Old Wounds

A few weeks ago, I dug out the stack of journals I wrote when my mom died. I filled almost 6 books from the end of June to the end of April. Ten months of grieving, nine months of carrying my baby. Two more journals written sporadically after the birth. New moms have limited time, as you can imagine.

journals

Opening old wounds is like peeling off a scab and watching the blood rise in tiny glossy beads. It stings, but also feels strangely satisfying.

Rereading these journals brings me right back to those early days. After only a few words, the tears that have seemingly dried up, or gone into hibernation, pour out. I welcome them, as painful as it is, because grief connects me to my mother.

It maintains and strengthens our tenuous connection, the invisible string that binds us together, from womb to body, from life to death.

I’m reading these old journals not simply for connection, but for research. As some of you know, I’m creating an online grief course for my friend Claire De Boer’s site, The Gift of Writing. The course, (tentatively) called Crossing the River, is about writing through grief. Not as a means to an end, but as a way to connect and integrate (healthy) grief into life.

This course isn’t just for those who are mourning a death. You can grieve the end of a relationship, whether it’s a break-up, divorce, estrangement, or abandonment. You can grieve infertility, the loss of a lifestyle, or a dream. In a podcast with Rob Bell, author and grief expert, David Kessler explains that grief is about change. Death is a big one, of course, but grief is how we deal and process any major change in our lives.

While writing this course, my grief has returned to me in fresh waves, but instead of rawness and confusion, it’s a release. The tears come and go and so do I. Moving forward in my life, grief is my shadow. Not a dark or scary one, but a companion that I find comfort in knowing is always there.

What are you grieving, right now?

I’ll keep you updated on the course, but if you have any questions or would like to be notified when it goes live, send me a note in comments or here: writingatthetable@gmail.com

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Life After Loss: Writing Through Grief

Alhough it’s been eight years, my mother’s death remains one of the biggest turning points of my life.

mom and me

Almost immediately afterward, everything became filtered through a new distorted lens. I felt like a book that had been torn in half. There was part 1, all that had occurred before my mom’s death, and part 2, what came after.

I remember feeling so raw and exposed that summer. My heart felt like it had been scooped out of my chest. I dragged myself through the days in a strange kind of stupor. Nothing looked or sounded quite right. People were too loud, too happy, too eager to offer advice about my grief.

One well meaning friend kept insisting I see a blockbuster comedy that opened that summer. It’s so hilarious, she said, it will make you laugh. But what she didn’t understand was I didn’t want to laugh. I wanted to hunker down inside my grief. I wanted to feel every stab of pain and every searing ache. Funny movies and even most fiction felt frivolous and unimportant. I turned to poetry when I couldn’t bear prose. I made scrapbooks and photo albums. I cried, a lot.

Grief was my work, and I stepped into it willingly. Not because I thought it was the right thing to do, but because it was the only thing I could do.

Recently, my friend Claire over at The Gift of Writing asked me to write a post about grief. I focused on how journaling connected me to my mother and helped serve as a conduit for my pain, both before and after her death.

Writing was the one thing I could do anytime, anywhere. It was where I could be completely honest about how I felt, with no one pitying or judging my process.

Please stop by if the topic resonates. I’d love to know what you think.

gift of writing

 

 

 

A Writer’s Dream

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. Maybe it started when I learned how to read, or before that, when I received my first journal at age five. It was a beautiful little red velvet book with the words, My Diary, spun in gold thread across the center.

With painstaking effort, I wrote one and two sentence entries, filling about half the book. Journaling would become a lifelong habit, but my deepest love was for fiction.

A small sampling of a vast journal collection.

A small sampling of a vast journal collection.

Books became my escape, my most loyal companion. I loved losing myself in someone else’s words, falling into another world. At mealtime, I almost always had a book poised in front of my face. Somehow my parents allowed this. Perhaps my devotion to reading amused them, but I know most of all it made them proud.

Me, age 4, getting a head start on my dream.

Me age 4, reading in bed, circa March 1979

Now here I am living the first part of my dream. I’m a writer. I write. Even during those hibernation years after having my first child, I wrote blog posts and kept journals. Writing is how I process life; writing is the mirror I use to see the world.

But there is another part of my dream. One that I’ve held onto since I was a young girl devouring Young Adult books in my room, collecting them on my shelves.

I want my book there, too.

When I was about ten years old, I knew this. On the inside of my dresser, which I had transformed into a bookcase, I wrote the following affirmation on an index card:

“I will publish a book by the time I am eleven years old.”

As you can imagine, this story did not end well. The next year I crossed out “eleven” and wrote twelve,” and so on, until I finally ripped the card off and threw it away.

Looking back, I feel such empathy for my younger self, so full of big dreams. Isn’t that one of the beautiful things about childhood? How we believe anything is possible?

My little reader and budding artist.

My girl, reader, dreamer, and artist.

After graduating from college as an English major, naturally, I applied for and was offered a job at the local Barnes & Noble. I loved this job, and it was with regret that I gave my notice several months later when I got a publishing job in New York City. But working there, surrounded by books, I superimposed my name on the spines I arranged. My index card dream was still alive.

Here I am, nearly two decades later, writing with more confidence and joy than ever. I’ve had stories published in journals, which is thrilling, but I haven’t made it inside a bookstore – yet. That dream remains to be seen.

The truth is I have little control over this part. It’s based on the whims of others, on the now shaky venue of traditional publishing.

It may not happen.

All I can do is reach for it with my words. All I can do is keep writing.

What are your dreams? If you’re a writer, is traditional publishing your goal, or is self-publishing a viable option?

 

the prompt

 

I’m sharing this post on Mum Turned Mom’s The Prompt, whose word this week is Dream. Click here to see what other writers have to say…