Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writing Through Sorrow

The first piece I ever got published was a feature story for Guidepost's Angels on Earth magazine. It was a true account of something that happened shortly after my dad had a crippling stroke at age 80. Until then, Dad was still working as an independent land surveyor and had seemed to be in robust health. The stroke left us stunned and heartbroken - for him, for our family, for this shocking and abrupt end to life as we had known it. Writing the piece for Angels on Earth helped me to cope with my sorrow during the most difficult time I had ever known.

Over the next few months, it became clear that Dad would never walk again. Despite the physical incapacity, his mind was sharp -sharper than most 80-year-olds who haven't had brain trauma. But he was understandably sad and depressed. My mission became to help him find ways to feel like part of the world, to feel like he could still make a contribution. We collaborated on a memoir that was published in The Martha's Vineyard Gazette. We wrote companion memoirs about a home town character, whom Dad had known as a selectman and local businessman, and whom I had known as my cantankerous first employer. The pieces were published in our hometown newspaper.

Five years later, Dad passed away. Soon after, I wrote a poem called Poppies, which captured feelings about my childhood and the cycles of life. The poem won 10th prize in the 2010 Writer's Digest Annual Poetry Competition.

It did not escape my notice that the things I wrote during times of deep sadness had a high degree of success - with success defined as being accepted for publication. My emotions were intense and raw, and that somehow enabled words to flow as freely as tears and to coagulate in ways that had strong impact.

When Dad passed away, I asked myself how I could keep the wonderful memories of my parents and my childhood alive. I already knew the answer: I could honor my parents, and thank them for the wonderful start they gave me in life, through my writing. I could breathe new life into the streets of our hometown and the people who lived there. I could recapture some of the joy of my own childhood by writing books for children.

My mother has Alzheimer's and has been "gone" from us for almost 10 years. She is now dying - today, tomorrow, very soon. Though I have grieved for her for a long time already, there is fresh sadness today with the finality of her passing. I know that these feelings will well up and demand release through writing - in fact, they already have.


  1. Oh, Melissa, I'm sorry for your sadness and grieving, but as you said, writing about it all has certainly been good for you. You are definitely in my thoughts.

  2. Ahhh, Yogini, just take comfort knowing your mom will soon be whole again, bossing your dad she should be doing! You've been a wonderful daughter to both your parents, and I'm sorry for your sadness. Your writing through all of it enriches all of us.

  3. I am so sorry to hear about your mother, but you are right writing helps it hurts but it also heals. My best poems I wrote when my husband passed away and writing did and does help every day. Also wanted to thank you for following my blog, it is much appreciated. You and your mother are in my thoughts and prayers!

  4. Thanks for your kind and comforting thoughts - they mean a lot.


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