My grandmother committed suicide when I was just 10-years-old. I was an only child, and she was my caretaker. It was Labor Day weekend, and my parents were at work at their store in Brooklyn.
I was the one who found her. I’ll never forget the image of the ambulance attendants taking my grandma down the creaky wooden stairs from her bedroom to the front door.
It was the 1960s, and mental-health issues were not discussed, and certainly the word suicide was never uttered. When I asked my parents where Grandma was going, they told me that she wouldn’t be back, but they didn’t let me go to the funeral.
Instead, they sent me to my aunt and uncle’s house. In those days, children tended to take things in stride and rarely questioned the decisions made by adults.
My mother, also an only child, had been very close to her mother, and she was at a loss as to how to help herself or me. I remember that she began wearing black all the time. In those days, there were no support groups, and therapy wasn’t commonplace, as it is today. And if you were seeing a therapist, you certainly wouldn’t tell anyone.
My mother was a loner who had been very dependent on my grandmother to maintain the house and take care of me while she and my father were at work, so she grieved immensely. I have vivid memories of my mother curled up on the sofa in our living room crying for hours on end. I would comfort her by rubbing her back, as I didn’t know what else to do. I suppose that was the beginning of my path as a healer.
The Healing Powers of Memoir Writing
Our family doctor, Dr. Robbins, suspected that I also might be suffering, so after he and my mother discussed the situation, she decided to buy me a Kahlil Gibran journal. My mother, who’d majored in English in college, was also a journal keeper, so she told me to pour my heart onto the pages of that journal.
She suggested that I write letters to my grandmother, even though I knew she’d never get a chance to read them. With clothes hanging in my face, I sat for hours in my walk-in closet writing in my journal.
I suppose my mother’s simple gesture set the stage for my life as a writer and my long-term passion for inspiring others to write. In fact, my doctoral research focused on the healing and transformative powers of memoir writing.
Whether fighting demons of addiction or loss, many people might turn to therapy or other spiritual modalities. I believe that any type of ritual can be augmented by writing. For the longest time, when people asked about my spiritual practice, I said that it was writing. My suggestion to others going through trauma is to write about their feelings, because not only can it assist in the healing process, but it can lead to significant transformation.
Transformation may be defined as a dramatic change in someone’s physical or psychological well-being. It’s about becoming aware of, facing, and becoming responsible for one’s thoughts and feelings. This process can lead to self-realization, which can occur over a long or a short period of time, but most often it is initiated by a pivotal event, such as the suicide of a loved one.
If you choose to write about the loss of someone you loved, certain revelations may be made about that individual, his or her life, and your relationship to this person. By writing, you are freeing yourself from your story, which may be causing you a great deal of pain.
Engaging in a spiritual practice helps you search for truth, with the goal of being happy. Writing as a spiritual practice can connect you to what seems right for you, both personally and professionally.
In addition to helping you heal from the trauma of losing a loved one, it can enable you to focus on what’s important to you and help you determine your reason for being—which can ultimately lead to a profound sense of contentment.
Writing is a Transformative and Spiritual Exercise
When considering writing as a transformative and spiritual exercise, it’s important to recognize that in order to receive the maximum benefits, you must write on a continual basis. Also, the deeper you delve into your thoughts, the more transformative the exercise will be. Like everything else, you get out of it what you put into it.
Needless to say, writing provides an excellent way to work through your feelings. It can also can help you clarify your thoughts, putting them in a form that shows you what your inner or authentic self is trying to articulate. Writing encourages you to reflect on your innermost feelings, thus helping to create an all-encompassing feeling of harmony and peace of mind.
In order to use writing for healing, you might begin by writing down what you know or remember about your loved one. We are our histories. We cannot erase the past. The life-changing event of losing someone to suicide can be something that confirms your identity or who you might become in subsequent years.
I truly believe that if my grandmother had not taken her life, I might not have become a writer.
Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow talks about peak experiences as valuable life-changing revelations. He claims that many writers “describe these experiences not only as intrinsically valuable, but also as so valuable that they can make life worthwhile.”
When I look back at my own life experiences and reflect on the ones that truly transformed me, challenged me, or made me feel more aware or alive, I must say that they were pivotal events involving the death of loved ones, the forming or evolution of relationships, becoming a parent, sexual encounters, and meaningful conversations with others. They have all been subjects of exploration in my journal writing, leading to some form of change.
When writing for both healing and for transformation, you need to be aware of the synchronistic events, situations, and seemingly random experiences that add to your awareness, knowledge, and self-growth.
By being cognizant of what the universe is telling you, you may find that many of your questions about why a loved one took his or her life are answered, and you might also attain clarity on how you yourself can be a more grateful, joyous, and self-realized individual in the years to come.
Diana Raab, MFA, Ph.D, is a memoirist, poet, blogger, speaker, and award-winning author of nine books. Her work has been published and anthologized in more than 1,000 publications. She frequently speaks and teaches on writing for healing and transformation.