Writing Without Words: the Grief Process of a Writer

Wolfe Island at Sunset

As a writer, it is frightening to be at a loss for words because we tend to ruminate on words as we would children. We watch which ones play together; which ones are socially awkward but mature into something surprisingly successful; which metaphors write middle school love poetry. We cradle our phrases until they calm down or toss them into the air, so they laugh. We hold their hands until it’s time to let them face the big, wide world alone.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me they think running is boring. But for me, running is when my characters have conversations; where they reveal the story to me. I can replay variations of one retort for miles — especially when the weather’s bad, and I need to get my mind off the rain in my face.

With a good, long run, my characters can become deathly ill or fall in love without adjectives.

But that is fiction.

This is life.

How can I, as a writer, describe the process of lamenting an estranged husband: this convoluted ball of emotion; where tugging on one strand causes a dozen others to unravel? There are conflicting emotions — joyous moments (finding a crucial document, mending fences) combined with the gaping wound of nostalgia.

When those moments strike me, there is nothing I can say. I can only cry. Dialogue would be a disservice.

I stretched myself out in the sunshine yesterday and listened to the symphony of wildlife that surrounds Wolfe Islande, Ontario. On the deck of my friend’s cabin, I buried my face into her giant Guatemalan pillow and let my tears weave themselves into the tapestry.

A bird call had triggered a memory from the days when after tucking in the toddlers, my husband and I would drink Gewürztraminer and watch Winged Migration, to get our minds off the Alaskan winter. We must’ve done that a hundred times. Winters were brutal.

One light touch on a single strand tugs a dozen others.

My writer’s brain strove to explain to my friend (a fellow writer) exactly what was going through my mind, but I couldn’t. There were too many emotions entwined.

I. Had. Nothing.

That’s all I could think: I have no words.

Thankfully, she is a perceptive friend. She didn’t tell me things would get better or to take one day at a time or even that it’s okay to cry. I know those things; and there is a time for hearing them. But adding words in a place where words fail would be like tossing rocketships into a black hole.

Instead, she sat with me in the overwhelming silence of my heart and rubbed my back as I sobbed.

When I could breathe again, there was no commentary, only the mutual understanding that this was something to which you cannot attach a metaphor.

Sometimes it is okay to be at a loss for words.

Even for a writer.

American expat in Germany, formerly conservative homeschool mom now navigating widowhood; runner, writer, Crossfitter, trying to figure **it out

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