I have to say, I've never in my life experienced serious grief, but I've still had a buring desire to write about it. Maybe because I want my stories to have meaning. But the other reason is because I feel that everyone sees grief all around them everyday -- even if you don't realize it -- and very few people can imagine what it must actually feel like.
I'm writing a story about a girl who's a war orphan; the story starts with the war, and most of the story is about her new family and her recovery. The war is fictional, though set in our world.
I've been working on it for about two years now (writing and rewriting) and it's amazing how much my understanding of my character's grief has grown. I started the project because I knew it would teach me a great deal, but I didn't understand it at all in the beginning. I wrote death scenes using pure cliches, reverting to the thousands of ways we see grief casually, shallowly portrayed in books and movies. I kept rewriting until the grief felt realer and realer to me. I started to be able to write it without using cliches, and it also then became harder to write. The better I understood it, the more difficult it was to write; I began to think I was crazy for creating something so incredibly sad. I understand (I think) how my character feels, and it's a feeling of total paralysis, of not being able to move in any direction. It really makes me sad, and the writing is going very slowly, because most of the time when I try to work on it, the sadness overwhelms me and I can't do it.
I know that I can't finish the story unless I know it's going to have a happy ending. I want my character to truly get over what happened (without forgetting) and be able to be happy with her life. (That's the only way I won't be incredibly depressed by the time I finish it!)
When I read back on the first stuff I wrote on this, I'm amazed at its shallowness and ignorance. I feel that I've truly taught myself something important, just by imagining and being honest with myself. I think that every one of us already knows what something so traumatic would feel like, it's just a matter of really imagining it and not being afraid of just thinking about it. Then you'll see it, and you won't forget it. You have to do this, because of the people who ARE going through life-destroying grief; they need you to understand. This is when stories truly have power, and are truly important.
Now, when I see people grieving on movies or in the news, I know really what they're feeling, or at least I TRY to imagine what they're feeling -- instead of just staring at them and having no idea.
Well that was long. Just -- has anyone else had an experience, where you've learned something important, not from reading about something, but from writing about it? And also, does anyone else have any experience writing about grief? (from personal experience or not).
I haven't posted my story here for feedback, because for one thing, I don't like the opening scene at all, and I'm not going to rewrite it until I get the whole story out. I don't think I want to share it until I get to the end of it, so I can be sure I've truly written in the meaning of it, but I'd like to have a place to discuss it.
I'm nervous about how this will sound to those readers who HAVE experienced this kind of grief. I'm worried about reactions like "trust me, you have no idea how it feels." It's true that I've never been through it myself. But I hope that won't happen. I hope that I really do it understand it, at least a little bit.
I experience grief, but am unsure if that is an answer to your question.
Have you ever read C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed?
Try it. You'll like it.
From writing, I have learned something. You may think this is weird, but here goes: in real life everyone starts out thinking that they are "the MC" but we're not. Realising that is both frightening and a relief.
[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited February 15, 2007).]
As a reader, I don't care for the experience of being tossed into a story of deepening grief. The stories that succeed for me are lightened alternately with humor. The best example I can think of is "The World According to Garp." There is tremendous pathos and sadness, alternating with humor.
Grief is usually not a singular thing. One of my closest friends died several years ago of AIDS, and as his friends gathered at the hospital in vigil, we found ourselves laughing at our memories of him (he was a practical joker) in between our tears. The shared grief between friends made it easier to bear.
My closest cousin's daughter was killed a few years ago, and we got through that summer by letting the emotions wash over us. Deep grief, alternated with laughter at remembering the fun times.
When my dad died, I realized all my intellectual beliefs about death were irrelevant. I felt like I was five years old again. The grief was primal, and bypassed my logic. It felt like the first time it had ever happened to anyone in the world.
Part of what makes grief grief is that you mourn the loss of the future and of the happy times. The contrast makes the pain more poignant.
I also recommend A Grief Observed . As S.C. Lewis points out is it his grief and his way of coping with the loss of his wife. When I read it I could only do it in little sections because of how powerful the writing and grief is.
A couple of years ago I lost a friend to a car accident (incidentally her name was also Tara). I hadn't seen her in several years, but when I saw the story on the news it was a shock. I was at work and at first it was just stunning. I worked the rest of the shift and thought, 'wow, that's her, that's really her'. Then I went home and told my wife. Then I started crying and bawling. I rarely cry, I don't even tear up. I don't remember the last time I had cried like that, if ever. It was irrational, it was soul wracking. I had never lost anyone I had been close to before that. Family members had died, but no one I had been close to. I didn't understand grief until then.
You probably can't really, truly understand grief until you go through it. But from what you've written, Tara, you're probably as close as you can get without it. I think if you have really been able to imagine the situation and have put yourself metaphorically in it, the audience will understand the message.
I suggest looking for books by authors that have gone through intense grief just to see what they say about it. It might help to compare what they've written to what you have.
But don't let your lack of personal tragedy stop you. You're a writer. It's like acting, you don't have to experience your subjects pain to perform it.
Have you ever had a moment when you realized that you were cut off from someone?
I don't really understand anything that humans feel about death, and I never have. It took me a long time to realize this, because it's one of those things that everyone takes for granted.
But I have experienced grief. People don't have to die for you to lose them. From my perspective, death doesn't have much meaning anyway, because it's such a temporary condition. And it barely affects my sense of connection to an individual person, many of my closest friends are currently dead. But there are other barriers that are far less transient, and with far more difficult implications.
It's hard to express, but I have felt grief. I still feel it. That doesn't mean I'm any better at expressing it. Even if you feel grief so great it causes you to weep blood, that doesn't suddenly give you a profound insight into how to write about it. I suppose that you just have to tell us the apparent cause and the observable effects, the experience itself isn't something that can be put into words.
Give up sugar for a month. It's how I gave up sugar, realizing it should be an easy sacrifice after not having my child for a few years.
I also noticed how neatly the movie Groundhog Day goes through the stages of grief the other day.
But I don't know who'd want to read about grief who had actually been through it, so you can pretty much write what you'd like and who's going to call you on it? I can't even really get into C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed, and I'm a huge fan of his.
Thanks for the replies , all of them. It makes me feel horrible in a way because I can understand how someone who'd experienced grief would not want to read about grief...but I guess such a story would not be meant for those people, but rather for the people who'd never experienced it. I'll look into that book.
[This message has been edited by Tara (edited February 15, 2007).]
[This message has been edited by Tara (edited February 15, 2007).]
Hoptoad- sorry, I kind of didn't (dang, I don't like this in-line spell checking thing that this browser is doing) read all the posts very carefully before replying. I don't do that too often.
What you don't want to read is all those books with sunsets on the cover written by therapists. I got several of those. I guess I did read a book about infant death at one point, but it was sudden infant death, and it wasn't about how to get over it. It was just people's reports on what had happened to them. Not surprisingly, most of them didn't really want to talk much about how they felt, beyond "I don't want people to avoid it unless I feel like avoiding it so I pretty much have an excuse to be mad at everyone all the time." Most people don't realize that anger is as good an emotional anodyne as pleasure and overeating.
A Grief Observed is very raw, somewhat unfiltered. It's a series of journal entries, and Lewis himself didn't know how this particular story was going to end when he wrote much of the beginning.
In a sense, it's rather stunning to have him not just saying what he went through but to read what he wrote when he was actually going through it. And the first part doesn't make pleasant or enlightening reading. The raw, animal grief that humans feel in the face of death isn't rational or poetic. It's brutish and nasty, and far from short. Those entries are written by a man who has lost an important part of his mind, and knows it. The more you like Lewis as a writer and a person, the less you'll enjoy the first half of that book.
I suppose I'm glad that I'll never have to go through that, at least. Grief is hard enough to bear without losing your reason the way humans do.