If I had to answer in only one word, it would be “writing.” And that one word needs more explanation for you to see how it helped me.
Within about six months after my husband’s death in 2002, I often used a journaling approach Julia Cameron offered in The Artist’s Way called Morning Pages. It is a practice of dumping everything that comes to mind during three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing first thing on awakening. It is to clear the mind for new creativity to arrive. I think she suggests waiting at least three months before reading these Morning Pages. I moved a year later, then it was eight more years before I came across them – in the midst of another time of moving, so I didn’t read them. I still haven’t. I stored them in a known location this time. I have a lot of curiosity now about the nitty-gritty of what I was experiencing back then.
I feel that process helped me, along with doing normal social stuff with my caring friends and family, hugging trees in the woods by my house, crying when I needed to cry, meditating, and attending bereavement support groups. I was in the process of finding my way back to life, of doing what a dear friend in the same widowhood boat called Re-inventing Myself.
Still, there were a handful of memories that haunted me. That was the word that truly fit the experience, because there were maybe a half dozen particular memories that often came unbidden into my thoughts. Some were of sweet times, some were of difficult times that happened in the last few weeks of his illness, all were accompanied by pain. This was still occurring past the five-year mark of his death.
Then, I received an email from my writing coach, Max Regan. He was announcing his next online bootcamp: participants write 1,000 words a day for 10 days. I felt something click in my heart, in my head. I could use the safety and structure of sending him my 1,000 words each night as a way to bring the haunting memories into printed words and have them witnessed by Max. This idea, this inspiration, felt exactly right.
I remember drafting the outline. The garage where I had my oil changed asked that drivers remain in the car during servicing. I sat in my 2000 Jimmy with a little 3×5-inch notebook and jotted a basic phrase to identify each of those memories. Stopping every few minutes to perform tasks like turning headlights on created what I needed to keep from getting overwhelmed. This, too, felt just right.
To me, a miracle happened from writing a first-draft of each of those memories. Once they were captured in writing, they no longer intruded into my life. I felt a freedom inside, a spaciousness that had been missing for a long time. And I felt gratitude.
I hope this is a reminder that you can write anytime, from anyplace, to soothe your soul and heal your heart.