When Catharine Murray lost her six-year-old son to a rare form of leukaemia, she took to writing during her journey of healing.
Little did she know at the time that this therapeutic outlet _ a combination of story and poetry _ would eventually be compiled into a book titled Love, Loss, Hope, sharing her emotional roller-coaster ride both before and after her second-born son's demise.
Her book is in the final stages of completion. Until then, Murray's Mothering Through _ a collection of poetry written during her period of bereavement _ can be purchased via email.
The American poet-writer also began a blog, www.lovelosshope.com, last year after realising her poetry was being shared by grieving mothers before it was even published. In an effort to make it available to anyone dealing with the loss of a child or loved one, or might find it helpful, the blog offers not only poetry, but also her reflections on grief and healing. It also keeps Murray in contact with other grieving mothers and allows her to connect with people who can relate to her experience.
Today, Murray makes her home in the scenic northeast town of Chiang Khan with her Thai husband and two other sons. In a candid interview with Life , the 46-year-old explains what made her write Love, Loss, Hope.
"I never set out to write the book until after it was written," claimed the Harvard graduate, who came to Thailand in 1989 to work as an expatriate educational consultant.
"When Chan, my second son, was very sick and after the doctors had given up on him, writing was part of what kept me sane. I was compelled to tear myself away from him for an hour or so every day, if I could manage it, in order to purge all the stress and fear I was functioning under by pouring it into the computer as I typed. I also had a sense that the time I was living in was very precious, and I didn't want to lose any of it by committing it to the very unreliable realms of memory.
"After Chan died, though, I felt strongly that I wanted to tell his story. I felt he had taught me so much about living by his example of fighting for his life up to the very end that I wanted to share that with others. Also, I was told that my words helped others in their grief. These are the reasons I decided to shape my journal entries into Love, Loss, Hope. So far the response from my poetry readings and blog has been that my hope of helping others heal is being realised.
"As for my collection of poetry, Mothering Through, that also was an afterthought. It was only when I discovered that my poetry was helping grieving parents that I decided to publish the book."
When Murray writes, she is not conscious of her decision-making process. The method with which she pens her ideas feels as much visceral as intellectual. The hard part for her is not the crafting of what she articulates, but making the shift from running busily through her life to stopping and dropping into her inner self to see what awaits her there.
When she follows this mindset, the words flow without any conscious decisions as to how to express what she is experiencing. If they come as poetry, she gets a poem. If they come as prose, she gets an essay. The poems seem to come from an emotional state, she said, usually turmoil or deep sadness, rather than a reflective one. And the prose originates from a desire to record a story or a question she's been grappling with.
The most challenging part of putting together the book was deciding what would be useful for others to read. While editors are assisting her with that, she struggles with what to include, or not.
"I am currently grappling with the question of whether the book should be a straightforward story of Chan's illness and death or whether it should extend beyond his death to my healing process as part of a larger memoir on my life in Thailand. "I have everything written. It is just a matter of picking and choosing."
The process of overcoming grief comes in various forms, says Murray, who cried often early in her bereavement. Hoping to lessen the pain by keeping busy didn't help address the lingering heaviness on her shoulders. Fortunately, for both her family and herself, she quickly realised this was more detrimental than conclusive. It was making her less emotionally available for the people she loved. Unconsciously she had created a wall around her heart.
It also dawned on her that to emotionally heal, she was going to have to compel herself to stop evading the pain and feel it, accept it. In such emotionally charged moments, she used to cry her eyes dry.
In some of the darkest moments in Murray's life, it was her two other sons, Codte and Tahn, who kept her focused. For them she had to force herself to wake up each day and attempt to make their lives pleasant, put on a brave face by laughing and smiling with them and being pleased with her youngsters and their accomplishments even when she felt dissatisfied in life without Chan.
In retrospect, she says pushing herself to live in the present and be available to her family allowed her to process her sadness. The effort she made to stay open and loving towards her boys at a time she badly desired to shut down made her eyes often moist with tears.
By forcing her heart to stay open, she managed to allow room for pent-up grief to arise. Murray's healing process, which took years, began when she eventually let her anguish manifest itself in the form of tears and sadness.
When asked what she would you like to share with parents who have lost a child to a medical ailment, Murray said: "The most important thing is compassion for oneself. Losing a child is such a deep wound that it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to get over it. I do not agree with the adage that time heals all. I think it takes more than just time. I think it takes the willingness to be present with the intense sadness that arises so often and so strongly. This is hard work that requires great courage and compassion for oneself.
"My wish for parents who've lost a child is that they have people in their lives who know how important it is for the parents to be able to talk about their child and their loss and not in a way that is meant to entertain others and skirt around the pain, but in a way that allows them to fully face the extent and depth of their grief. If it makes them upset to talk about the child they've lost, that is because it is the natural process of healing, and this expression of emotion should be accepted and encouraged as healthy. People should not be medicated for expressions of deep grief.
It is natural and necessary for healing, even if it makes people around the bereaved uncomfortable. The expression of the sadness is what heals it. The suppression of the emotions with medication will not."
Mothering Through can be ordered at www.lovelosshope.com/order-book-of-poems for overseas readers and local readers can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further updates on when Love, Loss, Hope is published will be posted on her website.
About the author
- Writer: Yvonne Bohwongprasert