I loved Pete, and he loved me. A year ago to the day, my writing and life mentor passed away unexpectedly. For a decade, we ran local writing groups together, celebrated socially, shared our personal thoughts, and drank god knows how many cups of coffee. Our writing groups were a bit like The Mad Hatter’s tea party, but with coffee. His gentle guidance and advice gave me confidence and strength. Dealing with people has its challenges, and let’s face it, us writers are an odd bunch. Pete never failed to back me up.
Despite the 40 year age difference, we came together with a shared perspective; a writing group should be about friendship first, only friends will offer the support most writers crave. Other writing groups we encountered were impersonal with the purpose of teaching or writing words during meetings. Obviously, those groups tick the boxes for some, but not us. Many writers are shy and insecure, only an environment of friendship promotes sharing.
Peter’s passing left a hole in the group. During the first few sessions, no one sat in his seat. For months I expected him to be waiting at the table when I arrived — “How about a coffee?”
The group has morphed into something different, as all healthy groups should, with an influx of new members. Pete’s legacy lives on through me. That gem of knowledge pulls me through.
Back when the loss was raw, I googled writing and grief because I didn’t understand why writing was difficult. There was very little said about the subject. A year later, in memory of Pete, I thought I would reflect. Maybe my words will help others or maybe my words will help me process on the anniversary.
Please note, we don’t all process grief the same. I can only speak for myself.
The First Few Months…
I wanted to keep writing because it’s what Pete would have wanted. He’d take it as a personal insult if I gave up writing for him. My new writing buddy encouraged me to write (yes, a new writing buddy, one door shuts, another opens, life is weird like that)… I forced myself to write a short story set in my novel world. The story came out flat. Lacked emotion. Not right. After I wrote the story, The Muse locked me out of my novel world altogether and took months for her to hand the keys back to my kingdom.
Focus was a bitch! I tried to write. Lots of mind wandering. I had some luck with fishing for story ideas and writing micro-fiction. Each week, I posted flash fiction on my blog. But, even 100-word stories were taking me three times as long to craft. The creepiest part is I found constructing sentences difficult. I knew what I wanted to write in my head plot wise, but words stumped me.
Ironically, I found no issue writing non-fiction; journaling, personal emails, letter writing.
Journaling & Example
Journaling is a saviour. The page, or in my case, the Day One journal app, provides space to unleash emotion in a private fashion. Not only can journaling help one process feelings, but also record memories. My first entry, written three days after Pete’s passing, featured the last time I saw him. I read the entry for the first time, writing this. I am ecstatic I did because I forgot details. In hindsight, the day felt like the perfect goodbye. Perth had been in lockdown for months. I only saw him twice after the lockdown was lifted. The memories are precious and sum up a regular group meeting.
Pete died a few days ago, Saturday 3 Oct 2020. Saw him 6 days earlier at the writing group. The happiest he’s been in years. His partner finally got a job. In turn, he was excited to have the house to himself and hoped it would break his writer’s block. Haha, I finally won the writer’s block argument.
I’m grateful it was a memorable session. Peter told us if you do x y z to a pumpkin and leave it in the shed for months, you have rum. We want the recipe. Took that one to the grave, didn’t you, Pete? Bastard.
He showed off a picture of his bodybuilder son. The son looks like Pete, so I made the smart-arse remark, “Wow Pete, this is your mini-me, do you ever look and think this is how my life could have been?” – we all laughed… the last memorable thing I ever said to him.
D’s phone went off with a normal ring. I told Pete that’s how normal phones ring. His phone is set to a screaming screechy “pick up the phone”. F me, I hate it. One time, I told him I was going to shove it up his…
He expressed excitement at having the house to himself. I asked, “Will you be naked, doing the gardening?” He’s done the naked gardening thing before. “Nah, don’t want to offend the dog.”
Pete left early, but in my head I see him wave from the library entrance and tackle those steps as he did so many times, while I waited for the lift to close its doors.
Don’t force yourself to write. There is no point when you’re grieving. It’ll be crap. Be kind to yourself and feel the pain. Emotions need to be dealt with, ride them out. I cried for three days straight, and then unintentionally bottled emotions for six weeks. I had to be strong for the group. BANG. Grief hit. A tidal wave.
Give yourself time to heal without being creative. To contradict myself, regularly try to be creative in small doses. You never know when the muse will return. The key is not to push and start small. There will be sparks here and there. Don’t expect consistency. Have faith the writing drive will return — you need to heal first. Try flash fiction. Try a new project. Don’t restrict the muse.
Look after your body. It’s a temple. Exercise and mediation can free the mind. The body needs fuel and rest — eat and sleep. Make sure hygiene is taken care of, being clean and dressed helps reset the mind.
Don’t forget to journal! The brain is kind of crap at memory keeping. At the very least, thoughts and feelings need to be processed. Writing is a perfect outlet.
There is no quick fix. Grief can be constant or come in waves. Give yourself time. Hold no expectations where writing is concerned. The muse will return in her own sweet time, but be on the lookout. And no forcing.
Now, how about a coffee?