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Memoir Writing Instructor Answers Your Questions
Question 9. There is one period in my past that is so difficult to think about. I lost my dad to cancer and my husband to heart disease within six months. It was the darkest time of my life. I am not sure how to write about it or if I am even able to revisit that deep, dark cavern of memories. Any advice for this situation?
Answer 9. I am so sorry for your loss. When my dad passed away, I experienced sadness like I had never known. It did not dissipate quickly, so I can only imagine how it was for you to lose two close loved ones in such a short period of time.
It is a fact of life, however, that sad and tragic events over which we have no control will take place as we travel through this journey. We typically lose friends and family and must deal with the grief associated with that loss. It is the normal cycle of life, though at the time it occurs, it seems anything but normal.
When an elderly loved one passes, we can usually console ourselves with the fact that they lived a long life. When someone we love who was younger passes, we cannot help but feel that they were taken too soon. Then we remember that it is not up to us. When someone’s time on earth is over is not our decision. It is simply what happened, and we are left to cope with the results.
Sadly, when such events take place in rapid succession, there is no time to recover before once again facing the mourning process and the intense and present feeling that we may never want to laugh again. Yours was a double whammy, so it is certainly understandable that you were shaken to the core.
These events are a part of your history, and family members and loved ones may better understand you if they read your story and your feelings about that time of your life. They will have a clearer picture of who you are and where you have been.
Reflecting on a difficult time in your life may not be at the top of your list of pleasant and desirable activities, but those painful experiences made a definite impact on you. Below is a list of suggestions on how to tackle this situation in your writing. You may find it easier to take it slowly and deal with only one item each time you write. Or perhaps there may be times when your writing is flowing so fruitfully, you continue working through the list. I hope that these ideas are helpful and enable you to share your feelings about this grim period.
1-Write about pre-illness distinctive characteristics and specific incidents that represent who your loved one was, how he lived his life, what made him special to you and others.
2-Think about when your loved one first became ill. Write about the initial symptoms, the doctor visits, what type of treatment plan was recommended/selected. How did he react/cope with his diagnosis and subsequent journey?
3-Were there any humorous incidents that happened during this time? (I realize this sounds almost inappropriate, but if you can think of any, it would be great to share them.)
4-What was the impact on you and other family members?
5-Was there an opportunity to share the important conversations with your loved one that you desired? If not, you may choose to write what you wish you could have said or asked him.
6-Write about the day your loved one passed. Share your feelings as well as the facts.
7-Write about his funeral service/memorial service and anything significant to you about that day.
8-What do you miss most about this dear one?
9-How has your life changed since that difficult time?
10-If you could advise others who are going through a similar situation, what suggestions can you offer them for coping and moving forward?
Review what you have written. Consider any other beneficial aspects of the story that you may wish to add.
Writing about this time in your life could ultimately serve as an emotionally cleansing experience. You may find that returning to that time and digesting your feelings could give you a different perspective, offering you clarity and the opportunity to decide exactly which specifics in these thoughts and stories will make the final cut of your memoir project.
Wishing you the best in your writing journey. Your stories are a priceless legacy!
Mary Anne Benedetto is the owner of A Writer’s Presence, LLC, a writer, speaker, blogger, Certified Lifewriting Instructor, and an affiliate teacher with the The Memoir Network. Author of 7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!, she offers beneficial tips, hints and critical steps in memoir writing in order to remove the “overwhelmed” factor in memoir projects.
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