February 5, 2023

Writing the Grief

by Victoria Clayton in grief0 Comments


After the death of your person, nature offers a blanket against the raw grief, a respite, when there’s no real comprehension. That takes language, and there’s no language then, there’s just action. You know your person has gone, that’s why you’re sitting with the funeral director making decisions about caskets and flowers. There’s lots of crying, but its shock crying, the howling of small children after a fall, after a split second of uncomprehending silence.

You don’t yet know how bad it’s going to get.


After the deaths I floated adrift, alone, up high.

To stop myself floating away altogether, I looked for an anchor. Language is an anchor. I wanted to hear other people talking about their grief because if they are grieving too then I am not completely unmoored.

But they are strangely silent. They stay away. They all have their reasons, I’m sure. I’ve been trying to figure them out, these reasons, for some months now and it’s all a bit unsettling.

I turn to professionals, a grief counsellor. But I’m putting on a show of grief. One hour talking to a stranger in an office is not the anchor I need. I investigate support groups, my tribe of adult orphans. Structured sessions of discussion. I’m told there’s art involved and suddenly I’m afraid I may be called on to play with clay or do interpretive dance or and I flee to the library.

Writing the Grief Pimba storm


Writers don’t shy away from the hard stuff. I’ll read memoirs of grief and find my anchors there.

But the memoirs seemed to be of relationships and illness and death. I don’t care about these things. I flip through the chapters of childhood reminiscences and lengthy cancer treatments and agonising scenes of dying at home and finally, finally, after the person has died, now, finally, in the last chapter, here comes the grief.

It’s not grief I recognise. The writers seem so ‘together’; they never weep, suffer cognitive failures, lack energy or stand, motionless, undecided, in supermarkets. They throw themselves back into jobs and childcare without any apparent difficulty immediately after the funeral. I don’t understand this.

The memoirs never suggest that writing about grief might be quite difficult. I take the books back to the library and try anyway. I start keeping a journal.

The writing is plain. It’s boring, dry, dull. Sentences are clunky. ‘I feel really, really sad’, ‘My heart hurts’, ‘I miss them so’. All these things are true. And pathetic. I don’t have words. No words work anyway. The pain of this loss is otherworldly, other wordly, there are no words. Finding chunky clunky things like words is impossible when you just want to keep your finger on the a-key, ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaa…..’


But there was something else going on in the writing, a sense of making sense, an attempt, an assay.

The raw grieving days eased into hollow, empty days. I decided that I would make the daily jottings into a properly structured memoir. I will simply consider the grief. I will take stock.

I wonder now at how frantic I was, in those early weeks, to reinvent myself, to start again. Pages of my journal are filled with questions and concerns about my future, work, study, aging and whether I should simply just let myself write.

I weep as I write, every time, sometimes so deeply my gut aches and I feel ancient and sit around and then stagger to my feet and lean on things. The crying takes up much writing time and the trouble is that there is so much to weep for. But one must start somewhere.

Parham Beach writing the grief


Many months later…

Spring has arrived and I have a new haircut, the first since the deaths and after a hiatus from writing, I feel confident to restart this memoir. I open the journal I kept just after Mum died and within seconds there’s tears.

After, I bathe my face and decide tea will help.

I have a thought, a thought that stops me short, the kettle overflowing beneath the tap. Maybe those sudden tears were not only for the losses.

Maybe I’m weeping for me, the me back then, the me who had just lost her people.

I feel overwhelming sadness for that other self, like I’m another person, like I’m reading the journal of another person. Perhaps with the passing of time I am another person.

I pour out some of the water and set the kettle to boil.

I will write this grief.

I will write a little, then I will sit in the sun.

I will write when I want to and stop when I must.

About the Author

Victoria Clayton

I write narrative nonfiction, essay and poetry on a range of subjects: archaeology, travel, history, thinking about the past, ancient figurines, what makes a well-lived life?

You can use tags to choose the blog posts that most interest you.

Thanks for reading. Do leave a comment if you'd like to.  I'd be delighted to hear from you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
keep in touch!

Sign-up to the (roughly) fortnightly newsletter to receive writing updates and other bits of news from me.