“Use your words to listen to what is inside of you.”
– Michele Weldon, Writing To Save Your Life
I’ve written for as long as I can remember. At first, it was simply about recording my life, not because it was particularly interesting to me (or anyone else!), but because I imagined that at some point in the future I’d want a record of my boring, mundane, run-of-the-mill life.
As a pre-teen girl I had one of those tiny, lock & key diaries that any nosy parent or sibling could easily find their way into. Until I started kissing boys and smoking pot, I wasn’t too concerned about anybody reading my “personal” stuff. Years later they turned out to be pretty entertaining in a totally embarrassing way. “Oh my God, did I really feel and think that??”
And yet, it was my story.
Fast forward to decades later and writing is in many ways my go-to therapy. It takes the unmitigated mess that is my thoughts and feelings, and enables me to make sense of it all. It’s a process, of course. Insight and enlightenment don’t happen in an instant! But you have to start somewhere, and journal writing for me is where I begin to understand the world, and my place in it.
In the aftermath of loss, one’s world can very suddenly make no sense at all. As if someone is hanging you upside down and shaking you. Hard. Sometimes it’s difficult to identify what’s going to help to get you grounded again.
Expressing what you’re feeling is critical. And for me, writing is what works and helps me achieve a sense of order, balance and sanity again. For others it could be dancing, photography, fiber arts, gardening, cooking…we each have a favored mode of expressing on the outside what is churning on the inside.
For some of us, it is a “must.” I can’t not write when I am upset. I can’t get myself sorted out without seeing it all in black and white on the page (or screen). It takes what feels intangible (and therefore unresolvable), and makes it concrete. When it is written down, it takes a form that I can address in a practical manner. It makes it smaller, and not so overwhelming or unmanageable.
So write! Sing! Cook! Garden! Move your body! Whatever allows you to process and make peace with your experience.
And please, share in the comments below what has worked for you.
My grandpa passed away due to cancer last week. Since he had been hospitalized all i could think about was how scared he must be. The very last conversation we had broke my heart because he had expressed that he felt like the doctors had given up on him. Although, I know that there was nothing that could be done by the doctors, myself, or anyone else. Since his passing, all I seem to focus on when I think about him is those feelings he expressed to me in our final conversation. I cant seem to think about any happy times we had and I know that there are many. I have been trying instead to focus on school or work, but I seem to be isolating myself in my distractions. I tried writing, but when I put pen to paper I get nothing. I’m at a loss for ideas, and even though his passing is still fresh, his loss has emotionally drained me.
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Dear Lyndsey, you have actually just written something very heartfelt and revealing about not just the loss of your grandfather, but his final days and your interaction with him during that time. You say, “I get nothing.” But you actually got quite a lot.
I want to offer a suggestion: write your dear grandfather a letter, starting with everything you’ve expressed in this short comment: how hard it was for you to imagine how hard it was for HIM to feel that the doctors had given up. What was the feeling that came up for you around that? Frustration? Maybe guilt that there was nothing YOU could do either? Bring the emotions forth; you are clearly having many of them. Be as thorough as you can be in this letter in terms of saying all the things you wish you’d gotten around to saying before he died. Ask for forgiveness. And forgive him too. And finally, thank him for whatever gifts you believe you are carrying with you as a result of having had this precious individual in your life.
Grief is so layered and complex, and in your case it’s barely been a week so the intensity is raw. And yes, that is all part of the grief journey. What comes through for me in your comment is the love and closeness you felt for this special man who has been a part of your life your WHOLE life. Perhaps in writing this letter, a memory of the good times will come through for you. Share that in the letter as well.
Once you’ve written this letter, find someone to read it to. Someone you trust to keep this message confidential. This is a gift you are giving yourself AND your grandfather, and it’s no one else’s business, but there is value in actually DELIVERING the message – even if it’s not TO your grandfather. So perhaps a therapist, a spiritual advisor, your best friend…you’ll know who is the right person. Do this in person (not over the phone). You need to be seen and heard. Instruct the person to just listen, to not touch you while you’re reading (no comforting hand on your arm, for instance). And to not give feedback other than, “Thank you for sharing such a vulnerable part of yourself with me.” The other person is simply a vessel and not there to offer advice or (worse) judgment.
I wish you peace. You may believe at this moment, that peace is unattainable. But that is just a belief, and not necessarily a Truth. Thank you for sharing this with us. My heart goes out to you and your family and all who loved this man.