The process of writing gently stimulates your memory and helps you conjure up the people, places, sights, sounds, scents, and sensibilities to vividly recall your past, observe it and reinterpret it. And now you can analyze it from a safe distance; insulated by this cushion called time.
Lately, I want to write about my past, especially the turning points that defined it, to better understand its implications on my life. I am particularly interested in understanding more about the long-term effect of my mother’s premature death on my five siblings and me when I was eleven. I want to comprehend how my younger brother worked through (and continues to work through) the temporary paralysis he experienced at age 15 and its permanent residual effects on his ability to walk today. And, I’m driven to write more about my father’s profound effect on all of his children after living a stellar life only to quietly fade away from the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s.
Just how can writing about the past help you reconcile it?
In his article, “Truant Lies,” Bob Hostetler shares how his goal to be perpetually truant in high school formed the basis of his first novel; They Call Me A.W.O.L. Hostetler cited seven ways writing about his past helped him reconcile it. I share three here.
The writing process helps you work through unresolved grief. “The writing process also became a means of working through some unresolved grief I had harbored for more than 20 years,” Hostetler said. “Even while writing the comic scenes for the book, I occasionally found the words on the page blurred by the tears that unexpectedly filled my eyes as I recalled my mother’s untimely passing and the turmoil it created in my teenage heart.” Writing They Call Me A.W.O.L. helped him to accept his mother’s death.
The writing process can help you restore relationships. Hostetler’s relationship with his father was strained during his truancy years. He writes, “…the recreation of those years in the pages of my book reminded me of how my deception and delinquency hurt him. Until I started writing, I managed to forget—or, perhaps, ignore—what I put him through.”
Hostetler confides that he sent his father a copy of the first draft of the book with a thank you note for his patience with him during his high school years.
The writing process helps you confront things you may still need to change in your life. For Hostetler, and for most of us, writing about the past will help us confront things that need our attention or correction. By revisiting our past through the process of writing we can more objectively evaluate it, its impact on our present life and make adjustments we may still need to address.
For me, I desire to write about key passages of my life, the turning points, that are worthy of closer observation. I will write about them not to change them, but to better understand them and the people who defined those moments and shaped me.
Although this will be a journey, I have started this writing process with the goal to help others by sharing what I’ve learned along the way. The first article is finished. It’s a story about how my family was impacted by caregiving for my father after Alzheimer’s stripped him of his memory.
The story is entitled, “A Survival Guide for Alzheimer’s Caregivers.” It will be published in a new Chicken Soup for the Soul book entitled, Living with Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias, 101 Stories of Caregiving, Coping and Compassion. It will be available online and at most bookstores nationwide April 22nd, 2014.
This is just the beginning of this writing journey.
And while we cannot change the past by writing about it, we can better understand the role it played in shaping who we are, how we can help others in similar situations, and how we can embrace the future.