“Write a list of questions,” Ellen instructed. “Anything that comes to mind. Just let your pen flow across the page.” I sat around Ellen’s cozy table with a small group of students and began.
“Will I ever be happy again?”
“Should I get a puppy?”
“What do I love?”
“Can I survive without Vic’s love?”
“Is the woman I was a year ago as dead as Vic?”
“Who is the Green Man?”
I wrote a page of questions, and as I wrote, tears dripped down my cheeks. I had kept a journal during Vic’s illness and written down every detail of his struggles and death. I recorded my psychological reactions, my fears, anger, exhaustion, and love. But after Vic’s death in June 2008, I stopped writing. Instead, I walked the trails on my land two or three times a day with my dog and friends. I grew flowers and vegetables. I spent time with my sons and anyone who could stand my grief, went to therapy, and painted my dreams, but I needed to hear my own story so I could digest what had happened to me.
I joined a class with a wonderful writing teacher, but sobbed my way through my pieces and felt that my tears drowned everyone in the room. The kind teacher gently suggested I try writing about topics other than my loss.
But I couldn’t. I was only interested in finding words for the grief that filled every corner of my waking life and dreams since Vic’s death. I needed to understand the upheaval of my body and life. Nothing else mattered.
” Are you starting a new writing group soon?” I asked, choking back tears.
“Just a few weeks from now,” she said.
“I need to write about death and loss,” I told her, weeping openly now. “I’m managing my practical life, but I need to write about the suffering I’ve witnessed and what I’ve lost. I cry a lot,” I added the obvious. “My tears are hard for others.”
“You are welcome to join us. People write about almost everything here. I lead small supportive classes, and many choose to write about hard things. Writing is often therapeutic and the classes are confidential,” Ellen stressed. “They are not therapy groups, but an opportunity to create clarity about challenging situations through writing.”
That first class, in March 2009, I wrote my list, embarrassed by my tears as I read a few of my questions out loud. Ellen smiled at me from the end of the table. I trusted her with my grief. Then I wrote a short piece about a dream I had eight days after Vic’s death where I met a giant Green Man sitting in a bathtub with foliage for hair. In the dream, I was told I would live in the house of the Green Man, a northern European pre-Christian Nature god of birth and death. My piece ended with these words:
“There is much I must learn from the Green Man. He is a gentle teacher, yet his lessons are devastating. All that is born must die. Of course, I knew about death before, but now I truly know. Life does not last. Birth always leads to death. It amazes me that I blocked this from everyday consciousness for so long, but we all forget. We all think we have time. Of course, we have many cycles of time. But is the woman I was a year ago as dead as Vic? What has died in me? What cycles on?”
Four years later, I still sit at Ellen’s table each week, explore my original questions, and write about many new ones.
Has writing helped you survive the rough spots? Have you written alone or in classes? Here is more information about Ellen Schmidt’s Writing Room Workshops. You might enjoy this post about healing and writing: Gratitude and Grief. Here’s a terrific article about research that proves that writing about our losses heals.