There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Maya Angelou
My mother spent ten years trying to inspire, cajole, nudge, even gently guilt me into signing up for a writing class. She had began taking classes at the senior center after my father had his first TIA, Transient Ischemic Attack (or in layman’s terms, temporary stroke) in 1998, the year after Molly was born. She started with a strength training class and branched out from there — drawing, watercolors, genealogy and eventually memoir writing. She loved her writing class from the beginning. She took her assignments seriously, often sending me drafts for comments and suggestions. She wrote about her parents, her grandparents, the ancestors she’d never met. She wrote about Jimmy and Molly, her hobbies and the daily pleasures of her life — food; treasured items made by long dead, loving hands; her friends and family. She loved the people in her class — the variety of voices, the interesting perspectives, the attentive way each person listened to what other writers shared.
As I did too often sometimes, I ignored my mother’s “sage advice”, as she called it. I resisted, rationalized, demurred. I told her that I hated journaling, that the words wouldn’t come after Jimmy was diagnosed, that I was too busy or too broken to find a class, much less go.
A few years after mom died, my friend Laura invited me to check out her writing group. Hearing my mom’s voice, I said ‘yes’.
We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect. Anais Nin
I hope that somewhere, somehow, Mom knows how right she was when she told me how much I would love writing with other people. It’s healing to share what you have written with people who listen intently, who tell you what stays with them, who find meaning you didn’t know was there, who say “me, too” and who aren’t afraid to hear about your scars. But the real gift, I discovered, is listening to the words written by the other people in our group. Our leader, Pia, often tells us to “write what needs to be written”, and they do. Every week, I am amazed at the way a writing prompt can inspire people in so many different directions.
I am forever grateful to this amazing group of people who took me in as one of their own, who listened patiently as I wrote week after week about Jimmy and the agony of my loss. They offered me a road back to myself, a way to heal and a reminder that we all bear scars and carry grief and loss that may not be readily apparent to others at first glance. They created an atmosphere where I could be me, they could be them, and we could create a strong, deep connection to each other.