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Writing while grieving...


Lara O'Brien - Writing Workshops & Retreats


I planned to grieve my father’s loss. I imagined it to be in the forest of Vinalhaven, a place I had yet to meet. I thought it out. I’d go lie on the mossy forest floor and watch for the eagle. They live in the evergreens of the Basin, an inlet off the island of Vinalhaven in Maine, and where Chuck and Cathal have purchased 30 acres to build summer cabins for the family.


When my father was younger he loved John Denver and we grew up on his music. When I met Chuck on a first date, he had a huge record collection, alphabetized. Ranging from Dylan, Van the Man, Rolling Stones, Hothouse flowers, to Christy Moore, Planxty, and In Tua Nua. “Impressive collection,” I said. “Name your favorite song, I bet I have it,” he said in that sure way of his. “John Denver, the Eagle and the Hawk,” I doubted he’d even know it. This was a song my father had taught me to love, merely by his playing it and me feeling like he was lost in the song's beauty. Chuck jumped up and the soaring notes of the song and the eagle's flight filled the room. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3n4BPPaaoKc

Well I thought, here’s a man who gets it, nature, hope for mankind, goals of being a better person, flying high. Did I decide to marry him, then? I may have.

Anyway, now the song will be forever my father’s song for me to remember him by. So, I planned on going to the forest floor and looking to the sky and watching out for the eagle and seeing him soar. I’m a sucker for signs. I asked my father for them before he died. Mad right?

I found a silver feather on the road in Edgartown the day before the retreat, and I knew the retreat would be good for everyone on it, even though I was working through a tiredness I had never felt before, a complete draining of energy. But writing circles tend to give and give and give, so much goodness they held me up without a word or a fuss. Just by writing together, we can feed each other good energy, story building, narrative shaping, listening, we crack our hardness to soften.

I researched the 5 stages of grief. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.

I skipped right to acceptance. I understand there is no good in anger. I could have been angry at the hospital for not taking him in to a ward faster, it was clear Dad was struggling, but they sent him home. When he went back in some days later, it was in an ambulance and he didn’t want the ‘fuss’ but we knew he was in trouble. He fought a brave battle to get back out. I felt a wave of guilt a few days after for not insisting he went in earlier, made him, called the ambulance and have him taken into the A&E but he was a no-fuss man. So we didn’t make a fuss.

So I can move on to acceptance that our dad is gone, so suddenly, (because we believed strongly he would be coming home,) I can accept it because we saw him take his final breath, He is gone but his spirit is with us, that’s why I’m watching for the signs and the eagle. But what I’ve learned about this raw grief is not how we handle it, but how it handles us. I planned my grief; some of you will be laughing now at the idea of planning, as it clearly has a mind of its own. It jumps out of memories hidden deep in our minds, a cup of soup he handed to me, I can see his hand, a laugh, a belly laugh, a song, a thought and he is here with us, and with the memory comes a sudden violent WHACK, this physical belt to the senses and the tears spring forward. It is of course, a huge sense of loss.

While planning my grieving event in the forest, I cleared all responsibilities and work and promises to others to just be with my father and our memories, but something happened along the way.

Chuck was driving from MV to Maine, all very exciting to show me this brand new island where they say Lobs-thah as two words and those Lobs-thahs fuel the whole island industry, he recounted detail after details of his recent inventory of trees to harvest or diggers to build with and land to conserve and a place to write for me, he spoke so happily about the trails to discover and hikes to explore.

When a Whatsapp pinged from my brother. It was a picture of my sister and I as very young children, my father in the center, all of about 26 years old, a picture I had never seen before. And then it happened, that massive thud of loss, for the young man, for the little girls, his love, for his life and our loss. BANG. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. And the tears kept on coming. I am a constant well of them now. SO this is grieving, on its own terms. BANGING the fucking breath out of my body and letting me draw in one breath at a time to continue to live. Oh I see it now, this is what people call the grieving process.

One of my dear writers is a grief councilor and she wrote to me today. She said ‘grief is like being out to sea in a small skiff…sometimes there’s gentleness and sometimes the winds howl, knocking one all over the boat. If you can…try to just feel the emotions. Go with them trusting it’s a journey, an unpredictable one, connect with the love which surrounds you. Including and especially with the love your Dad left behind.’

I'll be writing in the raw going forward. Thanks so much for all your support over the last few days and weeks. Write on...




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