If a loved one dies and you’re around to see it, do your fingers stop typing?

This isn’t a normal challenge for a beginning writer. Some fortunate people can go through a majority of their lifespans before losing someone close enough to them that could create an emotional writer’s block. These kind of blocks seem like massive walls in your mind built with bricks of anger, love, sadness, helplessness and depression among a variety of other feelings but the foundation is grief poured into the weak spots in your psyche. Losing a parent, spouse, sibling or child can be devastating to the creative process. The ideas may not come or they may and in such a deluge it becomes hard to find any of use. There may be a stable full of thoroughbred stories locked away in your head with no words to free them onto the field of the page. I’m hoping I am able to help a few of you find solutions to work through your grief. You’ll have to be patient with me reader, because as I write this I am trying to put into use my own method of coping.

On August 28th, 2009 shortly after twelve noon I lost my mother to cancer. She battled for close to two years with it after she was given a prognosis of six months. It was her second bout with it, in honesty I should say that the first one was never really won. When I was in my early teens she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, after a lumpectomy, radiation and chemo therapy that left her feeling half-alive she came out of the fight to be pronounced the victor; she was cancer-free. What the doctors didn’t know (and frankly couldn’t have known) was that like a group of war criminals several cells had survived to find sanctuary in her lungs and there they rebuilt their forces sending battalions of malignant little stormtroopers up into her brain. By the time she realized something was not right with her body and she went to the urgent care to have it checked out the army of cancer had set up three camps in her brain and was based in the area between her lungs. With tears in their eyes the doctors told her she could fight but there was no hope of winning this war. Fight she did, as bravely as any soldier faced with an impossible ridge to conquer, racing across No Man’s Land with determination set into her face and a twinkle in her eye. My wife and I were there beside her, bringing words of encouragement, helping her when she was weakened by disease to do the daily requirements of life, talking to her when she needed a friendly ear to confess her fears to. And she was there for us. God, was she there for us. So selfless and loving a person that she was the embodiment of the saying, “The brightest flame burns fastest.” She was amazing to watch and share a life with. She was everything people should pray to be and should didn’t want to let go until we told her we would be okay when she was gone, that it was all right to have peace from the pain at last.

She encouraged me and my wife in our writing. My wife just received her first acceptances for writing a couple of poems that will appear in the Terror of Miskatonic Falls anthology from Shroud Publishing. I’m proud of her and I know my mother would have been too. It upsets me that she never had the chance to tell her before my mother passed. I told her in my speach at her memorial. I’d like to think she was there listening.

The loss of a loved one or the imminence of such an event can be the push some writers need to finally take a leap and put the words on the paper. It’s a positive way to channel those feelings and discover a renewed purpose in life. If you’re reading this and haven’t started on the path of the writer yet but you’ve lost a loved one, try picking up the pieces by building new worlds. At a time when you feel helpless it helps to take control of something. Fiction is an excellent outlet for that, just ask a psychiatrist. Even inmates in prison are doing it. If you let yourself be open to where the story will take you it will help you to understand why people die whether we want them to or not. I’ve had many characters live that I wanted to die and cried when others died or will killed. You could ask why I didn’t just write it so they would survive? Good question. I would like to be able to do that. Except, the story would suffer for it. Readers as well as the characters themselves need to feel the full spectrum of emotions for it to be real. Imagine a life with only happiness and ask yourself how you would know how special that state of being was without ever experiencing the other side of the spectrum? Would you read a romance where the married man our protagonist is in love with leaves his wife, the wife is happy for him because she has met the new love of her life and the protagonist gets to live happily ever after with the man of her dreams? You would think it sucked. You would because there was no struggle, no obstacles to overcome — lots of feel good happy happy joy joy. A horror story with a monster who doesn’t kill anyone and when he is discovered in a mansion, he is instantly loved by the most beautiful girl in the town, her family approve of their marriage, the neighbours come over to the mansion for veggie burgers and a plastic surgeon offers to fix his deformities pro bono. Sounds like something Jack Ketchum might write, right? I don’t think so. he wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole and neither should you. In real life, people hate the monster, ex-wives attack their ex-husband’s mistress and people die.

Fiction is a training ground for life. And when life gets hard it shouldn’t get in the way of writing your own fiction… it should go into it.

“It hurts too much and I’m worried I’ll write a lot of crap,” you say.

I say, “Then write a lot of crap.”

After a while the dirt and grime of grieving will be polished off of your brain and heart. You’ll realize that inside those stories are gems you can sift out and take a closer look at. You will notice upon closer examination that there are parts of the person you lost hidden in them. The walls blocking out the ideas and words will crumble a grain at a time.

Some exercises:

1) Write a letter to your loved one — talk about good ideas you’ve had, how much you miss them, what was great about them, what hurt you the most in their lives and about their deaths.

2) Write a poem or short story — make the main character someone based on the one you lost, explore who they were through the character.

3) Write a memory — look at a photo of the person and write down the memory that goes with it.

4) Write an article and submit it — it can be based on something wonderful your loved one did in their life or even the cause of their death. If they were taken by cancer, do a cancer charity walk and write about the experience. Share it with others.

5) Write a letter to yourself — let you know how you feel.

6) Live life and love the ones left behind even more.

I won’t tell you how these exercises will help you because each person will take something differently from them. I’ve done a few so far and intend to do more. It isn’t easy, it hurts a lot to be reminded of the loss. It is better to hurt and grow than forget and repeat. I won’t show you the results of my exercises and that is because they read like crap. Hopefully this particular one won’t but I’ll risk that it might, even if it only helps one writer.

I’ll finish by saying, that while you’re getting past grief, I give you permission to write crap. Just don’t strive for only that, otherwise there might be a lot of editors with my name on their hit lists.

Take care,

Brandon Layng


4 Responses to “A WRITER’S JOURNEY: Part 6”

  1. *hugs* Your mom was and is still, an amazing woman.

  2. Lovely words on life, loss, and the beautiful therapy that is writing. I think I’ll take your advice on the excercises, and on being allowed to write crap.

    Thanks for sharing that with us. I’m fairly teary now, but in a good way.

  3. A very nice Topic. Thanks alot hope you go for the detail next time!

  4. I’m sorry to hear about your Mother. (I have a lot to catch up to in your blog, I see.) I had a similar experience when my Granddad died. It was like all of the creativity I had was sucked away. It eventually came back, but at the time I should’ve written more, crap or not. It probably would’ve helped me cope. Thank you for giving such good advice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: