Pamela Cytrynbaum, author, blogger, lecturer at Northwestern University, and companion in grief (she lost her beloved brother two years ago), found my blog and found what I had to say interesting. She has asked me to answer a few questions and is sharing them with her readers at lifegoesstrong.com. This was my answer to her third question.
3. How has writing helped you? What does it mean for you to share what is such an intensely personal, private and lonesome journey?
Writing and speaking have always been my primary ways of solving problems. I am a verbal person, possibly above all else. Since childhood, I would pick apart my perceived problems with words – either writing them or discussing them with a sympathetic ear – often to an excessive degree.
“You don’t just examine your problem,” my mother would say. “You lay it out on the floor, poke it with a stick, and when that doesn’t work, you get out the tweezers and magnifying glass, well on your way to an electron microscope.”
When the biggest of all possible problems – the death of my only child – rocked my life more than three years ago, I immediately started writing. There was no solution to this “problem,” but I was trying to find a way to cope, a way to survive, a way out of the pain. I began a journal the week after the accident that killed my daughter. I called it my Scream Book in which I wrote everything and anything, dumping the pain into the pages. Some of those writings I have shared on my blog under the heading Grief Journal.
Initially, my written words were far too intimate and bloody to share. My spoken words were not much better; people often avoided me because all I could talk about was my pain. Other topics didn’t exist for me, and words were the only way I could release some of that pain. So, in absence of a sympathetic ear, I wrote.
I painted too, and created possibly some of my best works during that first year of agony. But while the painting soon dried up, the words kept flowing.
Grief is indeed an “intensely personal, private and lonesome journey;” however, a crowd walks that road. I found, as I began sharing my experiences in my editorial column in the local newspaper, a new sort of “family” began to appear. People whom I knew for years, new acquaintances, and total strangers called, wrote, stopped by the office, or stopped me on the street, telling me their own tragic stories, giving me hugs and sharing mutual tears. I was not alone, and by reading my story, these people discovered they were not alone either.
My writings have been nothing short of personal therapy for me. Through my writings I have connected with many others, received enormous support, and learned things about myself I didn’t know were there. This written therapy has served me better than any counseling I received – which is not to say that counseling isn’t important; only that writing has done me more profound good.
For me, one of the best things about writing is the ability to go back to it and re-read. I can see my “progress” on a regular basis – and my regressions. I can re-examine things, re-think and try to re-work some of my most troubling thoughts. Often, the re-reading sets me to crying again, but that too is therapy: It releases pent-up pain and sorrow and encourages a measure of peace afterward.
I’ve said for years that life is one long self-improvement course. We pass, or we fail, but we do not remain static. I hope I am passing this “test,” but it is still a day-to-day thing.
And so I write.