From Grief to Creativity
By Dr. Wesley Britton
For decades, I presume, counselors, therapists, and teachers have told mourners that writing journals can be very therapeutic when dealing with grief. On the other hand, I recall a writing teacher who commented that he read a lot of student submissions that were probably very therapeutic for the writer but of little or no interest to any readers.
Naturally, many of us write things intended or should be intended to be private or for a small family circle. But when the blogosphere and social media exploded, many of these formerly private journal entries went online for anyone to read. In some cases, these blog items ended up becoming books.
Yesterday, I attended a Hospis Support Group for those of us who have lost a spouse and the topic of writing journals came up. Then, listening to other people describe episodes, events, or moments before or after their spouse’s death, something occurred to me.
What we were discussing could be a useful writing prompt for writers who very much want to appeal to a reading audience. True, if we are describing something attached to an actual emotional moment, the emotional impact, certainly for the writer, could have a special wallop unlike anything else we scribe. And there’s no reason not to consider crafting similar scenes describing moments for fictional characters.
I doubt I’ve just said anything new. But it might be an opening for authors looking for ways to introduce a new character or situation they haven’t considered before. So, I offer this example from my second week of grief. One thing I noticed was by choosing one rather tight setting, I was able to illustrate some characteristics of my late wife in a rather succinct way:
There she sits, the spectral image of the short-haired Betty Britton leaning forward on her relatively new couch. She wanted that couch from Bob’s Furniture last year after she decided that would give her her own space to relax on when at home. Better than her old recliner, apparently.
When she was home and not confined to a hospital or rehab bed, Betty sat or laid on that couch with a little table-tray in front of her with her various small possessions surrounding the space where she placed her breakfast and dinners. That’s where she ate her Meals on Wheels which she usually liked better than I ever did. There, she enjoyed her cans of ginger ale, chocolate Glucerna, and cups of ice. Once upon a time, she loved crystal lite but, for some reason, lost her desire for that. She loved her morning coffee in that huge cup of hers into which she poured her sweet vanilla creamer. She usually filled that cup to the brim but rarely drank enough to make it worthwhile.
She had a little shallow glass cup in which she kept the change for the Share Ride drivers. They insisted on the $3.50 in exact change for each trip, coming and going to the dialysis center. By the cup was a stack of one dollar bills for the same reason. She had her strips of blister-packs of her daily pills organized by the Medicine Shop for her complex prescription regimen. She had her glasses which she often lost and the cell phone which she lost just as often, usually in her bed or couch cushions.
She had her blood sugar Glucometer which she needed to use more regularly than she did. Oh, she got so mad with me for asking several times a day what her sugar level was. That was until her visiting nurses let her know I was doing a good thing by keeping up with her numbers. “I’m a grown-ass woman! I can do whatever I want! I don’t need you watching over my every move!” Oh yes, she did.
The last time she went into the hospital, Ron Collins came by to make a few changes Betty wanted. She often had a difficult time rising from her couch without help. She often complained the TV was too low for her to see over her walker. So Ron put the TV on a riser it still sits on. He put little risers under each of the couch legs to make it easier for Betty to get up and down. She never made it home to try these things out.
So the image I’m seeing and hearing on the couch is the image of a Betty eating her dinner with all her necessities spread around in front of her. Oh yes, the mail too. The little table is gone now as it rather crowded that side of this little living room. But that was the place Betty spent most of her waking hours last year when she was home. Me, I can’t go near that couch. It hurts just to know it’s there.
“Here,” the spectre says, holding out a plastic Solo Cup, “get me a glass of ice. No water.”