Writing goes badly much of the time, our hands arthritic with the muttering of inner critics, the long boney finger pointing down from the sky — “We told you not to tell.” But writing can save your life — telling can save your life. And maybe help other people save their lives, too.
Eighteen months after Jimmy died, my friend Regina asked if I had an article in my files about what it feels like to be a bereaved parent. I looked through my collection and found I didn’t have anything to send her. I told her as much, commenting that “Someone needs to write such an article.” Regina texted back and said, “Start writing already …”
I couldn’t stop staring at her response. I didn’t know it yet, but in that moment, Salt Water was born.
I grew up in a household full of books and words. My parents were voracious readers, talented writers and clear-eyed editors. They taught me to love good writing and the power and beauty of choosing the perfect word. From them, I learned that writing heals, writing reveals who you are, writing protects you, writing helps you find your way home.
When grief made the world go dark, words were my path back to the light. They helped me process my losses and connect with other grieving souls. In those early days, I wrote because it was all I could do to make sense of the world. And I read and read and read because it eased my pain and made me feel less alone.
You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better. Anne Lamott
In the early days of my grief, my happier memories were largely inaccessible, covered over by layers of darkness and visions of Jimmy’s final days, the gaping hole in our lives and the ways certain friends and family members had failed us, failed me. But when I started writing, I realized that I didn’t want to focus on those stories. Instead, I wanted to fill my mind with the people who showed up, stepped in, reached out, made sure that we never felt alone. To remember what people said or didn’t say or did or didn’t do was to perpetuate the darkness, instead of moving into the light all around me.
Over time, more and more memories have come flooding back. I have space now for the joy and laughter and the strength to let it live next to the pain and the longing. Thinking of something funny Jimmy said or did can make me smile now instead of cry (most of the time …). Remembering my parents, our adventures, their steady presence and the love that surrounded me growing up brings them closer now. They’re in my bones, my smile, my tears and my laughter. Their influence and teachings are everywhere. The three of them helped make me who I am. And what they taught me about life is what enables me to keep living without them.