I began to identify as a writer shortly after my mom died.
In 2014, my mom passed away after a six-year battle with cancer. I was 19 at the time, and didn’t have a clue what was in store for me.
I started writing about the final moments we shared together, about how unfair everything felt, about how I was feeling that day, about how much I missed her. Mostly because writing everything down felt like the right thing to do. When chaos was surrounding me, writing gave me some semblance of ownership and control.
I developed a knack for it, through gathering my thoughts and stringing together words, in an attempt to accurately express my inner world — even (and especially) during my darkest moments. Eventually, I started sharing some of my words through social media and other avenues.
For my Master’s thesis, I explored how we navigate grief in the current media landscape. I even produced a podcast about it. It seemed my life, my art, revolved around grief. Grief was the catalyst for so much of my work.
Then I struggled. I struggled to write about anything else. I’ve struggled to identify as a writer if all I feel I’ve mastered is writing about grief and my mom. How self-centered must I be? Is writing about grief only keeping me in the past or perpetuating an endless cycle of doom and mourning? Also, does anyone really care?
I’ve realized I’m not alone in this, in using words as an outlet during hardship. People find meaning through sharing about their losses — I’ve noticed this both as the writer and the reader.
The New York Times article “Why We Write About Grief” explores why “the literature of loss resonates with readers today.” Writer Meghan O’Rourke, who also lost her mother, states that “the act of writing is an act of attempted comprehension, and, in a childlike way, control; we are so baffled and exhausted by what has happened, we want to imagine that giving words to the unspeakable will make it somehow our own”.
Writing as a form of self-care, as a form of therapy, is not a new phenomenon. According to Harvard Medical School, “disclosing deep emotions through writing can boost immune function as well as mood and wellbeing.”
This resonated with me. I use writing as a way to process, to document what I’m experiencing and articulate to others who may just not get it. In “How to understand your grief through writing,” Catherine Cole states that “we write to understand and to convey that understanding to readers”.
When you lose your mom at 19, you’re not in the majority. I found it difficult to relate to others on some level, to feel understood. Other’s struggled to find the “right words” to say to me. This felt quite isolating, which feels detrimental during your early twenties.
Writing continues to be a way for me to seek connection and empathy. As a reader, I find validation and comfort through others’ words, especially when they’re coming from similar journeys. If I can provide even an ounce of that to others, that’s a good enough reason for me to continue doing what I do.
And yet, I still question, even criticize, myself whenever I begin to write about grief and my mom, particularly if it’s something that others will read. I question my capabilities as a writer, if I’m only objectively good at it because I can write about my own personal story. There’s a small voice in my head that tells me people only praise my work because they feel bad for me. No one is going to tell the girl with the dead mom her writing is shit, right?
I’m learning to let go of this, of all of it. The expectations, the inner critic, the questioning, the perfectionist. I’m shifting my focus to where the discomfort lies, leaning into the messiness of it all. It’s there, where I typically find the magic, the most meaningful messages. It’s there, where the concept of this very piece was born.
Grieving is often seen as a taboo, seemingly private act. Sharing my own grief story sometimes feels a little intrusive. Exposed. But words are like the barrier between my inner core and the rest of the world. Perhaps words protect me.
Grief is complicated. It has no time limit and its form changes from day to day, minute to minute. Writing hasn’t kept me in the past; if anything, it’s grounded me in the present. It’s helped me check in with myself and how grief may be manifesting that day.
There’s a term I learned called Athazagoraphobia, which literally means a fear of forgetting. Over the years, I noticed how deeply afraid I am of forgetting. Forgetting the conversations we had, forgetting how she sounded, forgetting how she smelt when she hugged me close, and forgetting how safe I felt in her arms.
Through writing, I’ve bottled all those memories up and have carried them with me. Sometimes the bottle is a little more difficult to open; sometimes its contents come pouring out.
My mother always told me, “write it down, or you’ll forget it” — more so as a passive-aggressive jab to my lack of short-term memory.
Writing will always keep me from forgetting. Short-term or long-term. Writing will always ground me in the present while honoring my past.