The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Words Came

By Anna McDougall

On Thursday, relatives and friends assembled in Calgary to bury my beautiful 85 year old grandmother. Many of these people lifted a pen or opened a book searching for the right words: Words to clarify the week’s events and our own reflections, words to help us voice our interpretation.

From heartfelt emails, carefully scripted telephone conversations, and hand written notes, to eulogies, tributes, poems, and the obituary; from selected mass readings, psalms, hymns, and prayers to impromptu anecdotes shared at the wake in the early hours the day of the funeral, words were essential.

Some of us didn’t share our thoughts publicly, personal journal entries were logged and even my most private sister placed a sealed envelope in Grandma’s casket.

Friends’ kindly crafted sentiments brought comfort. Condolences at the newspaper and funeral home websites were welcome. Meticulously arranged clichés from the touching to the confounding appeared on bouquet inserts, sympathy cards, guest books. Every author trying to express something integral to their mourning.

These words were selected with care not only for accuracy, but also to protect our tender hearts. They were gathered quickly, for by the fifth day her passing had to be communicated across the country, loved ones needed to travel, formal arrangements were to be finalized, and assignments handed round to prepare for the final twenty-four hour goodbye: The wake, prayer service, funeral, and internment.

It became immediately necessary to push past tears and fatigue to celebrate this woman’s life with a delicate balance of truth and restraint. All this in a moment when everyone needed to take, yet everyone longed to give.

Events such as this expose us to humanity’s deepest sensibilities, in ourselves as well as our loved ones. When we face our souls in this way, when we see the need of another is dire, humans endeavor to write. It is far more than convention or prudence impelling us to record, reread, edit, perfect our thoughts; it is a universal craving to communicate as honestly and as wholly as we are able.

But even when the pain is near the surface, and the desire to write is present, the words do not always come. I watched my aunt, a deeply sensitive woman, struggle with the news of her mother’s death. She began in a place of complete loss, not knowing what to grab on to, desperate to find a way to honour her mother. The sting of raw emotions paralyzed her despite the will to order them. In time, after many tears, following numerous conversations, she began to write. With diligence she brought to the page every real feeling, no matter how painful and laid them out. And once they were before her, the natural balance of her mind returned so that she could harness her strength and activate her writing talent to begin building.

The tribute that resulted from this healing experience was gorgeous. She had moved from clinging to a trite phrase, towards a revealing message which celebrated the uniqueness of her mother and their very special relationship, a message from which our entire family could gain understanding.

Writing is a magnificent gift. It enables humans to connect with, to process, and to ultimately share their deepest emotions. This week I witnessed the transforming power of personal writing in the people I love and something occurred to me, perhaps for the very first time. The various forms of writing I witnessed showed me that the impulse is common to us all. Many people write only when emotion or circumstance forces them. Others give into the urge a little more often. We call them writers.


Blogger Patricia said...

Anna, I am so moved by this and so sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for sharing this private moment with us, you have written a wonderful tribute to you family, their strengths and love for each other. You are a wonderful writer Anna, it obviously runs in your family. God bless and take care, lots of love, P xo

Tue May 30, 01:20:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

What a strong, comforting voice you have, Anna. Thank you so much for posting this. I'm moved.

Tue May 30, 11:52:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Myfanwy Collins said...

This is beautiful and poignant, Anna.

Tue May 30, 01:56:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anna McDougall said...

Rough week in many ways but being surrounded by the warmth of my extended family was very special. Thanks to you three for reading and commenting.

Tue May 30, 03:08:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger MelBell said...

Anna, I would like to repeat what Patricia said - thank you for sharing this private moment with us.

This is beautiful.


Tue May 30, 04:01:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Personal writing at such a time is some of the most difficult, raw and brave kind of writing. What a moving piece. Thank you, Anna, for posting this.

Wed May 31, 01:14:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Bravo, Anna

Wed May 31, 02:50:00 am GMT-4  
Anonymous Julie Balderston said...

Dear Jennifer,
What a beautiful tribute for your grandmother you reduced me to tears.
Love your cousin, Julie

Thu Jun 01, 11:40:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Thea Atkinson said...

this gave me chills

Wed Jun 14, 09:38:00 am GMT-4  

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