Writing Through Grief

Friday, April 17, 2009
Last week, my boxer, Charlie, died suddenly in his sleep. He was 10, and he led a good life, but it was still completely shocking and totally devastating. In our family, dogs are not just dogs, they are members of our family--our babies--and my parents' grandbabies.

When my husband broke the news to me, I was in the middle of writing a blog post, and I completely stopped. I couldn't finish, of course, and I just closed down my computer and put my stuff away. That night, we continued with our plans to take our other dog to my parents' house, pick up my stepson, and travel 10 hours to my brother-in-law's house for Easter. So, I didn't write the next day either.

For the week we were gone, I wrote nothing but two paragraphs on my blog about Charlie and a few status updates on Facebook. I could barely even turn on my computer. The only thing I could think about was how much I missed Charlie, how much I was worried about Hush Puppy (our Basset Hound), and how horrible it would be when we got back home without my shadow. I was exhausted from trying to be "happy" around my family and celebrate Easter. I hadn't gone a week without writing anything for probably five years. I usually write every day--an article for Bright Hub, a chapter of my novel, or a draft of a poem. But I didn't want to write--not at all--I didn't even miss it.

When we returned home, I forced myself to go to the library and write two articles for Demand Studios--articles that focused on travel tips and didn't make me think about Charlie. I finally returned to work on my novel yesterday, although I just read over a couple chapters and revised them. I'm still only writing during the day, away from home. I can't seem to get in the swing of things at night. I'm finding when your work is creative, it is just plain hard to work through grief.

I've heard people talk about journaling their grief or turning those raw emotions into beautiful poems. But the most I can seem to do is share my story with the world through a couple blog posts. I'm too close to the situation, I guess. I can't even think about the first line of a poem or essay--it's just a big, bundled mess in my brain right now, which is why this blog post is also probably rambling a bit.

I guess my point is that if you experience a great sadness in your life as a writer, give yourself a break. I didn't want to, and I keep worrying that something is wrong with me, that my joy for writing is gone. But it's probably not. This is all normal--and the same methods do not work for every writer. Some people could fill journal page after journal page about their grief or depression; others can produce pages and pages of poetry; I can offer this blog post.

I would love to hear your stories. How did you work through your grief over a loved one (human or animal), and how long did it take your writing to get back on track? The one thing that has really helped me through this process is an old book I found at the library about grieving for pets. Pet owners shared their stories, and I found comfort in hearing others' tales. Maybe we can do the same for each other here.

Margo Dill


Madeline said...

Margo, I'm so sorry for your loss. Please hang in there and don't be so hard on yourself. Take care!

Ruth J. Hartman said...


I completely understand how you feel about your pets. My cats are my babies, too. Monday will be one year since we had to put one of our cats to sleep.

I believe we grieve for pets much in the same way we grieve for people. They're all you can think about for days on end. But eveyday gets just a tiny bit better. Now, a year later, I still miss the hugs Baxter used to give me, but the pain isn't nearly so great.

You'll be in my prayers.


Kerrie said...

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear about Charlie. We have boxers, too. They are the most childlike dogs I've ever known. With real kid personalities. They are our children and our best friends.

We had a really bad night several months ago when we thought our male boxer, AJ, had passed. But, we were lucky; he came back. I blogged about it here: http://www.sanitydepartment.com/2008/11/life-and-love.html.

It took me more than a week to want to write about it (also our infant son fell extremely ill and had to be hospitalized the morning after the incident -- it was a very traumatizing week). Even when I did finally write, I didn't write much. I couldn't. Even now, when I read it, it makes me sad and scared about what I know is imminent.

I will be giving all my dogs extra hugs and boxer kisses tonight, and saying a prayer for you and Charlie and your family.


Margo Dill said...

Kerrie, Ruth, and Madeline:

Thank you so much for your thoughts, wishes, and stories. It just helps to share with the world, which is one reason why it helps to be a writer and have a way to get in touch with others. :)

Kerrie--I am so sorry for your week. I can not even imagine what your family went through, but I am so glad that everyone is okay.

Thanks again. It means a lot!


Allena said...

Yes, my shih tzu is "my other baby"--in fact, I even got him when I was having a bit of baby fever... Losing pets is so awful, and your post made me hop on the computer (I was reading on my Blackberry), and commiserate.

One of my clients lost a dog after SEVENTEEN years. Can you imagine?

As for the writing aspect, I've personally found that extreme emotions tend to help me write, which may not be good, as my life is pretty boring and routine :)

Hope for the best for you, Margo

NancyHira said...

You have my understanding and sympathy. I lost my little ex-pou"nd kitty, Maggie, almost a year ago. She started hiding out when we adopted a new cat -- I just figured she'd get over it. Then we found her, no warning that she was sick. I know it sounds silly, but I have a candle for her on my kitchen island -- somehow it helps. I had a special relationship with Maggie, she was my little "familiar" and buddy.

Monna Ellithorpe said...

Margo, I am so sorry about your loss of Charlie. No need to explain, our pets are our children too.

I became a widow 8 months ago yesterday. I have written in a journal ever since I can remember when I was upset or depressed about something. I have never been published or anything but since my husband's death I have found that writing on the internet (blogs, Ezine articles, etc.) keeps my mind occupied and off of things.

So I guess I am the opposite. BTW I haven't written much in the journal just on the internet.

I promise it will get better. Missing Charlie will never go away but you will learn to cope with the loss as time goes on.

Monna Ellithorpe

Cher'ley said...

I'm sorry to hear about Charlie too. I'm so afraid of losing my boxer, Lizzie. She's 5. We lost our Great Dane 6 years ago and I still have not gotten over it. She was 5. I feel her presence every once in awhile. When I'm driving, late at night, I feel her head on my knee. She used to do that a lot.

Today was the first day I could read your post. I saw the title and just couldn't open it up. I just lost my youngest brother April 27th. I'm not able to write much about any of the loses in my life. I wish I could. No poems, nothing. It makes my heart race thinking about writing those personal feelings. I couldn't even write about the medical issues I went through a couple of years ago.

Anyway, I'm so sorry. I understand the void in your life. We also lost Zack our Pom and Nick our Siamese Cat, but they were older and had lived full lives.

I never wanted another pet, but my husband bought Lizzie for me when she was a puppy and now I couldn't imagine life without her. She is one of the greatest joys of everyday.

Margo Dill said...

Thanks for sharing that with me. I know how strange grief is and how it can just pop up. We still have our loyal Basset, Hush Puppy, and we've had a boxer puppy, Chester, for about a couple weeks now, and he keeps us absolutely busy. But every once in a while, I think of Charlie and I miss him so much it is almost unbearable. I am now to the point where I am just trying to be thankful that I was lucky enough to have such a wonderful dog in my life, and I hope that for everyone (or cat if there's a cat lover in the bunch. :) Thanks again and my thoughts are with you and your family at hte loss of your brother.

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