Writing From Heartache Without Showing Blood

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When my son died, I wrote. It saved me. However everything I composed in my journal and computer files was not to be seen by the world. While it was important to me because it was either my raw guts spilled forth or memories of my four-year-old whose laughter echoed down the hospital corridors, it was not what poetry magazines wished to publish.

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Recently I reread some of my poems from five years ago. My stomach filled
with queasiness. Now I understood why editors rejected my work. My pain was
clear, but I could see the blood on the pages

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These days I receive poems from aching parents who hope I’ll publish their
creations in my e-zine or bereavement newsletter. These parents are
grieving intensely. They yearn for, and love their child. I know writing
helps them release a little of the agony so that they can go to bed at
night and climb out in the morning. But often I cringe. Cliches steal from
what they want to convey. It seems cruel to tell a broken-hearted mother or
father that their rhyming lines can’t be published. Their poetry will never
flow on the glossy page of magazines if they don’t follow some simple rules.

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The rules for writing from heartache

These are rules for those who have been through or are living through a
difficult season and find creating poetry the venue for sanity.

1. Toss away cliches. Yes, we live with cliches and the grief world is full
of them. Think of some of these and write them down. Beside each well-worn
phrase, come up with a fresh way of saying the same thing. “My heavy heart”
to convey the burden of pain, is common. How about changing it to “The
sting that grinds each limb”? or “My groaning limbs”?

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2. Stretch your vocabulary. Make friends with your dictionary and
thesaurus. Learn new words and how to use them. Write them on index cards
and stick them on your refrigerator.

3. Come up with imagery to show, not tell. One of the best lines I saw was
in a poem a friend wrote describing lifting balloons into the heavens at
the tombstone of his daughter. The month was January and he penned,
“Breathing the frost of pain.” That image of struggle was clear to me
and reading it, made my lungs ache.What is pain over the death of a dear
friend? What does it feel like? Is it nights with tissues, watching
infommercials? Is it fear of losing your mind? How can you show the love
you held for this significant person and the hole his loss has made in your

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One unique string of words

Don’t over-do the agony-filled lines. One string of words?a unique
string?is enough to convey the pit of sorrow.

I thought about images when I clipped five roses from a gangly rose bush in
our garden after a night of rain.

Five Roses In Memory of a Four-Year-Old

into the house
where you danced
I carried five roses
five for the age
you never knew
five for the years
you’ve been gone
delicate, pink,
five for those
of us left
tear drops on
green petals

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These lines clearly imply sadness even without the use of words like
“sorrow,” “sad” and “grief.” The title also is key because it answers the
question of how old my child was when he died. I chose “danced” instead
of “lived” (although “lived” may have been fine), because I think
that word catches a clearer description to hold in our mind.

Stay away from tired ideas

4. Search for new themes. Often we read about the same heartache theme over
and over. Ponder on how to write new themes in old grief. How about
describing a dream you had about your deceased loved-one? What was he
wearing? What was the sound of his voice?

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Find a single word, reflect on it and go from there. Number. What do
numbers signify (as in the poem above)? How do they connect with our pain?
Graveyard. How about what graveyards teach us?

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When you lose someone special, you want others to ask what he was like, or
for those who knew him to share the memories they held with this loved-one.
After my Daniel died, I wanted people to freely listen to me talk of a boy
who loved Toy Story and watermelon.

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I came up with a poem to help others understand the value of asking?that
was my theme?despite their fears of wondering if this is the “right thing”
to do. I ended it with a phrase I hope will leave an image in the minds of
readers—”the flowers that never die.” Flowers are associated with funeral
homes, memorial services and grave sites. My “reasoning” for creating
this phrase was to show that what the bereaved really want given?more valuable
than the flowers left at the stone?is the chance to share from our heart
the one we miss.

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When You Ask….

When you ask about him
leave your fears at the door

Your questions open each window
watch the sunlight stream in

I see his infectious grin
the soft hand inside mine

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Come, sit, let me tell you
these times are too rare

When you ask about him
you release permission*

And I need this sunshine
like daily bread

I can warm these rooms
with the life-giving memories

When you ask about him
you bring the flowers that never die.

So I wouldn’t break my own rule, I deleted this poem of a worn-phrase even
after it was accepted by an editor. Originally I had written in line ten*,
“you grant me permission.” When I became aware of the cliche, I changed
it to “you release permission.”

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5. Venture outside. God has created spectacular nature. Even if you live in
a city, as I have, a tiny sparrow or the clouds can provide inspiration for
new thoughts and ideas. Take a walk with your pad of paper and pen. Jot
down words to describe your loved-one. Think of color, smells and sights
that have to do with your yearning for this person. Is it autumn? Do the
colors of the leaves portray any of the colors of your friend’s life? Can
you write lines about rust or gold in describing your relationship and/or
loss? When you are near a construction site, listen to the bulldozers and
backhoes. What do they symbolize to you?

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6. If you use a computer to compose, print your poem. Errors are easier to
spot when you have it printed on a 81/2 by 11 sheet. After you have edited
your masterpiece, place it in a drawer. Marinating your poetry is good policy.

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7. A few days later, take out your piece and read it aloud. Poetry is meant
to be read aloud; isn’t this what we learned in Poetry 101?

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Take time to read good poetry

8. Read dynamic poetry. Perhaps you won’t be able to write like Frost or
Tennyson, but by reading these literary heroes out loud, you will notice
the images and words they use and see what makes a poem work well and why.
Don’t neglect the Psalms, especially the ones that describe tears and
sorrow. They are therapeutic as well as helpful in grief because their raw
honesty ploughs through. Taking the time to learn how to create more
effective and poignant poetry will help share your loss and love with the

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Alice J. Wisler, BSW,?is the founder and owner of Daniel's House Publications, a resource for those grieving the loss of a child or sibling.? She edits the grief ezine TRIBUTES and writes a column for How to Make a Family. She is a speaker at bereavement conferences and writing?events.? Her web site, Writing the Heartache, is located at:? http://www.geocities.com/griefhope/index.html

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