Spirit Matters: Writing your way back to life

January is my least favorite month of the year, by a long shot.

Everything outside seems ugly and gray and lifeless.

It’s usually bitterly cold, and in some years, this, combined with high amounts of snow and ice, makes getting around outdoors difficult, if not outright dangerous.

There is nothing on the calendar to look forward to during this month to at least soften the hardness of living with a bit of anticipation, at least in not in my orbit. (That’s not to say I, or you, could not create an annual light-giving ritual mid-January of my own to ease these difficult days. I’ll have to make a mental note of that.)

With each year I rip off the calendar, I identify more with those retirees who say, “to heck with this,” and head off to a warmer climate to ride out the winter months. And, I am one who actually loves that we get to experience the variety of all four seasons at 40 degrees north latitude.

Go figure …

January is often a difficult month for many people for another reason.

The grayness and deadness around us can mirror the grayness and deadness inside us.

My worst January ever began 10 days after my dad died in 2013.

While the day we buried him was actually in the 40s and sunny, the rest of the winter was excruciatingly cold in its bitterness and buried us deep in snow, again and again and again.

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you the grief during those days was so asphyxiating that it was a major effort to be conscious from one minute to the next.

I just wanted to sleep until I could wake up and not feel so much profound heartache.

Of course, that was not possible.

But, looking back now, I can see that each day held a miniscule bit of light in it, with that bit of light being different each day.

One day, I pulled out a DVD called “Healing Words: Poetry and Medicine,” a PBS documentary that chronicles the work of poetry therapist John Fox.

I already knew the power of words and writing to heal.

Expressive writing is my drug of choice, and in those early days, I intuitively knew I wanted to begin writing letters to my dad to help me move through my grief. Writing those initial letters was enough to get me to the next step.

But although I held a lifelong interest in poetry – reading it, speaking it, etc., I was, like many people, still afraid to write it. I didn’t think anything I wrote would be “good.”

This documentary made me realize it doesn’t matter if any poetry we write is considered “good” or not. What matters is the process of going within and putting words to our unique experience is powerfully healing, not to mention an act of great compassion and gentleness for ourselves and that darkness we would rather not experience.

After watching that video, I sat down at my computer and wrote a few verses, tailored to the experience of watching my dad deteriorate the previous year, but especially in the last weeks, when my mom and I had to carry him from one place to another.

These verses surprised me with their content.

The reality of how this experience affected me had left the surface and gone deep into my being. By giving that experience space to express itself, images I had no consciousness of bubbled out of me and onto the screen.

When you sit down with a keyboard, or a pen and paper, and begin to honestly express what is inside your heart and your gut and the rest of your body, transformation takes place.

That transformation might be indiscernible in the immediate aftermath.

But when you look back, you can see how that act of compassion for yourself was a catalyst to continue healing from the grief of losing another soul who was a primary part of your existence.

And with each word you write, your breathing becomes just a little bit deeper.

Until you notice you are no longer asphyxiated by grief, but breathing in and breathing out your one wild and precious life once again. (Hat tip to Mary Oliver).

  • Spirit Matters is a weekly column that examines spirituality. Email Jerrilyn Zavada at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.