Esther Busquets and Milena Busquets (Photo: Colita)

LIFE HONESTLY

Writing my way out of the loneliness of grief

Esther Busquets and Milena Busquets (Photo: Colita)

When Milena Busquets’ mother died, she felt lost and alone, so started writing as a way to deal with those feelings. Cathy Rentzenbrink introduces a powerful, moving tribute to love and grief

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By Milena Busquets on

“Mum, you promised that when you died my life would be on track and structured, that the pain would be bearable. You never said I would feel like ripping my guts out and eating them.”

After the death of her charismatic mother, Milena Busquets fell into a pit of loneliness and despair. One day, she opened her laptop and started to write and the result is a beautiful novel about life, death, love and sex. This Too Shall Pass is a funny, sexy, fiercely clever novel that takes us into the heart of what it means to love and how we must try to find a way to live even when we are brought low by grief. Here, Busquets describes her relationship – a type of love affair – with her mother and how it inspired her writing. CATHY RENTZENBRINK

***

My relationship with my mother was ambivalent. She was very loving and generous and a very big character, but she was also very narcissistic. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I was only able to write in a serious way after she died. I liked writing since I was a child, but her presence was so strong, and she was the one who wrote. Our house was full of writers and journalists and poets – there were artists around all the time – and she was such a strong character that it made it difficult for me to do anything.

She had enormous generosity, but it came at a very high price. She never wanted to have children. I have so much fun with my children and I am dedicated to them because it’s not an effort for me. But, for her, no.

My mother was ill for many years. She had Parkinson’s for 10 years. She was very brave about it; she didn’t hide it for a second. It made her feel less strong, and I wanted this superwoman mother, and I started to realise that she was not going to be this superwoman for ever more.

A neurologist told me, “You have to forget about who your mother is because one day she is going to disappear and you will not see her any more.” And you are told these things and you think you are ready, but you are never ready. I saw my mother disappear. She was an amazing, brave, adorable woman.

She was very angry about it. She took it personally and was furious. I have to jump over the last two years of her life to go back to what was so enriching and to the great love story that we had. Nobody should be judged by their last two years of life – it’s not fair. I’m sorry that she had to suffer so much and I’m sorry that I couldn’t do more. She had a great life except for the last two years. She died of pneumonia; her body did not respond to the treatment.

Even before she got ill, we talked about her death. It worried me what I would do with my life without her. I knew there would be a before and an after.

Even before she got ill, we talked about her death. It worried me what I would do with my life without her. I knew there would be a before and an after

We think that when we get to our forties, we’ll have the world in our hands. Everything will be under control, we will have learnt so much about love and we will know what we want to do. So, when we talked about her death, before she got ill, my mother told me not to worry. My life would be on track, I’d have a wonderful job. But it was not true.

Many women I talk with say they have a very complex, very tense relationship with their mother. I think the mother/daughter relationship is the most complex one. After the relationship I had with my mother, relationships with men have been so easy in comparison. Maybe we see our own mothers as different to what they are in reality. I would always complain that my mother didn’t protect me enough, was very hard on me, and then I would talk with other people who would say it was obvious that she adored me, but I didn’t see it.

I believe in hedonism. I think we are much more animal than we want to accept. When you like someone and you want to be close to them, it is never mental. But we have suppressed it so much it is almost gone. Our body is given to us for a short time and it is ours to enjoy. We have an obligation to enjoy, to be happy. We have so much and there is so much of the world where people have nothing. Whether it is having a glass of wine, or laughing with my friends, or being with a man, I’m very physical. When you put on a silk dress and you feel that silk on your skin, there is a luxury of having a minute to think about how the silk feels on your skin.

I do not want to go to the swimming pool every day to not look 44 but to look 37. The people who love you won’t love you because of the way you look. It’s absurd. And, if they love you because of the way you look, it’s the wrong sort of love.

Sex forces you to be in the present. When you lose someone that you love very much, you run the risk of becoming a ghost. The attraction of death is very powerful and, if we start having more loved people dead than alive, it’s easy to slip and become like a sort of ghost. It’s important to keep the distance with death. It makes everything disappear for a while. Physicality is good; it reminds us we are animals and we are alive, no matter what’s happening around us. Sex is the opposite of death. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last as long.

I am passionate and to give your love is not easy or obvious. To give yourself to someone is a very big step and so the times I have done it I cannot easily stop. Unless I’ve been really badly hurt, the people I have loved I still love. Love is not something you give and then take away. A part of you has been given away and you cannot win it back.

In the Middle Ages, we would have been burnt at the stake, me and most of my friends. No matter how lucky you have been, it’s great to remember that. If I had daughters, I would tell them there are so many things to do. It’s important to be brave and, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter. Our parents’ generation were less afraid of failure. With my first novel, only my three friends read it, and it didn’t work. It doesn’t matter. This one had to be better. In spite of all the risks, it’s nothing compared with being burnt at the stake.

I don’t believe in writing as therapy – I think it’s dangerous. Therapy for me is to go with my girlfriends to the cinema, or for a drink.

I think the mother/daughter relationship is the most complex one. After the relationship I had with my mother, relationships with men have been so easy in comparison

They say that, when you go through a hard time, you become a better person and more aware – that pain makes you better. I don’t believe this bullshit. I think pain makes us worse as human beings. We are tougher, more egotistic, because we are closer to our own misery.

We need time to get over these last two or three very sad years with my mother and to recover the incredible person that she was before. My mother wrote some books and I haven’t read them yet. There will be a time when I will need to read her books. At the moment, when I dream about my mother it is all nightmares still. I hope there will be a time when I can think about her without pain. In my dreams, she is ill; she is disappointed in me. I cannot forgive myself that I didn’t arrive on time to hold her hand when she died.

I started to write the book because I felt totally alone and lost. I took my boys to school one morning and I came home and sat at the kitchen table. I just opened the computer and started writing. I wrote the first chapter, the first 15 or 20 pages, very fast. I didn’t really know if it was going to become a novel. I just felt that I couldn’t stay inactive.

The first 15 pages were inspired by what I was feeling at the moment but, very quickly, I realised it had to have a structure and, if I wanted to go on with it, it had to be a novel. It couldn’t be a diary. It was hard work; it didn’t come naturally.

My book is very autobiographical in parts – but not as much as people think. People assume that when you write something that is very close to what you are or what you experience or feel, that it’s completely true. Promoting the book, I’ve had so many people coming to me and asking me, “How is the dog?” and I say, “But I don’t have a dog.”

The main goal is to sound true and real. Peter Pan is one of my favourite books and so full of truth, whether or not you believe that people can fly. People need to believe what you say, to get into the story without questioning it.

I cannot help but feel like a failure because this book was for my mother and the only person I would like to read the book will never read it anyway, no matter how many thousands of people read it and relate to it. Sadness is isolating, so I do feel less lonely since writing the book, but it hasn’t brought my mother back.

I didn’t want to do a sad book about death – I wanted to do a book about the weight of life. There’s so much more weight to life than to death. Even though death is such a tragedy and we are all heading in that direction, the weight of life is very strong. I was able to go barefoot yesterday for the first time this year. It was wonderful.

@MilenaBusquets

This Too Shall Pass is published by Harvill Secker and out now

Esther Busquets and Milena Busquets (Photo: Colita)
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LIFE HONESTLY
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