The Healing Power of Writing

March 26, 2020
March 26, 2020 Philip Holmes

In a previous post, I suggested that you might like to find yourself a “buddy” who can act as a mentor and (constructive) critic. My friend and ChoraChori supporter Angela Sherman performed that role for me when she read through Gates of Bronze. Not only is Angela a brilliant writer and story-teller, but she also had the personal experience of the trauma of suicide that allowed her to comment with sensitivity and empathy on the content of my memoir. Here is what Angela shared with me yesterday on the healing power of writing:

“My phone rang at 3 a.m. That’s never a good time of night for the phone to ring, and this was no different.

It was the police. They were ringing to tell me my partner was dead. He had committed suicide by crashing his car.

My life had changed in a few short moments. That afternoon I’d been looking forward to starting a new life in a new place with the man I loved. And now he was dead. I was starting the most difficult journey I’d ever known.

My world spun into a surreal slow-motion of pain, disbelief and confusion. A jagged blade of insult tore at my flesh and carved its deepest hurt into my bone.

In the weeks that followed, my morning alarm clock took me into a waking nightmare. I enjoyed a split second of oblivion before transiting once again into the awful realisation that life was standing there with its knife, waiting for me, picking at the gaping wound in my heart and laughing.

I needed a place to break down, a place that would accept whatever emotions needed to come out. The top of the stairs became my ‘angry space’ – a place to rant and to cry. I would sit there and unleash the things I wanted to say.

My courage felt very thin.

Death is so final for those left behind. I had never realised just how final before. It leaves such a silence – an emptiness that implodes in on itself. There had been no time to say goodbye – or anything else. It was instant. Black and white. A life-force one moment, nothing the next.

One of the things that got me through that time was writing. It was an outpouring onto the page, a deluge of grief and confusion, a way to shout at the universe and try to make sense of what had happened and of how I felt.

Sometimes I didn’t know how I felt. Sometimes I just felt completely numb, but being able to write helped me so much.

I wrote about everything.

It was the beginning of a glorious autumn. The rich yellows, golds and vibrant reds of the trees flagged up the changing seasons. On the one hand it seemed a spectacular display to celebrate and trumpet the passing of a beautiful soul. He was free – and in a better place. On the other, it was an all-too-stark reminder that he wasn’t here. I couldn’t understand how he could have died when all around the world was bursting into colour. 

The workmen were digging up the road. Michael Jackson had a new single out. I didn’t understand how the world could still be turning, My partner would have so much to catch up on when he came back. But no – how stupid. Of course he wouldn’t be coming back! I sometimes felt as if I was going insane, falling into that momentary trap of forgetting he had gone.

The world was suddenly harsh, metallic and cold. Everything and everybody was insensitive, and all other conversation was trivial and inconsequential.

My pen was my therapist. I told the page everything.

I no longer knew any of the steps in the dance of my life. I didn’t recognise the music. I didn’t know how I would ever begin to start again, and there was nothing to cushion the blow.

And yet… Friends can be the magic carpet under your feet in times of crisis.

I knew that a friend of mine, Philip Holmes, founder of The Big Story, was running a children’s charity in Nepal. Coincidentally, I’d been doing some work for a separate charity in Nepal and had been invited to see the project.

I emailed Philip to ask if there was anything I could do for him while I was in Nepal. We arranged to meet up there, so I could see the work he was doing.

Both charity projects involved children who had been abandoned, orphaned or trafficked, and I was beginning to appreciate just how important it is for each one of us to feel loved – especially children. I knew that going to Nepal would be a good experience. I also knew it would be hard – but I felt it would have something to teach me.

I sat and watched the children dancing one evening once I was there. I was on the edge of tears the whole time. I remember watching them and feeling that life was pointless. How could they be smiling? They had nothing to smile about. I found it such a struggle, mentally and emotionally.

The children greeted us, and there were smiles all round. They were seemingly alone in the world, and yet they seemed so happy. They’d lost the vital love from their families, and yet here they all were laughing. How could they be? Could the love they now had from others really make up for it? Was that really enough to turn them around? I looked at their faces and, even though I didn’t understand it, it did give me a chink of hope.

Visiting Nepal helped me hugely. In Philip’s care was a four-year-old girl they had rescued. How would I have coped if I’d been abandoned at four years old? I have no idea. I still couldn’t figure out how these children, too, could look so happy when they’d lost so much. They’d lost their families and they’d lost the love they were born to expect. But now someone did love them again, and showed them so.

© Graham Uden

We visited a school for deaf children and the classrooms were filled with energy – with the rustle of speaking fingers and the animation of silent mouths. Here was a place of remarkable courage and achievement. And here, in me, was a heart full of grief, confusion and anguish.

Something about the children got through to me though. The beauty of their sign language perhaps? The faith they had in their future? Here were dozens of children to whom opportunity is ordinarily barred in Nepal. Maybe the children didn’t know that – and so it didn’t affect them. And if they did, maybe their teachers and supporters had lifted them above it.

My time in Nepal showed me so much about what love can do. Those children now had a chink of light through a doorway to opportunity. They were different because somebody loved them. They’d stepped closer to knowing the huge potential they have.

Just as death can appear suddenly from round a corner, life can come at you out of nowhere, too. Seeing what can come from tragedy never fails to amaze me. Knowing that so many lives have been – and are being – saved and changed by the work ChoraChori are doing in Nepal is beyond wonderful.

It is writing that helped me understand this. It helped me work out my own pain, make some sense of things and appreciate the joy that life still has in abundance.

Sometimes everything we know and trust is taken away. I’ll always be thankful for that trip to Nepal. Even if the path ahead is unclear, if we follow the prompts, however unfamiliar, however painful, they can lead somewhere new, somewhere better, even if we don’t always know where.

Writing is cathartic. When we trust the process, it brings us face to face with ourselves. It helps us understand our lives, and can help us put ourselves back together more authentically and with greater insight for the future. In effect, we become our own mentor as we step into that unknown.”

Angela Sherman

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© 2020. The Big Story is an initiative by UK registered charity ChoraChori (reg no 1159770).

Please remember our needs if you are writing or re-writing your will. For further information contact the charity Founder, Philip Holmes. Thank you