Welcome to Writing Grief! We’re new here too.
In our first episode, we get into our grief stories and the messages we received about them being “too much.”
This episode requires a content warning for grief-related subjects such as death, pregnancy, child loss, suicide. If you’re not up for that, this might not be the pod for you at this time. It also might be the pod you were looking for, the place where our grief stories are finally not too much. We offer up a prompt near the end of the episode.
Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode
- Meli is reading Chelene Knight’s Dear Current Occupant.
- Rachel talked about Michael J. Fox not finding the positive in the pandemic. ‘I’m out of the lemonade business’: Michael J. Fox on the day his optimism ran out (CBC) Which also references his memoir, No Time Like the Future.
- Rachel mentioned Arabic expression, Alhamdulillah, used by Muslims (like her partner).
- Meli’s story about the day Ellen told her she was going to die in the emerge 19 Anthology
- Rachel loosely quoted Joan Didion (“life changes in the instant” from her memoir on the death of her husband, The Year of Magical Thinking
- Meli mentions Vanessa Martir’s “Writing the Mother Wound Series”
- Rachel used the expression of “writing “from one solitude to another,” which she picked up from Edward Hirsch, who wrote in How to Read a Poem: “In these times, poetry speaks from one isolate to another, connects strangers, links up people who are otherwise disconnected, speaks from one solitude to another.”
- Rachel mentioned publishing her book of poetry, Galaxy.
Meli: [00:00:00] We’re following the plan to talk about our grief being too much. We both write memoir and we both write memoir about grief and we’re examining this idea around toning it down. I mean, do we want to define grief being too much?
Rachel: Sure. I mean, I love what you said, in our notes for this too, is that aren’t all memoirs really about grief. Like isn’t there something about expectations, which I think is what grief is often about I expected things or my life to be one way and it took this other turn.
Meli: Yeah. And
Rachel: and a lot of people don’t want to hear that. They don’t want to hear that life is uncertain and it can take a big turn.
Meli: Yeah. And I mean, the thing I think about every time I question myself and whether my grief is too much is I want to read about grief. I want to see those stories. So that’s the thing that reminds me. In terms of going back to definitions, even within the scope [00:01:00] of like stories about death, there’s many ways to die and they each come with their own set of particulars for those of us left behind and writing about them. Grief stories are also about, you know, mental illness and trauma and the years they take away from us and the people we love. Grief stories, may be about failed relationships with the living or death of friendships, death of partnerships, endings of companies. I worked for a theater company that went bankrupt and I had a lot of grief around that. And then collective grief around tragic events and you know, the pandemic and climate change and white supremacy. And so it’s not maybe a sexy topic. But it is difficult, so maybe it does have kind of an edge, sort of the willingness to take it on.
Rachel: Yeah. There’s something very sexy about someone who wants to listen to those stories for me. [00:02:00] Anyway, that’s super attractive. It’s like, Oh, if I turn the lights on that high beam and talk about my grief stories then, and someone is like their lights go on high beam too. I’m like, yes. Okay. We can get into this.
Meli: Wow, yeah, yeah. I sometimes am self-conscious that I’m not brave enough to write about happiness. Maybe seems like foolish sincerity and, my ego says I’m too intellectual to write about good things.
Rachel: But I’ve struggled to think of literary writing that is like a happy story. Whether it’s fiction, whether it’s nonfiction that’s not something that drives people to write. And I guess that’s part of why it’s really exciting to find other people willing to meet you there because it’s often finding other writers who people who want to dig into, what does it all mean? And the things that we’re usually sifting through are these moments [00:03:00] when the unexpected happen?
Meli: Yes. The before and after.
Meli: Yeah. I definitely have found other writers receptive to reading about grief. I’ve never gotten the indication that it’s too heavy or too much from writers. I think that too-much-ness comes from inside me, although I’ve had other creative experiences where. You know, I, I was in a playwriting workshop and I announced I was going to write about grief and everyone kind of looked at the floor, you know. Certainly in the writing world , I’ve never had anyone say, Oh, this is too much, or this is too dark or couldn’t this be happier, but I guess I was thinking about and this I guess has to do with structure, which we’ve been thinking about a lot about and the conventions and expectations of a story structure. I think when we write about grief, [00:04:00] I don’t know, sometimes I get the sense that we’re not supposed to leave our narrator in a ditch when we’re supposed to show them coming out the other side. And I sometimes question if that’s necessary . Obviously processed stories are better than not, but I don’t want to make grief any lighter for readers because I think that would be false. And again, I don’t want that treatment when I’m reading, I want to be respected. And have the writer know that I can hold it.
Rachel: There’s something almost offensive really about reading work, where there is kind of like the false resolution maybe at the end, and then, you know, life got better in this way. And I definitely think on the editorial side, [00:05:00] like I’m particular, I’m thinking of short essays, like memoir essays, where often I hear from writers who hear from editors who tell them, well, you know, , you have to kind of win in the end. Or there has to be some kind of hopefulness or something extra at the end that tells, you know, gives that reader hope. I don’t know if I’m looking for hope, I’m just looking for understanding a lot when I’m reading memoir about loss in particular, or just that space to be able to actually acknowledge this is happening. Then these are the ways that one person might feel, and it might be similar to how I felt and then ways they might act, and it might be similar to how I acted. You know, even there’s something about the pandemic that I think has maybe shifted the way there I’m seeing signs anyway, that there’s a shift away from glossing over. And one thing that struck me was reading a [00:06:00] piece about Michael J. Fox talking about his memoir and how, you know, I guess he’s made written maybe multiple memoirs, but none of which I’ve I’ve read, but there, the, the angle of the article was like, you know, here’s this guy who was always optimistic seeing the sunny side of everything. And this year he was saying. Yeah, it’s not great like he moved away from the always putting things in a positive spin. I think he’s had to leave acting entirely and just, you know, saying that it’s a struggle, living with that condition in this world. And, and yeah, it was just a bit of a relief almost like, cause I feel like there’s sort of that perfectionism underlies that it’s like, well, I have to be a good griever. I have to grieve in these set ways. And the fact that I’m still grieving and it’s been so many years says something about me and my failures.
Meli: Yes. Exactly..
Rachel: That laughter is not [00:07:00] true laughter but more kind of awkward discomfort with that idea, I guess. And also, yeah, I mean, part of me still maybe buys into that narrative because it’s such a big story in our culture, like it’s like resilience means getting over it and not thinking about it anymore and not, you know, having it be a part of your daily reality.
Meli: And then we know, if we’re grieving someone who’s, who’s gone, who’s died. There is a, I mean, maybe not in writing, but just in sort of secular life, let’s say there is not always ritual for creating a space for grieving like there is in the Jewish tradition for example so, you know, there’s the, the week. The seven days of Shivah and then there’s the year of mourning. That kind of grieving happened [00:08:00] around Ellen’s death which provided a container, but in secular life, it’s kind of like you get a window of grieving and then other people want to see you back. And I want to see the old Rachel and want to see the old Melanie. And as we’re talking about, these stories or about how grief changes you, the transformation that comes with that kind of loss and back to the connection, like when I read someone. Say like Michael J. Fox or someone with chronic pain or chronic illness say, yeah, it’s not great. That makes me feel seen. And that’s a kind of hope for me. It’s pretty well-worn but the idea that we’re not [00:09:00] alone and I guess in describing what you were saying earlier in describing what it feels like to grieve and what the loss was like, even inside our bodies, that amount of detail gives me as a grieving person and a reader, something to hang on to. And that is hopeful to me.
Rachel: Yeah I wanted to respond to what you said about secularism, because one thing I credit with surviving, and we’re going to be talking about our specific grief stories, because they’re something we’re going to weave in and out of every episode, but we wanted to kind of give the, I guess the nutshell, the bullet as it were about each of our stories in this episode. But the thing that really helped me as a person who’s [00:10:00] fairly secular and, you know, in beliefs is the fact that my husband is Muslim. And so I actually just followed him. I would literally use often the metaphor and this is making me emotional just to remember it. That he was like walking through the canyon and I was just putting my foot in each of his footsteps as he went along because he had the rituals, he had the routines, there’s a 40 day mourning period. There’s like practices that you put in place. And, and I definitely felt at a disadvantage for not having religious traditions in my life. Other than, you know, even maybe more the hokey kind of the universe is giving you messages sort of more of the world that I had come from. And I mean, those kind of messages from the universe are devastating because it basically means, you know, you’re not meant to, to survive this world somehow. So, so yeah, there was definitely, and I say this to kind of put position myself too, [00:11:00] as like a white woman, settler Canadian, you know, who doesn’t really come from big traditions certainly came from, you know, it was Christian adjacent background, but that’s not certainly not something that anybody in my family practices anymore. So, you know, and then there’s the other side of people who are spiritual telling you, God has a plan for you and you just have to trust and believe, I’m going to get into it more, but you know, your baby is now an angel in heaven and will be there for you when you, when you die kind of thing,
Meli: People trying to assert their coping onto you, you know, in terms of the Christian example, this, this has comforted them and so it’s meant to comfort you, but they’re not seeing you for the comfort that you may need. And I share that too. I did not grow up religious. I grew up in [00:12:00] so-called Canadian society. And I’m with a Jewish person and his mom was Jewish. And so , it was his mother and so I was in a support role, but I was grieving her too. And I really love that image about walking in his footsteps and really feeling lost without those, that framework of what to do next was helpful for me too. And I didn’t get that with my father at all. So when I got to grieve Ellen and had the space and time to grieve her and there was ritual around it and I was part of it. Once I saw that, that was a way that you could grieve. I realized what I didn’t have with my father’s death. I didn’t have any ritual at all. I wasn’t part of the grieving. I went to the funeral, but [00:13:00] that was, it seems like secular tradition is to have pictures of the person at the funeral. Maybe there’s amazing grace which there was, but there’s not much else to hang on to. Only when you get what you didn’t have before do you realize what you didn’t have, the sort of in my case that first death.
Rachel: Yeah, I feel like I need to say too, because as you repeated back to me about stepping in his footsteps, I’m almost like making him into a Christ like figure. So I want to make sure that it’s clear that I mean, for me, that was super helpful and there were sort of two sides to that actually. There’s a phrase that basically just means, thanks, thanks to God, which you say it’s Hamdullah, and you say that for everything for bad and good things. Cause it’s like, that’s what we get kind of thing. And I found that both super helpful and super [00:14:00] challenging at times, because on the one side it was like, just be grateful that you survived, because that was a question at one point. You know, and, and for sure, I mean, I am very grateful for my life. But then it also was kind of like, well then I can’t be sad or disappointed about the loss then there was, that was embedded in it. But then the positive side of that was very much that, you know, there was never, ever a question of blame. There was never like nobody in Mustafa, my husband himself, and then his family, nobody ever said, well, the choices you made led to this bad outcome. I said that to myself, I think members of my family felt that way for sure. But and you know, express that in the passive aggressive WASPY ways that waspy people do, but that was, that was to me was the biggest freedom. But I would just want to say, it’s not, it wasn’t simple. And you know, [00:15:00] just like a hero’s journey of me following this, you know, this gladiator through, through the mountains, but there was complexity to that too.
Meli: I hear what you’re saying in terms of your experience, and definitely want to return to the downplaying that the the WASPs like to do and, and the idea that it could be your fault, which is, I mean, sincerely not something that I would have, that I was thinking until you said it, but to talk about that image where you’re clarifying yes I understand that that image is particular to the Christian tradition but I also feel defensive for you. Like why can’t Rachel…I mean, when you said that image to me, it really. ..like I felt it in my body and writing wise, I feel defensive for you. Like you can’t use that beautiful image. If you took that image to workshop and [00:16:00] someone said, is your husband like Christ? I would feel defensive for you because that is that I think the image spoke to me so well, because we do rely on other people’s experience of grief to process our own grief. When we feel so lost there in this case, it was your partner who also lost in equal measure, I guess you could say as, as also the parent, but we do, I feel like we do look for people to help us and guide us. And it does feel like, Oh, there are, there are, there’s already a path to this. Like you said, I mean, that’s what I felt like you were emphasizing. So I just wanted to say that while I understand that
Rachel: In later episodes, I may talk about how that’s, that’s like a concern for me in writing memoir, because I’m writing about a place and a culture that’s not my own and that it’s not grief related, but it’s definitely related to my specific grief [00:17:00] experience or my big grief experience that I want to, that it is central to my memoir. But thank you. I appreciate, I appreciate that because also, I didn’t know that about, about you and the kind of faith adjacent-ness that you had as well, that helped you with loss too.
Meli: Yeah, Ellen had M.S. For 29 years and she chose to have a medically assisted death right after there was new legislation in the province of BC that allowed that. Yeah, I don’t want to misspeak about the tradition because on the one hand it really helped me. It gave me a chance to grieve. It gave me a way of, you know, this is what we’re doing and I was supporting my partner. And so that was helpful because it gave me a job to do.
Rachel: Do you want to go into the story here that, that you’re writing about when it comes to Ellen’s death and the full scope of your memoir?
Meli: Sure. I’m writing about two significant deaths in my life. One was my father and then 10 years later was my [00:18:00] mother-in-law my partner’s mother. We’re not married, but there is, I don’t know what else to call her my partner’s mother. And so they died 10 years apart and they both chose to die. My dad chose to die by suicide after a lifetime of depression or many years of depression. And Ellen died 10 years later after living with Ms for 29 years. She chose to have a medically assisted death, which the province of BC had changed, had introduced new legislature and allowed for that to be a legal thing. And in the story, I talk about how she, one of the things I have written and was in the emerge anthology was about the day Ellen told me she was going die and that she was choosing to die. [00:19:00] And she asked me, she knew about my dad. She was always interested in his story. His affair, how my parents’ marriage ended, his abandonment of me and how I interpreted it. She was interested in me in that way, and I felt grateful for that. So when she called me over, she was in bed, it was like 6:30. She always had to go to bed really early. And she called me over to ask me, or to tell me about how she was choosing to die. But what she wanted to ask me was, “When your dad died by suicide, did you blame him?” And she wanted to know because she was concerned that her grandchildren would think she didn’t try, would be disappointed in her. When she asked me that I never, at that point, I had never, I had not been comparing them. The two deaths, [00:20:00] my father and my aunt Ellen, my mother-in-law couldn’t have been more different in terms of their approach to life. You know, he was an avoider and definitely of the white male power structure and dominated, and his death was violent and he left behind a lot of wreckage between the women and children. I was estranged from him for 10 years. And so when she asked me that question, I was really shocked because it had not occurred to me to compare that. It didn’t even seem comparable to death by suicide, from depression to be compared to medically assisted death or medical assistance in dying after years of chronic pain. [00:21:00] And so I’m interested in comparing those two deaths and how they affected me. I want to, I want to convey somehow…how much Ellen’s death gave me. Cause it showed me what a good death is and my dad’s death I was quite removed from. And so less than a compare and contrast way. Cause it’s not that simple to say, Oh, death by suicide from depression is one thing. And medical assistance in dying is another thing. Yes, they both chose to die. And as someone with depression, inherited trauma and depression, myself, you know, there’s always a fear that I’ll go that [00:22:00] way. I want to, I want to talk about the process of grieving and how they can be so different and that’s the gist of it. Yeah.
Rachel: Thank you. I’m in awe of, I know your story already, so, that my awe at this moment, isn’t about the story itself, but just how you’re able to encapsulate it. I see it as a memoir already, and I’m looking forward to digging into it with you, as we dig into each other around like the choices that we’re gonna make as we build that we are making, as we build in our memoirs.
Meli: Thank you. It’s, you know, I tried to be clear, but it’s always [00:23:00] a bit murky when you go into that description. I mean, even there was some too-much-ness you know, low grade, undercurrent of too-muchness, as I was explaining that to you. And then of course your reaction tells me that that was not the case. So thank you.
Rachel: Not at all.
Meli: While we’re talking about these two deaths that I am obsessed with or focused on, or I’m trying to explore, I don’t think anyone has directly said it, but sometimes when I describe what I’m trying to do, I get the sense that like a memoir should just be about one death. Like, isn’t it too much to try to get two deaths in one story. But I can’t think of one without the other now, even though, like I [00:24:00] said, at the time that Ellen asked me that question, “did you blame him?” I was stunned because they could not have been more different in my mind . So there is a a question sometimes of, just deal with the one, do Melanie’s memoir up to age 24, 25 when he died and then do the next part. And that can be another book. I don’t know where I’m getting that from maybe because I haven’t seen it done, which is exactly why I should do it. And, and maybe there are, of course there probably are memoirs about two deaths or and I say that specifically, because I think there are stories about layers of grief, like a divorce, a death, or, a loss of a friendship, a loss of a job. I think there are memoirs, of course, that deal with different types of grief in the same story. That is the idea that we stack these difficulties, you know, in fiction, we make it very difficult for the character to get [00:25:00] through. There are all these obstacles that get in their way of, you know, but in terms of memoir, I’m not sure I’ve seen two deaths in one story. And because they’re both, so-called suicides too, it’s a heavy topic and, and if anything, people will say, “Oh, wow, that’s…” there’s a kind of, “Ooh, that’s ambitious or, “Oh, okay. Well, that’s a lot to take on.” a lot of times I’ll receive it with gratitude and go, yep. That’s someone acknowledging what I’m trying to do, but there also have been writers where. Their eyes glaze over their eyes glaze over. Or perhaps they’re just thinking about someone else who died. Maybe they’re thinking about someone who died by suicide and I’m just causing that to come up for them. And what I’m seeing in their eyes is their own grief. It’s so hard to know, because often when we talk about writing, we’re not supposed to be having a therapy [00:26:00] session and we’re not supposed to be saying, “Oh, that happened to me too”. We’re supposed to say, “Well, when I read this story as a reader, I come from it from this experience…” and you’re supposed to give just a quick little one-liner, don’t make it about you. Find a way to make that useful to the writer. And I agree with all that. I’m not saying that that’s inherently wrong, but I think that maybe that’s where some of it is coming from. And then in terms of life, you know, people around me outside from the writing, I mean, my, my mother. I mentioned to her shortly after my dad died, that I was talking to someone more of an acquaintance and it had come up that he had died. And I think they asked how, you know, people ask that sometimes. And I said, he died by suicide, or maybe I just offered that up. He died by suicide. And my mom said, ” Oh, no, people don’t want to hear that. Oh, that’s Oh, Melanie that’s too much”. When my dad died, I was 24. I didn’t have a [00:27:00] lot of peers around me who were experiencing parent deaths and suicide seems very common. And yet it’s hard to find people who are survivors or are left behind. I hesitate to use survivors of suicide. There’s something about it that bothers me. So, yeah, I know you have your own experiences of being told your grief is too much.
Rachel: Well, I want to pick up maybe on what you said too, about it being so common because it’s certainly very common to miscarry and to lose a child that way. And I definitely wonder about some of the responses I’ve had one that’s really odd actually is people who I’ve told and I felt like, “Oh, this is a big disclosure”. I have, I mean, I lost my child in childbirth, so it was a stillbirth. It’s a bit different than miscarriage and very traumatic. It was a very medicalized [00:28:00] experience. And I want to fill in that I have two alive children right now, too. So there’s a setting, but so then my setting became where I would maybe talk about this cause we were living in Egypt and then we moved to Montreal. So picture a Montreal playground. My kids are playing someone else’s kids are playing and then, you know, questions that kind of led me to disclose, even though by then, I already kind of knew that this wasn’t something that people really wanted to hear. But anyway, more than once I would have told someone and then they just seem to completely forget. They would never mention it again. It just feels like as if I had said nothing, it was really strange. And I guess I sometimes like, is what happens too in those, you know, I guess white women, mother communities that’s the experience that I’m speaking from, we were living in a very white neighborhood and people want to talk about, Oh, well, Caesarean’s a [00:29:00] bad choice for this reason. It’s unhealthy kind of thing. And well my, my subsequent children were born by C-section because I didn’t want them to die. Right. But but so then for me then to interject, well, actually this is the reason why I had a C-section sometimes felt like, okay, that’s not the time to say that. Or, you know, it just changes the whole dynamic of the room. And then also there’s a protectiveness it’s like, I don’t know you well enough. You don’t deserve my story yet. In my mind sometimes I would think, “Oh, well, you can read my memoir if you want to know more about this particular choice”
Meli: Well, the thing about what you said about people never mentioning it again. I relate to that because it was all I could think about during those two deaths, especially with my father, he wasn’t really in my life. And so my life didn’t really change. So no one really would’ve [00:30:00] noticed. And so it’s like people think, “Oh, I won’t bring that up again because I don’t want to upset them”. Which is ridiculous. Cause it’s more upsetting to be silenced and to be invisible. And to act like nothing has happened, which is a very I would say a very white in the colonial tradition of, “Don’t look at that, look away, don’t connect those two things.
Rachel: Yeah, and I think the context is yeah, they’re parents, and so just the idea of losing a child, I get it. I mean, it’s a horrifying thing to think about. It’s one that I’ve experienced. And so then I kind of live with knowing that can happen more readily maybe. And I feel like, I don’t know about you, but that’s sort of, part of being in the grief club is, we just kind of are closer to that veil of death. You know, like we know that life can change in the instant. That’s good. I’m quoting loosely Joan Didion there, you know, like [00:31:00] things can just sort of switch in a moment and everything in your world can change.
Meli: I get what you’re saying about people with children who don’t want to consider how fragile life is. I’m not a parent, but I observe that parents, you know, it’s having this heart walking around, outside your body idea, but what is it like contagious? Like it’s not catching to, ,you can’t catch suicide, you can’t catch infant death. So it, it doesn’t make any sense intellectually, but of course that’s not what we’re talking about.
Rachel: Yeah. And it doesn’t create the world, which I think, you know, I guess kind of ultimately is the goal of our project is like this world-changing thing. Like to be able to talk about that openly on that [00:32:00] playground would create a world where, you know, you would have kind of more safety and comfort available to you when you were having a hard time when you had lost a child-like there’s so, I mean, there’s just so many weird things around pregnancy and loss. Like just also, you know, the idea of not talking about being pregnant in the first three months, because the fetus is so vulnerable then, and then, but then being really devastated when you lose the pregnancy, because again, of expectations, changing, you expected, one thing, and then something else. And yeah, I really, I don’t, I am not a fan. I mean, I’m certainly a fan of us having our own private lines, but I’m not a fan of there being these taboo topics that you feel like you’re the Grim Reaper who’s shown up at the party sometimes I think I say that, that I think you can probably [00:33:00] relate too it’s like, “Don’t forget that we’re all mortals and we shall toss off this mortal coil at one point. I think there’s a readership, like we’re talking about writers who appreciate this, but I think, you know, there are people who are reading those books who are not writers. But it’s almost like it has to be compartmentalized in this one space. “Okay. Put it in a book. But don’t talk about it over coffee”, or…
Meli: I mean, even what you said about “you can read my memoir”. It’s your right to decide who you disclose to, how you disclose when you disclose. But if in disclosing ,that there’s going to be this vacuum of sadness that’s suddenly created around it and that, you know, on that playground, which I think is such a great scene it, it really helps me visualize what that’s like to be watching your alive children play, her watching her alive children play. And then you bring this death into the situation, through natural questioning
Rachel: Not [00:34:00] unprovoked, I will add it wasn’t just “oh by the way”
Meli: Why do we always have to explain that I did that with mine. I was trying to go, well, somehow it came up. I don’t know. I, I was just answering questions. I mean, , those are essential experiences. Like I am not who I am without those two deaths. I’m not my trauma. I know that, but it has shaped my life. And so yeah, bringing the death into the room, it’s just such a… it’s frustrating. And I do think that people do want to read these stories, but you were starting to tell yours.
Rachel: I agree. I think people want to read these stories, like certainly when I workshop parts of my writing, which I have done in some memoir courses and people saying, ” I so relate to this. I’ve never heard someone say it [00:35:00] this way before. And even, I guess you and I finding each other too and going, “Oh yeah, both of us have this experience.” So yeah, like you, I’m kind of pairing a couple of ideas in the memoir I’m working on and it’s funny cause I’ve actually felt the pressure, not like a good pressure to do that when I was working with mentors on parts of my writing and just that, that the story of stillbirth alone, isn’t really the full story, because I think for me, a lot of it’s about the significance that I placed on that at that time. I came from like in my background, I have an alive mother, but also there’s real motherless-ness about me that has led me in a lot of ways to kind of question my own loveability to seek out mother figures, my mother-in-law included someone who is a [00:36:00] character in my memoir and, you know, related to that, kind of the, the experience of the culture surrounding loss because we lost the baby where I was living with my, with my partner and near his family in Egypt. So the thing I guess that I really want in the memoir, if you think of, I’m trying to turn myself into the character, right. So character me wants to feel love to be different from my family of origin, to love my family, without condition, to have that really positive maternal experience. And then the thing that’s stopping me is like the meaning I assigned to the death of my first baby that I’m unlovable and this sort of hypnotic hold of the narrative that my own parents have for me, that I’m selfish, inept, and unlovable, that’s a big part of it. And there’s grief in that too. And in fact, that’s something, another kind of topic that’s like part of my bouquet of taboo topics is [00:37:00] like not being able to bring up, well yeah, sometimes your parents don’t love you in the way that maybe other, you know, that other people experience or, or the feeling, or they do love you, but there’s sort of this difficulty I guess, in the relationship. So the scope of the memoir right now does kind of, I mean, we kind of start or the way I have it right now is we start in this moment where I’m on the precipice between being a mother and not a mother and my baby is frozen in what medically is called transverse arrest, unable to move from the first to the second part of delivery, and then experiencing that loss kind of the aftermath. And that’s like the, the crisis moment, I guess, that I start in, but then I take you back to falling in love with Mustafa feeling like I’m kind of worthy of that kind of love and able to be part of this really loving family, which is his [00:38:00] family and his mother at the head of that family. And yeah, and then kind of moving into moving around. So moving from Egypt to Canada, having some big cultural change problems, I guess, in Canada and facing some things about Canadian society. And to qualify that we moved in 20 13 to Canada. So just to give an idea of kind of the cultural climate, I think, and things that were changing in terms of anti-Islamic sentiment, and now having children who are, you know, identifiably, Muslim, Arab children was part of… it fits into the theme in the sense of kind of like even the country, the motherland in some ways is like rejecting and turning away. You know, in a space where I still can’t find that kind of family the family that I, that I’m looking for in terms of love and acceptance. And then, [00:39:00] we’re going to talk about this in future episodes, but it’s the decision of where to end something like that, like, you know, you see people writing multiple memoirs because it doesn’t expand the scope of their entire life. And so what’s the container for this particular story? I’ve written a lot of stuff that may turn into separate pieces, essays. So I’m still kind of honing in on the overall, I guess, meaning. And being able to talk about that story and finding the right, the right frame for it and connecting, I guess, with other people who’ve experienced loss in terms of my readers.
Meli: There’s so much to mothering the mother, the theme of the mother. Vanessa Martir talks about “the mother wound”. Yeah, it seems very clear to me. I [00:40:00] had the same thing where I was like, Oh, this is what a family is” and I was starting to really see that and so by the time Ellen was dying, I was like, “Oh, this is what a family does when someone dies”. I got these specific experiences of what a mother could be like, what a parent could be like, and it really affected me. And it sounds like that happened for you too. And thinking about your mother-in-law. It seems clear to me that it’s about mothering.
Rachel: Thank you. And yeah, I think the idea when we’re writing these memoirs too, is that we’re not writing to the person who’s had the exact same experience, but who can relate to some of the, you know, see some of the things that [00:41:00] they’ve experienced be spoken aloud because you know, as much as, I guess we’re saying. It’s hard to have these stories on our backs, kind of in that we can’t like put them down anywhere because people back away. So memoir has the space to do that. And then that’s kind of the whole reason that this kind of memoir genre exists probably I guess, is because people need to find that place to, to be able to read and, and share, have that kind of, you know, I was like that expression from one solitude to another, make that connection from the writer to the reader.
Meli: Yeah. I remember you saying something about someone’s being relieved you didn’t post something or just kind of what you’re saying about nowhere to put it down and other messages.
Rachel: Yeah, so you were talking about being 24 and like no one would know that you lost someone who you were estranged from well I had been [00:42:00] pregnant and kind of publicly pregnant person too, in spite of, you know, I had moved from Vancouver. So I had lived in one community, moved to another, but was like talking about how I’m expecting a kid. And so there were people, you know, for years, and then it was the weird experience of also then being in this other place, not having the child and to people, you know, there wasn’t, they organically kind of finding out. And actually I found it was interesting that, you know, a lot of cases, like certainly when I ran away with Mustafa and we basically eloped kind of thing, you know, you tell one person and everybody knew that story because that was, I guess, an exciting, positive story that was shared amongst my peer group and beyond I think too. I mean, actually I was publishing my book of poetry at the time, and my publisher was talking about that in an office with someone else who knew me. I think I know her, like, you know, the story that was going around [00:43:00] this poet, who’s running away to Egypt to be with you know, for love. And, but then losing the baby, nobody shared that story. So it was like, I had to keep kind of telling that to people over and over again, because no one wants, like, it’s a story no one wants to on their lips, I guess too. But yeah, then I had to tell people this was a client who I told, because I had planned to be off of work for a while, and then realized I wanted to go back to work sooner. People of course polite, ask you about the baby. And I had to say, “Well, no, I lost the baby. The baby was stillborn”. And a client said, “Well, good. You know, good thing you’re not publishing that on Facebook. I didn’t want to see that on my Facebook feed” or something just horrific. I mean, people will say things to you like, “Oh, I feel like you’ve punched me in the stomach” when I’m telling them what’s happened. It’s just, we’re not equipped. And people don’t really know that, that grief chart of like giving support inward and getting support outward, like looking at what’s the center of the grief and that’s [00:44:00] all language I’ve learned, I guess, since then, around what went wrong in terms of support for me. I t was silencing, it was very silencing. I think that’s the point. That’s why it was in our notes for this episode is like, cause it made me then just sort of disappear from the internet because if I couldn’t talk about what was happening and how I was feeling. And that’s changed actually, that was 2011, and so. I’ve seen more people publicly grieving on the internet in a way that people don’t seem to shame them about it. But, but I felt very, like, I wasn’t allowed to.
Meli: Even that story about the eloping and you know, that’s your business, same as the death of your child, it’s your business. But, people don’t want that sad story on their lips, as you say. And, and, Oh yeah. Wow. That’s such a great comparison in terms of people’s reactions.
Rachel: And we’re going to [00:45:00] explore more topics related to, you know, particular craft challenges when it comes to writing this memoir, each of our memoirs and then obviously content is going to be a big part of our discussion as well, too. So content and then community around grief and, and the conversation around grief. That’s what we’re going to be talking about. Right. Anything else that I missed?
Meli: Yeah, that sounds great.
Rachel: When we explore the craft in the future episodes, we’re going to also give ourselves tasks and kind of report back in around how we’re addressing a problem in our writing
Meli: If I had to invite you to write about something, the playground scene, I would wonder just as an example about the playground scene and if you’d written that.
Rachel: I hadn’t, and I hadn’t even thought of it as being part of the memoir, but you’re making me think it is. So I’m happy to [00:46:00] be like, let’s do tasks for this first episode then. So I’m happy to be, to be tasked with that.
Meli: Yeah. I mean, just to like free write.
Rachel: Well, I would think maybe we’d try to go for similar tasks. So writing about people’s reactions. So is there a moment where, I mean, have you written about your mother’s reaction to talking about…
Rachel: …telling other people about that? Yeah.
Meli: I’ll write about that.
Rachel: That’s a tough one though. I mean, I’m giving you a mother writing assignment.
Meli: That’s a good assignment.
Rachel: All right and we’ll give we’re going to give like a small assignment to our listeners, too.
Meli: I think it would be great to have people think about the ways they’ve been silenced.