Discover more from Gina DeMillo Wagner
The essay that inspired the book
...plus an update on the publishing process
Not long after my brother Alan died in 2016, I started journaling about my grief. I thought writing it out might help me make sense of the loss or untangle the confusion around his sudden death and what might have caused it.
I didn’t plan on writing a memoir back then, but I knew writing something could help me metabolize my feelings, bringing some comfort and relief.
As time went by and the searing pain of the loss faded to more of a tender ache, I began wishing I could read stories from other siblings like me who had complicated relationships with family and loss (and love and fear and joy and pain…) I knew there were many of us out there. Maybe we could provide validation and hope to one another?
But finding those sibling stories proved difficult. And among those I did find, virtually none covered the nuances of being a typical sibling to someone with a severe disability. So I decided to share my story, to offer other people the thing I needed the most: to feel less alone.
At the urging of my friend and mentor Claire Bidwell Smith, I wrote an essay and submitted it to The New York Times. To my surprise, they responded quickly and said they wanted to publish it.
In the weeks and months that followed, I was shocked by the number of emails and messages I received, not just from other siblings, but from people who grew up with untreated mental illness in their families… or addiction, estrangement, terminal or chronic illnesses, divorce, abandonment, and so much more. I felt heartbroken that so many people could identify with the themes I wrote about, and also felt less isolated than I ever had. My words had helped readers feel seen… and their notes back to me helped me feel seen.
In the acknowledgments section of Forces of Nature, I thank the NYT readers for encouraging me to write this book and affirming the need for stories that explore the ambivalence so many of us feel in our families, stories that prove that there’s room for all of our complicated feelings — heartache and humor, joy and pain, love and fear, loss and relief.
If you’d like to read the essay that started it all, click here.
Not gonna lie: It’s been a grueling path to get this book out in the world. Publishing is a test of endurance even in the best of times, but throw in a pandemic and economic uncertainty, and it’s even tougher. I’ve faced a few setbacks and delays, but I’m happy to report that Forces of Nature: A Memoir of Family, Loss, and Finding Home is coming in May 2024 (and if that sounds like a birth announcement…it sort of is!) I just approved a final cover design, which I’m excited to share with you soon. And I’ll have an update when preorders open this fall. Mostly, I’m just eager to get this book into the hands of those who need to read it the most. xo Gina