At the kitchen table: on community, writing, and public grief

 photo by  Kate Inglis

photo by Kate Inglis

1.  How would you describe your presence on the internet?  Does your online voice differ from your real life voice? If so, how? And why?

Chris:  I have a fairly active online presence, although in recent months the number of posts I've published has definitely decreased. My online voice is different than my real life voice because online my thoughts and emotions are crystallized into a coherent structure. That seems to bring out more of the anguish and pain I'm feeling, but it is not the same as how I walk around all day speaking and thinking.

Jen: Recently I've become much less active online and much more of an observer. Glow is really the only place I have a voice about my grief these days. In real life, I hardly talk about it at all anymore. Life throttles on for people, and I don't feel there's a lot of space or time to discuss the pain that is still so vivid to me.

Julia: I am bothered by how scaled down my online presence has been in the last about a year, but especially the last six months. I keep hoping to dig out and catch up, but I have not yet. I hate that I haven't been there for people the way I've wanted to be, and I hate that I haven't been able to write as much as I've wanted and needed to.  My online voice has a bit more flourish, a bit more zing. I sound a bit more the way I wish I actually sounded.

Kate: I've felt like an ambassador. I've had selfish days—those days when I'd like to forget for a few hours that my baby died—when I've felt tired of that commitment. Then I snap out of it. It's a humbling and profound gift to hold this door open, with the others here, and keep the fire stoked.

Tash:  I started writing for me, and now that I'm in a position to try and help other people through my writing I still find that it helps me. Whaddya know. I find it humbling to read names, I'm honored to be let into people's stories, and I do my best to leave behind—either in my blog or in other's comments—useful words. I wish I was as brazen and forthright in real life as I am on my blog, but sadly three years later I'm still a bit concerned about other people's reaction to my information (though it's diminishing considerably). And I swear like a longshoreman in real life, too.

2.  Why did you begin blogging, or reading blogs? Was this before or after your experience of babyloss?

Chris:  I started blogging back in early 2006, but I've always loved writing.  Blogging about Lu's pregnancy was something I decided to do on a whim and it was wonderful.  The decision to continue to write about losing Silas was a conscious one, because I thought it would help me sort out the terrible grief, anger and all the other emotions this experience has generated.

Jen: I started blogging in 2007, about a year and a half before Sadie died. I had been reading blogs for a few years before that. These days finding inspiration for my own blog is difficult. Lack of free time is a huge issue for me. It's something I'd like to get back to, because I do miss it.

Julia: I started reading IF blogs sometime in '03, more than a year after my own primary infertility was resolved with the arrival of Monkey. I loved the voices and the community. And I was a little envious of not having had that when I was in the thick of it. I continued reading and commenting, more or less frequently for the next three and a half years. But I didn't really feel the need to start my own blog until a bit after A died. Right after he died I wrote something very short. Then I couldn't write for a bit. Then I started commenting. And then I couldn't not write. Hence, the blog.

Kate:  I started blogging in 2004, and Liam died in 2007. I'm comfortable with my blog not fitting well into any category—I don't write exclusively about grief, nor parenting. I don't even know how to describe my blog anymore. Doesn't matter.

Tash:  I started following some IF blogs in '02-03 (definitely pre-Bella). After Maddy died in '07, I went to the few blogs I knew of where the blogger had also lost children just to see how they functioned afterwards. It hurt to read, and I stopped. And then six months later I stumbled upon Mel's great blogroll and was overwhelmed by how many babyloss blogs there were. After reading a few, I knew I wanted to do this, too. I'm constantly amazed at parents who can write hours or days after their loss(es), or continue writing on a blog that was originally geared toward expecting the child to live. I couldn't form coherent sentences for months.

3.  Do you write anonymously? Does anonymity - or would anonymity - change your expression of grief?

Chris:  I do not write anonymously.  I've never felt the need to hide who I was.

Jen: I would never feel inclined to write anonymously. I'm pretty much an open book, from whatever angle you see me. I started blogging after moving to a new country so I could continue sharing my life with the people I could no longer spend the physical time with that I wanted to.

Julia: I use my own name, and A has his own first initial. Almost everyone else gets a pseudonym. A's name is actually rare and unusual, and I didn't want to be easily found. Very few people who know me in real life know about the blog, and for the most part, I like it that way. Originally it was mostly because I knew we would be trying again, I suspected we might have trouble, and regardless of whether we did or didn't, I didn't want my reproductive status so easily known. Now I think of myself as semi-anonymous. I like that there are certain people in particular who don't know about the blog, and I still like that I am not so easily searchable (I think). But I have also met a lot of bloggers, and there are a couple of people in real life to whom I willingly gave the url.

Kate:  There have been times I wished for anonymity. But on the whole, writing under my true name has pressed me to refine my expression. That's no reverse judgment on anonymous bloggers—that's just what it's done for me. The presence of readers who know my name makes me think through my experience, and the words I choose, more consciously.

Tash:  With the exception of Maddy—whose name and medical information are spelled out in their entirety—I use nicknames so I'm rather anonymous. I'm sure some enterprising person could figure out who I am fairly quickly. I did this mainly so that family couldn't seek me out because I didn't want them invested in the emotional ride I was on—it seemed as if it would make the whole endeavor less useful for me if I had to carry them along, too. In retrospect, I don't regret this decision. It's allowed me to be brutally honest without worrying that my mother would show up at my door.

4.  Do you have a responsibility in how you express yourself on the internet? To whom, and why?

Chris:  I don't see it so much as a responsibility to write in a certain way, but I do know what feels appropriate to me, and I just stick with that.

Jen: I feel a personal responsibilty to always be honest, because I'd hate not to be.

Julia: I feel the need to be honest in my own writing. When I comment, I write as if I am signing my full legal name. That is I never say anything I wouldn't say standing face to face with the person. Though this certainly doesn't mean I won't engage in an argument. But since I do that face to face too, it's no big surprise.

Kate:  My only responsibility is to what my mother taught me. To be hospitable and kind no matter where I am.

Tash:  I feel I have a responsibility to be honest, medically and emotionally, to myself. Medically because god forbid someone else out there gets slammed with the same series of issues that Maddy did—I'd hate for that to go unnoticed or unquestioned (I get a lot of hits from medical institutions). Emotionally because I don't feel this would be a worthwhile exercise for myself if I weren't brutally frank about how I was feeling, or question why I sometimes feel differently than the majority of my readers.  However, I do feel that my responsibility stops with what I write. We all can't be everything to everyone.

5.  Do authenticity and honesty matter to you, both as a reader and a writer? Or does unconditional support matter more? How do you think readers perceive your truth?

Chris:  Authenticity and honesty are more important to me than unconditional support, at least at this stage.  If friends or family saw something alarming or dangerous in my writing I would want to know.  I think my readers get what I'm talking about most of the time, but I'm sure I'm not always perfectly clear, because sometimes things are not perfectly clear to me, either.

Jen: Honesty is paramount to me, online and in real life. I trust that as long as I'm honest, as a result I will be authentic as well.

Julia: As a writer, I feel the need to be honest. Emotionally, because, really, what's the point otherwise? But also, I always imagine that my living children will read the blog one day. And I think this thought has a lot to do with why I am also very truthfull factually-- I imagine that some day some of the details might matter to them. I hope that this also means that I ring true to the readers. When reading, there are boundaries (or triggers?) beyond which I can't offer unconditional support. If I feel that the topic is that important, or if I feel that I know the blogger well enough to engage in a respectful discussion, I will. But sometimes I just have to let the post go, or I have to stop reading the blog.

Kate:  The only authenticity that matters to me is my own.

Tash: As I said above, honesty is key to why I find blogging beneficial for my psyche—I don't think it would be fulfilling if I weren't. I started writing for me and was surprised when people started reading and (gasp) commenting. I have a rather eclectic set of readers and I think they appreciate the brutal frankness, even when it's tough to read or comprehend. I guess I rather assume that anyone who lived through a similar mess has more than enough shit to spill without having to make stuff up, so I rather go into blogs assuming honesty. What I find depressing is not when the story rings false (this is rare) but when the writer's voice isn't genuine. I read writers who are Religious, spiritual, prosaic, florid, straightforward, funny, clinical and sometimes combinations of these and It's pretty easy to discern when a writer has adopted a language that they're not used to wielding. Sometimes I poke at this in the comments a bit (because I think it's unhealthy, really) and sometimes I just stop reading.

6.  Have you ever been in the crosshairs of a troll? How did you deal with it, and what did you learn from it?

Chris: I've found the best way to deal with trolls is just to ignore them, they usually go away.

Jen: Gratefully, no. If it ever does happen I'd like to think I wouldn't dignify it with my time.

Julia: Once, and really, it was a baby troll. Hardly worth a mention. I've also had people who kinda walked close to the line, but could be reasoned with. A lot of emotions we live with are not intuitive to the unaffected, and sometimes, though it is extremely taxing to be the educator, and though it can feel beneath your dignity to have to explain yourself, sometimes, it can help that not-really-a-troll commenter understand (and other times it will be a complete waste of time and electrons). And maybe that will help them be nicer and kinder to someone else someday.

Kate:  I have. For the most part, I don't internalize negative energy from the internet. People who let trollish comments remain—and even publicize them—are hoping that sycophants might balance out the sting. But trolls are ridiculous. They shouldn't sting. They should just be shrugged at, deleted, ignored. Dissenting but respectful opinions are fine, but cruelty makes a space toxic. When you let it remain, you court it. And no matter how many irate readers flock to your side, you've lost by indulging a gong show. It's not dignified.

Tash:  Only once, and thank goodness enough time had passed that the troll came off as stupidly humorous rather than irritating or hurtful (it was as if they hadn't read a single thing I had read for umpteen months—I couldn't have created a better straw-man-conflict if I had tried). I kept up the comment, I responded as did others, and the person never came back. I try and watch other's backs. I really don't understand why if people are so perturbed by what we write that they bother to keep reading and respond. Life seems too short.

7.  How do you feel before going online—either to write on your own blog, or to absorb the writing of others? How do you feel when you shut down the computer and walk away?

Chris:  It varies for me, how I feel before writing.  Sometimes I'm bursting with something that I have to get out.  Other times I know that writing would help me figure out what's going on, but I just don't feel like it.  I always feel immensely better after writing, though.

Jen: I think before I'm eager to absorb the emotion, entertainment, and to find something moving or thought provoking. After I usually think, "Wow, did three hours just pass? It felt like ten minutes."

Julia: Both depend on what else is going on in my life. When I have something I need to write, depending on what it is and how much time I have to get it done, it can be anxiety provoking or calming to sit down to that draft window. When I am behind on my reading (like I have been forever now), I feel bad about not being able to offer what I'd like to. When I am caught up (ahhhh), anticipating—news, resonance, things unexpected. After writing I usually feel better, released. But sometimes also anxious about whether I said it right or well. With reading, I almost always feel like I'd like to stay longer, read and comment more.

Kate: Before: vibrating. After: bled, scrubbed, breathing again.

Tash:  Before: Anticipating, anxious at how it all (my writing, other's news) will turn out, eager for connections. After: Able to exhale, hopefully unburdened, and sadly—lately—wishing I had more time to stay on and offer more than I did.

8.  Do family/friends know you write/commune online? If so, have they told you how they feel about it? How do you respond to their opinions?

Chris: I have a few friends and family that continue to read, but most people I know do not read my blog or Glow. Family members have told me it's too painful for them, and I'm sure that is also the case with friends that don't read. I'm not surprised that they have stopped, but I hope they understand that even though they are not reading, that I am still in the thick of it all.  I think they would rather forget our loss and pain.  I cannot, ever.

Jen: I think a few people close to me know I write at Glow. Many more know about my own blog. But they've probably given up hope on me over there by now. Before Sadie died, I was encouraged by how many people found me funny. I'm just not that girl much these days. I don't mope around sobbing, but I'm generally more reserved I think. I'd be interested in hearing what they think of what I contribute here.

Julia: My sister knew from the beginning. In fact, she came up with the name of my blog. She reads, and she used to comment on occasion, but not in a while. I told my husband after a couple of posts, and he's been reading since. As far as I know, only two friends who weren't at first friends online know. I haven't told anyone else, and I like it this way. Like Tash, I sometimes wish both the good ones and the bad ones would see. But then I come back to the part where I wouldn't want the bad ones to read all of it because I feel that they don't belong near the rawest of it, that those parts are too intimate to allow them to see, that their presence would almost desecrate those words. For the same reason, I think, that I don't want them at the cemetery.

Kate: Some have been supportive. Others have been utterly baffled. But that's their hangup. Not mine.

Tash:  I kept my family in the dark because I didn't want the burden of carrying them along for the emotional ride—it was enough that I had to fasten my own seat belt. Sometimes I guess I wish the good ones knew what I did, and that the bad ones could read exactly how much they hurt us, but overall I don't regret the decision to keep this my own space. I have told some friends/neighbors and they've been remarkably supportive, but I'm pretty selective in who I tell.

9.  Have you ever met any other loss bloggers in real-life? How did it feel to share food and air and space, and how did it make you feel about your own storytelling and healing? If you haven't experienced this, would you want to, or not? Why?

Chris:  I have not met other loss bloggers in real life.  I would like to at some point, especially the husbands so we could all just go get beers and hang out.

Jen: A friend of mine was blogging when she lost her daughter on the same day she was born. We shared a phone call after Sadie died, and I think it shocked us that we could both have gone through something so deeply tragic and painful. She was supportive and it was easy to talk to her, knowing she knew just how I was feeling.

Julia: I met Niobe even before I was blogging myself. It was remarkable to have so much instant understanding, to resonate so deeply. I have since met many others, and the common language, common understanding thing has happened every time.

Kate: Yes, I have. It's been wonderful, meeting both loss bloggers and those of many other persuasions. I've been amazed at how faithful online impressions have been to real-life people.

Tash:  I have, and it was so strange and comforting to see the faces and hear the voices that go along with the words. It made everything extremely real and on the surface, in a good way. It's lovely to meet people and already know the backstories so in the event it comes up, it can comfortably turn into a full-blown discussion . . . . or comfortably not at all.

10.  How did you/will you know it's time to read fewer grief blogs, and write less of grief? How did you/will you redirect your energy, creativity, and persona online—did you/will you go offline? Disappear and start again? Or transition in your current space, hoping to find a new voice? If you've done this, how did it feel?

Chris:  I just sorta listen to myself and do what feels right. I take breaks if I need to. I write more when it feels right. I will probably always write and publish posts online, but I imagine eventually I will focus less on losing Silas and more on the children we hope to have someday. When Lu gets pregnant again will probably be a moment for me to consider how I want to move forward with my writing.

Jen: I'm barely online now, but not particularly by choice. I'm not sure when it will be time to read and write less about grief. I'm not quite there yet.

Julia: I never thought of my blog as the grief-only place. The short description on the side panel says "[d]ealing with life after the death and stillbirth of my son." I always meant it to be about all of me, even if at first colored almost entirely by grief. I've posted political rants and little things that get my goat. Now I feel like grief and missing are blended into my palette, that they are a part of me in an integral and not-weird way. I don't know that it will change. I don't feel stuck at all. I feel right.

Kate: For a while, writing less about Liam felt like an identity crisis. But we all have a thousand faces. I write about Liam when I need to, and about expensive jeans and toddler root canals when I need to. My blog is as diverse as my life has been. I'm okay with that.

Tash:  It just happened, it wasn't really a decision, if you look through my archives I've definitely slowed down. I think not only is this because grief doesn't slap me upside the head on a daily basis anymore, but because it's a lot harder to explain how it's incorporated into my daily life without seeming like an alien appendage.  I think my voice has changed over the course of three years, but I still drop f-bombs just as much as when I started.