Monday, October 31, 2011

Joan Didion, Longfellow & Eric Clapton - Writing Through Grief

      After  I  read Twelve Reasons to Write , Jennifer Rova's blog post for October 26, 2011 on Writing North Idaho,  I  was motivated  to write, especially after she shared about one man's compelling desire to write poetry after the death of his son, and the grief he bared.

     The day before I read Jennifer’s post, I  had picked up a copy of Joan Didion’s  book, The Year of Magical Thinking.   In her  memoir Didion  details  step by step the  pain and anguish  she endured after the sudden death of her husband, collaborator,  best friend, and  fellow author, John Gregory Dunne; It  earned her the National Book Award (2005).  Didion, one of America’s most renowned authors, explains it was grief that motivated her to write this particular story about her own deep, and unrelenting loss.

  Because of the sheer sadness and ordeal the author takes us through, the book is not always easy to read, but it  does relate first hand , the  commonality and process of grieving .

     After the death of his beloved wife, Fanny ,  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  struggled with depression, and had to force himself to write again.  Though many years had passed, it was his continued  grief   that finally  moved  Longfellow to write,  The Cross of Snow which made  clear the lasting ache in his heart.

That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

     Famed guitarist and songwriter , Eric Clapton wrote the  poetic lyrics to the best selling song , Tears in Heaven after the death of his young son.

Would you know my name
If  I saw you in Heaven
Would it be the same
If I saw you in Heaven                               
Would you hold my hand                      
If I saw you in Heaven 
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in Heaven 

     The point I’m trying to make here is grief,  and the death of a loved one penetrates  the very depth of one’s soul,  and  can be  the primary reason for  a famous published author ,  poet, lyricist or someone unknown  to write his or her thoughts—to share their anguish, or memories of the departed  one held  close to the heart, ever so dear.

     For example, my mother  wrote the following on a scrap piece of paper several months after my brother died.   She’s not a professional writer, nor does she have a college education, but the words she wrote are from her heart, and shares precisely  what grief feels like. 

Saturday Afternoon
I just walked out to the mail box and back.  Sometimes I like getting mail, sometimes I don’t .
The very worse thing  arrived in my mail today; My son, my darling, my ever loved son, Walt’s death certificate. Nobody, nobody  should  ever have to look on, or read their sons death certificate.  Only 55 years  ago, I was reading his birth certificate.   I was 21 , he was  two days old. Life and love was new and wonderful.  My four year old daughter, Kathy was waiting at home to enfold him in her little arms.  Now, we will never hold him again.   You might think 55 years old is a long time  - it isn’t.  Remembering the little hands that stroked your face, the tiny feet you kissed  -  the sky blue eyes smiling up at you.  Oh, God !   I miss my son.
I sit at my kitchen table  looking out at the beautiful blue sky, but it doesn’t sparkle like Walt’s blue eyes did.
You were so loved,  Walt. You are so missed.

   Chronicling grief  through story and the written word -  whether memoir, poem, journal writing  or song is an often overlooked  type of writing, but one that  can bring acceptance and healing to both writer, and reader.

   For  helpful ideas about this subject visit

***  An informative and well written article about Joan Didion and her newest memoir  about the death of her daughter  (who died shortly after Didion's husband)  is featured in the Nov/Dec 2011  issue of Poet & Writers.  


Anonymous said...

So sad but so true. So inspirational, the author Kathy Cooney Dobbs understands and puts into writing what we all have felt. Thank You so much.


Nancy Owens Barnes said...

Thank you, Kathy, for this important post and your mother's beautiful, heartfelt words.

Patty said...

A very heartfelt article you've written Kathy, coupled with your mother's thoughts. Thank you for sharing. I'm sure your brother would be proud.

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

jm, Nancy & Patty, thank you for taking the time to post your comment about my post, Writing Through Grieving.

elizabethbrinton said...

Grief is a journey. I am glad to see Joan Didion gain acclaim for her work, but of course, am so sorry for the causes. We struggle to make sense of loss. Why did this happen? Why me? Few of us ever find the words. I believe your mother really got to the crux of the matter. We all pray for her and know that one day there will be that "mother/child reunion." Please send her my love.

Jennifer Rova said...

Todd Burpo's book"Heaven is for Real" about his 4 year old slowly revealing insights into going to heaven while undergoing an operation then returning to earth gets one thinking. Joan Didion and Eric Clapton both echo the same wonder and sentiments. Of course there are equally as many books about there not being a heaven which is the richness of our literature and the freedom in America to write and read what we choose. Sad and also lovely post.

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Thank you, Jennifer

Anonymous said...

Your family has always been so dear to mine, I see why!! I consider myself a deep thinker; you encourage me to put it on paper. Love to you Kathy, and your family.