For weeks now, so many people everywhere have been scared COVID-19 will claim the lives of their loved ones. The stories on the news are gut wrenching. We pray for those caring for the ill and those left behind, grieving. But not so secretly, we fervently hope it doesn’t happen to us and ours.
Imagine my surprise when my dearest friend called late on Palm Sunday. The tremble in her voice made me wonder if they had contracted the virus. Even though she was sitting in a hospital parking lot, 1500 miles away, it wasn’t COVID-19. Her husband was alone in the emergency room triage, having a heart attack.
We cried. We prayed. I tried to offer words of hope.
Life can be so disturbingly unpredictable sometimes.
In December of 2016, my father passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. My cousin, who is a nurse and lives next door, was there within minutes and performed CPR. Unfortunately, Dad took his last breath in my mother’s arms before my cousin arrived.
While every situation is different, the impact of distressing circumstances speaks a common language: pain and grief. Every traumatic and tragic moment leaves us with memories, stories, and lessons. It’s up to us to become the clichéd bitter or better.
As writers, we have been given a gift. It’s our job to redeem the pain and share the lessons we learn. Our words can become a glimmer hope to encourage a world that can be very dark sometimes. Our words get to be a moment of empathy and understanding to ease the pain our readers are going through. But many writers don’t realize there is a right way and a not so great way to share our words.
With so many stories to come from this time in our history, let’s learn to share them effectively. That way we can help others overcome. Let’s lead them to find a freedom they didn’t know was possible.
I’ve compiled several tips to help you write about your painful times:
Uncensored, raw emotions are hurtful. When grief is fresh, if we're not careful with our words, we can write things that may further wound others in a similar situation. People jump on Twitter or Facebook and write passionate thoughts in the heat of the moment. It makes me cringe because most don't realize how insensitive and hateful their words actually sound. First and foremost, if you feel raw and there’s no clear take away from your thoughts that encourages growth or healing in someone else, don’t write it publicly. Period.
Not every detail or feeling or thought during a difficult situation should be written for public consumption. A mature writer knows to record their most painful thoughts in a private journal. Only after there’s been time to heal and grieve should we revisit our words and decide what will be helpful to share publicly.
We need time to process grief so we can step back and optimistically communicate the lessons that come from the pain. This is the first time I’ve written about my father’s passing three years ago. I’ve taken time to make peace with the situation. I’ve grown as a person and made friends with the demons that linger in the aftermath of that painful time. I encourage you to do the same.
It’s perfectly fine to explain the depth of our heartache, but make sure there is a clear purpose and reason for sharing it. Writing about pain just to write about pain isn’t helpful. Sharing intimate details only helps if you are empathizing with your readers. That way, they know, that you know, what they are genuinely living through. It makes them more likely to listen to your words of comfort and hope.
Focus on what is good and helpful. If we fixate on the pain or fear, we will never heal. It’s easy to feel the hurt and stay bitter when an awful thing happens to us. But that leaves us unhappy and miserable. Try to find the silver lining and cling to it to get you through. Choose your words in the same manner.
Respect others’ pain. While situations and feelings may be similar, nobody knows exactly what you’ve been through. Your pain is distinctively your ache; and someone else’s pain is unique to them. As you write about the lessons you’ve learned and what helped you, expect it to resonate with your reader and give them ideas that might help. That said, never assume to fully comprehend what your reader experienced.
I wish I could bibbidi bobbidi boo the end of my friend’s story. I really want to tell you it was a false alarm and everyone lived happily ever after. I can’t. Sadly, her husband passed away less than an hour after she first called me.
I’ve known their family for almost twenty years. She's like a sister and my heart aches for them. Our kids played together when they were young. She and I have laughed and cried about everything. I’m blessed to have her in my life.
I’m not going to say things like, “she’s strong, she’ll be okay” or “time heals all wounds.” While those phrases very well maybe true, they aren't helpful for people in crisis. The last twelve years have taught me that some circumstances aren’t as simple as others want you to believe. Instead, I’m going to be there for her to listen, encourage, and let her find her own way. And then, I'm writing to remind you to do the same for your readers.
It may be months before life returns to a new kind of normal. Right now, I want to encourage you to write your stories to help your readers. There may be someone out there who needs to hear that life is hard, but in spite of the pain, they’re probably going to be okay, eventually.
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