Sunday, August 22, 2010

Writing on Loss

A post by Deborah Siegel about the loss of a dear family friend triggered some thoughts on the death of my father, my child, friends and other relatives.

Reading about David's death at age 69 I can't help but think of my own father's death in '69 when we, my mother (52 at the time) and I, considered him gone too soon, when I was only 13 and he two days short of 71. I was the child that had to make up for all those killed during the Holocaust and my father asked me not to forget his story, history.

I promised him I would not, and up to today I consider his wish a command (I'm working on it Dad).
What story exactly? His story is my story, our history, my past and present and yes, my future. Yet, I have always felt more comfortable making visible the stories of others (as a designer for multicultural theater) than sharing my family's.

A visit around 1980 with a woman who practiced "automatic handwriting" helped me with my first attempts to grasp the extend of the influence of early loss of my father on my life. While automatic handwriting did open the gate, started the flow, I only shared my poetry. I did not think I could write worth while full sentences.

It wasn't until the loss of our baby daughter Ariane Eira in 1993, that I really started writing about my own loss and later in response to other people's losses. My husband  called me the Ann Landers of Grief.

I don't know how I could have survived without writing down my feelings, or rather the translation in words of sensations. Writing about a baby's death the first as last question that remains unanswered even if the clinical reason for the demise is clear, is Why?
My father was an artist the last twenty years of his life. He painted and created objects in clay. One of his sculptures shows a man addressing G.d in despair, asking Why? Why hast thou forsaken me?

Writing about loss gives us besides a place to unload, to try and make sense, or to try and accept, a gauge to measure our development in the mourning process. Acknowledging our own or an other person's loss is never futile, it's all about remembering, paying respect, offering condolences. Remembering a person on the page is of great importance to those who are left behind.

When someone I've known, someone dear to my heart has died, I write down her name, cluster in Gabriele Rico's fashion around the name, bringing to the surface memories, deeper and further from the present time, I cluster about moments between back when and right now until a mental shift gives me the sentence that makes up the essence of what was or is most important about my relationship with the deceased.

I write letters to those who remain, or publish a blog post and when appropriate I send the poem Claribel Alegria wrote after her husband had died. Her books is among those that make me believe writing is a Creative Act of Healing.

Salí a buscarte

Salí a buscarte
atravesé valles
y montañas
surqué mares lejanos
le pregunté a las nubes
y al viento
inútil todo
dentro de mí estabas.

Searching for You

I went out searching for you
crossing valleys
and mountains
ploughing distant seas
asking of the clouds
and the wind your whereabouts
it was all useless
you were within me.

Claribel Alegría

from Sorrow
Curbstone Press 1999

How do you find solace? Do you write about your own or other people's losses?

This work (prose) by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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