Sunday, November 04, 2018

writing and grief

I've always been one of those people who rolled my eyes a little when I saw people talking about the therapeutic value of writing.  On one hand, it seems like it would work, all arts having the possibility to examine and transcend, but I would blame it for a whole lot of effusive diary entries masquerading as poems that I have seen as a poet--at open mics, over the transom as an editor, sometimes in lit journals. It seemed especially dangerous to wield a pen or keyboard when feeling all the things...that you were in incredible danger of being too maudlin, too sentimental, all things that are death to good writing in general.  I've always thought that extremes of mental state--- too sad, too happy, too chaotic, too organized, too anxious, too laid back--were the worst sort of writing days.  Good writing happened somewhere in the middle.

Tuesday marks a year since my mother died. I've had my eyes on this calendar date as I've gone about my late October festivities like a spider on the wall that may come down and bite me. I've been being kinder and more generous with myself--when I miss self-imposed deadlines, when I want to cancel things I'd planned on doing.  I even anticipated that some retail therapy might be needed (which is better than eating your feelings, which I've done on and off the past two years, and have been trying to counteract the consequences with more exersize..) A pairs of boots, a new coat, and a couple dresses that will arrive this week may give me some random happy when I badly need it.

It's treacherous times in the mental health arena, even before last year, this being the weird stretch between Halloween and Thanksgiving.  The coming cold, the early dark.  It's like a dead zone before holiday festivities and  distractions (and maybe why people jump to Christmas thinking so quickly.) Weirdly, until last year, it was actually a good time for me historically.  I landed my library job around now back in 2000.  I moved into the studio a few years later.  My first book was accepted in 2005. Despite all these really good things happening for me this time of year, it seems like one of the hardest times (even more so than January, or March, or any of the other other winter doldrum months.) The reason I know this is actually this very blog, where most years, I comment, right about this time of year about my sinking mood.

I've known forever that a death, particularly of a parent, is one of those times it would get bad, and actually was a little weirded out that it was less how I imagined it, but a whole boatload of other things. Over the last week or so when things seemed bad, I was preparing, reading articles on grieving and death and prepared for anything I needed, but then I thought everything was still going to be fine, so when it wasn't I didn't quite know what to do. . But I was frighteningly numb the first couple of days, like I'd just slammed my hand in a car door and couldn't feel anything yet.  I had a couple days back in the city before the funeral later in the week, and this was probably the first time I really cried except for a some brief tears on the initial bus ride home.  I was surprised, since I am easy crier, had cried more when my cat died suddenly over the summer. My sister had mentioned something about my dad wanting me to write something for the memorial service, and at first, I was like "yeah, that's not gonna happen" given my scatteredness. But I sat down the day before the funeral and just started writing what I would want to say at the funeral and then it came.  Like an ocean.

There's a scene, in The Haunting of Hill House, where the oldest brother's wife chastizes him for being unable to experience the world without writing it as an author first.  There's also a Flannery O'Connor quote about not knowing what you think until you write it.  All of these thing as, so much.  Writing that for the funeral--what I guess would be a eulogy of sorts-- crying the entire time until I was finished and printed it out to read, it was weirdly therapeutic.  Fast forward a month or so and I was working full-force on a series of short prose pieces (the hunger palace) I had actually started much earlier, before my mom's healthy issues, but had a new lens through which to be viewed. (for all of it's explorations of eating/body issues, they played somewhat of a role in her last months--her comments about her dwindling weight and refusal to eat, her infection delerium)  I spent a good part of my Christmas break working on these and crying a whole lot (it was fitting it was a sub-zero cold snap and the rest of the time I was shivering in my drafty apartment like a victorian heroine.) Somehow at the end, I felt like I had been wrung out.

I've often experienced grief as sharp edges, even after all that writing, you occasionally catch your hip on the corner of a counter and it stings. I mentioned a couple entries back the dreams--sometimes her presence matter of fact and not related to her loss, and sometimes, like the other morning, very much so that I spent the morning sort of teary and bedraggled since it felt somehow like I had come to the realization that she was gone all over again for the first time. I feel the corners more sharply when visiting Rockford, not so much in the house weirdly, which feel somehow alive with her presence even still.  But more so her absence at gatherings, at family events, on outings. Holidays, the very worst--things I used to look forward to immensely and now kinda dread.   So these are harder somehow than just hanging out at home.

But somehow, putting these thoughts into words helps, pins them down and gives language for feelings I don't have a handle on .  And maybe even this blog entry helps somehow, all the blog entries working toward some understanding of some sort only possible when written down. As for the hunger palace, I still worry it's too sentimental for eyes yet, maybe after the new year when I've sat with it for a bit and I can be more objective with it and tame the sentimentality for good.

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