Turn Right, as a book, simply happened. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I began writing the book as I flew from Australia to Minnesota to see Good Moon – my mother – one last time before she died.
As I sat on the plane, I opened my journal and began writing a list of the things I wanted to say to her. The difference in time between Australia and Minnesota was 17 hours, and I was worried that I’d be too jet-lagged to remember a thing. By the time I arrived in Minnesota, I’d memorized the list, and then, after Good Moon and I spoke to each other, I wrote down our conversation. And that’s how Turn Right got started.
When one of my siblings saw me recording Good Moon’s words, he asked me to do the same for him. Before long, I was writing for everyone. Again, we didn’t plan to write a book. We simply wanted to remember.
So there we were, sharing our conversations with each other, and there I was, writing down every word, and when we told Good Moon what we were doing, she gave us a suggestion. She said that more needed to be written about dying at home. Thus, in a very real sense, the book that is now Turn Right was Good Moon’s idea. She changed our thinking: we began wondering if sharing our experience with the world of the dying might be helpful to other families.
Good Moon died in December 2011, and I worked on the book over the next two years. I didn’t consciously think, “This book is my way of grieving,” but as I look back, grieving was certainly part of it. Turn Right is, in many ways, an elegy, a lyrical meditation on death.
Turn Right went through a host of revisions during that two-year period. When I received the final version of the book from the designer, my friend Shane Currey, I found myself looking at Version 27! That man has the patience of a saint!
Although the dialogue stayed the same, as did the outcome – Good Moon’s death at the end – what did change was the depth of my understanding of how families handle the world of the dying. I experienced Good Moon’s journey through very strong, very powerful visual imagery and through a broad cultural lens of different traditions – Native American spirituality, the rituals of the Sans tribesmen in Africa, Christianity and Buddhism.
At the time, I felt as if I were seeing – actually seeing – the images that are central to Turn Right: owl, the wolf, the ravens, the ancestors, the darkness and the light. There were powerful forces around Good Moon, and as I worked on the book, I spent many hours trying to capture the energy and presence of those forces and to share a glimpse of what Death felt like as we accompanied Good Moon on her journey.
I was, of course, concerned about breaching the privacy of both my mother and other members of my family. There is much that I did not include book. I also gave everyone who appears in the book a chance to review what I had written so that each of them would feel comfortable with what is in the book. I almost certainly wouldn’t have written Turn Right if Good Moon hadn’t suggested that more needed to be written about dying at home.
During the writing of Turn Right, I had a lot of time to reflect on my mother and her life, as well as on my relationship with her. I emerged from the book feeling very proud of Good Moon and very grateful to her for her willingness to share her death in such an intimate way.