How we process loss: mourning, writing, interconnecting

birch trees

The birch today at the end of Montgomery Way.

Writing about the people we miss hurts. And yet, it is what we do. Whether we scratch through pages only to bury those papers deep in drawers and up high on closet shelves, or burn them to ash years later. Or tirelessly hone and recraft sentences, over and over, in efforts to publish. And, if we are lucky, we are graced with the opportunity to share these memories and sadnesses and regrets with other humans on this earth: for it is in this sharing that those souls we miss revisit us. Moment after moment, day after day. For ever and ever. Seconds propel us forward and kismet sparks a connection in time to continue its sharing.

Writing about loss that will intentionally be shared with others requires deep focus – rewriting, erasing, and usually, beginning again. Writing about our own personal losses is one thing – attempting to write about someone else’s – someone else’s pain, even if shared – makes one feel almost as an imposter. And yet, authors attempt this. Time after time.

Maybe it was easier for me to share my memoir, My Music Man, with others because I knew my family members would be neither surprised, stunned, or angry with my expressions. Nor would those not still in human form be likely to cause deep rumbles ricocheting the universe even if they were able. For while I did share the truths, as I know them, these truths were no longer secrets, rather, shared long ago during late nights, typewritten letters, tearful exchanges.

In all the pages of my memoir, one of the most difficult stories for me to formulate and to finally send to my editor, to share, was – edited and trimmed to a single paragraph in the end – about another family’s loss. But a loss that profoundly affected us and others outside their family clan. I struggled in the writing of it. Should I skip it? No, it was important to my story. Should I have the family review it first? Hmm. I vacillated. No. No because I didn’t know how they’d react? Or because it was my place to share my view? Or both. In the end, I trimmed and cut and made sure that what I shared was significant to my story, to my plot, no more, no less. And, I hoped, it would – whether they ever saw it or not – honor the loss and serve as a remembrance.

A close friend called me earlier this week: she was visiting a man in the hospital who knew me. In fact, he still lived on Montgomery Way. It was only natural for this dear friend, a staunch promoter of my memoir, to tell this man about the book I had recently published, flush with stories of the Wilsonville that once was. She didn’t know the depth of our family connections. And so – compelled I was – to visit this man the next day, decades after my childhood – although I’d been in touch by phone with his wife who passed last year, prior to the publishing of my book. I visited him, a remarkable nonagenarian, as he awaited surgery in the hospital adjacent to where I work, leaving him with a card and a copy of my book – sharing a few words about the paragraph. I revisited him two days later, and we laughed at the memories of his son being part of our gang of kids vandalizing the bulldozer in the woods. And we shared tears over the memory of his daughter. And his son, later than night, having already read much of the book – still a six-year old in my mind – thanked me for honoring the memory of his sister.

Why do we fear inquiring of those we care about on their own losses? Are we so afraid that we’ll say the “wrong thing” – is there a wrong thing?  Or that we’ll remind them about it? As if anybody who has lost someone important to them ever doesn’t think about it….most of the time. Friends and loved ones from our past can unlock our deepest emotions, and these shared life experiences are our greatest agents for bonding. Those moments we get in life to reconnect with those from our past are gifts. Gifts often provided by the universe, in ways we never fully understand. Call it what you will. Fate…destiny… God-moments …sychronicity…kismet. How many words do we have in our English language to define this? Whatever the word…… I am a true believer.

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