How Memoir Writing Helped Me to Grieve My Loss~ A Guest Post by Christine Grote

Posted by Christine Grote/@cmsmith57

” Waiting is worse than knowing. Grief rends the heart cleanly, that it may begin to heal; waiting shreds the spirit.” Morgan Llywelyn, The Wind from Hastings.

I am very pleased to feature Memoir Author Christine Grote in this guest post.  Christine’s poignant story about her sister, Annie prompted me to think about how memoir writing can help a person process the grief from the loss of a loved one. Annie was profoundly disabled. My reviews of Dancing in Heaven : A Sister Memoir can be found on Amazon and Goodreads.

Welcome, Christine!

Memoir Author Christine Grote

At times I’ve viewed a pen and paper as lifesavers. Scribbling on a napkin in a coffee shop. Grappling for a pencil and blank envelope stashed under the manual in my glove compartment. When I’ve been overwhelmed with a surge of emotion, expressing my observations, thoughts, and feelings on paper, can bring me a sense of relief not unlike steam escaping through a valve on a pressure cooker.

 

At times like these, it’s not even that I consciously think about it— I am an addict needing a fix. I am compelled to write.

 

Writing my memoir Dancing in Heaven helped me to grieve. Because that’s what I do when I grieve, I write.

 

Annie's smile

I always knew I would write about my disabled sister Annie. Someday. Having someone in my life that I shared childhood with, took care of at times, and loved deeply, who was so severely disabled, sat heavy inside me, an unhealed sore that every now and then would strike out like a dagger. Maybe it was a church hymn, or a woman pushing her disabled son for a walk in the park, or the song, “Go the Distance,” performed by children from a school for special needs. Maybe I was just trying to explain a family picture to a new acquaintance. Occasionally the grief would rise-up unannounced, unexpected, and uncontrollable, choking my voice and bringing tears to my eyes.

 

I actually started writing Annie’s story three years before she died. I was taking a creative writing class at a local college and I decided to write a short story memoir in collage format. My teacher loved it, told me it could be a book, and encouraged me to continue. I put it in a drawer.

 

Then Annie got sick in the summer of 2009 and left us that August. She never walked or talked, worked, married, or had children. She left little to nothing behind. With her passing, the immense injustice of the limited life she had to live suffocated me.

 

Shortly after Annie’s death, in his grief my father, who helped my mother care for Annie every day of her life, cried out in anguish, “Fifty-one years we took care of her and it was all for nothing.”

 

I didn’t want Annie’s life to have all been for nothing. I wanted to give Annie a legacy. I knew the time had come to write her story.

 

Several months after she died, I started collecting documents: e-mails and journal entries I had written during Annie’s last days, medical records from her doctor, and notes from the hospice workers. And I pulled my short story about Annie out of the drawer.

 

For a while I made good progress. I went through a lot of tissues, but I was generating a growing stack of pages of a manuscript. Then I came to the part of the story concerning the last week of Annie’s life, and I stopped writing. I put it aside.

 

It had been nearly a year since Annie died and I was having trouble looking back at her last days. I wanted to finish Annie’s story so I made a commitment to myself that I would write daily about each day of the last week of Annie’s life, on the one-year anniversary of that day.

 

My desire to finish Annie’s story broke through the emotional block and my brain took over. I started waking up in the middle of the night, my mind filled with clear unwritten words demanding to be set down on paper. In the early hours of morning, the house dark save for the glow from a solitary lamp on my desk, I sat down in front of my computer, a box of tissues within reach. And I wrote, generating as many damp, balled-up tissues as typed pages by morning.

 

As I sat in the night trying to describe the room where Annie died, I had to bring it into focus in my mind. I had to bring Annie into focus. And I had to bring my fear, anguish, and ultimate surrender into focus.

 

In the early hours of the morning, I found out that if I was strong enough, writing helped me work through the grief, mostly because it forced me to not only remember but to fully examine the source of the pain.

 

I’m not going to say it was easy. Writing through the grief does not mean writing around the grief, or avoiding the grief. I wrote through the grief. In doing so, I came to understand it.

 

And what I couldn’t understand, I came to accept.

 

 

Thank you, Christine. You have written a brave and touching tribute to Annie. In doing so, you give testimony to the healing power of memoir in dealing with the loss of a loved one. 

 

Dancing in Heaven Cover

 

About the Author

 

Christine M. Grote earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton, Ohio, in 1979. After working for several years in product development at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, she became a full-time homemaker as she raised three sons and a daughter. In 1999, Christine returned to school at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio, earning a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Written Communications in 2007.

 

Christine lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and their dog Arthur. She enjoys gardening, reading, traveling, and writing primarily nonfiction, human-interest stories.

 

Christine is currently working on a memoir with and about her father who has Alzheimer’s.

 

Contact Information:

 E-mail - www.christine.m.grote@gmail.com

Facebook author page - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Christine-M-Grote/201286486589190
Website - http://www.christinemgrote.com
Blog - http://www.randomthoughtsfrommidlife.wordpress.com
Twitter - (cmsmith57) - http://twitter.com/cmsmith57

 Links to ordering Dancing in Heaven:

Links to ordering:
Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/Dancing-Heaven-sisters-Christine-Grote/dp/0983819807/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1318446055&sr=1-1
B&N - http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Dancing-in-heaven-grote?keyword=Dancing+in+heaven+grote&store=book
Createspace - http://www.createspace.com/3609410
Smashwords - http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/93539

 

 

How about you? Have you found writing helps you through the grieving process?

A free copy of Christine’s memoir will be sent to a commenter selected in a random drawing.

Please leave your comments below. We’d love to hear from you~

 

 

Announcement: Congratulations to book giveaway winners: Florence Ditlow ( Chasing Sylvia Beach by Cynthia Morris) and Barbara Haines Howett (Dakota Blues by Lynne Spreen) !

 

 

Next Week: A guest post by Memoir Coach Cheryl Stahle, author of Slices of Life: The Art and Craft of Memoir Writing: “Quashing the Beast Within: Writer’s Block.” Cheryl will give away two free books to commenters selected in a  random drawing.

Comments

  1. Teresa R says

    Writing has helped me since my daughter died last October. I started a special journal for her, and I write letters to her, write poetry, and do art journal pages using her pictures, letters she sent me when she was in the army in Hawaii. I write memories of her, things we laughed about together.

    • says

      Dear Teresa,
      I am so touched by your sharing of such a profound loss of your daughter. It is consoling to hear that journaling, writing letters to her, writing poetry and art are all helping to keep her spirit alive. My deepest sympathy and wishes for ongoing healing to you. My 90 year old mother writes letters to her prince”, my Dad who died 2 years ago, in a journal. It brings her great consolation. It is so important that we remember and honor the happy times we’ve shared with our loved ones. Christine shows us this so well too in her memoir, Dancing in Heaven
      Thank you so much for sharing your brave story.
      God Bless You!

    • says

      Teresa,
      Thanks for sharing your story. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to lose a daughter. Hopefully the letters you are writing to her and the art you are doing will help you feel closer to her. For me, and I don’t know if it will be true for you, once the initial huge loss and grief passed, I was able to feel closer to Annie again. So it’s not completely like I have to go through life without her. She is still a big part of me. As I know you daughter will always be for you.

      I’m so glad you have her letters. What a treasure they must be.
      Take care.

  2. says

    Christine captures the excruciating pain and joy of working through grief and surrendering our souls to the need to commemorate the lives of those we love. I could relate to her stop/start as she worked through the process. I look forward to reading her book and following her blog where I saw that she too offers so many tips for writing.

    • says

      I agree, Pat. Christine does a fine job guiding us through the process of pouring our pain out on the page. Those moments when we think there are no words are often the very ones we need to dig into and reveal. I can relate too to the starts and stops. It seems we can only do it in “manageable doses.” Thanks for stopping by, as always and sharing your thoughts.

    • Christine M Grote says

      Thanks for your interest, Pat. I’m glad you were able to relate to my experience. I hope you’ll let me know what thoughts you have if/after you read Dancing in Heaven. You can comment on the Dancing in Heaven page on my blog.

      Are you a writer?

  3. DawnMarie Helin says

    Well chosen, Kathy. Wiring not only gives voice to the grief that we all must deal with, but it lends a physical effort to something that we rarely have control over. The loss of my two brothers has reminded me that while I relied on writing to give voice to life experiences, writing in my grieving period also gives life back to the memories of those I’ve lost. It takes the voice crying from my heart and gives it the song of redemption and rebirth; captured in the moment of my hands across the paper.

    • says

      Dawn,
      I am so sorry for the recent loss of your beloved brother, Bob. Everything you’ve said here so eloquently in your own deep grief captures the essence of the healing power of writing- “it takes the voice crying from my heart and gives it the song of redemption and rebirth, captured in the moment of my hands across paper.” Beautiful. I am happy that Christine’s post has resonated. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing from your heart.

      May your writing bring you continued healing and peace

      Blessings,
      Kathy

    • Christine M Grote says

      DawnMarie,

      Thanks for leaving your thoughtful comment. You have expressed what I was trying to explain very well and with eloquence.

      I know you understand. I am sorry for your losses.

  4. says

    Christine, Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m glad that it was a catharsis for you. And, what an amazing way to commemorate your sister, to give her a real and lasting legacy. You are a wonderful sister and I know your sister, God rest her soul, knew the same.

    • Christine M Grote says

      Thanks for stopping by, Laura. I do believe Annie thought I was wonderful, as she thought everyone was. I really missed her unconditional love for a long time. I feel good that she lives on in our story.

  5. says

    Thank you so much for posting this. Yes, writing helps through grief. My journals helped me to pour out pain from abuse I received as a child, and then turn that pain into a memoir WIP that will hopefully help others. I love the sweet smile in your sister’s picture. Have a blessed day. Heather

    • says

      Heather,
      I think when we speak from our deepest pain as you are doing in your memoir WIP and Christine has done with Dancing in Heaven, we can heal and reach out to others suffering a similar circumstance in a helpful,hopeful way. Annie’s smile captured my heart too and Christine has preserved that smile as a legacy to Annie’s beautiful spirit. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and best wishes with your memoir.
      Blessings,
      Kathy

    • Christine M Grote says

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Heather. I believe sharing our pain through memoirs can help others. Best of luck with writing your story.

  6. says

    Thanks for this, Christine. Such unabashed, painful honesty. You make me value my family even more, and that’s been tough in recent years. Kathy, writing helps me with everything, but especially when I am suffering through yet more family drama, it helps me pour the poison out on paper, in a place that probably won’t be discovered, at least not for a long, long while.

    • says

      I’m happy you enjoyed Christine’s post, Lynne. “Pouring your poison on paper” is a perfect metaphor for writing through our pain and drama. And you are right, nobody has to see it. Kind of like writing a letter you don’t send. It seems the words take on a different shape and meaning on the paper than grinding inside. As always, I appreciate your honest perspective!

    • Christine M Grote says

      Good for you, Lynne. I’m glad you’ve found writing as an outlet for your suffering. I especially like that you write, “writing helps me with everything.” So true. One of my communication teachers was big on conveying that we write to learn. When we have to organize our thoughts on paper, it helps us learn something about them. So true.

  7. says

    Wow, what a powerful testimony to the benefits of writing, Christine! Although memoir isn’t my genre-of-choice for writing, I can certainly appreciate how difficult it must have been for you to tell Annie’s story accurately and lovingly. Thank you, Kathy, for introducing us to Christine.

    • says

      It’s my pleasure, Debbie to feature Christine. Dancing in Heaven is written both lovingly and realistically. The reader gets a very clear picture of caring for a severely disabled family member. Appreciate your comments, as always. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Christine M Grote says

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Debbie. I’m still writing memoirs, but I’m thinking about fiction. I think fiction can free us in many ways, too.

  8. says

    Wow, this struck a chord, Christine. I could barely get through reading this… A flood of tears came for me. I’m so glad you kept going. Both you and Annie matter. Both your stories are so important. You are the vessel for the words she could not speak.
    This really hit home, as I finally found the strength to write the Afterword for my book today…. A little over two months after the passing of my special needs dachshund who was instrumental in my life. Like you, the tears were many, and I went through many tissues. But I’m so glad I pressed through. It was so healing.
    I know Frankie is proud, just as Annie is of you. bless you.

    • Christine M Grote says

      That’s so sweet, Barbara. I’m sorry for your loss. I can only imagine what Frankie meant to you. I think it is a good story to share. I’m glad you found the courage to finish your story.

      Dogs are just the best, aren’t they?

  9. says

    Christine, such courage is displayed not only in this blog post but in your commitment to ensure that Annie’s life was not for nothing. You obviously loved her dearly and her death left you with a void you filled with your writing. In turn, you worked through that grieving process most of us have experienced.

    Kathy and I have exchanged many notes about my own writing in which I’m writing through the grief of a childhood lost to abuses. I have found writing letters to my mother is moving me closer to the ability to work on my memoir (www.ltrstomama.wordpress.com). There I can express, and yes cry, through my words that I could not speak aloud as a child. There are so many ways to write through our losses.

    Kathy, thanks for hosting Christine today. I’m looking forward to reading her book.

    • Christine M Grote says

      Thanks for your kind words, Sherrey. I’m glad the writing is helping you understand and work through your childhood trauma. I hope you’ll let me know what you think if you read Dancing in Heaven.

      Best of wishes for your writing.

    • says

      Sherrey, your writing , like Christine’s is a great example of how we can be healed through our own words. Your comments also remind me of the quote (I think it may have been by Ernest Hemingway) “No tears in the writer , No tears in the reader.” Amen.

      I’m happy you enjoyed Christine’s post and know you will enjoy Dancing in Heaven. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your Letters to Mama. As you know,I am a fan!

      Blessings,

      Kathy

  10. says

    I appreciate your openness as well as your advice for pushing through to finish. I am acquainted with that emotional block that results in writer’s block. I can get only so far and then I can’t handle the pain involved. I think I don’t want t re-live it. It seems that re-living it will tear open the wounds again and maybe undo the progress, that blessed healing process. Any thoughts?

    Linda

    • Christine M Grote says

      Thanks for commenting, Linda. It may be that you just need more time. I wrote for a while, and then as I said, I had to put it away when it became too difficult to try to remember. I’m struggling with that a little bit right now as I’m not making very good progress on the memoir I’m trying to write about my father’s Alzheimer’s.

      I don’t think you should push yourself. You’ll know when you are ready and able. Just be kind to yourself.

    • says

      Linda, I can relate to the difficulty of facing the memories and re-living the pain. For me, it has taken many starts and stops but when I finally faced down the pain, I did experience the “blessed healing ” you referred to. I received the gift of self-forgiveness through the writing. Re-living it does tear open the wound but it seems the wound is debrided and cleansed so it can heal rather than continue to fester inside. Thanks for asking the question. Would love to hear how others feel about this.

    • says

      Leila, I am so happy to meet you! Thanks for stopping by. I just visited your lovely blog, Writer’s Journey and ended up downloading your memoir, It Rains in February: A Wife’s Memoir of Love and Loss after reading the preface on Amazon. We all love a good story of overcoming obstacles and yours hooked me in. So happy to hear “writing through grief saved ” you. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. says

    When life is good and all is well and I feel happy I seem to be too busy to write. In the lowest times when I feel almost alone in my problems writing has provided solace and a process of working through the pain. I always know that I have writing to fall back on to express myself and fortunately now I’ve learned that things don’t necessarily be bad to get writing inspiration.

    • says

      Nice to see you again, Arlee! I appreciate your comments about writing through “lowest” times. Usually that’s the first thing I tend to do when at a low point-to pick up a pen and write in my journal. But I like the idea of feeling inspired to write in good times, too. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Christine M Grote says

      I feel the same way, Arlee. It’s nice to be able to produce something from a happy place sometimes.

  12. says

    The plaintive cry from your father that 51 years of caring was all for naught really took my breath away. And now I read he has Alzheimers. What a double load of grief you bear, Christine. Clearly the time is now to share your stories. You will bless many others by doing so.

    • Christine M Grote says

      Thanks, Shirley. Yes, it does feel something like a double whammy. My mother barely made it through the storm at first, but she is doing better most of the time, now. In some ways it was a triple load when you take my mother into consideration. We ached for her.

      I am receiving more blessings than I’m giving. It’s been a wonderful surprise about the journey.

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Shirley. I agree, Christine has shown us the power of memoir to heal and pay tribute to our loved ones as well as why it is so important to share our stories. Best wishes on your upcoming memoir which I have no doubt will be filled with many “magical moments!”

  13. Madeline Sharples says

    Christine, thank you so much for sharing your story and how writing helped you get through your grief. I found that writing was essential during my son’s illness and after his suicide. It helps put the pain on the page.
    I congratulate you for getting your book finished – I know how hard it must have been – and for being able to share your sister Annie with the world.
    Hopefully you will inspire others in knowing how important writing and other creative outlets are to the healing process.
    I wish you all the best.

    • says

      Madeline,
      I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your story. Both you and Christine give us all hope that we can find healing through our own words and that we can share our healing and hope with others. Thank you!

    • Christine M Grote says

      You’re welcome.
      I’m sorry to hear about your loss. I can’t imagine how enormous that must have felt. I’m glad you found an outlet with your writing. I hope you continue to do so.

      Thanks for sharing a small part of your story with us, Madeline.

  14. says

    Thanks for posting this, Kathy. I’ve been following Christine for awhile now.

    Writing about her did indeed become her legacy, Christine. I can certainly relate when you express how you feel about the injustice of that loss.

    I’ve had more than my share of it, and one of the things I’ve done writing has been to incorporate my late brother, who passed away some years ago, into a character early on in my book. At the moment, I’m just editing for others instead of writing, which is for the best. My nephew passed away earlier this month of cancer, and I’m struggling with the injustice of that.

    • says

      Nice to meet you, William! I appreciate you stopping by and commenting on Christine’s post. I’m sorry to hear about your nephew. It seems we all have to face our losses in our own way and in our own time. I love how you have chosen to keep your late brother’s spirit alive through one of your characters in your book.

      Blessings on your journey.

    • Christine M Grote says

      I know you must be struggling still, William. I think of you often.

      I’ve never thought of writing creating a character as a legacy or memory of sorts. That’s a brilliant idea. Thanks for sharing it.

      We all have to do what we have to do. You’ll be able to write again later.

  15. says

    Writing is the only place I really learn what I’ve learned. Whatever I’m reading, studying, exploring… it comes in and sort of floats around, unconnected until I sit down and allow myself to explore it through writing. My daughter is a survivor of a violent crime, but the impact of that violence reverberated through our family and though we grieved together, there was a part of the grief we couldn’t share. A pain that was overwhelming and took years to get a handle on.

    I knew I had to write about it, but I was afraid of it. I was afraid to get in there and feel all of that again. But what truly brought everything together was the examination of why my faith was shattered during that time… what led up to it, the risky position I’d placed myself in, and what led to its healing and ultimately my healing. But I didn’t know it, until I let my hands write it, revise it, think on it, revise it some more.

    My writing is a gift God gave me to enable me to sort through this life and all that happens within it.

    • says

      Amy,

      I’m happy to meet you! I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your story so eloquently. I am sorry for all the trauma you have endured. You bring out such an important point, as Christine has, about how “writing is a gift from God and has enabled you to sort through this life.” You remind me that it is in the actual writing that our stories unfold and help us to gain clarity. In writing our own stories , we can share our gift with others. I like to think of our writing as a gift to ourselves and to our readers. I’m sure your book will be a gift to both yourself and to others.

      God’s blessings on your journey.

    • Christine M Grote says

      Yes. You are exactly right, not only about being able to learn by writing, but also about, “I knew I had to write about it, but I was afraid of it. I was afraid to get in there and feel all of that again.” That is what I experienced too. For me, being courageous enough to revisit it helped me to move past it, I think.I’m glad to see it helped you too.

      Thanks for sharing your story.

  16. says

    Christine, what a heartfelt post! I agree that we can truly understand our stories only when we write about them. I did not understand how the events in my life were connected until I wrote my memoir. I love what you said about accepting what we do not understand. What a beautiful tribute your book is to your sister. Congratulations on completing it!

    • Christine M Grote says

      Thanks, Libbye,

      I’m trying to feel good about the fact that I finished the story, published it, and it is out there, regardless of how many copies I end up selling. My husband keeps telling me the book is the accomplishment. And I am beginning to believe that.

  17. says

    Christine, thank you for telling about your experience of writing through grief and coming to a place of understanding, acceptance, and healing. The power of writing one’s story cannot be underestimated in how it helps us see the circumstances of our life in a new light so we can let go of those things we need to, and still treasure in our hearts those special people and events that shaped us. Your book is in my Kindle; I look forward to reading your story.

    Kathy, thank you for having Christine as a guest.

    • says

      My pleasure,Linda. Your comments really sum up the importance of writing through grief. I especially appreciated “the power of one’s story to help us let go and still treasure in our hearts the special people and events that shaped us.” Well said! Enjoy Christine’s poignant and inspirational memoir.

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