Category Archives: Memoir Writing

The Gift of Bedtime Stories in Igniting Childhood Imagination

A year ago this week, I celebrated the magic of children’s stories in a blog post, “Writing Wisdom of Children’s Books.” I shared how reading to my kids was the one constant in our family’s evening routine…how it gave us (parent and child) a chance to lose ourselves in the worlds of Narnia, Hogwarts, Whoville and the Hundred-Acre Wood.
 
That storytelling tradition planted a seed for a book that I am in the final stages of completing: Bedtime Stories: A Memoir Celebrating Storytelling and Childhood. Told alternately through my eyes and those of my kids, the book takes readers through our storytelling experience. Every story’s imagery and characters jump to life from the page through the imaginations of my son and daughter. At the end of each chapter, I reminisce about what sparked my own childhood imagination and shaped me growing up in the Midwest with my parents, two brothers and sister.
In writing this manuscript, I’ve become an astute observer of my kids’ view of the world and especially of their play time. It’s made me want to capture their spontaneity and their perspective in ways that I never would have if I wasn’t writing a family memoir. I often scribble down something they say or do on a napkin or anything I can find. It’s inspiring how stories can be a force for creativity in their lives.
 
I began writing Bedtime Stories earlier this year during a writers’ class. Beginning this Friday, The Writing Well will feature a guest blog post from a member of my writers’ group. These eclectic aspiring authors came together for eight weeks to share their own writing journeys. They love language, unforgettable characters, and above all, a good story. I’m glad they’ll be represented on my blog this month.

Pulitzer Prize-nominated Author Jedwin Smith Talks about the Re-release of His Family War-time Memoir, Our Brother’s Keeper

“Your brother was loved by his fellow Marines, and he loved them. The biggest fear any of us had over there wasn’t being killed —it was screwing up and doing something that would let our companions down. You’re always thinking: ‘I don’t want to do something that is less than honorable.’ That’s my definition of a warrior, which is exactly what your brother was.”
 
        —Fox Company survivor Jim Wainwright, Jeff Smith’s platoon commander, Chapter 28, Our Brother’s Keeper
  
 
I was honored to attend Jedwin Smith’s book launch party for Our Brother’s Keeper last night at Peerless Bookstore. There wasn’t an empty seat as Vietnam Vets, family and friends and Atlanta’s literary community came out to show their support for this exceptional writer.
 
I met Jedwin, a former Atlanta Journal Constitution journalist and Marine, earlier this year as a student in his writer’s group. Jedwin’s abilities as a storyteller are well known; his war-time reporting in Beirut made him a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and his book Fatal Treasure, detailing the true-life search for lost treasure on board a Spanish ship sunk off the Florida coast 350 years ago, is being made into a movie by VIRGIN.
 
Marine Jeff Smith
Our Brother’s Keeper, originally released in 2005, tells the very personal story of an Irish-Catholic family torn apart by war. It details the loss of Jedwin’s younger brother, Jeff, the family’s “peacemaker,” during the Vietnam War. A member of Foxtrot Company, 2nd Battalion, 4thMarines, Jeff and his Company were ambushed by VC in the village of Mai Xa Thi, on March 7, 1968.
 
Since its release, Our Brother’s Keeper has been widely used by the VA and by the Wounded Warrior Project®, serving  to heal many veterans and bring closure to families still reeling from the sacrifice of dads and brothers, husbands and sons —  “heroic men who gave their tomorrows so we may enjoy our todays.”
 
In his quest to learn what happened to his brother, Jedwin reconnected with his siblings, located the eight survivors of his brother’s company, and took an unforgettable trip to Vietnam. Much more than a war story, Our Brother’s Keeper is a tale of redemption and forgiveness… of the complex ties between fathers, mothers and children…of letting go.  
 
 
           Q. What made you re-publish Our Brother’s Keeper this time around?
 
 
Jedwin: The original was a catharsis, a way of honoring my brother’s sacrifice while at the same time explaining how the death of one individual can shatter the family dynamic. What I was unable to wrap my mind around the first time was how important my father’s Marine Corps exploits in the South Pacific during World War II shaped the path my brothers and I would follow when we came of age to serve in the military.
 
Dad was still alive when the book was first published; yet only when he died did his life cycle and that of his sons become crystal clear. We lived to not only make our father proud of us (by being Marines, the toughest of the tough), but we also tried to exceed Dad’s exploits. Jeff died in the attempt; I almost died numerous times while attempting to complete that mission, and subsequently lapsed into alcoholism; and younger brother Joe managed to surpass all my father accomplished, yet gained no credit for doing so. In essence, we were damned if we did and damned if we didn’t which, when looking at war’s bottom line, is the story of combat participants.
 
Q: What can the public expect in this expanded edition?
 
Jedwin:  Sadly enough, children grow up with a stilted version of what it takes to not only step into the inferno of combat, but also how long it takes the soul to heal itself after doing so. In the original version of OBK, two of the most important chapters were drastically cut or eliminated altogether—both dealt with the mental anguish experienced by war’s survivors. In essence, these two chapters were the heart and soul of the book. In the original publication, these chapters were sliced and diced because, to quote the editor, “There was just too much war.” Sounds silly, doesn’t it—a book about war being trimmed because there was too much war.
 
Q. You experienced a lot of emotions writing this memoir. What did this book do for you and your family in its aftermath?
 
Jedwin: In truth, I wrote and cried, then wrote and cried some more. It was draining, emotionally and mentally. I’d lived through the hell once, and then had to live through it again in front of thousands of readers. It is a humbling process. If you hide something, you’re lying to yourself and the reader. No way can you keep your sanity by doing so. I was able to get sober only by being truthful with myself. Same is said for writing OBK. My brother’s death in Vietnam destroyed our family, yet bringing Jeff back to life in the book’s early chapters was a resurrection of not only my soul, but also that of my brothers and sisters. We went almost 30 years without speaking to each other; OBK gave us back our desire to communicate with each other, and maybe even love one another again. It’s still a work in progress.
  
          Q. What are you most proud of about this story?
 
Jedwin:  From 7 March 1968 until the moment I started Chapter One of Our Brother’s Keeper, I lived with an insane rage to extract revenge for my brother’s death. But as soon as the first few pages of the book were compiled, my brother began to live again. Instead of focusing on death, I grabbed a hold of life. And by doing so, an insurmountable weight was lifted from my shoulders.
 
# # #
 
In this expanded Q and A, Jedwin shares the best writing advice he ever received, the most common mistake first-time authors make, and his need to pay it forward to the next generation.
  
Congratulating Jedwin on his book.
          Q. What the best advice you ever got about being a writer?
 
Jedwin: A long time ago, author Bill Diehl took me under his wing. I wanted to be a novelist in his mold. He told me to concentrate on my strength, which he said was non-fiction and become my own man. It’s not what I wanted to hear, but I took his advice (grudgingly) and became a success. He also was very blunt about what he considered to be the “secret” to becoming a successful writer. “Just sit down and write,” he said. Of course, I thought he was being a smart-ass. In time, after staring days at a blank computer scene, I finally grasped the wisdom of his words.
 
             Q. What is the most common mistake writers make with their first book?
 
Jedwin: They rush their work; they don’t take time to self-edit. They want that manuscript done—and done NOW! There is no easy path to completing a book. It’s a labor of love, hate, joy, sorrow, frustration, rejection, etc. I believe you receive all that you put into your craft, your story. Half-assed effort leads to half-assed results. Hey, a little blood never hurt anyone. So slice open that vein and let it flow. My work day during OBK sometimes stretched into 18 hours; then I spent half as much time self-editing and rewriting and rewriting some more. One must be willing to pay the price for success. Writing is grueling work; painful at times, pure joy at others. But it’s also the hardest job I’ve ever tried to tackle. Living through the hell of Beirut was a whole lot simpler than writing Our Brother’s Keeper. I kid you not.
 
Q: Why the writing group? How often do you offer these sessions? What is the key element of them?
 
Jedwin: Writers are a weird bunch. We lay our fears and our loves, etc., on a platter for the world to pick through. We do so for little pay, long hours, and mostly little applause (unless it’s from our immediate family).  I’m a big believer in the writer’s community, which is why I’m a big fan of the Atlanta Writer’s Club. We do our best when in the company of other writers. As a body, we know how sharp is the spear of rejection, how painful is the ax wielded by critics. Yet, we can learn by the failures of others—and, admittedly, there isn’t a writer who hasn’t tasted failure.
 
I wanted to form a small circle of experienced writers, newcomers, dreamers, etc., and let us feast off each other. As a Marine, impossible was never a part of our vocabulary. We positively guaranteed you we could and would destroy the enemy overnight. It was drilled into us. Harshly. Painfully. I figured I might be able to accomplish the same results in a small, diverse writing community by passing on the skills I’ve learned, being honest about all the mistakes I’d made, and pump up the individual’s enthusiasm with a positive, complimentary approach to the craft. What is truly humbling and gratifying is that this approach has been successful over the past three years. Truth is, though, I learn every bit as much from my students as they do from me. And that’s the way a family should function.

A Balloon Bouquet – Letting Go of a Lifetime of Color

 
 
This beautiful tribute to the late Cindy Gwynn, who passed away last January after an eight-year battle with breast cancer, was written by her younger sister, Marcia Coatsworth. Marcia graciously allowed me to post it here on The Writing Well
 
I am honored to be connected with Cindy and Marcia and the rest of the Coatsworth’s through my husband’s family. We have enjoyed many Thanksgivings together at Marcia and Cindy’s dad’s home. Their mother, Marian, was one of the moms featured in a memoir I penned after losing my mom to lung cancer.  If you ever have lost someone close to you, you will identify with this very personal reflection of a much-beloved and much-missed sister. Thank you, Marcia, for sharing. 
 
*******
In my mind’s eye there is a sea of helium balloons tied with streams of curly ribbon.   Deep in color, dancing, each taking on a life of its own, collectively named Cindy.

 

 
Randomly I pick one out of the bunch, each in turn my favorite color.

 

 
Blue, her personal favorite, the color of her eyes.  Her eyes, expressive, knowing and caring.  Ever watchful not to miss a small detail that could make a difference.  A difference perhaps only detected by her and that was what mattered.  Look deeply into the baby blues and you would find a wealth of information carefully stored to be used at the right time.  Eyes that smiled with softness when shown even the slightest gesture of kindness or unsolicited recognition.  A steely grey/blue when unfairness entered her line of sight or aggravated by events beyond her control.
 
Gosh, I just want to hold on tight to all of the beautiful balloons.  Keep them in my sight to enjoy all by myself.  Yet at the same time what a glorious sight to see all of them take off in a gentle breeze making their way into the limitless sky, representing never ending life.  Set free from the grasp of human life to rejoice in a place without pain, fear, heartache and sin.  A place where each color has its own reward and leaves behind its own memory.  A long life-short lived, serving an awesome God, finding the perfect resting place, well deserved.
 
Black the darkest of all the balloons, unwelcomed.  The balloon that hangs the lowest because it is so heavy representing Cindy’s darkest thoughts sometimes shared with me.  The regret of leaving her son and the shock of leaving so suddenly looms.  Finding numerous copies of “Gone From My Sight-The Dying Experience” and” My Friend, I Care-The Grief Experience,” both by Barbara Karnes.  In an adjoining envelope countless sayings, poems and thoughts of life and death copied at some time or passed on from someone who knew of her struggle.  The heaviest balloon takes flight the quickest because Cindy’s work and worry here on earth are done.
 
9/27/11   I wrote the above shortly after Cindy’s passing.  I stopped writing because of the pain it caused me.  I put on my “to do list” to finish “My Balloon Bouquet” when I was ready.  I look back at the grammatical errors hi-lighted in annoying colors and ignore because it is how I speak and write “Mississippianease.”  Look that one up in the dictionary….let me know what you find.  Here is my attempt to finish the arrangement on a beautiful running day that reminds me of her.  As I let the rest of the balloons go, here are my thoughts.  I can’t help but notice the difference in the thoughts.
 
 
PICTURE THIS:
 
Pink — a tenderness presented at times in a prickly package because that is how she chose to show her emotions.  A softness easier seen on her face rather than in a hug from an older sister to a younger one, knowing, caring and accepting. 


Yellow — the carefree, fleeting times of youth, health, learning and enjoying simple things.  An unburdened time of discovery, growth and anticipation of “what’s next” shared like co-conspirators.  It is a happy color associated with my sister because of the joy she brought to my life. 


And then there is Green — calming, life giving and one of mama’s favorite colors.  The color of money that held less value to Cindy than time on earth with the one she loved. 


White — the color of angels with gold dust on their wings.  Cindy, my angel, forever watching over me.  She still hovers over me while sleeping, running and my daily attempt to get it right.  
 


Purple — vibrant, strong, a stand out in any crowd as Cindy was. She didn’t demand respect but received it because of how she lived her life and the friend that she chose to be.
 


Orange — somehow an unnoticed contributor to a group, unsung but ever present; wow, that was my sister.  She brightened up a group just by being there, didn’t expect to be noticed but was.
 


Silver — as in there is a silver lining.  I have come to believe that in my sister’s death that there is a silver lining.
 

 
She stayed with me long enough to kick me in the behind enough to say, “I can do it,” whatever that looks like.  That was her job, you know!  I miss her like crazy but I rest in knowing she is where I hope to be one day.
 
With that I say goodbye to my old thoughts of colors and look to a renewed colored vision of the future.  “Colors of Life”…a chapter or book….. yet unwritten.
 
 
 
 

How Life Drama at the Mall Sets the Stage for Writing

 
Today’s guest blogger is Judy Stone-Goldman, PhD, whose blog, The Reflective Writer, I first wrote about last month during my participation in the 2011 Wordcount Blogathon. I immediately was drawn to Judy’s insightful and engaging posts and her blog’s focus on finding personal and professional balance through writing.

“Each of us has the potential to construct a better life by uncovering and reflecting on our inner experience,” writes Judy, who spent more than 25 years teaching speech-language pathology and counseling at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Here is her post — enjoy!

 
I have been here before. It’s the weekend before a trip, and I am shopping, on deadline. Will I never learn? I purchased a dress for the main event weeks ago, and that left me languid with relief. Unfortunately, I felt so good I forgot about the secondary event. So here I am in the mall, trying on every last pair of light-colored pants that exists in this almost-too-late date of June. 

Shopping brings up a lot for me. I have a long history of shopping failure, or perhaps I should saying fashion failure. Style maven I am not. To go shopping is to evoke a whole library of memories—of shopping and clothes, of appearance and acceptability—memories colored by dread, body despair, low expectations, and complete lack of instinct about what might look good.

I hate to mention my mother and be a cliché of childhood calamity, but she’s behind the scenes in all these memories. She was no more skilled than I in the fashion realm, and she treated my chubby frame caustically, leaving me ashamed as well as clueless. By the time she became more comfortable with style herself and perhaps inclined to act more kindly toward me, I was older and living the clothing stories of my past.
 

The clothing stories of my past—suddenly they are bombarding me: the date I went on wearing a house robe because I couldn’t figure out what to wear, the events I went to in drab work clothes because I couldn’t imagine myself in any other kind of outfit, the endless cycle of hesitant purchases followed by reluctant returns.

No wonder the shopping expedition is so fraught, so laden, with each small hope hounded by fear. I am never really shopping for my life today. I am shopping for the stories of the past, telling these stories in one version or another, deepening their mythology with each repetition.

I find myself thinking about this as I gallop around the mall, parallel threads competing: defeats of the past versus necessities of the present. Which will win? My memories have turned into a drama, and I have acted in this play before. I even wrote the script.
 

But if I wrote the script I can rewrite it, and that is what I must do with these stories. I must write them, retell them, give them life on the page instead of life in real life. Writing gives me a space after memory but before reenactment. Writing is my opportunity to rewrite a bit of history so that what was past becomes part of a new future.

Write, retell, reflect, revise, rewrite, recreate. What do I understand about this story? What is important to me to retain and what can I release? How am I different now and how will that affect the story? As I write my way into a new version of the story, I become a combination of the old and the new—I am still myself, still shopping last minute before a trip, but somehow, something is different.

I emerge from the mall triumphant, the white pants in hand. I am balanced, not frazzled; self-accepting, not critical. This is one story I don’t have to escape, and one pair of pants I don’t want to return. I even have time to pick up that bone clutch I forgot I needed.

Questions for Reflection:  How does this blog take you back into memory? What stories do you find yourself retelling and reliving? What stories from your life would you like to rewrite?  

Writing Prompts: “When I read this post, I began remembering ______” (then keep writing); “One story I relive often is ______” (then keep writing); “When I write about a recurring event, I find ______” (then keep writing); “I would like to rewrite my story of ______” (then keep writing).  

Advice on Writing a Family Memoir

You only have to peek at bookstore displays of new titles to see how much memoir writing has grown in popularity in recent years. The desire to honor and chronicle one’s family legacy and create a “living history” is compelling and drives many to the craft of memoir — and certainly was a factor in my own family memoir, A Breath Away: Daughters Remember Mothers Lost to Smoking, which I wrote a year after losing my mother and aunt to lung cancer.

“Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life and of the family you were born into,” writes author William Zinsser in his post, “How to Write a Memoir.”  In May, HarperCollins released the 30th-anniversary edition of Zinsser’s bestseller, On Writing Well, including a new chapter on memoir.

He says a memoir can take many forms — from a formal memoir to an informal family history or even an oral history that you extract by tape recorder from an ailing parent or grandparent. 

Narrow Your Topic

Zinsser says it’s important that you make a series of “reducing decisions.” “For example, one big decision would be to write about only one branch of the family. Families are complex organisms, especially if you trace them back several generations. Decide to write about your mother’s side of the family or your father’s side, but not both.”

Listen First

New York-based professional writer Brian McDonald advises that memoir writers first master the art of listening. McDonald wrote My Father’s Gun, his 1999 family memoir chronicling three generations of Irish-American New York City Police Department officers. The book, which came out two years before 9/11, was later made into a two-hour documentary on the History Channel.

“I was lucky I had a family of storytellers – police officers and bartenders and such are natural storytellers. I was always a great listener. Those anecdotes I heard from when I was first a child stayed with me, and later on when I decided to do a book about my family, they came to life. Then I went about reporting them, finding out where family lore stopped and where fact began.”


Flesh out the Details

The details in your memoir are critical, advises Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, a certified geneologist and memoir writing instructor for WritingOnlineWorkshops.com, in her Writer’s Digest post, “Write a Memoir to Remember!”

“While writing your memoir, probe as deeply as you can to fill out a scene or an event. Use photographs, letters, diaries, interviews or background research to explain, reflect and fill out your narrative. In the details, you will begin to make sense of your life experiences,” Carmack states. “Some budding memoirists rush through a scene without stopping to smell the rain on the pavement. Granted, you don’t want to overwhelm your readers with details; you have to keep the story moving along. If the scene or event is crucial, slow down and describe it so that the reader can experience it with you.”

In McDonald’s case, he got his “hands dirty” – going to halls of record and pulling research off of shelves.  “Because my family were police officers, there was a lot of history of the police department – old records and first-person narratives that I pulled out,” he recalls.

In the end, he was able to tell not only the stories of the men in his family, but also the behind-the-scenes stories of his family’s women, who he considers “the real heroes” of the book because of the emotional toll they carried raising children while their husbands went about very dangerous work. His brother Frankie Jr. served in the Bronx during the 70s — a period noted for the high murder rate, racial tensions and cop assassinations by members of the Black Liberation Army, McDonald recalls. 

My sister-in-law used to say every time the 11 o’clock news would come on, she’d stay up and the lead story would be a cop shot or a shootout in the Bronx, and she’d have that same feeling in her stomach — that same dread that it was her husband. That way is a very hard way to live your life.”

McDonald considers the best part of the book project was the end result — a family record that can be shared with future generations. “Grandchildren and great grandchildren down the road are going to be able to pick this book off the shelf and say, ‘That was my great grandfather.’ ‘That was my uncle.’ ‘That was my cousin,'” he says.
Links to Read More

If you want to read more about writing memoirs, check out this Squidoo post, “The Best Books for Writing a Memoir,” which recommends works such as Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art and Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir by Sue William Silverman.

Remembering Mom

Mother’s Day for me is always bittersweet – it’s a time to enjoy my kids (and be pampered a little). It’s a time to reconnect with other moms and let them know that they’re appreciated. And it’s a time to thank my own mom for all she’s done  — as a parent, confidante and trusted guide. This is my sixth Mother’s Day without her.

A true coal miner’s daughter, Billie Jo Siler was born on Sept. 17, 1939, in Pruden — once a tiny coal mining town straddling the Kentucky-Tennessee border in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  She was the youngest of seven children (six girls, one boy), and as was common during those days, began smoking when she was only 16. A tomboy and a hard worker, she joined the Air Force out of high school. She had a natural writing aptitude and was assigned to work on the base newspaper at Lackland AFB in Texas. She met my father after returning to civilian life. They married and eventually had four children. A devoted wife and mother, Mom made the holidays special and never knew a stranger. She also was my best friend. She passed away on Aug. 3, 2004, at age 64, when my son — her first grandchild — was only three weeks old. 

I spent that first year mourning her by penning a book, A Breath Away: Daughters Remember Mothers Lost to Smoking.  Each chapter featured a mother-daughter story (the common thread being the early loss of a loved one from lung cancer and other tobacco-related illnesses). Writing helped me grieve and heal; it made my loss less isolating. I discovered that many people have turned to the healing power of writing. In 2009, I attended a Wellness and Writing conference in Atlanta (see post, “Words Really Do Matter”) and that conference has since blossomed into an active online community interested in the connection between overall health and expressive writing as a therapeutic practice.
 
A lot has happened over the intervening years since Mom’s passing – including the arrival of eight grandchildren (thankfully, not all mine!). I often wonder what she would have thought of her kids as parents. I am in awe of her patience, grace and strength of character in the face of years and years of chronic illness and eventually, cancer. She never let it get in the way of what was most important to her — family. I know she would tell us to enjoy the blessings of family and never to take anything for granted. 
 
Here’s to you, Mom — for everything you continue to mean to me and my siblings…we miss you every day. 

Words Really Do Matter

When not thought out – such as a carelessly worded e-mail, words can annoy, hurt or wound the spirit. When they are spoken or written with the full feeling of our hearts, they can heal and even transform. That was what I’ll remember most from attending the third annual Wellness & Writing Connections Conference on Oct. 23 at Georgia Tech.

The conference’s keynote speaker was someone who touched me with her sincerity — a “sister in spirit” — author, journalist and 33-year writing professor Julie Davey. A two-time cancer survivor, Julie gives back by teaching cancer patients how to use writing to heal at the City of Hope Medical Center in Los Angeles.
To our group of 100 writers, she shared the stories of some of her students to demonstrate the power of directed writing (as opposed to journal writing) for people needing to face their sadness, fear, frustration, pain.
She told the story of Linda Bergman, a famous Hollywood producer with 26 films to her credit, who got cancer on her 50th birthday as she was filming “Michael Landon: The Father I Knew.”  Julie recalled how Linda was about to give up with the chemo treatments that weren’t making her better. She was ready to check out of the hospital and go home to die. Her family and oncologist at the City of Hope convinced her to try one final trial. Four months later she was cured. Linda donates one day a week at the City of Hope, serving as an anonymous greeter to arrivals at the cancer center. Linda wrote about her victory and how much she loves serving others facing cancer in “Free at Last:”

I have reached my goal – I am no longer the victim.
I am assisting those who have come behind me.
I see it on the patient’s faces when I get the opportunity to say, ‘Oh you have leukemia. I had that, too.’
I see the light in their eyes as they search mine for answers.
No, we don’t always have the same disease, but they know I speak their language.
They know I can be trusted.
They know I have faced the demons and lived to tell about it.
They know I am disease-free and standing in the midst of the storm, shining a light to them.
They know I love them because I am them.

Julie also spoke about her favorite student of all time – Violet Wightman, who began taking her writing classes at Fullerton College at age 91. Violet’s ice-breaker introduction was that she was a friend to both Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff and the famous aviator Amelia Earhart – statements that she later proved were true. Violet was a former concert pianist who raised her four children alone after her husband, a Hollywood dentist, died tragically in a car accident in Europe. Always outspoken and colorful in class, Violet had aspirations to write her life story. Upon learning she had terminal cancer, this desire became urgent. Julie and others at the college helped Violet pull together her writing collection, Sitting on a Cloud, before her death.

Each of us attending Julie’s talk got to experience directed writing. We were given an envelope with the message, “Please wait to open.” When it was time to open my envelope, it read: “The day I would like to relive (or live over) would be the day….”

I didn’t have to think for long. I wrote, “The day my terminally ill mother asked if I could spend the day with her because it was a good day (she was feeling okay), and I didn’t because of work deadlines. I thought there would be more days but they became fewer in number as her condition deteriorated. I would love to have that day back, because she’s gone and the work wasn’t important.”

 
My mother died on Aug. 3, 2004, three weeks after my son was born. This brief episode in my mother’s nine-month struggle with stage four lung cancer has always haunted me. I bitterly think about my absorption in work –and I hated myself for not taking a break from the daily grind of client expectations to realize that time was short – that soon I would no longer have my mother to talk with, share confidences with, to be with for those mother-daughter moments that were such a fabric of our relationship. I admit I cried as I wrote those words. Getting them down on paper helped me accept that I am human and most importantly, that my mother knew how much I loved her…that our bond is unshakeable, unchanged no matter how many years pass.
 
I did my own form of healing through narrative by penning A Breath Away: Daughters Remember Mothers Lost to Smoking 10 months after my mother’s passing.  I poured out my pain through my own remembrances and those of other daughters who lost their mothers too soon, using my skills as a storyteller and interviewer. It was a healing experience, and one I hope to continue as I explore adapting some of these stories for the stage.
 
So, how do you get started? Consider these exercises, suggested in Julie’s book, Writing for Wellness, when you have a quiet moment and want to get in touch with your feelings:
 
Tribute Letter
• Write a letter to someone missing in your life. Write about the good times you shared and describe why you miss them today. Share your letter with a person who knew or was related to your loved one or friend.
 
Unfinished Business
• Is there some event in your life that still makes your angry or sad? Finish this sentence: When (describe the incident) happened, I felt….
 
Lessons Learned
• What lessons have you learned so far in your life? Make a list of five to ten – explain in a few words how you learned these lessons, or finish one of these sentences:
I learned the hard way that….
I wish my parents had told me…
I would like to tell my children or friends to always…