You and us, at the kitchen table

photo by  chadao

photo by chadao

Dear Readers,

We write because we have to. That is the nature of being a writer. I have a writer-friend whose advice to other writers is always, "Do something else if you can. If you can't do anything else, write." So we write. We write at Glow. Some of us write at our own blogs. We correspond with others about our grief. We journal and show no one.

Writing can be a lonely pursuit. And yet, here we are writing in public (if sometimes anonymously), hanging out all our laundry - dirty or clean, worn out or new. 

I mentioned the other week that when I first found Glow, I thought the regular contributors were gods. Superhuman writers who knew exactly what to do with their grief, how to honor their babies, how to mourn. 

Alas, we who write here at Glow are merely human. And like someone mentioned in the comments recently, I, too, was intimidated to first let my voice be heard. I didn't know who I was anymore, who I wanted to be, I had concerns about privacy, I was afraid what others would say to me, how they would react.

This week, we wanted to share with you about our experiences being regular contributors at Glow, and talk with you about the intersections of the public and the private - where we meet you, readers. —Burning Eye

What is it like for you to write for Glow? How long have you been here and why do you stick around? What is it like to read the comments on your front page pieces? What is it like when no one comments?

Gretchen:  The boss I worked for the longest, in my professional career, tended to have grand ideas that required drastic change, very real engagement of colleagues and little time to execute.  While I spent much of my time and energy on the technical side, designing and implementing his ideas, he often relied on me to develop engagement strategies and to craft his messages and presentations.  I'd meticulously draft his words, thinking of creative ways to quell ambiguity and inspire change and adoption.  It was never simple or straighforward, but the goal was always clear.  Make it happen. 

When I write of my dead sons and my grief, here at Glow or at my blog, I don't know what my goal is.  There is nothing to make happen.  There is no end game.  Thus, my writing tends to run around in circles, lacking clarity or meaningful epiphany.  I suppose it's a reflection of the way I feel inside after Zachary died: destroyed after having been rebuilt once already, without real comprehension of how it has happened.  I don't usually like what I've written, which somehow seems perfectly normal given the suckiness of the subject matter, and I often feel sick to my stomach after I hit publish. 

I started my blog a couple of months after Zachary died, and I was very open with many of my family and friends that it existed.  Too many of the people in my life were never given the opportunity to "understand" or see my loss and my pain, when B.W. died, so I guess I wanted to be more transparent after Zachary died.  It is too much to suffer alone, quietly, this time.  This decision has meant that I am slightly censored, inasmuch as I want to preserve certain relationships that might otherwise be overtly discussed in my writing.   

When I write at Glow, although I feel more freedom to let it rip (because my family and friends don't know of this place), there still exists some hesitation, some invisible boundaries.  Will I offend?  Will feelings be hurt?  Is it like this for anyone else?  And usually: Have I been too much of a downer?  (I tend to the cynical and hopeless side of things after Zachary died.)  I'll be honest and say that it truly does matter to me when readers comment on my writing.  I feel supported and to some extent, related to and understood.  Or, I see a different perspective that touches me.  When no one comments, I sometimes worry that my writing is no good or that it failed to resonate..., but then I remember it's one piece of many, and that I've often been remiss in commenting for various other reasons.

Burning Eye: In the beginning, I had an urgent need to write. I wrote and wrote and wrote, not all of it good, not all of it worth sharing, some of it just the same line over and over in a dozen different ways. When Joseph was stillborn, my journal died, too. I just couldn't go on. But I had to write my grief, and I was able to share some of that here, and on my blog. As time has passed, I write less and less. My grief is less urgent. I'm busier now parenting a living child. If it weren't for Glow, I'd likely not be writing anything at all these days. Not about Joseph, not about anything. I still have not picked back up my journaling (which I'd done through decades and dozens of journals). Writing, and by extension writing for Glow, is in many ways my connection to my grief, which is my connection to my son. I have thought many times if I stop writing, I will lose my son again. Recently, though, I've been fortunate to remember that this is, ultimately, ridiculous. I think about Joseph every day, whether I'm writing or not.

I am always a little anxious when I post on Glow. What will people think? How will this piece be taken? There are "safe" topics, I feel, that appeal to many, and there are "niche" topics that make me more nervous to bring to the public eye, and there have been times when I felt I totally aliented everyone out there by something I said. When there are lots of comments on my pieces, I get excited. I feel good. Yes, I made a connection with someone! Resonance is such a wonderful feeling. When no one comments, or there are just one or two, I assume what I wrote must not matter to anyone. Not that no one cares, it's not that exactly, just that it wasn't anything important to anyone in that moment.

I've always liked to read the dialogue that other writers have with readers after their posts, and I used to be really good at responding to reader comments, but I admit I've slacked off on that lately. I haven't been very involved in conversations lately on Glow. I come and go every now and then. Silent probably for some of the same reasons readers are... nothing personal, just circumstance.

Jo-Anne: Face to face and national online support and forums for baby loss parents is trifling in my city and country as a whole, so when I lost my daughter Zia in July 2013, it felt like I was grasping at straws. I didn’t know where to turn but I recognised that I needed to turn somewhere. Places like the Compassionate Friends in my area dealt with other losses that society considered being more significant losses. It felt like those other losses seemed far “greater” in comparison to my own. It didn’t help that family and friends would tell me that I should try my best to get over "this bad experience”, that I should not focus on what I have lost but rather all I will gain and still have, my living child and of course the fact that I was young enough to try again. Hearing things like that, so soon after holding my lifeless child in my arms, didn’t sit quite well with me. There was no-one to talk to and as a result I kept shutting further down because people couldn’t empathize the true depth of my loss and that losing a baby just weeks before she was due to arrive, was not as simple to “get over” as everyone wanted it to be. It hurt like hell!!! And I lost my voice in some ways.

But then I found Glow in the Woods in one of my dark days and this site was like a beacon of hope, it gave me the ability to explore and share my grief without fear of judgement or scrutiny. Indeed I too idolized the writers here and the way they expressed their thoughts so beautifully in words, their grief was at times so incredibly raw and uncensored and I deeply appreciated that. Glow encouraged me to find a new voice, through writing and I kept on writing and started my own blog for Zia. I was able to connect with her in the most amazing way. All was indeed not lost. This site also taught me the importance of reaching out to other grieving parents and listening to their stories, I suppose this is why I stuck around. The need to connect with others who have been where I am and those we welcome into our fold every day since. I have been reading here since September 2013 and took on the role of forums moderator last year. Writing here more regularly is such an honor and is my way of giving back some of the comfort and peace I received.

It is wonderful to read comments on my front page posts or my random vents in the forums; I am humbled to know that I have reached out to someone and that something I have written is what they needed at that particular point in time. And like Burning Eye, I am often nervous in anticipation of the responses, whether negative or positive. It is appreciated when this community acknowledges that I am sharing such a significant part of own heart and that of my child with the public. I respect that. But at other times I believe that readers simply want to read, and I am okay with that too, I understand what it’s like to not be able to express in words your thoughts on what has been shared.

Justin: My perspective may be the one with the least experience. Having just joined Glow a few months ago as a contributor and one of the few to not maintain a personal blog, I simply do not consider myself a writer. By education, I am a statistician, by trade a business process analyst. I scream left brain. I want logic, sequence, a defined order. I want a start and a finish. I want a problem to solve. But, of course, with the heartbreaking subject matter discussed in this space, there simply is no solution. Each time I try to write, my tendencies kick in - backspacing, cutting and pasting, searching for the sequence of these thoughts, the logic of these emotions, the start and the finish that don’t exist.

I have never kept a journal, nor have I really explored anything through writing before until last spring when, at the last minute, I decided to participant in a daily grief photo-journal project on Instagram. At the time, I felt like I needed a push, a nudge closer and deeper to what exactly was happening - it felt like a big step. I carried a weight of apprehension with each post, the unease of being exposed each and every day in a (semi-)public way. I found that I had a lot to say, and I found that to repeatedly dive deep into these choppy thoughts was often painful and exhausting, but ultimately therapeutic.

I feel very honored to have been invited here to Glow to share my writing and the story of our family. To be honest, I was surprised by the invitation and somewhat hesitant to accept. I had completed my Instagram project months ago and “survived” the ocean of vulnerability where I had only dipped my toe. I was writing sporadically and mostly in private. The writing here at Glow, both present and past, is so very beautiful – intimidatingly beautiful. I am in awe of the current contributors’, Glow emeritus’ and readers’ ability to take the crush of heavy grief and create an enlightened and, at times, much needed post. It is obvious that this space is special; this has been expressed over and over again in the comments. I want to contribute to the glow of this cabin in the woods at the standard that has been set. More than anything, I want to honor our family and I want to connect to my daughter.  

I wish I could say that the more I write, the more I explore the depths of my grief, the easier it becomes for me. That the streams of words quicken and begin to pour out on to the page, that over time I have become more confident in sharing. But it hasn't. At times, I stare at my idle fingers on the keyboard as I try to find what it is I need to say. I nearly always worry over whether my topics will resonate or if they are a jumbled mess, whether I am alienating myself from other fathers or intruding on a mother’s space. Resonance is such a wonderful thing and it can be difficult at times not to receive this visual confirmation. However, Jo-Anne’s comment rings true – sometimes readers simply want to read. I have been there, silently devouring up every word of a post and sometimes anxiously deciding whether I have the energy to comment. I really appreciate those that have taken the time to read and have found the energy to comment, continuing the conversation of my jumbled mess and adding their own piece of glow to this very special space.

Julia: I remember that when we first started Glow there were some comments from people at what felt like many years down the road - five, eight, twenty-something. All of the original contributors were at three years or less. I was at about fifteen months then and to me it was both affirming and a touch disheartening to see that this space was important to people that much farther out. Affirming because from the very beginning I understood all the way down to my core that this isn't something I could ever "get over" and that what I was shooting for, eventually, was learning to live with it. Disheartening, just a little, because these thoughtful and lovely people were proof that I was right about that and that many years later it would still suck.

So here I am, at nine years and change. Still here. Still writing. Over the years my definition of "that much farther out" has obviously shifted somewhat. I haven't written on my blog in years, but not because I haven't wanted to. Many days I compose paragraphs in my head that I never write down. Other days all I manage is a stray sentence or two. My life is incredibly hectic now, extra so because of the sizable volunteer committment I've taken on a couple of years ago. I'd like to write more, though not necessarily mostly about grief. Maybe some day I will figure out a way to do that again.

Like others have said, it is unnerving to hit "publish." Still, or maybe especially, this many years later. I do worry about whether my grief and my writing about it are too removed from the burning intensity of the early days, and so whether it is helpful to the readers who come here still keening from the original impact, all raw pain and exposed nerve endings. Getting a few or no comments feeds that worry, of course. Not in an entirely selfless way - it does matter to me whether what I say resonates and prompts readers to respond - but worrying about whether I am not where most readers are is a big thing for me these days.

Mrittika: Growing up in a household with a poet father and an intellectual mother, the written word was always the standard by which I was evaluated. I grew up knowing it was as important as what I thought, and certainly more important than what I read or spoke. I initially thought it was because my Baba was a national award-winning poet, with several books to his credit. I believed that writing was important, since you needed to express, for the world to know what you thought, felt and believed in.

For me, most of my writing has been about how I felt. I could not keep emotions away from my writing, and that is what I feel most comfortable sharing. Long before I lost Raahi or began writing for Glow, I could never quite adopt a different persona when I wrote, than who I am. Writing, for me has been deeply personal. One thing I have always been fiercely aware of, moreover, is the permanence and value of the written word. I am a true chronicler (believe it or not, my desk has even had a figurine of the sitting scribe from Egypt since 2003), and I used to even gather scraps of paper on which I had perhaps scribbled a hurried poem for my boyfriend, after he handed it back to me for "my collection." I felt lost if my written words got lost. Every letter, every newspaper article, every Facebook post, every poem, I tried to preserve everything. So vain.

Two things changed after losing Raahi, and those characterize my experience of being a regular contributor at Glow.

One, I no longer know who I am, or what I think, feel or believe in, so I cannot say my writing contains all of me with any amount of certainty. I know, however, that I feel alive and aware when I write for Glow. I do not write anywhere else, I do not write anything else, about my life, let alone my grief. I always worry that I will not be able to write anything more, and the night before my submission day, after dinner, alone at my desk, somehow I always can let my heart bleed. Whatever little I have left of me, beyond even my awareness maybe, Glow contains it all.

Two, I am no longer a chronicler. I do not care if my words are not saved for posterity, because my future is half gone. Although I am writing about Raahi and my love for her, she will never read it, so what's the point in preserving it?! Writing gives me peace, and deep fulfillment, but I don't care for it the way I used to. Which is why recent readers’ comments about how the archives have helped them (and they have helped me too), have made me rethink that, and believe it matters. That there is a different posterity now, the future groups of bereaved parents who find their way to Glow.

I found Glow in August 2013, so I have been here a little more than 30 months, about two years as a writer. As a writer, I have stayed, and will stay, because of the way I realize how my words can be so intricately and securely woven with whatever is left of me, in the pages of Glow. I come because I can write so comfortably about a pain so deep, so lonely. And I come because I am drawn to and inspired by the literariness of Glow, the beauty in the words, that remind me that what remains, these emotions, are meaningless, but beautiful.

When I write and other bereaved parents comment, I feel validated. I feel heard, I feel a sense of community and a connection to others like me, like this is real. Terrible, but real. And I love how everyone is so open and honest about their experiences, and I learn so many perspectives from those comments. So much pain, so many stories, but it all seems woven into one long and lasting tale of love.

I often become lengthy and abstract in my writing. I am aware of that, and yet I cannot help it. When readers do not comment, or few do, I feel I was too abstract maybe, or too long. I feel I could not connect with the readers, maybe this piece was too personal. Although we are writing publicly about something so personal, I think the reason the two meet so seamlessly here at Glow, is because what we write about is so universal. Glow is like our parallel universe, and everyone here is from one species, the species of bereaved parents, who understand each others' language. So when someone does not comment, I feel somehow my writing was perhaps not universal, it did not touch many. But then I tell myself, that I should also try to understand others' silences, just like I hope other writers would understand mine, when I read, but do not comment.

I write here because I am me here, and we are all a giant sad “us” here. I feel I belong, Raahi belongs, her story belongs, my grief belongs, and my forever-changed life belongs. And that is really something.

Readers, do you comment on the writing? What affects whether or not you share your thoughts?