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Dealing with death, loss, and writing

How one writer is dealing with death and grief in the writing process

My mom died. There, I’ve said it. There’s no turning back.

Today I want to talk to you about the entanglement grief brings to an already knotted writing life.

Dealing with death is not an everyday topic here. When it comes to this blog, I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to inserting or sharing my personal life unless it is has some direct relevance to the topic. So I have not brought the last ten years to this table, the decade where caring for my elderly parents consumed my life.

When that journey began, I had no idea how deep it would impact my writing life. In fact, the caregiver displaced the writer.

When grief impacts the writing process

In the beginning I was still busily writing away. I had contracts for five completed books, worked at a bookstore, and had recently received my MFA in Creative Writing. I felt like I was on the cusp of reaping the reward of many long years staring at the computer screen and listening to the keyboard chuckle furiously as I typed string after string of sentences. Dealing with death was the last thing on my mind.  I had an agent interested in my biggest work yet; but the stress and crush of being a caregiver for two parents in their 90s began its work. That relentless nonstop pressure resulted in unanticipated problems with headaches, high blood pressure and inflammation of the blood vessels in the brain. I soon found my writing abilities under siege.

Why the pressure? I know now that it was an ever-increasing response to the daily changes in my parents and their demands. Maybe I wasn’t dealing with death in a concrete way, but I was dealing with the everyday grief of a caregiver who cares for elderly parents.

When my dad died in 2008, the intensity increased. My mom had different needs than my dad. One day, after I’d spent an entire morning, hours, clawing my way back into a scene with a deep enough immersion to be able to write, imagine my dismay when my mom called out and blew me straight out of that fictive world.

My huge tower of cards holding up my fictional world blew apart; I’d lost the scaffolding that supported my fictive world. Between the physical problems and the increased stress and mental pressure, I never found my way back into that world.

Dealing with death adds a new dimension to the writing life

While it’s somewhat of a cliche to say that everyone copes with death in a different way, I’d have to say that everyone deals with each and every death in a different way. Death comes calling in many guises. This is not my first encounter with death as a caregiver but it is my first time for this type of response; the first time for it to leave such an imprint on my writing process.

Today I find myself feeling lost and disconnected. My mother died six weeks ago in early August on her 70th wedding anniversary. Imagine a rubber band stretched tautly, as far as it can be stretched, and then released. I’m that dangling rubber band hanging in space. After ten years as a caregiver, I don’t know who I am let alone know what I want to do. Where do I go from here? Where can I go?

Is it possible for a writer to go back to a work? Perhaps. But what if that writer has changed? What does that mean for a writer still in the throes of dealing with death? They say you can’t step into a river in the same place twice. Where does that leave me?

These are but a few of the questions I’m pondering as I go about my daily life. I don’t have any answers. Mostly, I simply wanted to let you know where I am as I embark down this new twist in the road that is my writing life.

Writers on grief and loss

How are other writers dealing with grief? Read this collection of writing on grief and loss by contemporary writers: Sorrow’s Company: Great Writers on Loss and Grief. If you have any suggestions or writings by other authors you’d like to share, please do in the comments below.

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  • IMAGES & AFFILIATE CREDITS: book covers and titles via Amazon.com affiliate program; Image: Mourning Woman by Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Explosion photo by U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Aaron Peterson. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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  • JulieWrayH

    Vikk, It took me a long time to get into a frame of mind where I could write at all, much less well after my mom died. I was not her primary caregiver. Yet everything seemed to hinge on her damaged health and then her untimely death. I feel for you. For you, who have taught so many of us, I have this prayer: May you have the patience – with yourself, the work, and life itself– that it will take for you to get back to your peak creative mind once again. Hugs to you.

  • Jane Myers Perrine

    Dear Vikk–When I saw this on FB, it nearly knocked me out of my chair. My husband of 47 years died in March after many years of bad health and 5 months of going downhill. A huge double blow: not only did my best friend, lover and support for all those years die, my creativity is completely gone. I can edit stuff I’ve written but I have not a single creative thought anywhere–in a brain that used to bubble over with ideas and I don’t have the man I shared these feelings with over the years to listen to me. Yes, death impacts the writing process because death and illness and caregiving disrupt life in a way I’d never realized it would. Many prayers to you and much sympathy. I’ve blogged on this a time or two at JaneMyersPerrine.com/blog One of my favorites was that WEIRDNESS is a step in the grief process. I’d love to have you drop by. Many thanks for sharing these thoughts.

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    Hi Julie, Thanks so much for sharing your experience with your mom. I remember when you posted about your loss and truly felt for you. It is a difficult thing to go through. You brought tears to my eyes with your thoughts and prayer. Thank you so much.

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    Dear Jane, my deepest sympathy for the loss of your husband. I remember well how deeply connected you bother were to one another and the wonderful life you shared. Clearly, I understand about the creative toll his death has brought in so many different ways. The weirdness and goofiness you mention in your blog post are definitely feelings I’ve experienced the last six weeks. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and especially how my writing touched you so deeply. Thank you.

  • Virginia Allain

    I’ve been trying to blog about the loss of my mom and hoping that would move me forward. It’s called Discovering Mom.

    Your loss is exacerbated by the caregiving and the exhaustion probably from all the years of stress. It will take time to recharge your batteries. I appreciate your sharing about your loss and how it has affected your writing.

  • claudine

    Thinking of you in prayer, Vikk. I’m so sorry for your loss. You’re almost having to experience empty nest syndrome in the midst of your grief. Don’t know if it’s what the doctor ordered, but A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis was good, if a little stark. May God comfort, bless and keep you.
    Claudine

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    Virginia, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss and will check out your blog at <a href://"http://findingmymom.wordpress.com/"<Discovering Mom. I saw the url address is findingmymom. Your post on your first Mother’s Day without your mom caught my eye as I have never missed a Mother’s Day in all these years–nor Christmas Eve.

    Yes, the stress is definitely still high. I imagine it will take time to recede. I sure do need to recharge, too. You’re so right there.

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    Thanks, Claudine, I so appreciate you taking the time to visit and comment. It is definitely feeling empty here without my mom’s constant presence. I will definitely check out Lewis’s book. Thanks!

  • Silver’s Reviews

    My deepest sympathy to you. I am so sorry to hear this.

    Elizabeth
    Silver’s Reviews
    My Blog

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    Thank you, Elizabeth. I appreciate it very much.

  • Sgolis

    I am so sorry for the loss of your mother and I apologize as I did not know that she had passed.

    I know that what you are going through is painful as I was a caregiver for my elderly mother also and like you we were friends. My mother lived with me and we shared our lives. Writing did not come easy for me, in fact it took me years to get back into it.

    Virginia, your words and the way you put the content together is a god given art. You speak through your words and I know that all of your articles make me feel like you are talking to me, as if we are sitting at a bistro having a conversation. Your mom wrote the same way. That is one of the many things that the two of you shared.

    I think that if you start blogging again that you will find that it is comforting.

    Again I am sorry for the loss of your dear mother.

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