Friday, February 07, 2014

writing in grief

I lost my Dad suddenly last August. Which has launched me on another, major, grief journey.

One of the impacts has been on my writing. Essentially, since Dad died, I’ve struggled to write. I have a complex job and that absorbs a lot of mental energy. It involves some deep work with people and that’s been intense and absorbing. Before Dad died, there was some drive to keep using what little mental space I had left for writing, some energy to get up early and steal a few hours in a cafe. But since Dad died, either work has got bigger, or people more intense. Or I’ve lost something.

I’m also aware that one way to deal with grief is to compartmentalise and remain in one’s head, rather than experience emotions. This has made me nervous (become a convenient excuse?) about getting back into writing, especially given some of the more academic type writing projects I was invested in.

I’ve done a few things (monthly film reviews and study leave). But that ability to grab a few hours here and there, at the start or end of a day, which can keep writing projects quietly ticking along – that has gone.

In late October, I became aware of a writing project (working title Farewelling Our Fathers). It was an attempt to connect mens’ studies with mens’ experiences. It is seeking to collect eulogies from about 30 different men – around 2,000 words each reflecting on farewelling their dads – with recent literature on how men of my generation (40 and up) were taught to relate to our fathers, and our fathers to us.

In other words, a pastoral theology, reflecting on masculinity and death. It sounded intriguing, a potentially rich mix of head, heart and culture. I wondered if it might help me process my grief, might let me attend to head and heart, might draw words from me, might ease me back into writing.

It’s been really, really difficult. Going back into the emotions, trying to find the words. It’s like stepping into uncertain terrain, not sure what emotions will emerge, needing to be in a space that allows those emotions to emerge in ways that don’t effect my work and colleagues.

Over the weekend, my daughter needed to be in town for a 2 and a half hour event. It opened up a space, one that was helpfully defined by time, one that was personal. I found a cafe and found the reserves to do a complete edit.

Off to the editor!

I’m sure it will come back for further work, but it was a milestone, the first major writing project since Dad died. I’m not sure it will make future writing any easier. But I’m glad the first major thing I’ve written since Dad died has been so costly, has been about him and has been creative, heartfelt, spiritual and a seeking for integration.

And I still miss my Dad. Daily.

Posted by steve at 09:25 AM


  1. Thank you Steve. The sudden death of my father 12 months ago and the serious illness of my wife makes my writing, especially re the thesis, very hard indeed. I can sit down in front of the computer ready to begin, then I get so afraid and emotional that I have to get up and walk around the block. Hopefully one day, and soon, I can sit at ease and think and make corrections as you suggest.

    Comment by Bruce Grindlay — February 7, 2014 @ 11:28 am

  2. Thanks Bruce. It’s certainly hard isn’t it. Grace be with you,


    Comment by steve — February 7, 2014 @ 6:19 pm

  3. Steve. Grief. Fathers. Sons. It’s a bloody cul de sac of pain. Thanks for the post. It helps.

    Comment by Andrew — February 7, 2014 @ 10:04 pm

  4. Thanks Steve. Be kind to yourself, Jenny

    Comment by Jenny B — February 8, 2014 @ 9:01 pm

  5. Hi Steve

    That was my experience too after John died. It took a while but it came back, only to be hit by the Christchurch earthquakes and it is still a struggle. However, I am hopeful that if it came back once it can come back again. Be gentle on yourself, Steve. I found that trying to fight it was not helpful and only caused me more stress. Go well on your grief journey. And while I am writing here, I still appreciate so much how you walked alongside me on my grief journey.

    Comment by Janette — February 11, 2014 @ 12:21 pm

  6. Thanks Janet. Big cyber hug at the front door of church 🙂

    Being kind to myself I’m trying to apply to all of life, not just the writing.


    Comment by steve — February 11, 2014 @ 1:55 pm

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