Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Shapeshifting Our Truths

survivor guilt - a deep feeling of guilt often experienced by those who have survived some catastrophe that took the lives of many others; derives in part from a feeling that they did not do enough to save the others who perished and in part from feelings of being unworthy relative to those who died (as defined by The Free Dictionary)

My older sister is still alive, but I’ve wrestled with aspects of survivor guilt ever since I was thirteen. You see, I was thirteen when my parents sat me down in our living room and told me the CT scan of my sister’s brain revealed a cancerous, malignant tumor. In that splice of time something burrowed into me. A question that would fester and pervade—why her and not me? How could she be saved?

To complicate my already knotted emotions, my older sister had also taken quite a liking to LSD and cocaine around the time her tumor was discovered. She’d been diagnosed mentally ill to boot. A trifecta of convoluted things for me to feel guilty about. To wrestle with.

While other sixth graders spent their weekends at sleepovers talking about boys, I spent mine driving an hour to see my sister in rehab. Racking up some real QT hours with the fam as I learned that “it works if you work it” and that I had the wisdom to know the difference between the things I could and could not change. Though we were all beginning to quickly understand there’d be no changing my sister, my family had adopted the charge to do everything in our power to save her. Of course we knew you couldn’t save someone who didn’t want to be saved. But ask anyone witnessing a loved one spirally down fast. There’s the constant temptation to reach down into the pit until your whole body threatens to lose footing and fall in.

You might be wondering, Wendy, why are you writing about this? Isn’t your book, THE FLOWER GIRLS releasing in a week? You should be ecstatic about the responses and pumped for us to read it.

I am. And here’s why. There’s a very vulnerable piece of me laced into the fabric of this work. I have a tendency to show up in both O’Reilly sisters, Poppy and Daisy.

In THE FLOWER GIRLS, Daisy has lived with a cognitive disorder since childhood, causing her to be socially awkward and hyper-dependent on her sister Poppy. While Poppy is over trying to “save” her sister.


Authors have a sneaky way of shapeshifting our truths, our encounters with brokenness onto the page. I can attest to doing just that in THE FLOWER GIRLS, releasing in less than a week.

I hope you get as much out of reading it as I did writing it!

“Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn't try to write fiction. It's not a grand enough job for you.” ~ Flannery O’Connor

“A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.” ~ Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale



  1. I'm so sorry your sister and your family have had to deal with so much trauma. As an early reader of The Flower Girls, I'm beyond excited for the world to read this story!! Anyone with siblings understands all too well the complicated feelings that accompany them. :)

    1. Thanks Jill! You have been such a tremendous support along this journey. I'm hoping readers will have much to talk about after reading this one.

  2. Hey! Kudos on your new book! Sad to hear what your sister has gone through, though. At least she's still alive. How's she doing now? I hope she's been able to adequately deal with her various health and addiction troubles at this point.

    Scott McKinney @ Midwest Institute For Addiction

    1. I appreciate the comment, Scott. And thanks for the kudos. I'm grateful she's still alive. And sometimes conflicted because she is still mired in struggles. But I love that she's taught me much about life and how I want to live.


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