The following interview took place in January 2014 between Tracy Spevak, Starshine Galaxy Publicist, and Donna Mebane, author of Tomorrow Comes: An Emma Story. In the interview, Ms. Mebane describes the shock of hearing about her daughter’s death when she was thousands of miles away in Amsterdam. She addresses how the initial shock and disbelief led to the writing of Tomorrow Comes and also how the book impacted her family and her own grieving process. Finally, she suggests some things that other parents who have lost a child may want to consider.
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Spevak: What can you tell us about when you first heard the news about Emma? How would you describe your early emotions and state-of-mind?
Mebane: I was in the middle of a six-month international assignment to London for my employer, the Northern Trust. Sarah (my oldest daughter), Emma, and I had just spent a glorious week together exploring London and Ireland, of course … because it was on Emma’s “bucket list.” After a tearful goodbye, Emma had returned to Chicago for work, but Sarah stayed on, and the two of us had just arrived in Amsterdam for a weekend getaway when I got a call from my husband. He said words that will haunt me for the rest of my life, “The worst possible thing has happened … Emma has died.” After the call, I broke down, screaming and sobbing in disbelief, but somehow a kind of auto-pilot took over that enabled Sarah and me to get back home on the longest flight that I ever will take.
Spevak: How did the idea of Tomorrow Comes occur to you? Was it hard to get started? Was it hard to stick with it?
Mebane: In one sense, the idea came to me in a flash. A few months after Emma died, Sarah and I traveled again – this time to Turkey. It was a trip that the whole family was going to take and, although we talked about canceling it, Sarah and I decided that it might be a way to find some small measure of relief from the sadness that consumed us. In Turkey, on the bus from the airport to our villa, I suddenly realized that I needed to write a book, and we spent the next week blocking out the entire story, chapter by chapter. From that point, in many ways the book wrote itself, though I wouldn’t call it an easy thing to do – I cried the whole time. In another sense, though, the idea started brewing from the very beginning of my grief. I spent hours reading posts that Emma’s friends put on Facebook, and through their outpouring I began to understand Emma in a different way. Unlike a lot of other people, I did not have a strong faith to help me understand where she might have gone, but in my heart I could not accept that Emma – who was so vibrant, so alive, so central to so many lives – simply didn’t exist anymore. I guess Tomorrow Comes, and all that it represents, became my way of creating something that would enable Emma – and frankly me, too – to keep on living. Honestly, I don’t know that I really believe in AFTER, but in my best moments I can imagine Emma being happy there.