My father passed away in July of this year. It was a strange experience to have someone tell me this over the phone from thousands of miles away. After I hung up I sat quietly for a while before writing “All that’s left of him is stories now” in the last page of my notebook.
For weeks after his death, I attempted to chronicle these stories. I was afraid if I didn’t write them down they would slip away, in the night, along with him. I wrote about his red guitar, about him singing – loudly and utterly out of key – in his old Camero. I wrote about his love for Disney films, his unbridled temper, his many insecurities. I wrote about lots of things I remembered until it struck me, hard, that there would be no more memories from now on. That’s when I started reading.
Since his death I have been reading everything I can get my hands on related to grief. After collecting hundreds of poems on the topic, I realized that I wanted to put my experience to good use and talk to others who might have had similar losses in their lives. So, I decided to set up my first Death Writing workshop for Made in Roath this year.
During this workshop participants had the chance to discuss death, dying, grief, and loss as well as write in a supportive, confidential, and informal environment. As death is such a huge concept, and those who write about it do so in complex ways, I chose to focus this first workshop around loss & mortality – the two most significant themes that emerged from my reading.
To this end we read poems and discussed how death had touched us. We wrote about the things we’d leave behind when we go and the times when loss seemed particularly poignant or strong in our lives. I was touched by the kindness, openness, and courage the participants showed. It was inspiring and I left the workshop feeling the best I had since my Dad died.
Given the success of this workshop I have decided to develop a Death Writing series which will begin in April 2014. The series will examine everything from depression to funeral politics and, as a service to the community, the workshops will be offered free of charge.
I will be sure to post more information about this series in the upcoming months. In the meantime please enjoy the following poem by Brian Trimboli which I shared during the very first Death Writing workshop:
Things My Son Should Know After I’ve Died
I was young once. I dug holes
near a canal and almost drowned.
I filled notebooks with words
as carefully as a hunter loads his shotgun.
I had a father also, and I came second to an addiction.
I spent a summer swallowing seeds
and nothing ever grew in my stomach.
Every woman I kissed,
I kissed as if I loved her.
My left and right hands were rivals.
After I hit puberty, I was kicked out of my parents’ house
at least twice a year. No matter when you receive this
there was music playing now.
Your grandfather isn’t
my father. I chose to do something with my life
that I knew I could fail at.
I spent my whole life walking
and hid such colorful wings.