Disappearing into Grief

copy of hot young widows club book with a candle and a coffee sitting on a tray

It hasn’t been a great time to be related to Carrie Rollwagen. In the past few weeks, I’ve had family members (and friends as close as family) die, get terrible medical diagnoses and survive brutally violent attacks. They say tragedies come in threes, but at this point, we’re heading toward half a dozen. It’s gotten to the point that, when I see my parents’ number come up on caller ID, I’m immediately worried about what else has happened.

I haven’t known how to write during this time; it doesn’t feel right to write about the people or events themselves: In some cases, I haven’t wanted to be melodramatic and take away from the fact that, even though I loved the people who are lost, they were closer to other people (their children, for example) who are hurting more than I am. In some cases, what happened just isn’t my story to tell. I don’t want to cheapen how I feel by using it to get blog hits and likes. And frankly, part of me hasn’t wanted people to know what’s going on — because it’s easier to get through my everyday work without crying if I don’t have to talk about why I’m in pain.

I haven’t blogged about anything else either, though, because it all seems trivial. I’d planned to do a few blog posts on my trip to Europe — what to pack, how to navigate a subway, etc. — but I just haven’t been able to do it. Between the phone calls about death and destruction, life has also thrown in its share of ordinary annoyances like 10-hour work days, a nasty summer cold, a fight with my best friend, and a flat tire on the way home from my grandpa’s funeral, and I’ve mostly just been exhausted.

Do we owe it to the world to share our experiences with others? No, I don’t think so. As a writer, however, that’s exactly what I’ve committed myself to doing. Normally, I enjoy that; I also need it on some level, because writing is how I process emotions and how I understand what I’m feeling. Sometimes I’m happy to spell out exactly what’s going on with me … but not right now. Now is for crying and grieving and journaling, and for talking to people I trust. Before I write, I want to have perspective, and I’m way too close to any of this to have that. I will write about this time — but probably not soon, and probably not literally.

The truth doesn’t have to be a blow by blow account of exactly what happened. These experiences will deepen my writing and will help me have more empathy for other people. Since they’re shaping me, they can’t help but shape my work in the long run. The tears and love and horrible phone calls and beautiful moments will probably change shape and form before they appear in other things I write later. But even though my readers may not know exactly where those words came from — and even though I might not know exactly what they came from — as long as I’m writing, my experiences will find their way into the world.

I think time for reflection is important, especially in a world that currently seems to have none. We write about and read about things not even as soon as they happen, but often before they’ve even finished happening. We’re lacking in context and perspective, so we get news stories that are reactionary and so half-baked that they might as well be fiction. Sometimes a half truth just amounts to a lie, and I don’t want to contribute to that kind of writing. Maybe staying silent, at least for a little while, and allowing myself time to think before I speak is one small step in the right direction.

Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist, a book about buying from locally owned stores and cofounder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Currently, she works as Communications Director at Infomedia, a web development company in Birmingham, Alabama. Find her as @crollwagen on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and most other social media platforms.

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