To Melissa Sugar
You’ve been on my mind this week.
First: Thank you for the comment you posted last Friday.
Second: I thought about sending you a private email or posting a reply to your comment, but thought that maybe someone else might want to read this, who knows that hole that feels so good to hide in, but has room for little other than Sorrow.
My heart twisted and my eyes watered when I read your words. My father, my kid’s father, and my mother are all still with me. I can’t imagine them not here and I can’t imagine the pain you experienced when you lost yours in such a short period of time. I know it won’t change things, but I hope it will make a difference knowing you weren’t alone when you crawled into that hole and stopped writing. I’ve done both in response to things far less painful (see this). Each time, the crawl out of the hole came from small steps done every day.
Please write. Please take small steps.
(For anyone else who reads this, please join me in sending Melissa a smile and cheering her on.)
Melissa, I am so sorry for the accumulation of significant losses you have had to endure. When I went back and read your post, though, I saw a spark of readiness to get up and start again. Your mom is cheering you on from somewhere. The next steps you take don’t have to be big ones for you to start to feel better. The lesson I’ve had to keep learning in my own life is that if I do one small thing I’ll experience an immediate benefit and a shift – I wish that for you today, and tomorrow and every day after that. (Callie, thanks for giving us the opportunity to reach out to a member of this family.)
Hi Melissa. You have been through so much recently. That must be so painful. Please accept this big hug from me. It sounds like you might be able to write again now. Just aim to do something tiny and easy. You’ll be so pleased with yourself. It doesn’t have to be grand. It doesn’t have to be public. It just has to be for you. Lots of love xxx
I’m not a commenter on these posts but went back and read your story Melissa. Very sorry to hear about all this loss. I can’t imagine. But, it sounds like you already know that the only way out is through. “When you’re going through hell, keep going,” and all that. Hiding in a cave/hole/whatever for a minute to lick your wounds but get back in the ring (as Mr. Pressfield’s Jabs would encourage you to do). All the best to you in the future.
Hi Melissa. It takes courage and trust to post a comment on a widely read post like this one. That in itself was a “Do something every day.”
Thank you for your courage. Thank you for sharing your situation. Painful situation and painful to write about it.
Most of all, thank you for being willing to start writing again. You are a beacon for all of us.
Here’s to our Tribe,
And here’s a hug!
I know how it feels to be in your “all is lost” moment, to finally feel the strength to take a step out of it, to find your true self again, your light. Day by day, it’ll grow brighter, and you’ll see us all on the side of the road, your road, cheering you on.
Melissa (and Callie), I haven’t been present lately — in so many ways — because…well, life…and death(s). Then, this morning, I read Callie’s post above. So then I had to go back to read the post she wrote that inspired your comment…then, of course, to read your comment. Now, I’m weeping like a baby at the losses, yours and mine. I know the hole so well. I have put a disguise on mine to hide the devastation in my heart. I call it my business, my work, busy-ness. Like you, within a few short years, I lost 4 people very close to me. Two of the deaths were unexpected and completely unnecessary. By that I mean that if the people around those two women had been paying attention, had given them the help they were longing for but didn’t know how to ask for, these two women might still be with us. I haven’t, until now, acknowledged the full effect those losses have had on me and, importantly, on my writing life. Both of you have inspired me to reach deep to remember my purpose for writing. I have a novel that’s screaming to be finished, a novel that, hopefully, will give a voice to those who can’t find words of their own but who long to speak. Thank you both.
I saw Joyce Carol Oates speak recently and she described in harrowing detail the loss of her husband. She said that after he died she didn’t want to write anymore. But eventually she made herself sit in the chair and get back to work, and it’s how she carried on.
I too went through a very dark period several years ago, one I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. At one point I found myself sitting in an old friend’s living room, unable to sleep or eat, desperate for relief from my mental suffering. He put me in his truck and drove me around town, taking me to open houses just for something to do. At one point he turned to me at a stop light and said “are you writing?”
I said “What? No. Not really.”
“You need to write, man,” he replied. “That’s what you do. You’ve always done that. It’s your constant.”
Of all the family members I had leaned on during this time, the therapists, the doctors, not one had said something that so deeply resonated with me.
I got home, and sat back down at my writing desk. I started Doing the Work again. Incrementally, painfully. But I did it, and started on the road back to being me. And now, years later, I have never been happier in my life, both personally and creatively. It was the writing that saved me, there is just no other way to put it. I wrote my way out of Hell.
Keep writing Melissa.
A big warm hug to you. If hug, makes you feel uneasy transform it in whatever you desire. It’s yours to keep.
a rainbow of love to you. Thais
Oh Melissa, my heart goes out to you. So much death in such a short time. That’s so tough and your post brought tears to my eyes too.
By the time I was 17, I had lost 5 members of my family, and death seemed like such a final statement about life, but in fact it never was.
I’m much older now. Both of my parents are gone. All my grandparents and aunts and uncles are gone and one of my cousins, but the worst was losing my son. He was only 35 when he got sick and I spent three years with him, taking him for treatments fighting with him to believe he would get well. In the end, I was sitting beside him when he passed on. I was also with my father when he took his last breath. I know something about the pain of which you wrote.
What I can tell you though, is your mother was so right. I understand how you missed your mom and smiled at the same time when reading Callie’s post.
Not to get “all spiritual” on you, but that’s where I live these days. And by that I mean my loved ones are always with me — in my thoughts and in my heart. In fact, they’re really only a thought away. When I can get past the physical statement that their bodies are no longer around, I realize that physical death doesn’t mean I’ve lost them. Their goodness, the essence of their true nature never dies. My love for them lives on forever.
I truly believe your mom was talking about “life” when she shared such wise words with you. These are words you carry now in your heart and mind that make life meaningful. I say let it be a motivation to climb out of that hole and find that seed of greatness waiting inside of you. You can take the loss and turn it into strength because you’ve climbed out of the abyss and found meaning again. Life is nothing if it’s not rediscovery and self-discovery.
Steven Pressfield writes about the Muse and letting that inspiration come through him. It’s the greater power that is life itself. It is that which fills us with ideas and pours them out of us when we write.
Pressfield wrote in his most recent JABS book:
“The Muse gives us works to bring into being in the same way and for the same purpose that the unconscious sends us dreams. Each work is a message in a bottle from the higher level— our soul, our Self, our being-in-potential— to our stumbling, struggling incarnations here on the material plane.”
Steven Pressfield. Why Write?: Meditations on Fame, Money, Self-Actualization and Other Stuff (Kindle Locations 271-273). Black Irish.
I know you have a message inside you Melissa, and that message is just waiting to come out. I can’t wait to hear it!
I’m keeping you in my thoughts with a tear, a smile and a joyful laugh.
Your comment and Callie’s post touched a lot of people, myself included. My heart goes out to you on your losses. Grieving takes time, healing takes time. Give yourself time without the pressure of timelines—whether your own or anyone else’s. The unexpected loss of your mother, your champion and cheerleader, is unbearably painful.
What a gift your mother gave you! Hold her lessons close to your heart even as you feel your heart is broken. If you have a journal, and are able to let your feelings fill the pages, then write about your grief as well as positive thoughts.
Your mother’s wise words to you reminded me of poet Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?”
Honor your grief, but know that you are not alone. I am of the mind that we are all spirit. Your mother is always with you. Her love for you lives on.
Sending you my prayers,
Dear Melissa: Thank you for sharing “your story”; putting into words what is felt by so many of us. Even though I feel to be “the odd one out” being on the Writing Wednesday and What It Takes Blogs as “my journey” is not about wanting to write “the book” or “the screenplay.” My Journey has been about getting real; healing my life and become “the person” I am meant TO BE. All that “I read” whether it be written by Steve, Shawn, Callie and ALL the Comments “our journey’s” are connected in someway. I have come to realize it has been “the struggles and heartaches” that has HELPED “finding myself”. Callie assured me that I can still write and I can still paint a picture even though I do not want to be a writer or an artist. I know an Oxymoron, Catch 22 OR big time Resistance.
I love this tribe! You’re a home from home.
I’m on the other end of the tunnel, or near to it. In 2009, I became my parents’ full time caregiver — and this was *just* after having signed a contract with St. Martin’s Press for four books, and having delivered the first. But, my Mom and Dad, they needed me. They gave me a near-idyllic childhood, with love and support and a safe place to explore what I wanted to do. I felt I owed it to them to honor their last wish: to die at home. So, I became their medicine-minder, their cook, driver, second set of hands, their memory and their ear to bend. Dad had non-Alzheimer’s dementia; Mom had COPD and Parkinson’s. I tried my best to write and promote my recently-released book (2010), but it was difficult to do while worrying that every morning I’d wake to find one of them non-responsive or dead. I quit writing. I’d dabble and plot, but nothing more than exercises to take my mind off things.
Dad went first, on a beautiful April morning in 2011. Mom died that day, too, but it took six months for her body to catch up to her soul. She passed away late in the evening, on a cold October night. I did the best I could by them, but the shock of losing both (even though it was expected) in so short a span of time drove me a little mad. I don’t remember most of the next couple of years. By 2014, I was *just* starting to come out of the haze when I received news my sister had died. For some reason, that propelled me out of my daze. I took up the pen, again, and started writing in earnest.
Here, in 2019, I’m not healed. I’m never going to be healed. Like Frodo in LOTR, I’ve taken wounds that scar the soul more than the flesh. But, I can function. I can write. I can take joy in things, again, without feeling guilty. I no longer lash out at the Gods. I miss my family so much there are days I can’t breathe because of it. But, I need to do what I need to do. So, I say to you: take little steps. Do things to bring you, if not joy then at least a sense of contentment. Write, if you feel the Muse. Or paint. Or draw. Or travel. Or read. Your soul will never heal, but the wounds of loss will scab and scar. Some days, you’ll feel them more than others. But, you’re going to be okay 🙂
Returning from Blacksburg, VA with my wife in 2002, broken over my son Ryan’s suicide at VA Tech, I could see nothing of use in my life. But during the several hours as she drove, I took out my chap book and started to write. It was going to be a single poem, called “Attend” since that was the task I was facing. Now seventeen years later, I have 4 books of poetry self-published and the fifth waiting to be finished. The fourth, “Love in Winter – Missing Ryan” will come out this year. For two years after Ryan’s death, I was writing like a mad man, and drinking to match. Poem after poem, these black flowers kept attacking me. We everyone of us know these stories happen, and yet the pain isn’t any less. The best any can do is to find the most appropriate way to memorialize our lost family. For me, it’s been writing, and quietly adding a garden to every building I design, since it’s what I was put on the earth for.
Thank you, Melissa, for sharing. Your comment, along with the responses of others in this group,is such a confirmation that writing is a healing art form. Although the work is a solo effort, it does not take place in a vacuum.
When I returned home after attending the funeral of my nephew, who died of SIDS twenty-seven years ago, I noticed how good it had felt to be so openly sad. So many people hugging and crying and hugging some more. A lifetime of hugs in one week, thanks to dear little Ben.
I hope it helps, even a little, that so many of us are being “openly sad” with you.
I was touched by many of the comments and the experiences shared by Melissa and many of you. I thought of this quote by the poet Hilde Domin, “It’s normal to find refuge in language,” she says. “In music if you are a musician, or if you are a painter, in colour.” And sometimes I forget my refuge and refer to it as my work, as if it’s a ‘should’ that I want to avoid, but what a relief it can be to ‘come home’ again. Thank you all for what you have shared.
Part of what this place is good for.
“Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”
— Leo McGarry, from the pen of Aaron Sorkin
Love that one, Joe!
Grief took a natural course for me. When my husband died, first it “took” me, like huge waves swallowing me, then breaking, tossing me on the shore. Over and over, with hardly time to feel the shore before I was seized and engulfed in grief again. I did write, at first just love letters to him. But as the waves became not as voluminous, and gave me a little time between, I could write more, and my letters to him became a kind of “Dear Diary.” Time passed, the waves of grief were less powerful. I got the urge to write story snippets. After a year, though grief sometimes surprised and choked me, it no longer engulfed me. Two years on, the waves still came, but they had become surf, lapping the shore. It has taken a long time to discover my voice again. A different voice. Stronger, richer. We feel your grief, dear Melissa. Please feel the love in these many responses to your original posting. Feel strong. Write!
If you are still breathing and holding your head up, you can and will crawl out of the hole.
No amount of success or nice words will soothen the pain of your losses. Somewhere, deep down inside, I think we know that life is a temporarly found affair. And that every loss carries a hidden gift, if we dare to search for it.
Suffering is a part of life. The weight of the suffering is ours. If suffering wears you down like a heavy bag – which you can’t carry by yourself – don’t be afraid to let the heavy things go or ask for help. You’ll be glad you did.
Maybe the trick to find life again is to know you were loved and will be loved again. Maybe not by the same faces, but unknown hearts clothed from the same fabric as the hearts you left behind.
I’ll join the chorus of caring people here to share in your sense of loss and to offer encouragement. It has been a combination of true friends, family and faith that have supported my wife and me since the loss of our youngest son almost 2 years ago and his grandfather (my father-in-law) a few months later. Our son was a U.S. Air Force pilot who perished in a tragic crash on active duty; 2 other gifted pilots and remarkable human beings died with him.
The natural reaction is to curl up in a ball, in bed, and not move. And yet we knew that our son would not want us to do that and would be crushed if we did not keep going. So, with help, we get up each day and get going. Being busy helps. I wrote this piece not long after our son died and share what I learned from his life with you:
In an effort to understand “why” our son chose the path he did and what drove him, I came across another book by Steven Pressfield: “The Warrior Ethos.” It helped me come to grips with the realities of the honorable life he chose to lead. Here is the closing sentence in the book:
“Let us be, then, warriors of the heart, and enlist in our inner cause the virtues we have acquired through blood and sweat in the sphere of conflict—courage, patience, selflessness, loyalty, fidelity, self-command, respect for elders, love of our comrades (and of the enemy), perseverance, cheerfulness in adversity and a sense of humor, however terse or dark.”
Where Steven references “blood and sweat in the sphere of conflict”, if you substitute “examples from the lives of those we’ve loved”, we can find the inspiration to keep going. Take good care!
That was so beautiful.
Melissa, as someone who has gone through their share of troubles, I want to assure you that even if you DON’T write right away… you are in a creative process. You are an artist. You have suffered a loss, but you are still an artist. Sometimes, when I’m distraught and need to get away from “the page,” I’ll beat myself up about it. Then, as I’m doing something else, I’ll get an idea that solves a story problem. I call this, “letting my subconscious do some work.” Your subconscious has been doing some work for you. And soon, you will figure out how to put it on the page. I know this. xoxo
Thank you for highlighting Melissa’s post. Good reminder to come back to read all the comments a day or two after the blog. I missed her post last week. Your genuine concern for this community makes my heart swell.
Loss is so hard. I believe it is the worst part of our journey. I, too, have suffered my share of loss. My father died when I was 5, all grandparents by the time I was 10, saw my dog get run over at 8, brother’s best friend was killed when I was 11…when my best friend’s mother died while I was in high school–I was griefed out. I didn’t feel anything. My ability to feel loss came crashing back to me when our (my wife and me) first cat died. Compared to the people I lost, it seems odd that Kirby’s death hit me so hard. Iwas a train-wreck. I couldn’t get out of bed for days. I lost people in combat, and was able to feel it. I’ve lost people since then, and have been more present.
Grief is not linear. Loss is an explosion in our souls. We now have an animal rescue. An unintended consequence of saving animals’ lives is that we still out live them. Loss is now even more familiar to me, but it continues to confound, surprise me with its strength & depth, and knock the wind out of me. I have no counsel, no wisdom. I just know it hurts. I wish you well.
My heart goes out to you. I didn’t read your comment as self pitying at all or where you are on your grief journey as such, either. You showed up by commenting and that is a brave and beautiful thing.
I lost both my parents and a father in law within 7 months in 2017. I have done other writing but I can’t bring myself to write much about the pain of losing them yet because when I try, it feels like shards going through my heart.
I love that your mom was your cheerleader. The quote of hers that you wrote about painted a picture of her being a fun and loving wise woman. What a legacy.
We were so mad at my mom after our dad died, when she wouldn’t let us have a funeral right away, that we wrote such a long obituary it could’ve been his eulogy. Then when she passed away we felt like we needed to write a long one for her, too. She was probably shaking her finger at us from beyond at how much that cost.
I hope you can be gentle with yourself as you continue to grieve. Your loss has been great.
When I saw this twitter ‘box and ball’ analogy for grief, it really resonated with me:
At first, the ball is always pressing the grief ‘buzzer’, and so maybe you don’t have the energy or capacity to be generous or vulnerable in your writing, but you could just write a grocery list or copy something. Just get the hand moving.
And then do it again.
Because you are stronger and more courageous than you think.
I’m just now catching up on my emails and read your post. Your compassion for Melissa speaks volumes about you as a person.
As for Melissa, if she reads this, I hope she finds a measure of comfort from all the kind words sent her way. Loss, especially that of a loved one (in this case, loved ones) is unbelievably painful. My heart goes out to her. Many years ago, I lost a baby and thought I would never get over it. I did …one day at a time. But, I never forget. Thankfully, Melissa can draw from the memories and legacy her mother left behind. Writing now takes on new meaning. God bless.
What a beautiful group of hearts reaching out to another. It is encouraging to know this type of support exists.
Callie, you are greatly appreciated.
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