Grief can’t be tied up with string

One of the songs my daughter and I used to sing was “My Favorite Things.” The fanciful notion of roses, kitten whiskers and packages helping us through the tough spots in life has always appealed to both of us. Funny thing is that sometimes life brings you so low that pretty things alone can’t help. When I get to that point, I either have to cry or write. Sometimes I do both.

Last year I wrote a short story about a package that had been left on my doorstep. As summer approaches and I feel the demanding call to get back to writing again, I have returned to the story. The discipline of writing during the school year doesn’t come easy for many reasons (ok, some are excuses): job-demands and mother-demands crowd the top of that list. As a teacher, I watch others write and support others as they write. And as often as I make a commitment to write while they are writing or complete my own homework, I break that promise to myself and complete tasks that insist attention. This summer, I’ve returned to the firm commitment to seize time for my own writing and my own needs.

Back to the story: that package left on my doorstep held a life in leftovers. I saw the box on an October afternoon about six years ago and after glancing at the lack of a return address, I elected to ignore it. Somehow I knew who it was from: my father’s wife. She packed up the things from his former life and the things she did not value. I wish I could say that it was a lovely gesture, choosing to share with me some of my father’s past. But I can’t give her that credit. For starters, the paintings he promised to me weren’t in the box. Instead of providing comfort, its contents, reminding me that I loved an absent father, would explode my life into pieces, the shrapnel lodged in my heart. I’ve cried every October since.

The story of the package is one of a series of life with my largely absent father who died suddenly, a year filled with losses. Here’s the thing, I’ve struggled with the story because I don’t want it to sound like some mushy, pity-me memoir indulgence. Plenty of kids in my neighborhood have had absent parents or worse. But the story needs to be told, or should I say, I need to tell my story, so I can move from victim to survivor. Hiding the broken part of me has left me one step short of healing. I wonder if we hide our broken moments, our broken parts, can any of us heal?

Though I still return to the grief of a deep loss that started over 40 years ago when he first left, I know I want to stop sliding backward. I know I am strong enough to move forward. As I write and rewrite, I rebuild myself into that someone stronger. It’s summer and the days are filled with sun and time. I am ready.

What broken moments and parts could you offer as a gift to help someone heal?

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16 Responses to Grief can’t be tied up with string

  1. I love that you shared these stories within a story – the coming back to writing, the favorite things song, the package.

    My first girlfriend had a tumultuous relationship with her father, and he died very suddenly, so she never had a chance to reconcile with him. She had this ritual that she did every Father’s Day after his death (I think she still does it), where she bought him a card, wrote him a letter, and mailed it to a made up address. I know it sounds weird, but it was oddly comforting for her. Maybe you could do that with things from that package. Karen

    • Thanks Karen. I’m glad you like the story frame. It’s been good to re-read and revise the story. Your memory of your first girlfriend reminds me of how I wrote letters to my mom after she died. I found the suggestion on some website about managing grief. There were so many questions I still had for my mom, so almost every night for over a month, I wrote her a letter. As soon as I put pen to paper and wrote out my question, I could feel an answer come to me. People had told me that my mom was within me, but I never felt that, not until I used the method that comforted me the most: writing.
      I really like your suggestion about a letter to my father. If I don’t do it for Father’s Day, I’ll be thinking about your wonderful idea come October.

  2. C.C. says:

    Very profound and thought-provoking question you pose when wondering how we can heal if we hide our broken parts.

  3. Shailaja /Doting Mom says:

    So sorry for your grief. I hope you get the courage to work past it.

  4. jenbrunett says:

    I’m glad that you have decided to recommit yourself to writing. It IS such a wonderful tool for discovery and healing as you’ve stated. And even if the story start out as a pity or poor me story, it always ends up with its own voice and takes a life of its own.

  5. Natalie DeYoung says:

    This reminds me of when my grandma died, and we did not see any of her drawings among her things. Turns out, they had gotten chucked. I was devastated.

    • Completely understand. When my grandmother was moved out of her home–a home I had known as my own–my daughter was in the hospital. By the time I could breathe enough to check out what was left, not much was. I had hoped I’d at least find the spoon–a touristy item–that my daughter had brought back from a trip, but we never did. Walking through this place of my childhood, I felt as empty as it looked. I’m really sorry that your grandma’s drawings were tossed out.

  6. innatejames says:

    My father had a similar upbringing. Years later, when he was as far removed from his childhood as he could get, I dug into his family tree. Skipping the generation that scarred him, I dug up story after wonderful story of loving families, giving him cousins and aunts he didn’t know existed, replacing his sour childhood. The fact that he asks me what else I found out every time I see him is testament to healing. Here’s to time healing all wounds!

  7. Christine says:

    I get this: the need to tell your story, to be heard. Sometimes that’s the most important part of healing, to attempt to answer your question. But it’s a long, long process. Not just the healing, the telling. You want to be sure you get it right, and that people understand. I get that. Really thoughtful, introspective piece. I’m glad to have come across it. (Visiting from the yeah write weekly writing challenge)

    • Thanks for your comment Christine. I certainly agree about the long, long process. I had been feeling impatient about it, but your comment reminds me to allow myself to do it on my terms. I’ll check out the Yeah Write Weekly Writing challenge. I’m always looking for ways to inspire me to get to the words. It is with them that the healing begins.

  8. Linda Roy says:

    I relate on a different, yet similar level. About six years ago, in October, I was going through some boxes from my own life, and long story short, it triggered such grief, that each Fall, a little piece of me goes back to it. I intend to write about it eventually, but I still can’t figure out how. I’m glad you have gotten to it. It’s so important for closure and sanity. Hugs to you.

  9. How wonderful that you’ll be able to visit the story you wrote last year. It’s good to return to a project like that with fresh eyes. Telling the story, I agree, will help you transform (“from victim to survivor”) and offer you control over how the story ends.

    • Thank you for your response. I find it comforting to know there are others who feel the same way. I guess that’s another reason to keep writing. When I read Anna Quindlen’s novel Every Last One, about the death of a husband and children, I was struck by how she told a story of grief so unlike my own, yet so on target with how I felt when I lost my parents. As many times as my doubtful voice makes me wonder why I’m writing, I say because I need to, because someone else may need me to. Keep up the writing.

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