Emily Sue Harvey: Cocoon – the story behind the story

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Several years ago, my husband Lee and I lunched together at a nearby local restaurant.

“What’s wrong with Kay?” I asked him after we’d ordered. I nodded to the couple sitting across the room. Shock rippled over me as I witnessed Kay’s empty features.

Concerned, I ventured over to speak to Kay and Gerald Turner, high school sweethearts at the same time as my husband, Lee and I had been. They sat in a booth opposite each other, Kay looking as detached from life as anyone I’d ever seen. When I greeted them, Gerald was his usual warm, outgoing self while Kay turned her head away, deliberately ignoring me. And as I chatted with Gerald, nothing I did drew Kay into the conversation. In fact, any overtures drew silent but reverberating scowls of irritation and disdain. Apart from anger, her features registered empty.

I soon returned to my own booth and commented to Lee, “She undoubtedly has Alzheimer’s or some form of Dementia.” How sad. Tragic, in fact. I was familiar with Alzheimer’s symptoms because Lee’s mother and two sisters had succumbed to the dreaded ailment. The former effusive, athletic Kay today disregarded Gerald and the world as blatantly as she’d ignored me. But Gerald continued to smile and never stopped attempting to engage her. That touched me on a very deep level.

“Kay’s not there,” I declared. “She is not there.” I later asked Shelby, Gerald’s sister and another Byrnes High classmate, about Kay’s condition.

Shelby said that Kay had a rare psychosis and had suffered with it for a number of years. She added that the prognosis was grim, most likely hopeless.

Fast forward to early 2012. Again, we ran into the Turners at lunchtime. They occupied the booth next to ours. I didn’t speak to them immediately. I was too engrossed in watching Kay, a cataclysmically different Kay than the last time I’d seen her.

This Kay was laughing and animated and thoroughly engaged in upbeat conversation. When I could stand it no longer, I approached them and asked point blank, “What happened, Kay?” My awe of it vibrated in my voice. I reminded them of the last time I’d seen them and the change I now saw in Kay.

By the time I finished, Kay’s smile stretched from ear to ear. “I’m a miracle,” she said with such conviction that a knot instantly formed in my throat. Food forgotten, I sat down with them and listened to her story of God’s mercy and grace, and of a miraculous, seemingly impossible healing.

Some things pierce my soul. This did. And I knew – this story had to be told. I asked the Turners if they would mind my fictionalizing the characters and plot to use their unique set of circumstances to show others what faith and undying love could do. Before I got it all out of my mouth, they both were nodding enthusiastically.

“I would love that to happen,” Kay said solemnly. “It might help someone who feels hopeless to have hope.” Gerald wholeheartedly agreed.

Thus: the seed of my novel Cocoon was planted.

Another character in Cocoon, Billie Jean, my main character Seana’s cousin, becomes her very armor bearer during Seana’s dark journey. My muse for the feisty Billie Jean character was Billie McGregor, a longtime friend who even now battles bone cancer. She, too, became an icon for faith and became my inspiration for this wonderful, upbeat character who, at times, along with Barth, the long-suffering husband, literally carries Seana on her shoulders. Real-life Billie daily confesses trust in the Creator and has survived long past other bone cancer patients in her medical peer group. She’s never stopped laughing and living life to the fullest. And like Kay Turner, she’s never stopped believing in miracles. I remain in awe that each of these walking miracles are willing to be transparent. Their generosity overwhelms.

Kay, Gerald and Billie are my heroes. In the darkness, their lights shine brightly, giving others courage.

Their lives say that miracles do still happen.

Cocoon attests to that.

 

Emily Sue Harvey is the author of Cocoon, along with several other Story Plant titles. You can read more about her here.

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