Rachael Chadwick – author, blogger and instigator of the ’60 postcards’ project – offers an insight into a remarkable journey, and how a memoir in motion can become more than the sum of its parts.
The reason it all began….
I always thought that I was invincible. I had never considered that anything horrific would happen to me or my family. But that all changed very suddenly when, in February 2012, my mother was diagnosed with bowel cancer after a very short period of feeling unwell. I was preparing myself for the biggest battle of my life for her but there could be no fight. Just eight days after her diagnosis we were delivered the brutal, heartbreaking news that Mum’s cancer was too aggressive to treat. Seven days after that we lost her.
I fell apart inside but put on a front to the world – I had to keep going. As hard as I tried it was all becoming too much – the milestones that followed that year were dragging me down. I felt completely helpless and so, I decided that I had to try something completely different.
In the December after she passed, it would have been my mother’s sixtieth birthday and I knew we would have done something special for it. I thought about my wonderful Mum, about the close bond we had and about how we shared a love of all things creative. I decided to hit my grief from another angle and celebrate my mum on that weekend by creating a distinctive tribute.
With Eurostar vouchers as the last gift that Mum had given to me, Paris was the chosen city for the weekend. I wanted to spread a message about her and scattered sixty postcards – one for each year of her life – around the City of Love. I wrote the same handwritten note on them explaining why I was there and put my email address on them asking the finder to get in touch. Eleven of my closest friends came along to support me on my mission of remembrance and we filled the weekend with fun and laughter, we overindulged (an understatement) in cheese and wine and we hid postcards as we went.
When I returned back to London I was dreading the first Christmas without Mum but it was just a few days later that I received an email from my first postcard finder. I was completely blown away. I knew that my mum would adore the project and with that in my mind, plus the excitement of the messages that were beginning to flow into my inbox, life was beginning to feel a little brighter.
Eager to share my story, I set up a blog (60postcards.com) three months after my Parisian adventure. I used it to tell my postcard tale while explaining honestly about how I was feeling about my loss. The reaction to the blog was overwhelming as I was supported and encouraged by friends, family and even strangers.
People who had also lost a loved one got in touch, telling me that they could relate to my words and were comforted by them. Knowing that I could potentially help others spurred me on even more and I decided to take a leap of faith and send an email to Stylist’s Emerald Street who mentioned my blog on a daily email. I experienced a surge of new readers and the most mind blowing part of it for me was that I began to gain interest from the literary world.
I couldn’t pinch myself hard enough when I was offered a book deal with Simon and Schuster six months after my blog began. It may sound a little crazy but it was a very confusing decision. Of course, writing a book is such an incredible opportunity – something I had only ever dreamed about before – but this was a book about my very personal experience. I was excited to talk about my postcard journey, but talking about Mum’s death just eighteen months after we had lost her was painfully tough. Still, with the support of my family and friends I wrote 60 Postcards the book – a legacy for Mum that my family can treasure and pass down for generations.
What happens next?….
My project has reignited my passion for life while enabling me to keep my mother’s memory alive. I still suffer from what I call, ‘uncontrollable storms of grief’ (even very recently) but I am determined to keep 60 Postcards moving forward, especially as I am receiving so many incredible emails from readers who have enjoyed the book, are sharing their own experiences and telling me about tributes of their own.
I already have ideas for the next stage for 60 Postcards. I want to blog more regularly again, using it as a platform for stories about inspirational people and projects. I would love to get schools involved, to organise meet-ups for readers and encourage more interaction through social media – all of which, I hope, will continue to spread the message that grief does not need to be shouldered alone.
But the most exciting part about this project for me is that so many serendipitous events have occurred along the way, I never really know what is going to happen next! Who knows?!…
Rachael Chadwick is an author, blogger and freelance writer. Her first book, 60 Postcards, is published by Simon and Schuster, and is available to buy from Amazon. The book began life as Rachael’s blog 60postcards.com. Find out more about Rachael on Twitter and Facebook.