What I Learned About Writing from My Lunch With a Dead Woman - Make a Living Writing

What I Learned About Writing from My Lunch With a Dead Woman

Carol Tice | 40 Comments

What I learned about writing from my lunch with a dead womanWe were supposed to eat at my best friend Linda’s favorite Vietnamese pho noodle shop. But she’d got her blood work back, and it showed her liver was failing.

So instead, I grabbed some fast-food fried chicken on the way to her hospital bed. She ate a few bites of orange Jell-O and a few canned peaches — all she could manage, with the tumors pressing on her stomach and lungs.

Linda’s long battle with cancer was coming to an end. In a week, she would be dead.

I’d say she was a dead woman walking…except she couldn’t really walk anymore.

Linda was in a transformative state, almost a place between worlds. Life as she knew and loved it — in which she could drive, play, enjoy the sunshine, and go to synagogue — was over. In that way, she was already dead.

And yet, she was still here. She knew she had few precious moments left. And it gave her a singular perspective on life, looking back on it from its very end.

So we ate. And, inbetween those narcoleptic mini-naps the painkillers made her take, we talked. About life. About love.

About what really matters, and what doesn’t.

Here is what I learned from that last conversation with a great woman and dear friend:

Keep creating.

In college, Linda painted, but unlike many of us, she never let that creative drive die. Throughout her life, she never stopped looking for new creative outlets. She made and sold Judaica, learning new skills and crafts along the way. These artworks survive her now.

As writers, we should always be aware that what we create will live on after us. This makes me think about what my writing will say about me after I’m gone. I need to make my words count.

Be perceptive.

One of the things that first drew me to Linda was her astute observations of the world around her, particularly of people. I found that if I was ever upset or confused about something someone had done, if I told her about it, she could explain exactly why it was happening — what motivated that person to act the way they did.

As a writer, I need to keep my eyes open, and bring my perceptions to my writing. Our individual impressions are what makes our writing unique.

Be giving.

Linda was never known to arrive at an event without something in her hand. She was always looking for ways to be of service to her community.

As a writer, I need to ask myself what I can do to help someone today, and keep sharing what I know about this craft.

Be forgiving.

The small stuff never bothered Linda. She was always willing to give people another chance, or to overlook their shortcomings.

As a blogger, there are people around the blogosphere who I sometimes find annoying. Linda reminds me to cut them some slack, and keep an open mind.

Keep family at the center.

Linda was the single most supportive person of her family members I have ever met. I’m not kidding. After more than 30 years of marriage, when her partner said he’d feel more comfortable living as a woman, she didn’t bat an eye. When John became Jill, she faced the questions and criticism from people she knew. But she never wavered from her truth — that this person was her soulmate. Family was the center of her world, to the end. Outside appearances weren’t what mattered to Linda, but who you were inside.

As a writer, I know how easy it is to push family to the side in favor of getting some writing done. But Linda reminds me to remember what’s really important — the people we have chosen to share our lives.

Keep smiling.

Early on in her life, Linda mastered the art of keeping a smile on her face no matter what was happening in her own life. Smiling makes everyone around you feel better, and it can make you feel better, too.

I tend to get down or angry and take that mood out on others. I’ve been known to hold a grudge. As a writer, I need to focus on spreading joy and positivity. Lots of people are popular in the blogosphere by being nasty or snarky, but that’s not for me.

Never give up.

Even at the end, when she got the bad news about her blood tests, when the doctor asked if she wanted to go straight into hospice, Linda said no. She wanted the hospital.

Fighting to the end for every moment she could get, she wanted to know if there was one more surgery, one more test, one procedure, one experimental medication that could be tried that might grant her more time. Even though at this point, staying alive meant enduring physical agony.

I’ve had writers ask me if they should throw in the towel, because they feel their writing isn’t getting the acceptance they wanted.

The time when you won’t be able to write any more will come, all too soon.

As long as you can, keep going. As long as you feel that spark, that passion, that drive to create inside, keep writing.

Don’t let anyone tell you you shouldn’t, or that it’s not good enough.

Let it out. Write it down.

Keep building your body of work. One day, it will be the only body you have.

What have you learned about writing from your friends? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

40 comments on “What I Learned About Writing from My Lunch With a Dead Woman

  1. Bill Walles on


    I grieve with you for your loss of Linda. And I rejoice, because

    Through you, I have seen another whose light pushes the darkness away.

    You translated what you experienced into a learning moment for me (and others). Blessed are we who sit at the feet of wise teachers.

    You exposed yourself as friend to Linda and to us. Such brightness transferred one to another is the essence of living.


    Bill Walles
    currently Steilacoom WA

  2. Daniela on

    Thank you for sharing this, Carol. So very sorry about your loss. My mother passed away six years ago and our last conversations (not knowing they were last) will be cherished forever. Writing has been my solace through that pain and my mom’s words have helped me spot the silver lining.

  3. Dianna O'Brien on

    Carol, thanks for the lovely blog. I admire your honesty. This is one of the things I love about the Freelance Writers Den, the focus on helping others while we make a living. Thank you for this inspiring blog post.

  4. mira on

    An amazing post, Carol. I forwarded it to my writing friends. Your last line was especially meaningful, especially if one wonders about the legacy we leave behind.

    Keep building your body of work. One day, it will be the only body you have.

  5. Dahnya Och on

    This was a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing how Linda should inspire us all. I’m sorry for your loss, but you seemed to have learned so much from being her friend. Thank you again.

  6. LindaH on

    So sorry to hear about your loss, Carol. It made me recall when my dearest friend Leanne died almost 21 years ago. She taught me so much in our final nine days together. Like your Linda, Leanne was perceptive and could explain to me things that I didn’t understand about myself or others. She also taught me a great deal about being a soulmate and loving someone so much that you let them go to live their own life knowing that to try to and hold them back would break their spirit. She was tied to her husband and family, but our friendship spanned thousands of miles and remained just as strong when she passed as it was when we were together as school kids 22 years earlier.

    Linda is only a thought away, and is always with you–perhaps closer now than before. This is one of your finest posts, Carol, and it speaks clearly of what Linda meant to you as a friend, confidante and inspiration. My condolences for your loss, but know that she’s never gone–she’s just transformed into a spirit that permeates your life still.


  7. Wade Finnegan on

    Carol, I have read numerous posts written by you and it is my humble opinion that is the very best. What a great tribute to someone that was obviously special in your life. It resonates that not only did she make you a better writer but a better person. Sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing.

  8. Karmen on

    I feel so sorry about your friend. Such a beautiful story of hers, although there isn’t a happy end, only a natural. But her thoughts will stay with you, the conversation and the things you’ve learned from her could make her spirit living. Thanks for this beautiful text.

  9. J. Michael McDade on

    What a great testament to your friend, and what a wonderful inspiration to us who have chosen to write. Thanks Carol for sharing your friend’s legacy and story with us. My prayers are with your heart.

  10. Tania Dakka on

    First, I’m so, so sorry for your loss, Carol. Death is never easy and your ability to write about it in such a powerful way is very unique.

    Your ending line struck my heart. Not letting anyone tell you you’re not good enough is tough – especially when you’re not sure yourself – and when those “anyones” are your friends.

    All the best, Carol. Don’t hesitate to ask if you need anything.

    • Carol Tice on

      What is it with friends who slag on friends’ writing careers? I keep hearing about this in the Den, too. I think those are…friends you don’t ever need to share about your writing career with. Just keep them out of it, if they can’t be supportive.

  11. Terri Forehand on

    What wonderful words of wisdom, and appropriate for me as my husband and I are relocating and moving forward with both promotions and retirement plans. My writing is taking a front seat finally yet family is so important. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Christian Gumbo on

    Carol, I’ve been following your blog for several months and this brought post brought me to uncontrollable tears in the coffee shop. I am so sorry that you physically lost such a wonderful friend, but you have preserved and expanded her spirit to thousands of others through this wonderful tribute.

    Virtual hugs for you during this difficult time and thanks so much for sharing.

  13. Casey Flynn on

    Your final conversations with your good friend were incredibly moving, Carol. Your comment about writing as a service to the community resonates with my core values and why I write. Ultimately, I want my writing to affect my readers, to help them to see things in different ways, to better understand topics that previously evaded them, and to feel the world. For the joys and sufferings of others to find representation in my words and empathy in the readers’ hearts.

    Thank you for sharing your friend’s wisdom and your applications of that wisdom to your life and your work.

  14. Susie Newday on

    I’m so sorry for your loss Carol. I work in outpatient oncology and I view each and every one of my patients in awe, as the courageous soul they are.

    The loss of such a unique and inspiring friend must be really difficult. I’m so sorry.

  15. K Hillery on

    This is truly an inspiring post. You gave your friend a wonderful tribute. As I navigate through the world of writing, I will never forget what is important and believe in myself until the very end. Thank you so much for sharing.

  16. John on

    I suppose we all wish that someone will remember us like this when our turn comes, for it’s the positive impact our lives have on others that really matters – not personal achievements that further a career or an ego.

    Thanks so much for sharing, and my condolences for your loss.


  17. Debra Stang on

    Oh, Carol, I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend. What a wonderful tribute you’ve written to her. As long as you remember and teach the valuable lessons you learned from her, she will always live in your heart and, in turn, in the hearts and lives of those you touch. That, to me, is true immortality.

  18. Sally Bair on

    This is a heartwarming story with valuable lessons. I would like to use some of it in one of my weekly devotional columns, if it’s okay. It brings to mind the lessons my protagonist learned when he faced losing their boat during a Bering Sea storm, in my book, “Williwaw Winds.” Thank you for your inspiration.

    • Carol Tice on

      Ordinarily, I’d say please restrict yourself to the one-paragraph “fair use” convention…but if you’re willing to give it a link I don’t mind if you take a bit more. I’m happy to spread Linda’s great lessons around.

  19. Marty on

    I’m so sorry about the loss of your good friend. Thank you for spreading lessons to us that you learned from her. It sounds like she was an amazing person.

  20. Pamela DeLoatch on

    Some of the most important lessons we learn, we learn last. Thank you for passing these lessons on so we can take advantage of them sooner. My sincerest sympathy to you and Linda’s family.

  21. Samar on

    Linda’s legacy isn’t just her art. It’s also the lessons she’s taught you as a friend.

    The one lesson I’m taking away from your conversation with her is to never forget to look at the big picture.

    My condolences to you and Linda’s family Carol.

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