Writing and Grief
Written by Mala Schneider
We all know that writing is cathartic, but whatever the reason for releasing our feelings through the ink of our pens flowing onto paper, or tapping the alphabet buttons on our keyboard, can also be the very same reason for causing writer’s block.
This means writing is like an oxymoron in itself – which I have found fascinating. I am not alone in this revelation, but I wanted to know who else has struggled with this, so I hope this starts a conversation about how writers have dealt with this.
In our writing group (the Koyals), a common theme I have noticed when we share either our own writing, quotes from others or a social media post, is that sadly we have experienced grief. Specifically, the grief of the loss of close relatives. We have written for ourselves, to help overcome the pain, and through sharing with friends and family, there is a sense of release, a feeling of honouring our loved ones through our writing, and of collective support and compassion from others.
But grief has also been one of the hardest things to write about, to express your pain, guilt, anger, hurt, sadness, emptiness, loneliness, loss or recovery of faith. Procrastination suddenly becomes even easier. It’s a bit like therapy – you know it will be good for you, but you know the pain you will go through to get there is so traumatic, that you put it off, or you just don’t do it.
But when you do write (and in our case when we have written about grief), the overwhelming emotions when you read it back, that day, the next week, a year later, takes you right back to that moment. Whether this is good or bad, it’s part of the grieving process. So, I would encourage you all to write whenever you feel ready, and even if you never share it with anyone. I’m still trying and I’m still procrastinating but I have cheer-leaded myself to write this as part of my struggle with accepting catharsis.
They say time heals, and I have come to believe the notion, and that rather than just simply focusing on the painful emotions when I do read about grief, I focus on the love that inspired that writing. In that vein, I’m sharing here some of what our writing group have shared about our experiences of grief, in the hope that you will find it as cathartic to read, as we did to write.
“When someone close to you dies you are for a while far closer to death than to life. Suddenly you are looking at life from the other side; it is as though you have passed ‘through the looking-glass’ and there is an invisible wall sealing you off from everything around. You can see the world but you can’t really touch it, and sometimes it feels as though it would be easier to step over the line between living and dying, than to find your way back to life.”
The Great Below, Maddy Paxman
Even though your heart may be in pieces
What was meant to be has been
The love will never be lost or forgotten
Will never be unseen
Treasure the time you had
The affection and the laughter
That’s how I’d want to be remembered
Today and ever after.
Ann – the food provided by the women’s families on the first day, when someone in their household died.
In my area of Kashmir the tradition was that on the first day of the bereavement the food was provided by the women’s families. It would be the daughter-in-law’s pekeh, her family, who would provide food for everybody who was there for the funeral.
The idea was that the family would be grieving and not in a fit state to be arranging food and looking after all the guests. However, the people that were attending would have been coming from far away villages, some from other towns and cities and they would need to eat before they could travel back home. It seemed cruel for the immediate family who were grieving to be having to look after guests during this difficult time.
If you had one daughter-in-law or if your children were young then the mother’s family would take care of the meal after the janaza. If you had more than one daughters-in-law the families would share the cost or one would give food one day one and the second would give it the next day etc. Up to a decade ago our mourning period was either four or seven days and then we would have the prayers and the meal on the last day with everyone who had attended the funeral or people from nearby villages would be invited. Upto that day, family, friends and neighbours all brought in food for the immediate family and any guests who would have come from far.
The big Roti/hatam would be held on the 35th or the 40th day and that would mark the end of the mourning period. On this day all close and distant relatives, friends and neighbours were invited for a meal and prayers.
The meal given on the first day was always simple. It was only ever one type of haandi and roti. That’s all people were respectfully fed. And it was always provided by the women’s parents or their brothers, if their parents were deceased.
This responsibility and expectation kept a link between the two families. It was also another reason why boys were valued, because the women had no jobs and if your parents were dead, and you had no brothers, on occasions like this, there was nobody there to cover for you. And you felt as though no one had your back.
There were many other traditions where the girl’s family played a part such as at weddings etc.
Nowadays, some people honour the same traditions in England. My mother-in-law has for the second time in six months paid for 200 people’s meal for her daughter’s and sister-in-law’s family on the first day of the bereavement. Other people don’t bother.
The younger generations see it as an unnecessary dependency in this day and age when most people can afford it and it only takes a phone call to a caterer to have the food delivered.
But there was more to these traditions than money. This interdependency kept people close, needed, wanted, valued and maintained a sense of family and community.
I’m not sure a rush to lose all that will serve us well.
Despite the hollow
The wrenching pain
Since Mummy died
You have helped me
Get up every day
Find more purpose
Remember my way
You warmed my heart
With your quiet touch
Simply holding my hand
It meant so much
The things that broke me
That I couldn’t do
Warping me with pain
You just knew
Like lighting a candle
Framing her portrait
Hanging her rose garland
(How we commemorate)
Making us our meals
While I cried and cried in bed
You gave me the time I needed
You gave me back my strength.