practice and a lecturer in social services and counselling. 

PM: Yes, and in both of these roles I encourage reflective writing as a useful, sometimes vital, therapeutic tool. 

RMB: I know you as a uniquely lyrical creative writer and song-writer.  So perhaps in a sense it was natural for you to turn to writing when you learned that your beloved sister was dying?

PM: I wrote my first entry on 12 March 2003, three days after receiving news of Annie’s diagnosis of secondary liver cancer. Seizing a pencil was a desperate act to make some scrawls on paper about a reality that felt too big, too crazy, too unthinkable to absorb. Annie lived in a different city, and the journal came with me when I visited her one week later. Within three days, we had decided this would be a shared repository. It became our own illuminated manuscript. 

RMB: Has the decision to publish been a hard one?

PM: A long one! It hasn’t been an easy decision. But I have come to see that this is both a unique story and a universal one. The details are mine and Annie’s; the themes may well have resonance for many. For illness, loss and grief always take place in the context of relationship.

What we offer in Fields of Gold is an insiders’ view. We were not researchers. We were sisters who were set reeling by an unforeseen event. The journaling, which came about almost by accident, was our instinctive response to the shocking intrusion of cancer into our lives.

The journals have lived for a decade on my bookshelf at home. The content was typed up and shared with friends and family while Annie was still alive. It was then shared with an ever-widening circle of people.

Now with Annie’s express blessing before she died, the journals come alive again, marking the tenth anniversary of her death on 10 March 2003.

RMB: Thank you, Pam. Dear readers, Fields of Gold will be published on 2 March. 

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