We've all lost someone we love and know that grief can be overwhelming. Kali Anthony discusses how harnessing that emotion can help you get through it and keep going.
Today I’m feeling a little contemplative as I sit in the hospital waiting for my son to have a tonsillectomy. The same hospital my father passed away in eighteen months ago. So in this month of Halloween, where we remember the faithful dead, I'm contemplating grief.
Modern western society, in the main, deals with grief poorly. Where once you had twelve months to mourn, wearing mourning colours and jewellery to signify the loss, now we’re expected to ‘get over it.’ Abject grief is seen as unseemly. You’re expected to be stoic and get on with life as though grief is something to be eschewed. Done only in private. Wearing black for a year, rather than a proper expression of loss, would be viewed as abnormal in some way. And none of the modern approach to grief seems normal to me.
Why am I talking about this? Because I want to consider, how grief impacts creativity. However, as the experience of grief is as unique as the individual, I can only talk about mine.
My mother passed away six years ago, at the beginning of this current writing journey. She was the one who encouraged me to write again. Grabbing me by the shoulders on our last outing together, she said, ‘Kali, you need to write.’ So I started to write. The very next day. I appreciated that time is short, and my time was Now. Not in a future which may not come, but right in this moment.
When she passed away it was like the world ended. A visceral, gut-wrenching thing I knew one day I’d overcome, but not that day. Writing then was my solace. I poured out every shred of emotion onto the page. Black moment? No worries, because I understood the true meaning of a pain no horrible break up could ever prepare me for. And those points of no return in my stories were my favourites to write, because that was the place for all my emotion. It gushed onto the page. If I felt things I couldn’t express day to day, it went into my words. I tapped the pain, and my writing was a safe place to put it.
The experience with my father’s passing was entirely different. At the time I was editing a story where the hero’s father was dying, and the heroine had discovered she had a half brother. In one week, I discovered I had a half brother and got a call from the hospital saying my dad was dying. A true case of life imitating art. Discovering I had another brother was a huge surprise, as well as a gift. My dad's death numbed me completely. Whereas mum’s passing opened the gates to a flood of words, dad’s death stopped everything. I couldn’t write a sentence.
Which was a terrifying. Writing was my escape. Without it, I had nowhere to go. Reflecting on it now, I suspect it was the horrible realisation that I had become an ‘orphan.’ Having one parent is a bit of a safety net. Having none made me grow up quickly. In my small family, it was now my brother and me. A sobering experience that made me feel like a true adult, even though I was just shy of fifty and had been adult-ing successfully for years.
Still, part of my writing required a child-like wonder. A descent into a fantasy world that kids find easily, but can be harder to tap into as a grown-up. For me, I couldn’t write when my inner child had shut herself in her room and locked the door. I also suspect my fear was that if I opened the door to my grief, it simply wouldn’t stop and words wouldn’t be enough to contain it.
What did I do in this situation? I gave myself time and stopped even trying to write. The words wouldn’t come, so I didn’t beat myself up about it. I cut myself a break knowing one day the voices in my head—my characters talking to me—would return. And they did. I finished editing the story I was working on when my dad died, and submitted it. Received a revise and resubmit and am waiting to hear back. A story woven with grief may well be the one that gets published. Or maybe not. It doesn’t matter. The words got me through.
I like to think one good thing has come from my grief. I, and my writing, have matured. I often say I am a better writer for the sadness, and probably a better person too. As for the grief, perhaps all you want to do is write, or maybe, simply curl up in a ball. It doesn't matter either way, because no way of grieving is the right way. Whether it inspires your creativity or shuts it down, there’s nothing much we can do bar ride grief's wave until it deposits us on shore, no matter how long the journey is or where it ultimately takes us.
Grief is an inevitability in life which teaches us how deeply we’ve felt or we’ve loved. And in the end, that depth of feeling and love is what we’re all trying to write about.
Kali Anthony is an aspiring writer and editor for The Pink Heart Society. Follow Kali on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
How have you handled grief? Did you throw yourself into creativity, or give yourself time? What advice would you give someone who has suffered a bereavement? Let us know here, or on social media using #Love&Loss.