The Aftermath of Life and the Writer

I spent a good portion of last week writing in a hotel lobby in northern Minnesota. My family was upstairs asleep, quite accustomed to my compulsion to be up early and writing. We were there for my mother-in-law’s funeral. She passed away early last week and between all the planning and rushing about, there was little time to reflect. Now that I’m back home, back to our everyday life, I feel a heavy blanket of depression and am desperate to be alone. Exhaustion has flattened my senses, as has the constant requirement to be around people.

Writing saved my sanity marginally (as is always the case). I wrote her obituary and a eulogy, the few personal touches in a sea of motions and formalities surrounding a person’s death. I thought a lot about narrative and how, after a person dies, they simply become a collection of stories and pictures, all determined by who is doing the telling and the picking. At times I felt angry about misrepresentations – cloying sentimentality and overt religiosity, in which my mother-in-law had little interest when she was alive. Every time I felt a prickle of anger, I had to remind myself that the rituals were for the living, not the dead.

I just finished reading an essay by Rebecca Solnit titled “Twenty Million Missing canstockphoto1323495Storytellers”, where she writes about voting and how the people who vote define the narrative for our country. Those who are routinely discouraged through voter suppression tactics or whose votes are rendered pointless through guerrilla gerrymandering do not get to shape the narrative. And then I think about Sinclair Broadcasting which now requires its local stations to release propaganda as part of their local news reporting. They are shaping the narrative.

The narrative is power. It drives people’s recollections and opinions and decisions. It writes history and bends the people’s will. I came back to my everyday life unable to get back to writing projects, feeling the listlessness and temporary powerlessness brought on by loss. It’s more extreme and immediate than the occasional malaise that has hit me over the last few years, but the question is the same. Why does anything I write matter?

The answer is also the same. We must tell our stories or they will be told for us, whether it be after we pass or used to shaped the political world in which we live. We must tell our stories or they will be stolen from us, revised, and rewritten. We must tell our stories or we will be indoctrinated by someone else’s teachings, our memories overwritten by someone else’s telling.

There is also the personal reason. My life is made more tolerable when I write. My senses are easily overwhelmed by emotion and chaos. I numb myself, shield myself in a dull shroud. But writing frees me, allows me to cry in private, to express intense emotion, to re-order the chaos. It allows me to tell my story in my own time, manner, and place of choosing.

So it matters.

At the moment, writing elicits long sighs and some tears, but it is by feeling my grief in words and finding comfort in silence that I will find my way back. I have more stories to tell. In the mean time, I will read yours.

45 Comments on “The Aftermath of Life and the Writer

    • Hello Fellow Writer. Thank you for the comment. You confirmed my writing for today. Earlier I thought about another reason for us to write is because we never know when a sentence, phrase, paragraph or entire story that we write is read by someone and it gives them the spark to get started or continue their journey to success. Let’s continue to keep each other motivated. WERBETTER2GETHER

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Everybody Has A Story To Tell – Changing The World One Person At A Time

  2. Enjoy your healing solitude. I just realized that no apology is needed when we retreat into solitude so we can lick our wounds and disentangle our thoughts. I am finding I need about 2/3 solitude to every 1/3 of public time, at the minimum.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Michelle that is the strangest transition when someone dies. They go from being flesh and blood and sinew and connected to all the rest of us flesh and blood entities, to a collection of memories. It hit me so very hard when I sat with my father as he died. When I walked back into the room after he was “gone”, to that lifeless body, it was the most violent emotional experience I have ever had. From that point on there was nothing anyone could say that could embody who he was, but we talked anyways because words are the tools we have to express ourselves with.
    And you are so right. The people in control of the narrative shape the past, present and future. Keep writing your stories. My empathy and warmest regards to you, your husband and your daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We experienced the long, slow good-bye of Alzheimer’s, so for me, I felt grief early on when our chats over coffee were no longer possible. For the last decade or so, she lived only a couple of blocks away from us and she was part of our daily lives. That is what is difficult now – the huge space that not only her presence but also the care in later years left.
      I’m sorry that your father’s death was so traumatic. This is so true: “but we talked anyways because words are the tools we have to express ourselves with.” I think that is a natural reaction, but I’m weird that way – I didn’t want to talk, but I didn’t have a choice. It wrung me out. I’m glad for the time now to recover.
      Thanks for your kind condolences.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Alzheimer’s robs you of that connection prematurely. It must be devastating. I spent more time alone after all the family returned to our perspective corners of the country than I ever had, so I understand. Take good care of yourself.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for sharing, Michelle. Your honesty in writing is inspiring, and therapeutic for more people than just you, as evidenced by the comments on this post. Peace to you and your family.

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  5. Condolences, Michelle. Sometimes we need to tell our stories, even if we are the only ones who care. I often don’t know what I think or how I feel until it comes out on paper or in words. Everyone who ever met your mother-in-law (or anyone) has a different memory narrative, so in some ways, the composite becomes larger than life (maybe).

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    • I think a lot about the narratives people tell and find them to be consistent with the personalities recounting them. Especially my own. It brings into question the nature of truth when we all view it through such different lenses. I find that often with women, everyone talks about them in a specific role: mothers, wives, grandmothers. I had the good fortune to have a friendship with my MIL and was lucky to be able to use my writing skills to talk about her beyond those roles.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michelle,
        Yes, the stereotypes abound, and we also saddle ourselves with them. I think one of the beauties or your writing is you take so little for granted. Your posts are always refreshingly insightful.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. You’ve shared some important thoughts about the importance of story. The value of the true and authentic story and the wrongness of falsity. In the presence of chaos, it is a great service to write honestly and provide clarity and hope.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes I think this is why I’m so challenged in writing fiction – wanting to hew as close to the truth as possible. I often think of author Tim O’Brien (The Things They Carried), when he writes about how getting at the truth is not always a recitation of facts, but that fictional forms can carry a greater truth.
      Even when writing personal essays, the author shapes the narrative in such a way that hopefully gets at the truth. Or at least what they believe the truth to be. Big topic, John. I might have to write a whole post about that.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My condolences to you and your family. I understand everything that you write about how grief, loss, and being around a lot of people zaps your energy. On November 13, I lost a childhood/lifelong friend. Her family asked me to write the obituary. I was honored, but it did take a lot out of me. I know I will be grieving the loss for years to come. I was writing on deadline for my work, and had to ask for an extension, which I’ve never had to do since beginning freelancing. I had entirely lost my motivation and creativity, and was suffering from big brain fog. The last two days have been much better, as I was able to lift myself out of my former spiraling patterns. My advice to myself during times like these is to be gentle and to take especially good care of myself. I wish you peace and gentleness. I will find and read the Solnit article. We need all the stories.

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    • I am so sorry to hear about your friend, Cheryl. What you describe as the big brain fog is exactly right. I feel like I’m coming out of it a bit – or at least writing myself out of it. It doesn’t help that the days have been gray, foggy, and the kind of cold that makes your bones ache. Sometimes, though, it feels fitting. I hope that you can find your equilibrium and that your memories of your friend are a comfort.

      I love any of Rebecca Solnit’s collections of essays. She has a clear, direct voice that is unflinching in addressing current events. The essay I referred to is in her collection Call Them By Their True Names, which came out this year.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Quite often I don’t know how I really feel about something until I write about it. It’s my link to the world and to my heart. It has saved me over and over again, and I don’t care if what I write matters to anyone else, though that is nice if its helpful to them. It matters to me, and that is enough.

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    • This is exactly how I feel about it and I wonder at the pathology of it all – that nothing registers properly until I’ve written about it. I think, especially if you are an extremely sensitive person, writing allows the distance to feel and experience things. I did not cry when my husband called from the nursing home or at the memorial, but when I wrote that eulogy, I bawled my eyes out.
      Sometimes I think I ask silly rhetorical questions to see if I’m able to answer them. I would write no matter what the circumstances, but it is only in the last ten years that I’ve come to recognize that.

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    • I think, too, because it was a long goodbye (Alzheimer’s) it made it different. Grief in phases, not all at once. I am, however, avoiding in-person interactions at this point. Loving self-checkout at the grocery store this week. It just feels like social niceties take too much energy.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Yes, I think you’re right about the distance factor. Feelings are overwhelming for me sometimes. Writing allows me to wrangle them into some kind of more manageable order.

    Also, I failed to convey my heartfelt condolences in my first comment. Loss is hard all the time, but especially difficult during the holidays, and when we’re battling the gloomy weather, too. I’m so sorry for your loss. Take care.

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  10. I like the way you describe it: Exhaustion has flattened my senses, as has the constant requirement to be around people. I recently had such a season after some difficulties, and that is exactly how I felt! I admire your articulation of such painful emotional experiences.

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  11. As always, instructive on the reasons we should all prize creativity – for the bad times as well as the good. A quotation I’ve just come across cheered me somewhat – ‘I don’t believe in final answers, only unfolding stories’ – Tim Low.

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  12. writing is just like an addiction
    to read and feel every little aspect and to explore ppl minds.
    A way to pen our pain when we can’t say it directly . To make our heart feel at ease even for a little while.

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  13. Sometimes you hear what you need to hear when you need to hear it. Thank you for sharing these feelings because lately I’ve been feeling like my story does not matter. But you are right, it all matters. No one can tell my story the way I can. All those pens I tossed across the desk while looking at my blank page have been returned to the decorative coffee cup on the edge of my desk. You have ignited my desire to use them again.

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    • Telling one’s story is also a kind of alchemy. When you tell your story, it changes you and when you change, the world changes. But it is hard to maintain that high-mindedness when sitting down for the day to write! Then it becomes about the mechanics of doing anything I don’t feel like doing – I just have to start. I’m glad you found something here to boost your writing spirits.

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  14. Pingback: Confirmation From Another Writer – Changing The World One Person At A Time

  15. I’m just getting started back with WordPress. I appreciate the opportunity to see what is on the minds of other writers. I once stated that true writers are compelled to write. They don’t write for money or fame, they write because they have something to say. They write in the hope that someday, someone will benifit from what they took the time to share. Having that hope is it’s own reward. I’m encouraged by things you’ve written and I thank you.
    Michael the Pearldropper
    pearldropper.WordPress. com

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  16. wow, sorry Michelle I happen to have a blog too I am Tessy and I am 10 years old, my blog is Tessy’s young writers blog. Find it on tessysyoungwritersblogcom.blog anyway sorry for the loss

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    • Hi Tessy. Best wishes on starting your blog. I wish that there were blogs when I was ten! I hope that you have an adult support team as you navigate the internet (as a parent, I feel compelled to say that!). Always check in with them if you have any questions. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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  17. Your post motivated me to write again. In my case, it is hard to me in order to communicate others, and I choose writing as a way to present my ideas, to express my feelings and be myself. I do not think I have troubles with my colleges, my friends or my relatives. It’s because of me, just want to be alone and thinking and writing.
    Thank you very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You might be an introvert like myself. If I have too much human contact, I get overwhelmed. Writing keeps me sorted, gives me the time and thoughtfulness to center myself. I’m better in the world after that. I’m glad that you found some encouragement here. Best wishes in your writing!

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