I keep crying over Ian M Banks dying of cancer.
May 20, 2013 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Never in my life has this happened before, but I keep finding myself in tears of grief over the looming death of Scottish writer Iain M Banks, who is far and away my favourite writer and has terminal cancer. I'm looking for ways of helping to resolve this emotion, by using it as energy to fuel a meaningful response.

I am very fortunate never to have had a family member or close friend die of cancer, so I am a bit adrift and want to make sure I respond well. I also would like advice on what best practices are for this sort of thing with regards to a public figure.

Two or three times I've started to write a brief letter to Mr Banks, thanking him for his books and sharing a few of the ways they have positively affected my life, but this seems presumptious to me because I assume someone with cancer would like to spend that time with family and friends, not replying to, or even reading, a stranger's letter. But perhaps my assumption is wrong; might such a letter be appreciated by Banks and his family?

Another idea I've had is to contribute to a cause he supports, particularly in light of current events in Scottish politics and Banks' recent support of Scottish independence, or to contribute to cancer research. Are there any people or charities coming together to honour Banks in this way?

Many thanks.
posted by Mistress to Human Relations (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
He has said publicly that he has read (is reading?) through all the comments left on his website, so feel free to write him a letter/leave a comment.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:57 AM on May 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

I felt genuinely bereaved when John Peel died, as he was an important figure in my cultural life, and it was very sudden. I knew someone who attended the funeral - part of it was made public to anyone who wanted to attend - but I didn't feel comfortable attending what is normally an occasion for those who actually knew the deceased. I don't think writing a letter is the same. He may not get to read it, and he may not choose to reply, but it may be something that will be a comfort to his family, to know that the person they loved as an individual was loved for his work.
posted by mippy at 8:58 AM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

By all means write that letter. There is no greater accomplishment in life than to help others, and it would almost certainly please him to hear that he's helped you. Please do tell Mr. Banks and his family the ways that his life has improved yours.

I too am distraught about his diagnosis, and I can only hope he's filling his days with as much happiness as can be mustered.
posted by Sternmeyer at 9:05 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

When it was announced that Robert Anton Wilson was going into hospice back in 2006, I was profoundly saddened, as well. Here was a person who--like Banks did for you--had changed my life and touched me personally, without realizing it.

I wrote a letter and never sent it. It still eats at me. I wish I had a chance to tell Bob and his supportive, wonderful family thanks.

Don't miss this chance--even if he never reads it, it is a physical object that holds your memory of him. And memory is the only way that we can live forever.
posted by gone2croatan at 9:09 AM on May 20, 2013

After the songwriter/singer Jason Molina died, a radio host I quite enjoy took it very hard. He was choked up on the air, and took the time out of what is typically a goofy, funny show to plead to his listeners, "if there's someone whose work you have appreciated, tell them, and tell them now, because you never know."

He may not read it, he may not answer, but you never know. So go for it, send it.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:12 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of the things I've learned about people I was acquainted to, who were taken ill and died, is that writing such a letter can serve two purposes:

1) they don't go by unnoticed; you might give that person a moment of emotion felt (as opposed to time waiting).
2) they are for you as well as for the person you're addressing.

I've had reason to regret not having written such letters for both of these reasons.

Nobody knows how a person with such a prospect fills his days. I believe sometimes not even the person himself knows. So do write that letter.
posted by Namlit at 9:16 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some mentions of charities Banks has noted his support of - Book Aid International and Safe Space.
posted by Luke Skywalker at 9:24 AM on May 20, 2013

To add to Namlit's list, I will say that it will probably mean a lot to his family as well, even if he doesn't get the chance to read it himself. My dad was just an average guy who worked as retail sales manager in suburbia, but when he died we were overwhelmed by how many people made it a point to tell us how he had positively touched their lives. It's a nice feeling, to know that the people you care about were loved by others as well.
posted by something something at 9:30 AM on May 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am also feeling this! I just finally started reading the Culture books a couple of months ago, and was less than halfway through Consider Phlebas when the news came out. I was melancholy for days, and am still feeling a background sadness as I read Player of Games.

I've been dithering over what to say on his website for weeks, but when it comes right down to it, I just want him to know how glad I am he existed, and how glad I am that he created so many wonderful books that inspired people to recommend them, and while I wish I had taken those recommendations to heart a lot earlier, I'm so glad that he has made such wonderful contributions to my reading life.

I think I'll go over and tell him exactly that, right now.

These are not beans; you don't need to overthink them (and will paralyze yourself if you do!). And, too, you can always leave more than one note, if you think of something else to tell him.
posted by rtha at 9:43 AM on May 20, 2013

I think you should buy copies of your favorite of his books and give them away. To your friends, random strangers, donate to a homeless shelter, teen activity center, and so on. Action cures melancholy.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:50 AM on May 20, 2013 [8 favorites]

I agree with the ideas above to write a letter. I did not do the same when Hitchens became ill, and now it's too late. Take that energy that you have and feelings for him and put it to paper!
posted by getawaysticks at 10:01 AM on May 20, 2013

Write that letter. He did say that he was quite overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and affection and support that followed his announcement.

Also, write to your other heroes. Tell them how awesome you think they are and how much they have touched your life.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:38 AM on May 20, 2013

Know that as long as his books are still read, that part of his mind, the bits he wrote down and made into a multitude of worlds, will carry on.

This is what's getting me through Banks' illness, and through Pratchett's as well. So many of the people who made me who I am, from a distance, without ever knowing how important they are, have come to that age where they're leaving us, one at a time.

I can see no reason not to write that letter. Even if he never sees it, in the coming months and years his family will and they will know how much he was loved.
posted by Jilder at 10:45 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think he'd feel obligated to respond; it sounds like he's pretty clear on what's important to him now. Just send what you want to send, and don't worry about his end.
posted by amtho at 10:55 AM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Write it and send it- it sounds like you've put a great deal of thought into it already. To be blunt, time is of the essence. I'm biased because I spent (literally) years trying to write a letter worthy of being sent to Roger Ebert. In retrospect it seems so silly to have put so much time into worrying about it when the most important part was sending it.
posted by variella at 11:11 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I found out that we lost Bradbury, I cried like a baby- partially because i'd missed the chance to tell him how much his writing affected me. If you want to write a letter, do it, and don't include a return address if you don't want a response.

It doesn't have to be perfect, just sincere.
posted by windykites at 11:25 AM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just in case you didn't see his particularly relevant update today:

Anyway, it suddenly strikes me that a lot of the above is digressive. Apologies. To get back to the real point of all this, I want to say thank you to all of you for your messages, your memories, your wit, your sympathy and your kind, supportive thoughts. It means a lot, almost more than I can say, and – whatever type or size of screen I read the comments on – I come away from the computer, laptop, iPad or phone with a happy smile on my face.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:40 PM on May 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

I know this is cheesy to some, but I felt the same way when Patrick Swayze passed away. I will feel this way when B.B. King leaves this earth.

That said, I think it's wonderful that you can still write to Banks, and can still pass along your feelings to him. Write him something, no matter how emotional. Then, find solace in his books. Tell others about his writing. Give your favourite book of his to loved ones for X-mas. That is the best way you can share his legacy.
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 2:04 PM on May 20, 2013

Years ago, when my friend died of cancer his widow asked me to go through all the cards and letters he was sent and harvest the addresses. Of course that meant I would see what people wrote. I know he read the ones sent before he died; even the ones sent afterward were heartfelt. (My friend was a semipublic figure in my branch of the church world, so there were lots of cards and letters.)

Send the letter. Even if he for whatever reason doesn't see it his family will, and it will be a real comfort. I know for me personally what an awesome privilege it was to see what I saw, and what a comfort it was for me, even though I was "just a friend."

I can also say that sending that letter will help you. Grieving for someone who you are not related to is weird in that unlike family members, generally people aren't helping YOU through your grief process. It's hard in a weird way, because you know you can't compare yourself to the grief the family and close friends are feeling and yet they are-rightfully-the focus of help and comfort, and there you are twisting in the wind without that.

For me, going through that box for the widow was incredibly cathartic. For you, sending that letter will probably serve a similar purpose.

And, fwiw, I am so sorry.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:46 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Side comment: you might get some emotional relief by reading The Fault In Our Stars. Two teens meet in a cancer support group and travel to tell their favorite author how much he means to them.
posted by salvia at 6:17 PM on May 20, 2013

Best answer: Just because you and a few others here may be interested, Banks has produced another update...

Full post at his website.

Edit: I see Kafkaesque beat me to it. Well, I'll leave this anyway in case you missed it.
posted by Decani at 11:30 AM on May 21, 2013

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