Wordkeeping: Why I Write Here

by | Nov 21, 2010 | 4 comments

That’s what I like to call writing…wordkeeping.  I guess it’s a made-up word.

But it’s more descriptive of what I’ve been doing here…keeping and collecting all of the words we wrote to each other.  Because we were both writers, I have so many words.  I have hundreds of emails, chats, letters, cards, and handwritten books…I scan through all of these like reading through a stack of books for a thesis.  I choose the parts that I think fit into this bizarre story I find myself puzzling over obsessively…your sudden death at 33 years old.

Words are powerful- I always told you.  And they are.  If God could create the world with a word- and we are truly made in his image- if all that’s true- then surely our words also have creation power in them. They have been my materials for walking into the valley of the shadow of death…a light unto my path- as it says…though dim and flickering.

But why, I’ve been asking myself since the day I created this blog- did I choose to keep my words in a public blog when I could just as easily have written privately in a journal?  I haven’t had a satisifying answer until recently, but now I think I do.

I started the writing here out of sheer despair.  I felt like the pain had nowhere to go and I might implode.  So I banged on the keys and threw that pain onto the white space.  It reminded me of morning sickness and how you feel at least a little bit better after you throw up.   But then again the throwing up isn’t pleasant either.  When I was sick for the first seventeen weeks of my pregnancy, I threw up so hard and so many times that blood vessels burst under my eyes and I was afraid my teeth would rot from the constant acid.  At times, the wordkeeping has felt like that.

I never really intended the writing to be primarily for Audrey (though I chose to use her name in the title just because I think it’s lovely), but I do hope it is something she will find valuable.

So the writing was born out of despair, and then took a shape of its own.  In the beginning, I constantly had ideas of things I had to get down with a certain urgency.  They came faster than I could write or remember them.  Then, other times, I started to write with absolutely nothing in mind and the process led me.  These were often the most valuable to me.  I’ve always been one to focus on end results, but in the process, in the act of creating…that is where one senses something greater than the sum of the parts… something additional.  A friend said the same thing to me of Dan’s playing the other day…that when he played it was more than just Dan playing…there was that something extra, something spiritual.  This is true.

I have no agenda- I write quickly because it hurts.  I proofread little and reread even less.

But I find a natural pattern emerged in these grief writings…alternating between memories of our love stories I wanted to keep, journal-like entries where I just needed to write about my hours or day to feel some location in time, and lastly – entries about the process of grieving itself as I navigate it clumsily and often kicking and screaming.

I write in numerous other journals as well- mostly collections of memories that are too private to share…but I think though, I created the blog and made it public for a few reasons.  First, you always wanted me to start a blog so I would write more- and I just wasn’t the type.  Creating a blog was a way of honoring your wishes and keeping you alive by doing something that was more like you than me- or maybe the me you saw I could be.  “I’m writing a blog Dan,” I sometimes tell you out loud.

Second, it filled our close friends and family in on how I was doing so there was less, “How are you?” and more, “I read about — that sounded hard.”  It was a relief to feel understood- at least as well as words could articulate- and not have to keep repeating myself.

Third, it was a way for me to just feel less alone.  Grieving is innately the loneliest thing you will ever do…especially if it’s a spouse.  Though I speak to Dan’s family every week, they aren’t nearby.  Even if you lose a child, like my counselor did, she tells me that she at least went to support groups with her husband, and had him to grieve with.  I sit alone here every night…so the wordkeeping became my means of connecting with others and stepping out of this grand isolation.

Then, when a post was picked up by the NY Times, my audience suddenly expanded, and I felt even more unsure of why I wanted an audience at all for this most dark and vulnerable time of my life.  But after receiving hundreds of emails explaining how the writing was touching others and even giving them a new perception of their own lives, I felt a strange comfort.  Paradoxically, grief is both utterly personal, and utterly universal…maybe that’s why it needs to be shared.

But also, if I am honest with myself, though many told me how brave it was of me to plunge into this grief and share it with others so openly…the writing also provides a distance I often need.  The words at least feel composed while the pain feels like the sound an old cassette tape made when it was spinning out of control and all that tape was getting twisted and knotted.  Remember that sound?  The intellectual arguments and grappling lifted me momentarily from the pure, primal cold ache in the center of my chest.

But recently, I read the most convincing reason- the one I didn’t really get until now- of why I (and many other widows) start blogs.  It’s from Dr. Ross’s “On Grief and Grieving” in a section subtitled “The Story.”

“While you try to comprehend and make sense of something incomprehensible and your heart feels the pain of loss, your mind lags behind, trying to integrate something new into your psyche.  It is something that moved too fast for your mind to understand.”


“Telling your story often and in detail is primal to the grieving process.  You must get it out.  Grief must be witnessed…You are the detective, searching out things to help you understand how to put the puzzle together.  In telling the story, you open up your confusion as you cover terrain that needs exploring.”

Something that especially interested me in this section was the idea that a listener (or reader) may have a missing piece to your puzzle.  I found this to be true when someone I barely knew was reading the blog and was able to share valuable information with me regarding possible causes of Dan’s death- the unknowns of which are by far the most haunting thing his family and I have had to deal with.

Dr. Ross continues, “Our stories contain an enormous amount of pain, sometimes too much for one person to handle.  In sharing our story, we dissipate the pain little by little, giving a small drop to those we meet to disperse it along the way.”

She ends the section by saying that someone telling the story over and over is trying to figure something out and that listeners have the opportunity to be the “witness and even the guide.”  That there is a great “invitation for dual exploration that we often miss in the midst of grief.”

I’m not sure why, but today felt like an organic time to note how grateful I am for my kind readers,
those I know,
and those I do not,
who listen to what is really the same story
over and over again,
who are sharing the pain
and being my witness
in the wordkeeping.


November 21, 2010


  1. becky

    I have never met you, nor Dan, nor Audrey and in fact, I only know about Dan because I am a fan and a follower of Regina Spektor. I have felt somewhat like I am imposing every time I read this blog and yet I read it every day. I have never lost someone in my life like you have; I have never lost the connection to my love in the same way you have but everyday, every single day, I fear I one day will. Your words speak to me when I did not expect them to and they comfort me, in a way, and they bring me hope. They make me appreciative of having loved and they make me marvel at human strength and compassion. I don't know what I am trying to achieve in writing this message (and for that I apologise) – I guess I just wanted to say that I am listening and that whilst it is sometimes so hard to listen, to choke back tears on the words I see you write, I will always listen.

  2. Autumn

    When I first started blogging I too was trying to validate in my mind why I chose it to be public. I have always been a very public person anyway.. so it wasn't entirely new to me. But in the end I wanted to share my story with others… mainly to those who don't know what to ask or say (like you mentioned). They already know the answer to the dreaded "How are you" question. You describe writing perfectly. In fact, you are an excellent descriptive writer. When I read your entry I really felt like you were speaking not just for yourself but for me as well.
    This journey is so tough… I can't imagine just bottling up my thoughts and not being able to release them somehow. And keeping them private just doesn't always make sense. I think family and friends need to know. They need to understand. And this is one of the easiest ways to do so… while also a therapy for us.
    God Bless!

  3. Anonymous

    I love you Julia. I am always willing and wanting to listen to what is on your heart. This is Ann.

  4. Brooke Simmons

    Julia, I love this post. So well said, and all so true. I relate to this one very strongly. I write because I am able to draw strength from those who relate to me, encourage me, and understand me. I hope the same is true for you. I get you on so many levels and am sending you good thoughts today.


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