Owning our grief and why this is helpful to others–Virginia Woolf and Louisa May Alcott as guides

I wrote a book about loss and grief. In a second book, I included passages from an author who guided me through my loss and grief.

And yet, I am afraid to share that story with others.

Sounds absurd–after all, both books have been published and are available for the public to see. But I am glad I don’t have to be there when the book is read. Well aware that grief is uniquely tailored to the individual, I feel utterly unqualified to say anything about it, face to face.

Mysterious … unpredictable …

Grief is mysterious, unpredictable, you might even say, capricious. I can’t tell you how many times grief has decided to drop in when I am in front of other people. It has often visited in the form of tears and I have to hide away until it passes. It has also visited on too many occasions when I’ve sung in public, crippling my voice or simply rising up in the form of irrational fear.

Mike Schaffner Angel of Grief, Flickr Creative Commons
Mike Schaffner Angel of Grief, Flickr Creative Commons

Important to share

When I read this story by Claire Fallon, Virginia Woolf’s Guide To Grieving, and how she connected her grieving over the loss of her mother to that of Woolf (both lost their mothers near puberty), I realized it is, in fact, important to share our grief stories.

woolf books

Comfort through companionship

Fallon derived a lot of comfort from Woolf, not because Woolf offered consolation or answers, but because she was a companion on the journey. Fallon found a like mind in Woolf which helped her work through grief that had been bottled up inside for many years.

My companion

Reading Louisa May Alcott did that for me. Alcott offered no quick answers, no “5-step plan,” and certainly no skirting of the truth of suffering and death. Instead, Alcott shared her beliefs about death through her stories and they just happened to match mine. I was numb with grief at the time I took up reading and found that turning the pages of my mother’s antique volumes of Little Women, Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag and An Old-Fashioned Girl (all marked with her personal nameplate) and reading Alcott’s words helped me remember my mother when she was healthy and vital.

alcott books

The best way to help

My process did not take as long as Fallon’s but it reminds me yet again that the best thing I can do to help someone who is grieving is to just be there to listen. And when it’s appropriate, share a few stories.

The value of writing

Alcott and Woolf had the courage to write it down and share it with the public. Writing has a way of uncovering what is really going on inside of you. Writing doesn’t have to be public to be helpful–keeping a a journal and writing letters to others (handwritten, as opposed to email) can help a great deal. But if you choose to share stories through the written word or through conversation, you have to own it.

That’s what I have to learn how to do.

Here is the link to Claire Fallon’s article. I think I will try a little Virginia Woolf; she is showing me the benefits of ownership.

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