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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Luckily, sharing our pain helps everyone

Several months after Kyle's death, his grieving sister Jamie made this art
of a poem Kyle wrote her, "Pipeline," which inspired the one I reference
at left, "For Those Who Need Science Before Faith." Or... maybe it makes
more sense to say that I inspired this poem by talking about my belief in
the pipeline with Kyle and Jamie when they were little children . I have
imagined it invisibly connecting us all since I was a child, though I don't
remember anyone sharing the idea with me. I am excited my book features
20 of Kyle's poems, including "Pipeline" as a companion piece for
"For Those Who..." My son's poems appear alongside 60 of my own.

After more than 20 combined rejections, three more of the poems from my book were accepted for publication by online literary journals this past week! I’m thrilled they were accepted in time to be listed on my book's acknowledgments page, and I was especially touched by the notes the editors sent me.

The editor of the online Amethyst Review said she “would be honored” to publish a long rhyming poem that I worked on for more than two years, “For Those Who Need Science Before Faith.” She said all the poems
I’d sent her were “very strong," However, the poem she accepted has been a hard sell: it has one rhyme scheme that carries across four sections and 30 stanzas and examines my and
my family’s evolving thoughts about faith in the midst of loss. The
fact that an editor saw
its value and wants to share it with her readers is just what I dreamed of and deeply moving to me. 

The editor of the online journal Please See Me said he's happy to publish another hard sell, the longest poem in my book, “The Body’s Expression,” as well as the collection’s title poem, which contains the message I am most eager to share with readers: “What I Should Have Said.” 

When I wrote to thank the editor, he wrote back, “Please excuse me for not saying sooner how important your writing is and how much I personally respect your willingness to turn your personal loss and pain into an experience meaningful to others. In the two years we have had [Please See Me] up we have read about too many such losses of young people and not everyone is able to share their stories with the necessary skill that aligns with candor.”

This comment made me think about David Kessler’s book, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Kessler, who survived the nation's first mass shooting and endured his mother dying of cancer when he was a little boy, has worked with the grief-stricken all his adult life. He co-authored with Elizabeth Kubler Ross On Grief and Grieving, the book that introduced the five stages of grief, and On Death and Dying. Then the unthinkable happened, and his own son died of an overdose at the age of 21, just after he’d started writing Finding Meaning. It seemed like a cosmic joke from the universe, leaving him feeling that his life was absolutely bereft of meaning. 

He realized immediately that he’d had no idea how profound the loss of a child was until he experienced it himself. While I’m sure he treated every parent with whom he’d worked through the years with great sensitivity, he said he now wished he could go apologize to every one for his previous lack of true understanding. That he was able to continue to write and publish this book is what gave his loss deeper meaning.  He knew that much as he would wish it otherwise, he was now going to be able to help many more people survive their horrible losses and revive their gladness to be alive because of his horrible new empathy. His book helped me persist in putting together my poetry collection, as getting this book and its message out into the world is how I am finding meaning in my own loss. Kessler continues to find meaning in helping other grievers through his website and Facebook group, created at the start of the pandemic.

Nearly all of us will experience deep grief and pain in our lifetimes, but those who are able to turn that loss into some kind of meaningful project or life's work that honors their lost loved one are best able to go forward with renewed hope. I’m grateful Kessler’s work helped affirm this for me. Writing my book was the beginning of my healing, and getting it out into the world will help me further by allowing me to reach other families who have undergone or are still undergoing the same pain. 

I’ve also received several notes over the four years of my grieving on Facebook and over the past week from readers of this blog telling me that my willingness to share my pain as openly as I have has been a help to them. 

How lucky I am that what is helping me (writing about my pain and sharing that writing) is simultaneously helping others. 


P.S. Thank you John Sibley Williams, for your great video advising poets it’s all a numbers game and encouraging us to submit more of our work. You inspired me to do that, and it’s working!

#poetry #submissions #rejections #grief

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