Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Language and Loss: Some More Thoughts

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about language and loss. It was inspired by a conversation I have been having with Christina Sanantonio, a writer and blogger living in Central Illinois. She wrote about how difficult it was to talk about loss. Many of the things she said hit home with me, but one of the things was especially important. She said, "We ache for a language that doesn't exist."

Just a few days ago, I received an email from Wanda with her thoughts on memory, language, writing, and loss. Her letter continues the discussion Christina and I and the people who have written comments on my earlier post have been having. Wanda has an insight and clarity that has me thinking again about language and loss.

Here's her letter:

I remember something I read in Out of the Silent Planet by C.S Lewis when I was about 16. It was about how events remain incomplete until we remember them. It is our memory which draws the essential truth from an event, and the telling of it closes a circle. Other circles may be born from the event as we recall different aspects of it, as we grow older and gain more perspective, but as soon as we tell it -- whether speaking, writing, or merely naming it in our own minds -- it closes a circle. It becomes complete. And separate unto itself. Another loss.

Feeling the pain of loss is a silver thread which continues to unite us with the loved one who has died, so there's often a subconscious, or even conscious, reluctance to actively do things which would alleviate the pain. Even though we know it might "be better" to talk about the loss, to write about it, paint it, whatever, I think we also know deep down that once we do so and let some of the pain move out from us, borne by the flow of expression and received in witness by another, that something in us will be subtly and irreparably different. Even if we come out "better" for it, we still mourn the way we were mourning because in that way we had a certain connection with our loved one. Now, that connection is different. Stepping into the "now," we have to step off the shore of the "then." It's a bittersweet thing.

As my aunt and my father were dying between November and March this year, I - like you - kept note of everything I could. I even got my dad to draw or write something in a small sketchbook every day that he could. He’d draw his house in Poland, the storks, faces, chickens, and flowers. Day by day they changed a bit, and when the drawings deteriorated along with his presence, they became such mournful treasures. My aunt shared her dreams with me until one day, about three days before she died, she just said "There is so much I have that I'd like to share with you, but I'm not going to because if I do, I won't have it anymore." With both my aunt and my father, our manner of communication changed -- somehow more intimate while the space between our worlds grew ever larger.

One of the things which kept me going was knowing that I would write and paint about their dying. I've often wanted to share the poems and the painting, but I find it strange that I don't seem to be able to. Not even my siblings have read them. Still, I know that certain lines and poems of yours have resonated to the core with me...painful, but helpful. And some of Martin Stepek's are the same...I cry each time I read them, but it's good to read them. So it's by some kind of grace that our pain can move out from within us on waves of words, ripple out to spark healing in others. And the old wisdom of ancient healers has always said that what you put out into the world shall return sevenfold to you.

Is the healing in movement? in sharing? in knowing? Holding only helps for a while...the universe is movement, and as we are part of that I would have to say that movement is important for life and healing and yes for the dying too.

The poems about your mom's dying will come when it's time. But even when you write about not being able to write them, it means a lot to those of us who read that.


Urkat said...

Please let me add, respectfully, this observation about writing about pain and loss. I think we mistake when we assume that, in order to express our feelings of loss and pain, we must write about the events that gave them birth. The brain is more evasive than that, and avoids any direct access to its most private reasons.

I think we should let our brains choose the way and the subjects that will evoke the appropriate feelings. It may be, for instance, that you begin writing about a train ride, or a child's tears, or some other subject more or less remote from your own experience, but that very fact of its remoteness will allow your mind to infuse the private feelings it has held on to so long into the seemingly unrelated subject. I think we often succeed better when we talk about such things indirectly because only in that way can we broach the subject without violating the tacit confidentiality that safeguards our memories.

Fitts said...

I think this a great post! I can see that you are a great writer, keep up the good work

John Guzlowski said...

I received the following from poet Joseph Lisowski. Please take a look at the link at the end of his note.

Hi John, here is a link to a chapbook dealing with the sudden death of my daughter. It is on line as you can see, and I also have a few hard copies. It is one way of dealing with grief. I don't know what else to say.


Elise said...

As a writer of poetry, I often wonder about my reasons -- not for writing poems but for seeking their publication in magazines. Why not just toss each poem I write into a box?

The process of getting a poem published involves mostly waiting, rejection, and the wasting of one's stamps. And if one finally succeeds, there's no money in it and certainly not much fame, though there is always the satisfaction, of course, when one works hard and well, for recognition.

For me, there has never been any other reason for writing a poem than to try to deal with some loss or hurt, whether it is the one I started out to write about or not. And I'm happy for now with the answer that, though not in any way a "closure" (my mother will be gone ten years this month, and I still reach for the phone to call her), the sending out of my poems, "the telling," perhaps in some way "closes a circle."

John Guzlowski said...

Hi, Elise, thanks for the letter.

Why do we send poems out? I sometimes think they're like prayers. I'm an atheist but still sometimes I pray. I send those thoughts with my Hail Marys out into the void hoping that some kind ear will hear them and take pity on all our sorrows.

Are some of the poems about your mom online? If not, would you post one here?

Elise said...

Well, I'm SUPPOSED to be working on new poems today ... but here is an old poem about my mother that appeared in Poetry magazine in the summer of 2000. My mother had Hepatitis C and was in the hospital awaiting her second liver and kidney transplant when she had the stroke that led to her death ten years ago this month. At her bedside, we held her eyes open to see our desperate words.

The Stroke

On a grabbed
notepad we scribbled

messages to your face,
forced your eyes

open, waited for
a nod, a squeeze,

scribbled more,
torn between letting

you sleep, making
you see our words

not sure we'd said
enough through the years,

scrawling, tearing
sheet after sheet.

John Guzlowski said...

Elise, Thank you for the poem.

Urkat said...

John, Your atheism is the surest indication of your faith. You can't believe a loving God would have created a universe like this.

Fitts said...

another great post!

Urkat said...

Life is not meaningful and so all attempts to present it that way will fail.