Writing Through Tragedy
A few years ago I participated in a panel at Romancing the Capital in Ottawa, a conference organized and managed by the amazing Eve Langlais. If you haven't been, you should go if she decided to run another one after all this covid chaos is over. The panel was about writing through tragedy, and I was very happy to participate if it helped others overcome their challenges with their writing journey.
Shortly after the conference, I wrote this piece. It was kind of therapeutic for me, and I came across it today so I thought I would share. This is how I overcame tragedy in my life and found my way back to writing. It basically came down to the love and support of my husband who believed in me when I didn't. And setting realistic, achievable goals that encouraged me rather than bigger ones that only made me feel defeated.
Everyone will experience tragedy in their lifetime. It’s almost a rite of passage. I grew up relatively unscathed, approaching my fortieth year without ever going to a funeral or losing anyone who played a key role in my life. Then 2016 hit, and I had to face the thought of losing my husband and my best friend. Trust me when I tell you that if soul mates exist, he is unquestionably mine. After our first date, I called my mother and told her I would marry him, and he proposed a month later. I couldn’t live without him—at least, not without extreme difficulty. So, when he was diagnosed with cancer, I felt as if all the air in my lungs was sucked out. I couldn’t breathe no matter how hard I tried, and it wasn’t until a year later, when he was in remission, that I could finally catch my breath. I thought this was going to be the worst thing that would happen to me for many years to come. But that was not the case.
A month after my husband was cleared, my mother was admitted to hospital with a cough and generalized weakness. She was diagnosed with cancer and died two weeks later. I have never felt such crushing anguish before in my life, and I thought the threat of losing my husband was bad. I had no idea. Even now, almost a year later, there is a hole in my chest that I can’t hope to ever refill. I feel almost hollow when I see something that reminds of me of her, or when something happens and it’s her voice I crave to tell me that things will be okay. I thought, that’s it. Surely, that’s enough. The universe can’t be this unkind. Then my son was diagnosed with a tumor. Though thankfully benign, it is aggressive and has destroyed the growth plate in his twelve-year-old shin bone so we’re looking at more surgery in the future. But it could have been worse. Much worse. My fingers are crossed that we’re done. And so far, we have been.
Wow. What a sob story, right? We have all one. They’re different but they’re our own and we all must find ways to overcome our grief and our challenges in life. We have to pick ourselves up, dust off and move on, for our spouses, our kids, or for whoever it is in our lives that need us. We have to persevere, because what else can we do? Let it consume us? No, we’re all stronger than that. Yes, we are. Sometimes you just have to dig deep to find your strength. I found mine in my love for my kids and my husband.
One of the biggest challenges I faced after Mom died was forcing myself to work again. As a writer, I’m a creative person and my work involves using my mind to make up stuff that both my readers and I enjoy. After Mom died I couldn’t write at all. I would sit at my computer and stare at the screen or I’d force words onto the page, hate them, and promptly delete them. For months I stopped writing all together. The only emotion I felt was sadness, so how could I possibly write something that would entertain other people? I couldn’t. But it came to a point where I had to suck it up and either go back to nursing full time or start writing again because I have bills. Don’t we all? I wasn’t sure I could do either, but I couldn’t let my family down. My husband, supportive to a fault, would never make me do anything I don’t want to do. He would support me in a sinking ship, even if we were literally drowning. I love him for that. So again, I couldn’t let him down. Or my kids. He said, “Write what you can. Even if means a hundred words a day. That’s it. At the end of the day, it’s a hundred words more than you had when you woke up.” So that’s what I did. One word at a time. Those first few weeks after I made that commitment to him, and to myself, I did exactly what he told me to do.
I think part of my problem before my husband convinced me to give myself permission to lower my expectations, I was determined to go back to where I was before Mom died. It just wasn’t realistic. Back then I could write 4000 words a day. I had days where I wrote 11,000. I set those goals for myself when I returned to writing and I wouldn’t come close to my goal and I’d feel defeated and dread sitting down with my laptop every day. After my husband convinced me to allow myself to just get one hundred words I was more positive. Because I could make my word count and then surpass it. That’s what tipped the scales for me. Before I knew it, I was back to writing a thousand words a day, then two, and now, usually around three a day.
You can’t expect yourself to be the same after tragedy. You just can’t. You can get past it, but your new normal will be different and you have to accept that. Even if it’s just for a little while. Be kind to yourself. Because you deserve it. We all do. And you need to remind yourself of this every day, even when it doesn’t feel like your truth. I’m getting over losing the person I’ve loved the longest and if I can get over that, I have faith that you can too.