On Pat Conroy, Grief, and Making it Count by Laurel Dowswell

The literary world lost another giant this week. Pat Conroy died on Friday, February 4th, after announcing approximately one month ago that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer. He was 70 years old.

The bestselling author of The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, and The Prince of Tides, Conroy connected to his readers through a beautiful sincerity that conveyed personal, and often times, very painful emotional truths. In this story from NPR, Conroy says, “If I get it on paper, I’ve named the demon.”

Pat Conroy’s writing connects with readers because he wasn’t afraid to tell the truth through his stories, intimacy uninhibited. That’s not an easy thing to do.

As I remember and celebrate his work, I grieve the loss of a creative and troubled heart, and think of others we have lost recently- Louise Rennison, Harper Lee, Umberto Eco, David Bowie…the list goes on, as does the seasons. And I’m angry.

I waffle through the stages of grief— getting caught in the middle too often.

Photo by Laurel Dowswell


there just isn’t time to breathe, to reflect, until another speeding train comes with such weight and power that you don’t have time to get off

the tracks.

I look at Pat Conroy’s eyes and they remind me of my dad’s. Reading through coverage of his death brought me back to a little over ten years ago, as I watched as the light left my father’s blue eyes, and he was gone. Then I think of my mother’s blue eyes, still in the land of the living, seeing — but not really, the recognition of what is in front of her decimated by disease, held captive by a brain that has changed, soft and slow, in Purgatory. And I’m angry at my dad for leaving, and I’m angry at my mom’s brain for staying.

I look at my blue eyes in the mirror and wonder about my fate. How long do I have? How long will my brain last?

I didn’t begin to write this article with the intention of talking about me. But is not death, and grief such a personal yet universal experience that we are not allowed to occasionally publicly speak of our pain without feeling guilty or selfish? Can I speak of the anger about my dad’s death, my mom’s brain, the death of my substitute mom, the grief of other losses that make me cry and look to the sun for warmth and healing?

And now, I take a deep breath. I do understand that all of this is natural- the cycle of life and loss, beginnings and endings, and how, whatever our circumstances, we all have unique, but completely intertwined experiences and emotions. I am not afraid of death.

Creative expression is about connection. Trying somehow, someway, to make sense of the world and to do our best to make it all count, make it all matter. I mourn the loss of Conroy, I mourn the loss of other creative giants, but I also celebrate those that enhance our lives every day; those that create beauty, those that tie us inextricably together through our shared joys and pains. Yes, we are all in this together.

Making it count. Day by day. That’s what matters. Through our imperfections, through our losses, our joys, and everything in between. RIP Pat Conroy.


Laurel Dowswell is is the Features Editor at Change Seven. Her short story “I Am theEggman” was nominated for the 2016 Pushcart Prize. She was a copy editor for an independent feminist newspaper in Santa Fe, NM, after being raised and educated in Florida. She lives and writes in Georgia, just outside of Atlanta with her son. She is currently working on a novel filled with oil paintings, family drama, and the spectrum of sexuality. Follow her on twitter @laurels_idea.





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