Why Do We Write?

Reblogged from September 16, 2012

I attended the book signing this past August. Farther Along, written by my friend and mentor, Carol Henderson, which tells the stories of thirteen mothers (she is one of them), a bakers dozen as Carol points out, who had lost children at various ages.

I was prepared to cry. I don’t do well with death of children, even adult children. Children shouldn’t die before their parents. Maybe that’s why I choose geriatrics as my specialty. Old folks die. It’s expected. No surprises. I can deal with that.

I teared up but didn’t cry and was somewhat unprepared for the humor, serenity, and lack of self-pity as the six mothers read sections from the book. But then ten years had passed since the women came together under Carol’s guidance and direction. Certainly bereavement takes time to absorb, rant and rage against, come to terms and eventually accept the grievous loss that will never be forgotten until one’s dying day.

How fortunate the women found each other and Carol. Writing their stories seems to have brought them to a better place than they would be if they hadn’t immersed themselves in writing.

Why did these women write?

Carol says in her book:

“Writing about deep and traumatic matters, as many studies now confirm, is good for our physical health. Reflective writing actually lowers pulse and blood pressure, increases T-cell production, and boosts the immune system. Writing can help us cope with chronic conditions like physical pain—and the loss of health, of dreams, and, yes, of children.”

We all write for different reasons. I am haunted by my patients. They walk around in my memory and defy me to ignore them. I need to tell their stories.

“Why do we write? To make suffering endurable. To make evil intelligible. To make justice desirable and . . . to make love possible”― Roger Rosenblatt, Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing

Why do you write?

Learning to Heal

I’ve long been a proponent of nurses writing their stories to educate the general public about what we really do. Here’s a book: Learning to Heal: Reflections on Nursing School in Poetry and Prosethat does that and more.

The essays, from seasoned nurses as well as recent grads and “respected elders,” are set in the United States and abroad and show the history, rigors, challenges, humor, and sadness that alternate during the nursing school experience. Not every author in this collection makes it to graduation.

The prerequisite of nursing—compassion, empathy, and psychological support—threads through the stories. The reader will learn the depth of the nurse-patient/family connection. This connection becomes ingrained in the nurses’ psyche as evidenced by Courtney Davis’ Wednesday’s Child. Her story mirrors my Baby in the Closet. She, too, wrote about a newborn with a deformity who was left to die in a linen closet. Courtney, like me, carried the fate of the baby along with unanswered questions for almost 50 years!

Never a specialty I wanted to practice, psychiatric nursing demands a special temperament.  Poetry especially captures the depths of human understanding needed to make a difference.

. . . Come to my group, my plea, as I knelt offering

filtered cigarettes as free admission tickets.

In an empty silence, we sat on single beds, arranged

in a square, in a room as cavernous as an airplane hangar.

What was my hurry? Most had lived there twenty years.

Hardly a word dropped into the atmosphere.

—Ward 24, Nancy Kerrigan

I associated with Geraldine Gorman’s Learning the Wisdom of Tea, who takes us though her education from a diploma nurse to a PhD. I, too, wondered where were the “(f)irst person accounts of interactions of patients and family . . .”  Where were the nursing stories? And I, too, questioned the authoritative methods of instructors in nursing academia. And I, too, felt fortunate to find a career path that allowed me to “practice outside the hospital.” My “wisdom of tea” began at the kitchen tables of my patients when I visited their homes as a guest, learning that I needed to obtain their cooperation in order to institute a treatment plan.

The stories and poems in this anthology are varied, educational, entertaining, and poignant. Whether the reader is a nurse or not, all will learn that nursing has come a long way as Learning to Heal stories excellently show.