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Writing as a Way of Healing

When I think back to the time following Tom’s suicide, I tend to automatically give my therapy all of the credit for the healing and support I felt during that time. I loved my therapist, she was a really neat woman, one who was skilled at her trade, very there for me, wise and respectful. I had such an admiration for her. Her insight was amazing, I loved the way she listened, on a deep level, and offered heartfelt, thoughtful responses. She was a genuinely nice human being that offered real unconditional positive regard. Being a therapist resonated within her. I felt lucky to have had her as a companion on my journey for so many years.

And when I reflect a little more deeply, I see there were other things that also helped alleviate the stress, the insomnia, the angst of unknowing what was to come. The lack of understanding what had really happened, why it happened and the wondering about how we were going to survive all of it. Attending church became paramount, not because it was a church, or specific religion but because the worship room was often open and separate on the grounds, allowing me access to a sacred space where I could just go and sit. The room was full of light and had a sense of peace there. It was a space where I had alone time to commune with God, which I so desperately needed. I had started attending there when I found out they had a preschool and were near our house. The local Catholic church did not offer childcare, so attending masses with two young boys was not really an option for us. I didn’t want a disaster waiting to happen, I wanted alone time to connect with Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God. I wanted to worship with others and also worship alone, especially since I believe we are responsible for our own level of faith. People can offer locations, services, instruction, resources, community and guidance, but how deep you are willing to delve into your soul is really up to you. So, we started attending this church and before I knew it, my husband and I were suddenly at a standoff. Going to church, instead of bringing us closer and together became a battle ground. A ground I didn’t understand. Looking back, I see the path of self-destruction was already unfolding in him, I just didn’t know it. To put him in a space where he would feel love, supported and accountable would never work. He would not be able to sit in a room of God, with a group of people who love Christ and open their hearts and minds to him every Sunday and not be rattled. That would rock his world and force him to get clean and sober. He’d have to come forward, set his ego and pride aside, admit his mistakes and tell the truth. Those became things he was unwilling to do.

Often I went to church by myself or had the children in their Sunday school while I attended mass alone. I’d return during the weekdays, while the kids were in school, when it was quiet. I’d sit in a pew and cry, or cry and pray. We were heading towards divorce at that time, and it felt like a bullet train I could not stop. And it concerned me greatly that my husband didn’t want a relationship with God. Something felt terribly off. I just didn’t know at the time it was a drug addiction followed by a looming suicide. I learned the day he suicided, that deaths like that, one that a person chooses may not be a God thing but a chosen human thing. It became one of many choices that led to a chilling ending, unsacred, isolative, despairing. And it left alot of unfinished business.

Suicide is a terrible reality to discover. After his death, I still attended mass, not as frequently, because I became a single parent that day, overwhelming my time with so many activities. I still went and sat in the pews during the daytime, still cried and talked to God, or I just sat there in a stunned silence. That stunned silence lasted for months.

They say when someone is close to the death, we get closer to the veil that lies between life and realm beyond. Like the space in the bedroom where he killed himself, I could feel an energy out there that was not my own. There were eyes watching, and it felt like so many eyes were on us. Not necessarily good. In the house, where he died, the energy shifted, and often became eerily quiet. As if I was standing in a large chamber that echoed my voice. Meanwhile in the apartment I had rented with the boys, it often felt crowded or like people were peering in the windows watching us, even though no one was there. Between the two, I started to wake up at 1:30 am every night, the time of his death. Suddenly there was a whole world out there I could not see and I didn't understand. And concerns about where his soul went filled my mind with worry.

During those miserable nights when I was either up from the racquet being made by the dog, or from the general anxiety I carried around, I started journaling. At first I fought it and then I stopped battling the insomnia and the unknown, and instead turned on the light, grabbed a pen and started journaling. I found that sometimes I wrote for hours, sometimes for a few minutes. The important thing is that I wrote when the urge hit. I didn’t wait, didn’t question it, didn’t judge it, just grabbed the pen and opened the journal and wrote. I plowed through 3 journals before I realized how incredibly healing writing was for me. Therapy was helpful, prayer was necessary, but writing is what saved my life. It was the one place I could go to write about dreams of death, all the questions I had, the agony and despair I felt, my anger about what happened, and all of the concerns I had for our children. There were so many things to write about. The neighbors were talking, the coroner took weeks to release the body, the friends we had for years disappeared. I had to find a place to hold the memorial, he was Catholic, what happened to his soul? I wrote and wrote and wrote. I read a stack of books and wrote more. Was it the drug addiction or had he really wanted to die? And each time, as I put words to the page, a release surfaced. It felt like valves being opened up inside of me. Cathartically, the words on the pages were tapping the surface of my losses. Other times it felt as if I was diving down deep to briefly touch some part of my soul responding to a long-term attachment and deeply important relationship. A 17 year relationship. The love of my life. This loss had hit me on many levels. So in the middle of that unconsolable suffering, I would dive down and then resurface. And through the regular and constant writing, I was able to keep going, gain some understanding of myself, and start healing.

My journaling went on for about 3 years, at which point I discovered some pages would become a book I never expected to write. It has evolved over the years, into several book drafts and regular blog posts now. Sometimes it’s a list of ideas, memos or recordings on my phone; sometimes it is a post it note on my desk from a poem I read. It is findings in a grief book I’m reading. Or a note about a podcast I listened to. It’s that quote in a movie, that line that in a song lyric, gives me pause and resonates with some part of my grief journey. There are many moments like that, still happening in my life. I accept them as I continue to move forward, learning how to speak the language of loss, grief, despair and survival. Learning still how to live with the loss instead of getting over it, like we are so conditioned to think. There is hope there too, as well as gratitude, resilience and perseverance. I think so many have written on those topics, they do not feel neglected to me, but they are not my focus. Grief and tragic loss are what sit squarely in my house. Losing someone in a tragedy, memories, narrative and to name the nonliving. The rituals in our soul of deep loss and suffering. These are often my companions at this table. They keep me grounded and centered on my purpose. They are the guides on this path for me now. They are all I have left. I know now that for me to be fully alive, I must honor and respect them. I must stay with this deep loss, acknowledge it and not forget. They invariably lead me to that that shift – that moment when I know that mortality is but a moment in time. We are here for but a moment and in an instant gone.

If you are thinking about writing about loss, death, suicide loss, the despair of losing a spouse or a loved one, a friend, a colleague, I encourage you to write. Don’t think about it, just start writing. Do you need to write? Yes. Does it help? Yes. Does your soul need it? Yes. Does the world need to hear it? Resounding yes. But only if you want it to. Don’t think, just write. Take that extra burden off your shoulders. Know that you can stop at any time, you can pull the project whenever you want, you can give up or shoot it down any time you want. But if that’s not you, that leaves writing for you and writing now. here and now. Write with your heart, open you soul and let it pour out.

If you are worried about what others think, pretend that they will never see it. Save it on a flash drive and put it in a special place. Keep your notebook, journal, phone or laptop nearby. Give yourself the resources to express yourself, whenever and however you need to. Don’t fight it, write it. Give yourself permission, write yourself a letter of permission, do whatever you need to do to start getting the words out. Because they are very important. As Martha Graham so eloquently said, it’s not yours to hold onto. So, open it up, release the restrictions and write. Release it to the universe.

I allow myself time to write on the weekends. Not because it’s the weekend, I never structure my writing schedule. For some that works, but for those like me, it doesn’t. I cannot call up these deep thoughts or feelings. They come in flurries, I put all onto paper and then release them until more return. I open myself up to the idea of writing and ask the universe to create space and then go about my week and somehow by Saturday or Sunday, most weeks, I have the urge. I wake up and it’s there at the surface, like a fish, coming up briefly for air. Curiosity and inclination to write again. Ideas, thoughts, questions. I write, rewrite, scrap, start over and write again. Sometimes I just make lists, or outlines. Again and again, until I have just one piece of something I want to keep. Sometimes I write and I don’t even have a project in mind, I just write because the need is there. Follow the need. Sometimes I crazy write, as quickly and thoughtlessly (not literally but without analyzing it) as I can and get everything out on the pages and then save it, put it away to read another day. On a day when I don’t feel like writing but, instead, am curious to see what I have previously written.

If while you are reading this, and you find there is something in here that resonates with you, trust your process. Your journey has already begun. So, keep going.

And, welcome.

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