Welcome back to SunnyRoomStudio.
It’s wonderful to welcome author Sukey Forbes to this sunny space for kindred spirits. Sukey chose an important topic to write about, one I haven’t seen addressed quite so well before. Authors who tackle daunting subjects like the loss of a young child are often asked if writing the book was cathartic. Many readers assume so, and writers who are in the early stages of writing a book may carry such an expectation. But, for Sukey, that wasn’t the case, and I have a feeling she’s not alone in this regard. Here is what the author of a new memoir called The Angel in My Pocket: Love, Loss and Life After Death has to say on the subject. Welcome, Sukey!
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.
― William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Having recently released a memoir and going out to speak about it with other people there’s one question I can count on being asked at almost any venue:
“Was writing this book cathartic?”
The first few times that I was asked this question I had to pause before my response. I wanted the answer to be a solid ‘yes’. Surely digging that deep, pouring my soul onto page after page of what ultimately became a book must be cathartic. Surely in the writing of the book some aching and wounding part of me had been healed or negative thoughts dealt with and then released. Some pressure valve of the soul had blown off some steam and left me quiet, relieved, rejuvenated? A bit lighter?
But here’s the thing. Writing the book was not at all cathartic.
Not. At. All.
Choosing to write a book about my journey into grief, through it, and then out the far side, required going back and re-living every painful experience again from the very beginning: sitting next to my daughter when she took her last breath; telling her siblings that their sister had died; saying goodbye to what had been my daughter and hello to a backpack filled with woe deepening into more woe, and questions begetting questions that would burden me day in and out for years. During the writing I had to revisit those long months where I struggled to find a belief system and a faith in God, or at the very least a sense of providence. It required re-opening the conversation with myself and others about what happens when we die and where do our souls go. Or do they actually go somewhere?
While I was in my early stages of grieving the death of my daughter I wrote privately in my journals about all of these things. At that time I was trying to make sense of my head and my heart. Those writings in the moment lead to insights and glimpses of a comforting future. Those writings along the way most certainly were helpful. Personal writing while I was immersed in my suffering was my safe haven. The journal writing that became the seeds of my memoir was most definitely helpful. It was probative in nature. I raged and I railed and worked through my many issues surrounding love, loss, and life after death. Those writings ultimately guided me to a place of comfort. Those writings at the time left me quiet, relieved, rejuvenated. Yes, even lighter. They led me back to a place of truly embracing life and living and those writings along the way were certainly cathartic.
But going back into grief retroactively to set together a narrative and a story worth sharing? No. That required not just dipping my toe back into those cold shark infested waters but fully immersing myself in the ocean of grief in which for years I had worked to stay afloat and then learn to navigate. That was not cathartic. That was deeply painful and yet a necessary part of the process.
I chose to share my story when I had been successful in working my way from the depths of sorrow back to a state of living and embracing life. Until that point it seemed the writings would not be of interest to anyone other than me (or perhaps my children at some point in the future).
Writing in and of itself can bring us a great sense of understanding ourselves and the world around us. If we write our innermost thoughts we must be honest. We must write as if no one else will see what we write. When and if we are transformed in our journey and brought to deeper levels of awareness then perhaps those words become worthy of sharing. But by the time we sit down to write a book to put out in to the world the work of the soul has been done. Generally that is the cathartic bit.
All that said, writing saved my life. Being fearless with what may come out on to the page in any given moment was an important ingredient to getting to the meat of the matter. The mighty pen pulled me through. When it felt it was time to write for someone other than myself it was me who pulled the pen across the pages. That was difficult. That part hurt. But I would do it all again in a heartbeat because sharing our stories ultimately keeps us connected, growing, living, surviving and thriving. ~
Sukey splits her time between northern California and Massachusetts with her family. She is an active mother to two even more active teens. One of her best tools in life has been writing to understand the landscape of head and heart and that is where she turned when her 6 year old daughter died suddenly at the age of 6. The words in her journals were the seeds of The Angel in My Pocket. Sukey is a graduate of Roanoke College and is also a non practicing Doctor of Chiropractic. She blogs for the Huffington Post and lectures on resilience, choosing to live, spirituality, and what happens when we die. She is currently working on a lecture series about life after death and modern science. The Angel in My Pocket is her first book (Viking Penguin, July 2014). It is a Boston Globe and Patriot Ledger Bestseller.
- Visit Sukey’s website to learn more about her and her memoir: The Angel in My Pocket: Love, Loss and Life After Death. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter, and please feel free to leave a comment for Sukey here in SunnyRoomStudio.
- You can find Sukey’s book at all the usual online places or ask your local bookstore to order a few copies!
Sorrow makes us all children again — destroys all differences of intellect.
The wisest know nothing. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Thank you, Sukey, for sharing your thoughts here in this sunny space for kindred spirits. My Studio Guests always offer wonderful insights, and you have certainly done that with your guest post. Knowing what to expect when writing, or when reading, is important, and you’ve clarified a question that seems to pop up a bit too often, perhaps. Best of luck with your future endeavors! ~dh
- Thanks for visiting, see you again next Friday, October 31st. And remember: If you haven’t looked within, you haven’t looked.
- And for more about my recent book release, Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place, please visit that page here in SunnyRoomStudio. I hope you enjoy it!
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