Nearly twenty years ago and long before I ever knew I was a writer, I thought it would be interesting to take an introductory writing class at our local community college. I had the urge to write, but didn’t have any idea that I was capable of writing a story. However, in the Writing 101 course I signed up for, not only did we tackle writing resumes, research reports, news articles and statistical reporting for office procedures, but we were also given the opportunity to create the written selections of our choice for our final projects.
I instantly knew what I wanted to write. I didn’t know, however, if I could do it justice. It seemed an insurmountable task. But I had a burning desire to capture the spirit of my father—my dad—on paper. He, who had passed away nearly ten years before, was on my mind constantly. It seemed I had to write about him, tell the world what a great guy he’d been in his lifetime…tell them how much I missed him!
But where to start, I wondered. I didn’t think of it as grief at the time, but that’s exactly what I was doing—grieving. Grieving for the times we had spent together in our Upper Peninsula of Michigan home, grieving for the times that would never come again, grieving for my immense and unsettling loss.
But suddenly, I realized I could go back! I could go back and relive one of the most powerful memories I held of our times together. All I had to do was recall the memory in detail and write it down...
Because of my constant pleading, my father decided to take me with him on a deer hunting expedition to the backwoods of the North. Although his decision was met with stony silence from his fellow woodsmen, he plunged ahead determinedly, as he did with all decisions. He was a man among men and his pals acquiesced to his resolve. The hunting trip was a gift from him to me for my sixteenth birthday. I remembered every detail in living color.
How to start writing? I thought about it and asked myself, “What would Dad do?” The answer was simple. He would plunge right in. And that is exactly what I did. I wrote and wrote, and when I thought I was done, I read over what I’d written and added a word here and there, revised a few sentences, checked my punctuation. But in rereading what I’d written, I realized I had captured the essence of the adventure. More importantly I had captured the heart and spirit of my dad.
When I turned in my paper, I hoped my professor would see that this was more than just an assignment, a fictional story. I worried that she would not see how important this was to me, beyond receiving a good grade. But I was not disappointed. When my story was returned to me, the letter A was written carefully on the last page…followed by four brief words. “You touched my soul,” she had written in small letters under the grade.
Her inspirational support spurned me on to write other stories. But that story, entitled “A Killing Age,” was the one that stood alone among all the others—just like Dad. The writing of this adventure was truly a work of grieving though I didn’t realize it at the time. I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I’d secured my father’s memory for all time and had given up the sadness that had surged inside for so long. The poignant and somewhat funny story, filled with both happiness and loss, formed the basis of my first book of memoirs, “The Wishing Years,” published in 1995. Many readers have shared their innermost thoughts, wishes and dreams with me about their own experiences after reading the book. It has been my great pleasure to know I have touched others with my memories.
Now I have a newer book of memoirs in publication, “A Tree Grows in Trout Creek.” Dad is in this book too, along with all my family and friends from the past. He is still as determined as ever in all the stories I recreate of our true times together. I write now with nothing but pure joy. I am no longer grieving; I am celebrating my memories.
If you are living with grief over the loss of a loved one, recall the most cherished memory you shared with that person (or pet). Then write it down. Don’t worry about how it sounds…just write. I let go of grief through memory writing. You can, too!