Since I have begun attending meetings of the Compassionate Friends (a support group for bereaved parents that I've mentioned before), I have learned a lot about how other people cope with grief. Sharing stories and experiences is so reassuring--you learn that someone else’s thoughts or feelings mirror your own.
Listening to fellow group members motivated me to finish Tending the Garden of Memories. Maybe people who don’t want to connect with a group could connect with a book.
I thought perhaps I would compose a workbook to go along with Tending the Garden of Memories to expand upon my thoughts and give people a place to jot down their own thoughts as they read the book. I thought up a few writing prompts but then abandoned the project in favor of more fiction. A new novel has been brewing in my head and the main character keeps demanding my attention!
Then it occurred to me: the writing prompts might be great in a blog. Readers could muse on the prompts and just think about it, or they could write their own essay or story from the question that is posed. It’s so much fun to write! I recommend it. And maybe doing some writing would help other people the way it’s helped me.
But wait! I’m really nosy. I’d want to know what people wrote! I’d want to learn from their thoughts and experiences! I’d want to keep making connections.
So, here’s my proposal: I’ll post a series of writing prompts in my blog, one every week. (And since they’re already written, you know I can keep this schedule. There won’t be weeks of radio silence, I promise.) Whenever you see a prompt that inspires you, respond to it. If you like what you’ve written, email it to me at email@example.com.
At the end of the series, I’ll do a new series: people’s responses to the prompts. When you email me your writing, let me know if it would be ok to post it on the blog. I’m no English professor; I’m not critiquing anybody’s prose. I’d just love to read your thoughts, and I’d love to share them with others. You can remain anonymous if you’d like.
You don’t need to be a parent who’s lost a child to respond to the writing prompts. You can write about anyone that you’ve lost, or any experience of loss. You can respond to one prompt or all of them. You can put your name on one post and keep another anonymous. We’re keeping it simple; there won’t be a bunch of rules in tiny print at the end of this post.
If you put your name out there and then change your mind, email me and I’ll remove your name. If something you’re written is posted and you change your mind, email me and I’ll take it down. I’ll do it quickly, no questions asked.
I advise keeping the word count to 1000 or less; that comes from a marketing guru that I met with, who told me that studies show that humans now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. I don’t know if it’s accurate, (I was too lazy to look it up), but it wouldn’t surprise me.
So read the blog, read the prompts, and send me your thoughts. Starting October 16, 2022, I’ll start posting responses on the blog. I look forward to hearing from you, and I’m hoping the momentum will carry us right into 2023.
Here is Writing Prompt #1:
Describe a day from the past where nothing went right with the loved one you have lost. Maybe you argued, maybe you failed them in some way—list the words you said that you’d take back. Write down the actions you took or didn’t take, the ones that you wish you could change. Think back to the circumstances and put it all down on paper. Read through it, even though it’s hard.
Go back to the top of the page. Write, “I forgive myself for…” above the paragraph. And do it.
My Response to Writing Prompt #1
When Matt was about 13, he got braces. The orthodontist warned us that his mouth might be sore; we gave him some ibuprofen after the visit. That night Matt was scheduled to have a sleepover at his friend’s house. I wasn’t sure he should go, but he really wanted to go and insisted that he would be fine. I let him go to his friend’s house.
At that time, I didn’t know how to adjust the volume on my phone so that I would hear the ringer but not the notification sound for texts or social media. I turned the volume down before I went to bed so I wouldn’t be disturbed by texts or FB vacation pictures. I figured that I would still hear the phone if it started ringing.
I was wrong. In the middle of the night, Matt’s mouth started hurting. It got worse and worse, and he wanted to go home. He called me to come get him, and I didn’t answer. He called over and over, a whole bunch of times--jaw throbbing, tired, wanting his own bed. I didn’t answer.
Finally, Matt called his dad on his house phone. His dad answered, picked him up, and brought him back to his house.
The next morning, I woke up to a bunch of missed calls, and a text from my ex-husband letting me know that he had picked Matt up from his friend’s house. Thank God he still had a landline! Thank God he was home! Thank God he answered!
Matt was fine. But I was crushed. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wasn’t there when he needed me. I couldn’t stop berating myself for being selfish and foolish and turning down my phone. I felt like a bad mom for letting him go to a sleepover in the first place. Of course his mouth would hurt! Of course he would want to come home! I should have known.
After Matt died, I thought about this incident many times. It stood out as I compiled a litany of all my shortcomings as a parent, reinforcing my belief that I could have and should have been a better mom.
The reality is that I made a ton of mistakes as a mom—because everybody makes mistakes as a parent. It’s part of life and it’s perfectly fine. Every parent does the best they can do in the moment, and no two moments are the same.
Matt forgives me for that, and even though he’s not here, he loves me.
I’m human and I do the best I can with what I’ve got in the moment. And I have learned to forgive myself for the braces incident.