This is not something I want to do.
Six months ago this week, I kissed my stepdad on the cheek, said goodbye, hopped on a plane, and headed home overseas. “See you soon,” I had said. I smiled at him as I lugged my suitcase away.
Ten hours later, he’d suffered two strokes, and I did a U-turn and caught the next plane back.
I don’t want to write about this.
It helps us to write about the hard things. This is deeper than writing for public consumption, glory, fame, or to connect with others. This is about using writing as a tool, as a coping method, and a self-therapeutic practice to nurture the anguish churning our insides.
Writing is a cathartic practice when we write what we are going through as a means to understand and move past it. Personally, I’ll often avoid writing about the big, painful, hard things, and instead will expend all my words on trivial, fleeting topics as a distraction—a procrastination.
But procrastination is really my fear of writing down the hard things.
To be a good writer, I have to move past this fear. Instead of reaching for sparkly, inspiring topics lined up on the top shelf, good writers know they must be honest and vulnerable and get down and dirty with their writing if it’s to be used therapeutically.
Looking around the room and out the window for something else to write about doesn’t serve us. To write meaningfully, and for writing to help us, we must look at the things that are sitting quietly in our laps. Waiting. Not moving. Sitting heavy. Looking at us.
This is the challenge in writing honest pieces. Writing about the blows life delivers that we feel unequipped to handle. Writing is an act that connects us to our experiences if we let it, and allows for healing to begin. But we have to get into the meat of it and write honestly about the hard things. Even if it is not something we want to do.
The beeping machines attached and pinching around his head and arms. The unnerving, yellow fluorescent lights tainting the room. The banged up furniture. My broken mother, with childlike fear draining the color from her face.
I don’t want to go back there.
Writing is therapy, yes, and it takes me back there. Confusion and questions and worries of what happened are washed through a cycle of words. Writing places this feeling here, and that feeling there, and brings some kind of cleanliness and order. Writing cleans up the tearful mess.
Don’t we all need to do this from time to time? Writing down what’s really in front of us, not moving and not going away?
With writing that heals, we are forced to look long and hard at each painful piece. One by one, word by word, we have to look at them closely and feel their jagged edges with our fingertips. Each word our fingertips type or scrawl is a chipped moment, a battered memory, a shattered belief. Broken hearts, torrents of grief, fragmented, soul-wrenching pieces moving from our insides to the outside through our fingertips.
But it helps. Writing brings us to some kind of peace. Some kind of understanding of what happened. Some place of healing.
I still don’t want to do it.
Those broken, grieving pieces on the floor are still sharp. I don’t know where to put them. I don’t want to clean up the mess. I don’t even want to sit in the mess in that room. I don’t want to open the door.
My grieving, shrieking, lost mother. My brother and my sister, stoic, strong for their children. His grandkids. The last rights chanted by the priest as we all crowded around the bedside, mechanically repeating the prayers. My stepdad taking his last few breaths through a plastic tube, before we turned off the machines for him.
What happened? Between the affectionate kiss goodbye and the panic-fueled flight back? Something dropped. Something dropped, shattered—and now everything hurts.
Write it out. We have to write, write, write.
Go back to that dingy, horrible hospital, the cold, disinterested traffic passing by outside. The fiery sun in the perfect blue sky.
Writing is a gift that helps line up the pieces into some kind of order.
Circling around other ideas with writing, ideas that don’t matter and don’t hurt and don’t feel so real isn’t terrible. But writing about the “other” ideas when we are going through something hard doesn’t heal us. Writing about what we are going through will.
What’s in our lap? What’s looking up at us? We have to look at it.
That’s what we writers should do.
But what am I going to do?
I am going to heal, and I am going to get there by writing, but I’m not going to write fully about what happened this past year just yet. Word by word, I’ll begin to write in pieces.
I’ll open the door. I’ll sit in the mess. I’ll write about this piece, and I’ll write about that piece, and, little by little, I’ll write my way through the sadness. I’ll write the confusion into something a little less cloudy. I’ll write to my mother, my brother, my sister. I’ll use the words from the page that helped me heal, and maybe the written words will become spoken words and they will help.
I’ll write what I am going through, I’ll get to the meat of it. I’ll use writing to connect with everything that hurts, because that is the only way I know to heal. Word by word.
I’ll remember the kiss on the cheek, the goodbye, and all that came after, and I’ll write, write, write until it feels a little better and the churning of my insides moves to the outside.
I’ll write until it heals.
But not yet.