For 17 years my husband Joe and I had a little dog named Lily.
When she died her absence pressed against me. I missed her in general, and I missed her specifically and strongly in all the places where she had been.
Our house was full of all the places where Lily wasn’t.
Laura Godwin, my editor at Holt, suggested that I write a book about that. So I did, from the point of view of a child. This is how it began:
Where Lily Isn’t
Lily ran and jumped and
barked and whimpered and growled
and wiggled and wagged and
licked and snuggled.
But not now.
Now, next to my bed in the morning
there is a little rug
where Lily isn’t.
I showed the manuscript to Laura Godwin. She was interested in publishing it, but wondered how I would illustrate it.
I had painted Lily before.
She was a model in Here Comes Grandma –
and in The Great Smelly, Slobbery, Small-Tooth Dog.
She even graced a label for pickled green beans.
But I found myself unable to illustrate this book.
Luckily I knew who could. At that time Margaret Chodos-Irvine was living in London. We had been sending each other wordless letters (you can read about those letters in her blogpost here and in mine here). Margaret sent me this wordless letter when Lily died.
She knew Lily – and me. I asked Margaret if she would be interested in illustrating Where Lily Isn’t. We submitted it to Laura Godwin as a team and we were accepted!
In her art Margaret conveys the loss and the love that I wrote about.
Her illustrations are spare but warm. She manages to show what is there, and what isn’t there.
There is a lot of white space which conveys a sense of loss.
The stencil and brushed shapes are expressive.
Margaret hid little references in the book – such as mugs made by my mother on the kitchen shelf, and reference to a drawing by my nephew Benji.
This is the first time that I have written a book without illustrating it. Now my friendship with Margaret is also part of this story of Where Lily Isn’t. It is a stronger book for being told with both of our voices.
I am not particularly religious. Religion doesn’t help me to understand death. But I truly believe that animals and people live on in our memories and through our stories. Love lasts longer than any physical presence.
This is how the book ends:
The house is quiet with all of the sounds that Lily isn’t making.
The house is full of all the places where Lily isn’t.
But here inside me –
that’s where Lily is,
and where she always will be.
I hope that children and their families will see themselves and find comfort in this story.