This post originally appeared on Medium in November 2020.
In 2004, we lost our daughter in stillbirth.
I was completely broken. Broken in a way I’d never experienced before. I’d lost people, mostly aging relatives, so I understood the grief of losing a loved one. But this was different. I was grieving something — someone — physical, but also the loss of an idea of her and the way I’d envisioned the future.
Writing had always been a sanctuary, a safe space to vent my emotions in whatever form they came out, whether in tiny neat letters or in rage-filled scribbles. But when she died and my world imploded, I couldn’t. There were no words.
Fast-forward four years. Our second daughter was now two and a half, and her baby brother just three months old. We took them with us on our annual pilgrimage to the spot where we’d scattered our baby’s ashes. We wanted them to know that there was a guardian angel meant just for them, that our family was bigger than what they could see.
I hadn’t written about her for four years but, when we got home, I began to write.
I have a friend, a new friend in the scheme of things, who recently lost her mother. She began writing the moment she knew her mother was going to die.
There is no right answer here. But here is my suggestion.
If the trauma is recent or ongoing and writing feels like what you need to do in order to process what’s happening or has happened, then do it. But don’t put any expectations on it. And if writing doesn’t feel like the right thing — or even possible — then don’t do it. Either way, it is okay.
I think that there is a point when you are able to look back on what happened in a detached way. I don’t mean that it isn’t still painful, or that you aren’t still recovering. I mean that there is a moment, a day, or a year when you will look up and realize that you can think about, talk about, even write about what happened with enough distance that you can also think about how you want to craft the narrative around it, to attach some meaning to it, to understand what the message is that you want to share.
This is impossible to do when you are in it.
We often think that, because we are writers, we must write in order to process. It isn’t always true. Just tune in. Your body, your inner self, whatever you believe in beyond yourself…they will tell you when (or if) it’s time.