{Guest Post} Timothy Spillane: Making Memories into Memoirs

  • Wednesday, December 10, 2014

About Four Before Their Time: A Story of Hope, Resilience and Miracles by Timothy Spillane:
Anne had it all. She was a physician, an Army officer, and a great wife. She'd be a great mom, too. But the joy of pregnancy is short-lived. A scan reveals quadruplets – Anne isn't just pregnant, she's really pregnant.

Now Tim Spillane is a grandfather four times over, much too soon. Just 24 weeks into her pregnancy, Anne delivered, and not one of Tim's grandkids weighs more than half a mug of coffee. They're so red and raw, so different from most newborns, that even calling them babies feels wrong. It all seems hopeless until his wife observes that just seeing the quads is like "being allowed a glimpse into the miracle that grows in a mother’s womb."

Four Before Their Time is the true story of four babies surviving on a razor’s edge, one mom's overwhelming and guilt-ridden entrance into parenthood, and an entire family's experiences with extreme premature birth. It will take all the faith, hope, and resilience the Spillane family can muster – along with more than a few miracles – just to get the quadruplets home.

Making Memories into Memoirs

by Timothy Spillane, author of Four Before Their Time

Memory is a tricky thing. One problem – to quote Cormac McCarthy – is that you forget what you want to remember and remember what you want to forget. Given such challenges with recollection, can a reader really trust a memoir? If a fiction writer can make the impossible plausible and if the author of non-fiction can transform the sand of events into cemented fact, then what can be said of the craft of those who pen the memoir?

Memory inhabits a world adrift between what is real and what is true. I struggled for some time with that notion while writing my memoir, “Four Before Their Time.” The book tells a true story: My daughter Anne delivered quadruplets four months early. That much is a matter of record. But saying Timmy, Edda, Lily and Wyatt were so extremely premature that no one gave them much chance to survive, let alone the hope of living a normal life, is a matter of my perception. And therein the twist with the memoir: Can an author’s recollections be both fallible and true at the same time?

Timothy Spillane with daughter Anne
For me, the answer is a resounding yes. Good writing – whether fiction or non – is at its core genuine. To make my memoir believable for the reader I had to believe in what I was telling them. From the outset I recognized my reconstruction of the facts of the story was probably faulty at times. With four tiny babies hanging onto life in a neonatal intensive care unit for months and months, who could blame me for confusing what and when happened to whom? The trauma of that time – the babies’ emergency delivery into this world was precipitated by the near death of my daughter – made frenzy of facts. I never took a single note. It would have been folly trying to make sense out of circumstances that were unfolding so fast and furiously. When years later I sent the nearly finished draft of the book to Anne she was astounded to discover that so much of what had happened had never even registered with her. It was how she coped. Should it have been much different for me? Ultimately, I made this decision about my memoir: What I would relate in the telling of the story – though in places it may be unreal – would never be untrue.

I know what I felt during that time. Though I could not know with certainty what my wife or Anne or our other two daughters felt, I knew exactly how their feelings affected mine. Though I would obtain medical records for the babies and depend on a long train of emails to reconstruct the events found in “Four Before Their Time” I would use these only as mile markers along the road. The course this memoir would take had already been blazed in my heart. Nothing could change that. I had no choice but to follow it.

There is a verse in The Book of Hebrews that tells us faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Truth, like faith, resides in a realm for which evidence does not exist. There would be no room for miracles in this world if hard facts were our only guide. In the same way, memoir writing is not about the verities of memory; it is about what is genuine and true. It is about life. It is about you. 

About Timothy Spillane 

Tim and his wife live in Chester County, PA and are the parents of three daughters. They became grandparents when their daughter, Anne delivered quadruplets in April, 2010. A graduate of Colorado College (1979) with a degree in English Literature, Tim returned to school to earn his Masters of Public Health from Drexel University in 2005. He has worked in residential construction for more than three decades but is now focusing full-time on his writing. He currently serves on the executive board of Graham’s Foundation, an organization for parents and families going through the journey of prematurity.

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