Motherhood Literature + Art

Gabriella Burman on Writing Michaela

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writing michaelaAuthor’s Note: Gabriella Burman on her book of essays, Michaela

I set out to write a memoir after the death of my daughter, and that is still the plan, but the task of completing a book length project while also raising very young children is daunting for me; as many working mother writers do, I write in shorter spurts. So I decided to focus my writing around a central question — and as a bereaved mother, there were many, far too many.

I began to “essay,” to wrestle with and reflect upon a single question in each piece. I accumulated dozens of essays of varying lengths. When the time came to submit a chapbook for publication, I agreed with an editor/friend who urged me to introduce my narrative voice with a lighter piece, “Don,” as a way to connect with readers before revealing the devastating central moment of the book, “May 23, 2009” and the great tensions around what has occurred, “Empty Drawers.” In all, there are seven essays in the book.

I am proud of the finished product; to hold your bound work in your hands is truly special. The physical book allows me to re-approach the work now as a reader, to relate to those who are reading it for the first time, to experience the story through their eyes, to learn what resonates most with them. It becomes communal in a way, the way the personal becomes universal.

Of course, with this book finished, I want to answer the question, “What next?” that I am asked (and that I ask myself)! I look forward to finding out.

An excerpt from If I Should Disappear the Day After I Write This…

The news that grief never ends is not as bad as it seems. It can, in fact, be the good news, considering our society’s preoccupation with the walking dead. We wish to be haunted. We cannot let go. We do not want to.

Trust me.

But, as in any story, the good cry walks shoulder to shoulder with the good laugh. In exposing the wound, there must be the laughter that accompanies the fall.

The children are funny. Use them. And so—

Did you hear the one about my middle daughter, Ayelet, who told me she overheard the babysitter use the word “stupid,” which is on our list of no-nos?

“I told her we don’t use bad words in our house,” Ayelet explained to me. And then, with a comic’s perfect timing, added, “At least we try not to.”

Of course, she has forgotten that as a toddler she jumped on our bed, gleefully shouting, “Goddammit!” Better she learn it from me, I say.

Our youngest baby, Maayan, is a poster child for the La Leche League: she nursed until age three. We could have been on the recent cover of Time instead of the four-year old boy on the step-stool eating from his mother, had we been asked.

Maayan and I had some really good conversations interspersed with her chugging. She impressed me with her elocution. “Maly got her hair cut down,” she once said, reporting on a friend’s visit to the “booty salon.”

In truth, the warmth of her suckling mouth at my breast, its gentle tug, the softness of her skin, was my only comfort at a time when I thought I would keel over like an animal that has no cause to live. She gave my arms reason to hang at my sides.

Michaela is available on

writing micaelaGabriella Burman was born and raised in suburban Detroit and graduated with a degree in Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University, where she studied with Robert Stone and Chaim Potok. Gabi has been sharing her life story since she first picked up a diary as a child. She now writes non-fiction from her home in Huntington Woods, MI, where she and her husband are raising their daughters.


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