Your Story Matters

by Abby on October 12, 2011

Flower growing out of a rockI’m sad today. I got an email from a longtime reader who wrote to tell me she had lost her new baby suddenly. I could feel her pain coming through her words. My heart broke for her. This sad news comes on the heels of critiquing the final essays for my last writing class. One student wrote a beautiful and devastating essay about giving birth to a stillborn daughter; another wrote about struggling to accept her son’s difficult medical diagnosis.

It’s an occupational hazard, I’m afraid. I have both the honor and the burden of hearing many heart-wrenching stories about babies and children, about people who can’t have them or who’ve lost them. I never know what to say. Although I am a writer, words fail me in these situations. I settle for “I’m keeping you in my thoughts. Thank you for sharing your story.”

And it’s true. I never forget these stories. I remember one poignant essay about a family that marked the anniversary of a baby’s death with a touching ritual. Another mom beautifully put into words her complicated feelings for her child born with Down syndrome. Others have written about miscarriages, postpartum depression, struggling with emotionally and physically disabled children.

These stories are hard to read. But they are so important. I have experienced over and over again the power of words to touch people and connect with them. Writing these stories down is healing for some people; reading them is a way of sharing in the writer’s story, being a witness, reminding ourselves that we are not alone. The woman who wrote about her stillborn child said she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support she received. All kinds of people, including some unexpected ones, came forward with their own stories.

Sometimes these stories have happy endings. I know a mom who lost a baby to SIDS, then went on to have two more healthy babies. A family member and his wife tried and tried to conceive, then lost their baby at 5mos; they recently welcomed a baby girl. Another woman I know was told she would never get pregnant, then delivered a healthy baby on Mother’s Day. Another was told her baby would never walk or talk, but that child defied all odds and is progressing steadily.

Other times, though, there is no happy ending, no moral of the story, no nugget of wisdom or insight gleaned from a horrific experience. Where the person only wants to know, “Why me? Why did this have to happen to us?” And I think those stories are important, too. One mom wrote about how she couldn’t relate to people who viewed their child’s disability as a gift. “It sucks! I hate it! And I would change it in a heartbeat if I could,” she wrote. Who can’t relate to that kind of honesty?

I have no words of wisdom to offer. No way to ease the pain or give comfort. But I can tell you this: I am listening. I am reading. I hear your story, and it matters.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Viv October 14, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Abby that’s friking hysterical. My kids were recently in a wedding where the meal didn’t start until 11 pm! I don’t have to describe how that went, but your recollection here is hysterical. Kudos! Hope you are well, woman!

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Angie October 16, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Awesome post, Abby. It reminds me of when I first discovered how alive writing made me feel and how therapeutic it is. I was in college, taking an upper level writing course as a sophomore. I wrote about major turning points in my life… most centered around some type of grief. I think many personal essay writers approach the writing first as a way to heal.

I remember how wonderful my professor was, too. She never said, “I’m sorry you went through that…” She didn’t have to. Her compassion showed in the way the cared about my words… the way she guided me through each revision, doing her part to help me grow and evolve the stories as much as I could at the time.

Sounds like you’re doing the same thing with your students, too.

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Shannon @ AnchorMommy October 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Beautiful post, Abby. I agree – it is SO hard to hear these stories, but sharing them is so important, I think. I just read one in the NY Times yesterday about a mother whose son will die of Tay-Sachs disease by the time he’s three. She wrote about how difficult it is to parent a child who will only live such a short time and how she lets him eat whatever he wants, watch as much TV as he wants…you get the idea. Her goal is to make his short life as comfortable and happy as it can be. You can bet I gave my kids some extra hugs and kisses after reading that. My heart hurts for parents like her, but for me, it’s a reminder about how lucky I am to have two healthy kids, and to enjoy every moment.

One more thing: the words that you offer your students probably mean more than you even realize. It sounds to me like you are helping comfort your writers through some unbelievably difficult times. Hats off to you.

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