Writing in times of crisis

Writing in times of crisis

"Your art is where the drama belongs, not your life."

Julia Cameron

"Hey there, just letting you know that Monique is in hospital with double pneumonia. She's having many convulsions. The doctors say there's nothing they can do for her."

At 4:30am on a Sunday morning, that's not the text anyone wants to receive from their older sister, especially if the person lying in hospital with no hope from the doctors is your youngest sister.

First, I cried. Then I pulled my journal closer and started writing.

What spilled onto the page wasn't gut-wrenching words about how unfair life is and about how I wish I wasn't living on a different continent from my sister so that I could at least go and visit her in her last days or hours. It wasn't heart-warming stories about our childhood years spent together or about how time has flown. It wasn't even nostalgic drama about how I wish life was different for us three sisters.

What appeared on the page was the the unvarnished truth instead.

I wrote about how glad I am that I'm on a different continent so that I don't have to go to the hospital to see her tiny body lying in a white bed with pipes and life support attached to her. She wouldn't know who I am anyway. I wrote about anger at family decisions that split three sisters up and caused a lot of confusion and complicated relationships.

I paused in my writing to wrack my brains for any memories, proof, of time spent with my youngest sister, Monique. We were separated at such a young age that I only have photos to tell a bare-bone story of scant time spent together.

A photo from the eighties of the three of us having fallen asleep on the couch in front of the television, all sharing one duvet, and Monique lying in my arm. Another one of Monique, with her dark black hair and intense blue eyes shivering from cold in a yellow costume next to the swimming pool. One last photo of my older sister and I, both as young adults, smiling bravely as we hug the nurses who have been looking after our baby sister for the last decade and a bit in the home for severely brain damaged children.

Writing has enormous power to heal - new wounds as well as old one that get their scabs scratched off. There might be nothing that I can do for my sister, but my journal provided a breathing space where I could put my raw thoughts onto the page while the early morning birds sang behind me in the forest. It is a place to enter into complicated emotions and start untangling them.

I wrote many pages on Sunday morning. I wrote until I felt calm and empty. And then I painted and collaged over all the pages of honest truth that only writing in the safety of a private journal can coax out, and created new, colourful, and happy pages for my art journal out of old wounds.

Words give us the power to digest our life on a very deep level - if we remember to keep our drama on the page and not in our heart.

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