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.
How Memoir Writing Helped Me to Grieve My Loss
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.
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.
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.
Facebook author page – http://www.facebook.com/pages/
Website – http://www.christinemgrote.com
Blog – http://www.
Twitter – (cmsmith57) – http://twitter.com/cmsmith57
Links to ordering Dancing in Heaven:
Links to ordering:
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/Dancing-
B&N – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/
Createspace – http://www.createspace.com/
Smashwords – http://www.smashwords.com/
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.