Therapeutic Writing?

I went to work Tuesday morning and made it about as far as the office door before I broke down sobbing. I think I was about as shocked as my coworkers were. My Dad has been dead for almost six years already, so why would his birthday set me off now when it never did before? My friend and coworker Bryanna, my writing buddy, allowed me to lock myself her office until I could gain my composure again.

When I emerged, puffy-eyed and slightly horrified that I pulled this stunt at work, I sat down with Bry and told her about my confusion. “Why is this bothering me all of a sudden?” I asked. There are certainly potential triggers in my life. With college graduation and an engagement proposal looming on the horizon, I figured I was subconsciously thinking about all of the milestones my father was going to miss. But I’ve hit a ton of important milestones without him.

Bry had a very different idea of what the problem was. “You’ve been writing about him a lot lately. You said yourself that you weren’t allowed to grieve properly. All that writing is letting the grief bubble up.”

I’m going with her theory. Dad died when I was 16, but it’s only now at 22 that I’m able to write about him. I recently wrote a memoir piece about the day he died and how I felt seeing his lifeless body. I cried quite a bit throughout the writing and revision process, but that seemed normal. It was a depressing topic to begin with. I wrote a few poems about him recently too. For whatever reason, I was just compelled to keep writing about him.

Bry is right though; I never had the chance to really grieve. I had to be the emotional support for my mother and sister. I threw myself into work and school and my future, and I pushed down all of the emotions that might break me. Writing about those raw emotions that I suppressed opened the floodgates, and now I’m being forced to cope with all of the things I’ve been putting off for a more convenient time.

Just a few months ago I went to listen to Christa Parravani read from her memoir, Her, which is about coping with her sister’s death. During her Q&A session she said something that will probably forever stick with me: “Writing shouldn’t be therapeutic.” I agree. Good writing pulls up all of your demons. Those emotions translate into more memorable and poetic sentences, the kinds that stick with your reader and toy with their empathy. The act of finishing a piece like this  might bring some relief, but the writing process itself feels like an extremely emotional long-distance run. This run has left me exhausted and mentally drained, but tomorrow’s a new day and I’m gearing up for more.

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