Autumn in Oregon heralds our rainiest season of the year. Weather prognosticators promised rain for days. Areas nearby and surrounding us received showers. Sometimes only sprinkles. Our neighborhood received nothing.
I feel adrift.
Since January, following a fall, I feel adrift. Adrift as a wife, a writer, a friend, a human being.
My body, in pain most days, isn’t allowed to do housework as ordained by professionals. Simple cooking is OK. No vigorous kitchen cleanup reads don’t make a huge mess while cooking.
My mind won’t wrap itself around the craft of writing. Whether it’s working on my book, the blog, or book reviews, it doesn’t seem to matter. I feel mindless, wordless.
My summer days are mostly inside, and little or no exercise is ordered by any of the illustrious physicians in attendance so far. Don’t even mention flowers and gardening.
One chair in our home allows me to sit comfortably. Our bed allows me the comfort of lying down, but have you tried working from a prone position? I am trying to grow accustomed to standing while using my laptop, but years of otherwise make unlearning difficult.
Rays of hope arrived over the past few days.
After seeing multiple physicians, undergoing as many lab tests and imaging studies, and receiving steroid injections times too many, another doctor seeing me for an unrelated problem listened. I mean she really listened to my complaints and symptoms.
This doctor gave me what probably comes the closest to a correct diagnosis anyone has attempted. Then she referred me to a physical therapist specially trained in treating the adverse physiology I’m attempting to overcome.
(Sorry for the mysterious explanation. It’s a rather sensitive and personal subject as far as I’m concerned.)
We left that appointment feeling we’d been given a ray of hope.
A couple of days later our church newsletter arrived. Physically unable some Sundays to attend church, I’ve learned the importance of the newsletter to feeling in touch with people and activities.
On the last page of this newsletter, the second ray of hope came to me. In the form of a #40wordprayer, incredibly beautiful word creations limited to 40 words.
I requested and received permission to share not only the #40wordprayer, but also a reflection on a conversation with a friend and former student:
for the reminder
from a dear life-giver
that in life
all of the goals
do not automatically lead
and as the world
the purpose resides not
but in serving
This prayer emerged out of a conversation I had recently with a dear friend and former youth group student who now serves as a radiation oncologist and just finished her final oral medical board exams. We marveled at how milestones in our lives give us the impression that we will one day ‘arrive’ at the destination to which we have been striving for so long. And then we mused at how this contrasts with the reality that so often these points of ‘arrival’ are actually springboards of ‘departure’ into the next season of the journey.
When Jesus came to the greatest milestone on his journey and cried out ‘It is finished’, it took some time before it became clear that he was actually saying ‘It is beginning’.
In our desire and hope towards ‘arriving’ at the next ‘destination’ of vision and mission as a family of faith at MPC [Moreland Presbyterian Church], may we be ever mindful that in this journey of life and faith, the ‘ends’ (great and small) are actually ‘beginnings’. And as we receive the gift of each new moment of life, may we hear the voice of the Giver saying, ‘My child, begin again.’
With Jesus and with you, brian
PRAYER AND REFLECTION: BRIAN MARSH, HEAD OF STAFF, MORELAND PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, PORTLAND, OR
IMAGE OF CHILD: “PATH OF LIFE,” DIGITAL ART BY ALICE POPKORN VIA FLICKR
Am I drifting or evolving?
Perhaps this is a God-given time for reflection, discernment, and new direction. If so, I feel better about the conditions I find myself struggling through in my writing, my home life, and my friendships and other human connections.
Days on end, as many of you know firsthand, of the same thing takes us to a land of drought, parched to the elimination of our art. A life of illness or injury with no definitive answers, again as many know, leaves you with anxiety and stress and doubt, none of which enhances the body’s ability to heal. Nor do these emotions lend themselves well to family relationships and friendships with our online or real-tie community.
I am filled with hope on two fronts now: (1) from the medical community caring for me; and (2) my faith community providing prayers, encouragement, and as Brian said in an email this week special prayers for “sani-T!”
Image: Adrift via Unsplash (no attribution required; free images)
Image: James 1:5-8 (MSG) via Pinterest
Stay tuned for more about my “evolution.”
Are you living a life of quiet desperation? Questioning what it means to succeed? Wondering if your efforts matter? In this uplifting memoir, Lorraine Ash uses her own life experiences to explore inner landscapes where the seeds of divine healing and insight reside. These are the landscapes on which we create our own meaning and find the resiliency to thrive in a changing and challenging world.
(Image and synopsis via Goodreads)
Lorraine Ash shares courageously the story of her greatest loss: the stillbirth of her daughter, Victoria. I cannot begin to know what a loss, such as losing a child before life is breathed into it, does to one’s soul.
A beautifully written memoir takes us along with its author to explore the search for meaning after a loss of this proportion.
As I traveled along learning more about Lorraine’s journey, I began to realize there were still hurts and pains within me from childhood abuses. While combing through her words, I began to realize what I could do with those old abuses and scars.
One particular quote sticks in my mind and heart and will stay with me:
Some people scream out our insignificance … but it is we who choose to believe it.
These words jumped from the screen of my Kindle and into my being with such force it was as if they belonged to me all along. After rereading them a few times, I realized Lorraine’s words had given me permission to toss aside all the hurtful words flung at me as a child. A very freeing experience! (Thank you, Lorraine.)
As I continued to read, I felt as if Lorraine was a friend, a sister, a mentor of sorts. Life never gave her the gift of motherhood, but I see in her memoir that the qualities of mothering are within her and her nurturing reaches into the world via her words and her skillful usage of them.
Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances and/or your pain, reading Self and Soul will bring you inner peace, a new outlook on life, and perhaps even a moment of healing energy which allows you to move on with embracing life as it transforms with each new experience. to be.
I highly recommend Lorraine’s memoir to anyone interested in memoir, coping and healing following loss, and transforming life into a rich and bountiful experience.
DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from WOW! Women on Writingas part of Lorraine’s book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review. The opinions expressed are solely my own.
Meet the Author:
Lorraine Ash, MA, is the author of “Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life” (Cape House Books, 2012) and “Life Touches Life: A Mother’s Story of Stillbirth and Healing” (NewSage Press, 2004). Both are spiritual memoirs, an old but evolving genre she believes in as a catalyst for personal healing and transformation and social change.
“We each were born as a character into a large family and cultural story,” she said, “and not always in the roles we would have chosen for ourselves. Then fate takes us in unexpected directions. Writing spiritual memoir is a way to weave our outer and inner lives to create meaning and trace and direct our evolving identities over time, including that timeless core in each of us called the soul.”
What does all that have to do with social change? Nothing helps the human race see and understand itself more than such honest witnessing in every corner of the human experience. There is no taboo territory in autobiographical writing, which the author William Dean Howells once called “the most democratic province in the republic of letters.”
In her workshops and writing retreats Lorraine fuses rigorous literary techniques with a wide range of spiritual and philosophical thought. Participants learn to find their strongest writing voice, structure their stories in compelling ways, and see their lives from surprising and useful new angles. All these goals are achieved in an informal backdrop of serenity and relaxation. Why? Because gracious contemplation is a friend to creativity. The ultimate achievement always is for the writer to lead herself, and her readers, to some spiritual truth.
Connect with Lorraine here:
Publisher: Cape House Books
Published: October 20, 2012
Paperback and e-book available
Where to buy Self and Soul:
Paperback edition from CreateSpace (Publisher’s fulfillment partner—the fastest and most author-friendly way to buy!)
Paperback and Kindle from Amazon.com
Buy iBooks edition from iTunes
Buy Nook edition from Barnes&Noble
Buy Kobo edition
Also available for other popular ebook readers, or through your favorite bookstore! Audiobook edition coming August 15, 2014 at Audible.com, Amazon.com, and the iTunes store.
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Fifteen years ago, Alice Hoffman received a diagnosis that changed everything about the life she’d been living. Most significant, aside from the grueling physical ordeal she underwent, was the way it changed how she felt inside and what she thought she ought to be doing with her days. Now she has written the book that she needed to read then. In this honest, wise, and upbeat guide, Alice Hoffman provides a road map for the making of one’s life into the very best it can be. As she says, “In many ways I wrote this book to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that’s all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. There were many times when I forgot about roses and starry nights. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts sorrow and joy, and that it’s impossible to have one without the other. . . . I wrote to remind myself that in the darkest hour the roses still bloom, the stars still come out at night. And to remind myself that, despite everything that was happening to me, there were still some choices I could make.
(Synopsis and image via Goodreads)
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A simple comment I left on a blog post I enjoyed at Women’s Memoirs offered me a chance to win Alice Hoffman’s Survival Lessons. Luck was with me, and not too long ago a copy arrived in my mailbox.
A short but graciously filled book highlighting Hoffman’s experience surviving cancer, Survival Lessons shares the important things in Hoffman’s life during her battle with this evil disease. Not all things work for all people, but even if you glean only one tip to help you over the next hurdle, reading Survival Lessons will have been worthwhile.
Each chapter begins with the word “choose,” giving form and importance to the choices we have not only in crises like Hoffman’s, but in life itself.
Recently, my husband and I have faced health issues, more for him than me. This past week, when I read Survival Lessons, we had faced a trip to the ER and some startling news following a minor surgery the week before.
As I read these words in the chapter, “Choose Love,” I shared them with my husband and they bridged the myriad of emotions we’ve been feeling:
You may feel alone, but your husband, lover, girlfriend, or wife is going through this with you. True, they are not the ones with needles in their arms or surgeries to recover from, but they have to watch you go through these things. Which is worse: to be the person who is ill, or the one who has to watch someone he loves suffer?
Both are not too good.
I highly recommend this book for anyone facing any type of crisis in her life, or his. These choices Hoffman shares fit more than just the health part of who we are in this life.
* * *
Meet Alice Hoffman:
Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston and New York.
Hoffman’s first novel, PROPERTY OF, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become PROPERTY OF, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff’s magazine, American Review.
Today I welcome Susan Weidener, memoir writer and author of Again in a Heartbeat and Morning at Wellington Square. Susan has graciously agreed to share her thoughts on coping with grief and the healing benefits of writing.
Please join me in welcoming Susan to Healing by Writing.
Mourning the Past – A Future Blossoms
By Susan G. Weidener
When Sherrey asked if I would write about my coping skills during the difficult days, months and years after my husband John Cavalieri died – and the benefits derived from writing my story, I admit it felt a bit personal to go down that road again. But that’s what we memoir writers do – we bare our souls, opening a window into our most private thoughts, desires, and dreams, fears and frailties.
When a woman suddenly becomes head of household like I did, she faces an uphill climb. I had two sons ages 7 and 11 to raise, a fulltime high-pressure job and a mortgage. My father, Andrew Weidener, died seven months after my husband. Dad, like John, had been a guiding light in my life, which up until the time John was diagnosed with terminal cancer, had been fairly smooth and uneventful. My father’s death rippled out into the larger currents and I began feeling like the survivor of a ship wreck. My mother, who had been diagnosed with anxiety disorders in her mid-40s, could not cope on her own as a widow and needed round-the-clock care. I became her caretaker, finding the best assisted living facility for her needs, being hands on with the nursing staff, making decisions with her doctors about her treatment for dementia and Parkinson’s, and managing her finances, albeit with the help of a wonderful investment advisor.
I truly believe it is the memory of those we loved – and who loved us – that keeps us moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. As I wrote in Again in a Heartbeat, a memoir of love, loss and dating again, memories of John and my father helped me realize that the confidence to manage life on my own was due in large part to their belief in me as a woman.
I don’t know what propelled me to write about John and our marriage and his illness. I just began one morning at a summer writing retreat in Kentucky. It must have been a form of therapy, as much as creative expression, because I found it immensely satisfying to begin the task each morning of taking significant events and turning them into narrative form. The year before I had left behind my career at the newspaper and it had been 13 years since John’s death. The timing was right, which is so important to any writer hoping to find a compelling story. Your heart has to be invested in your story.
I was really working my way through grief, one painful step at a time . . . John holding me in his arms, John cradling our new baby, our son crying at his father’s hospital bedside, my own desperate attempts to quickly patch up our broken family by finding someone to love me again.
Writing as a way to heal? I hadn’t even heard of that or realized I was doing it until I got halfway through my memoir. Then a friend suggested I read Louise DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing and that was the first time I heard the expression. Her book opened me up to all the possibilities inherent in memoir.
The benefits derived from writing my story were many:
- It was a way to come to terms with why I hadn’t been a better wife to John at the end of his life. So a huge benefit of writing is self-discovery.
- As a friend told me when she read my story – “you were not just mourning John, but mourning your lost dreams, your youth.” That acknowledgment allowed me to forgive myself.
- In the months after John’s death, I journaled my thoughts in a small reporter’s notebook. The notes proved invaluable later when I went back to reconstructing that time for my memoir as they provided a raw look into a wounded heart.
- Writing is living twice. It takes us back to those times, to that person and in some ways – and I mean this seriously, it is a form of entertainment. Writing allowed me an escape from the reality of the moment. I could go back to a happier time, one filled with joy and expectation as I wrote of the days when I met and fell in love with my husband.
- I was a journalist at the time of my husband’s death, so writing was something I did on a daily basis and loved to do. I needed to continue writing after I left the newspaper. By writing a book, I could continue to develop and hone my skills and passion as a writer.
- Through the testimony that is memoir, we are opened to sharing, making new connections and giving others the courage to write their stories. I certainly found this to be true.
- By creating a writing group, which became the Women’s Writing Circle, I found the support and validation that writing my story mattered. This encouraged others to write their own stories and led to new opportunities; editing, become a writing coach and offering writing workshops and retreats. By mourning the past, a future had blossomed.
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Thank you, Susan, for your willingness to step back once more to a time so painful and share with us what you found yourself capable of doing in order to heal and live again.
An author, editor and former journalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Susan leads writing workshops and started the Women’s Writing Circle, www.susanweidener.com a support and critique group for writers in suburban Philadelphia. Susan is the author of two memoirs, Again in a Heartbeat, which is about being widowed at a young age, and its sequel, Morning at Wellington Square, a woman’s search for passion and renewal in middle age. Susan is interested in how women can find their voice through writing and storytelling. Her most recent work appears in an anthology of stories about women’s changing and challenging roles in society called Slants of Light. Susan lives in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.
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you personally, or ask a question about writing, or let
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Everyone has probably heard everything they want to hear about the George Zimmerman trial — the jury’s verdict, the devastation of Trayvon Martin’s parents, the protests.
Who among us will ever know the truth of what really happened?
Only two people know the truth, and one of them is dead.
So many unknowns. Here is where I empathize with Trayvon’s parents on a very personal level.
In September 1994, my firstborn nephew was 42 years old. He was a husband, father, son, brother, nurse, farmer and all-around good person. He was going about his day doing chores at the farm he shared with my brother, his father. His folks were out-of-town on vacation, and he had gone to feed the livestock and check the barn and house. Ordinarily, he would have taken his 11-year-old son with him but it was the first day of school and well, we do have our priorities.
There had been hints to his brother that someone was stalking him. He even indicated that his brother should not be surprised if the police called one day to say he’d been murdered.
That Labor Day weekend all he had suspected came true. It is still hard to think about. A mob-style murder with too many bullet wounds to count. Hopefully, instantaneous death. Gone from us forever — all the roles he filled now void of his contributions.
It took months to extradite the suspected murderer back to Tennessee from Louisiana where he had been in hiding, and then ensuing months of trial preparation. Finally, a trial date was scheduled. A jury was selected. Opening statements, testimony of witnesses, rebuttals, closing arguments. Finished.
The jury returned a not guilty verdict.
This even after the defendant shared with his wife and two teen-aged sons his plans to kill my nephew. The law said his wife could not testify against him. His wife did not want their sons involved in the trial. Likely, any testimony by these three persons would be refuted as hearsay anyway.
Much like Martin and Zimmerman, there were only two people who knew the truth. And one of them was dead. No evidence at the scene pointed directly to the defendant — no evidence of tire tracks other than my nephew’s, no fingerprints, no footprints, no gun was ever found, without a gun the ballistics at the scene were worthless.
I still find it difficult to put into words how it feels to lose a family member in this way, and then live with the knowledge no one is paying the price for that life evaporated by violence.
Yes, my heart goes out to Trayvon’s parents. I know something of how they must feel. However, our judicial system was designed to work the way it does. When the jury has spoken, the trial is over. But the pain of loss never stops. It lives on in our hearts and memories for a very long time.
These are our stories, our memories.
Q4U: Do you have a story to share today? Feel free to share it in the comments. I love hearing your stories.