StoryTime: The Healing Pen
Dealing with grief through writing.
I have dealt with a lot of death in my life. Several years ago, my best friend's husband was killed in a work accident. I moved in with her and her two children and lived with them for about 3 years. During this time, I saw first-hand how my friend struggled to heal from this devastating tragedy. Though this story is fiction, it is based on true events and was my attempt to understand and reconcile what to do with pain. I wrote this more as an outlet than as a literary "piece of art." It's not in perfect literary style, but it helped me express the emotions I was feeling at the time.
The red, dim light smeared against the wall. 4:161 flashed before my eyes. The rumble of a distant thunder let out a muffled groan. A few lonely raindrops knocked on the windowpane, as if they wanted to come inside to escape the storm that was quickly approaching. What was it about this time that made the world seem like a far-off fairy tale? My eyes adjusted to the darkness of the shadows that filled the room. The sound of the thunder crashed through the air like waves upon rocks in the ocean. White light ran across the wall, temporarily washing out the red hues of the alarm clock. I jolted to an upright position, as a loud crash of thunder demanded my attention. The fragile raindrops that had knocked on my window only moments ago were now outnumbered by a vast multitude of large and bold raindrops. They slammed into my window with great force, determined to make their presence heard. I pulled my blanket up and around my head and tucked myself into an artificial cocoon. Flashes of bright light now danced across my room. The orchestra of thunder crescendoed. The drumming of the raindrops kept a constant rhythm for the dancing lightening to follow. This concert of nature lasted for about half an hour. Then, like the sound of a departing train fading into the distance, so did the storm. The pace of the dancing light slowed, and the thunder no longer resembled great waves upon the sea, but rather reflected that of calm water gently lapping the shore. A few tired raindrops collapsed on the window to rest. Soon, the sound of silence nestled into place and I turned my attention, once again, to the red glow of the alarm clock light as it resumed its position in the corner of the wall. Before my eyes shut, 5:012 bid me sweet dreams. The quiet stillness of the night lulled me back into slumber.
The moment I awoke, my stomach flinched into an all too-familiar knot and any remnants of slumber dissolved into the air like wisps of fog. My body tensed and without warning, tears filled my eyes. A lava of lament bubbled beneath the surface and only a thin layer of flesh kept it from erupting. I looked around the room, searching for something to grasp my attention. I couldn’t think about it—the pain was too great. But my searching eyes returned, as they always did, to the empty spot on the bed to my right. I closed my eyes, a fragile tear rolled down my cheek, and I reached out. My fingers longed to find something to touch—someone—him. Nothing but empty space shared my bed. How could this be true? How could I…be a widow? I am too young—only 28. He was too young—only 31. He was supposed to live to be an old man. We were supposed to grow old together and sit on a porch swing, hand in hand, reminiscing about the “good old days.” I am supposed to be living in those days right now. But I’m not. At least if we had been old when he left me, I’d have the memories of a long and happy life to hold onto. But instead I feel as if I have nothing at all. Time and time again I reach out, hoping to feel something to hold onto. My fingers clutch at hope but only dreams of what could have been are within my reach. I would embrace even the dreams, if I could. But that would be like trying to hold on to smoke after a candle’s been blown out—it lingers for a moment but then escapes through my fingers and is gone before the next beat of my heart. My daze was broken with the squeak of a door. I looked up and forced a smile.
“Mommy, I had a dream,” Kyle stated, in his small, yet sophisticated five-year-old voice. He walked towards me, dragging his bedraggled blue blanket behind him. I scooped him up into my arms and rested my chin on his forehead. His hair was thin and soft. He pushed back from my embrace in order to look me in the face.
“Mom. I said I had a dream,” he stated, this time a little louder.
“Please tell me honey. What was your dream about?” His big brown eyes were filled with wonder.
“I was riding on a big train. It sounded like thunder. It was dark and I was afraid.
Nobody else was on the train.” His singsong voice sounded like the melody of a distant place—one that was somehow familiar, yet strange.
“Then what happened?” I questioned.
“Well, I looked out the window to see where I was. But all I could see was the sky. It was late. The clock on the train said 8:263. The stars were so pretty, but I was scared cuz nobody was there.”
“Wow. That’s quite an interesting trip!”
“Wait mom, I’m not done yet. Then I knew that there was somebody on the train cuz there’s gotta be a driver. So I got up. My feet were wobbly, I think cuz I was in space, maybe, and it’s harder to stand up in space, you know.”
“It sure is,” I interjected.
“But I still went anyway and walked to the front. I saw the back of the driver’s head. His hair looked soft. He had one of those mirrors that he watches the kids with---like how they have on the bus for school. And his eyes were looking at me. They were nice eyes but I was scared still. Then I cried Mommy. Cuz I wanted Daddy to be there.”
Oh no…how do I help my boy? What can I say? His Daddy can’t be there anymore. I’d tried to explain to him. How do you explain death to a five-year old? How do you explain it to a 28-year old?
“But mom…this is the good part. The driver came to me and picked me up and hugged me. It wasn’t Daddy but it felt like a daddy cuz he knew how to give the good kind of hug that makes you feel better.”
“Oh honey…can you show me what that hug was like? Can I have a “good” hug?” Kyle wrapped his small arms around me and squeezed as hard as he could.
“Like this Mommy? Is this a good hug?”
“Yes Kyle. Very good. It’s very good.” I wanted to take a picture of this moment—to store it in the photo album of my memory. These moments were all I had left of anything “good”.
The day went on like a blur. Kyle went to school. I went to work. I suppose I was able to complete my tasks for the day. Being a secretary at the local school, there were always piles of paper on my desk, waiting to be read, filed, or mailed. I know that there was a pile on my desk in the morning and that by the end of the day, only a few papers remained. It’s amazing to me how so much time can pass by and I, unaware, was able to participate in the day somehow. If the pile of papers had not dwindled, I would have to question if I’d done anything at all.
The afternoon came. Finally, it was 3:014and time to go home.Kyle came home. He watched TV. I watched him. Dinner was a bowl of “Fruity Pebbles” with a side dish of blueberry pop-tarts. And time just did what it does—it moved on.
I looked at the green numbers of the microwave clock. It was 11:285p.m. Time truly puzzled me. I found out about Paul’s death at 8:166 pm. I felt that I had sat in that room for what seemed like an hour or two. Yet when I finally stood up, the clock told me that only minutes had passed. How were hours squeezed into minutes? But now, hours pass day by day, but it’s as if only minutes had gone by.
“Time for bed, buddy. It’s late!” I yelled out. But Kyle was already sleeping. I picked him up and put him into his bed. I tucked him in—actually, I tucked the covers into him. I shoved them under his feet and pushed them in under his sides. I wanted him to feel safe and secure. I wasn’t sure why I thought that blankets could provide that, but still I pushed and tucked.
Falling asleep was not easy. I tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable. My mind tossed and turned, trying to find rest. It was by the grace of God, that I was ever able to fall asleep, at all. My mind raced. Questions clamored for my attention. Memories of Paul flooded my mind. I felt a strange mixture of joy and despair. One memory, in particular, won the battle for my attention.
It was a beautiful Fall day in October. It was a few days before my birthday. Paul wanted to take me out on a “real” date. We didn’t spend much time alone, anymore, since we’d had Kyle. Paul had arranged for his mother to watch Kyle. It was a Saturday morning. I woke up to the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking. I looked at the clock—8:317 a.m. Why in the world were cookies being baked at that hour? I was about to get out of bed, when I saw a card on the bed, next to me. I opened it. The picture on the front was a beautiful scene of a forest during autumn. Inside it read:
Some leaves are red, some leaves are gold, but their beauty is precious, let it be told. Some people are nice, some people are fun, but none are as precious, as the prize that I’ve won. Your beauty, my wife, shines bright like the sun, but it’s your soul, that I love, that shines brighter than gold. Come downstairs and get ready for a day to remember…until we are old. I love you. Paul
I grabbed the card and walked downstairs. The table was set for two. On the table sat a plate of warm, chocolate-chip cookies and a two tall glasses of milk. Paul turned and looked up at me, as I lingered on the stairs, taking in the beauty of the simplicity of the scene before me. His face brightened and his eyes looked at me as if they were seeing me for the first time. He walked over to where I stood and scooped me up in his arms.
“I love you, Jenna,” he whispered, as he kissed my forehead. He carried me over to the table and sat me in the chair.
“Breakfast, is served,” he said with a fabricated English accent. We sat at the kitchen table eating warm, gooey cookies, drinking cool milk, and talking, for hours. We hadn’t talked like that in quite a while. It almost felt like a first date. Then, Paul told me to hurry and get dressed, or we’d be late. I ran up the stairs, like an excited schoolgirl, and hurriedly dressed. The rest of the day was just as magical as it had started. We got in the car and drove. Paul had made a CD of songs that we had listened to when we first met. Memories of college and our earliest years together flooded my mind. We finally arrived at our destination. It was a beautiful state park. We walked the trails, hand-in-hand, like a newlywed couple. We talked about EVERYTHING…from serious to silly to surreal. It was a simple time, yet more magical than words could explain. When we rounded the corner of one of the trails, there before us, in a clearing, was a big blanket with “stuff” sprawled out all over it.
“What’s this?” I had asked. Paul smiled, grabbed my hand, and pulled me forward, jogging towards the blanket.
Was he more excited than I was?
We sat down on the blanket, he poured me a mug of specialty coffee, picked up a book and began to read. I sat, in awe, as I realized what it was he was reading. He had taken everything that I’d written since we’d met and had compiled it together into a book. Poems, reflections, short stories—they were all there! Even the stories that I’d started and had never finished were in the book. Paul had taken the liberty of trying to finish the stories for me. Of course, the plot disappeared and the characters became flat, but Paul was not a writer! How difficult it must have been for him to even attempt conclusions to somebody else’s stories! When he got to the last story, I realized that it was not one of mine. This one was a story that he had written entirely on his own. It was a story about a baby elephant named Flakey Jenkins (oh, how I loved the silly names that he would come up with!) The baby elephant was sad because he was blue and all the other little elephants were grey. No matter what he did, he just didn’t feel like he fit in. When he was a little older, Flakey Jenkins met another elephant that was unique, as well. Her name was Pumpkinhead. (Paul’s nickname for me). Pumpkinhead was unique because she was the only elephant that changed colors! Sometime she was grey, like the others, but most times she was green or blue, but sometimes even orange! Flakey and Pumpkin decided to be best friends because they could understand each other’s struggles. Eventually, they married, and lived happily ever after.
Without warning, tears burst from my eyes and I sobbed into my pillow. And here I sit with my thoughts. The happiness of “then” breeds in me, so much pain, now. It’s not fair. Our story was supposed to end like the story of the elephants. On paper, everything works. In my imagination, there’s always a tomorrow and things to look forward to. In memories, there’s always a yesterday and things to smile about. But in reality, there is only this moment. And I would trade this moment, if I could, to hold on to a memory or to embrace a dream. Yet here I sit, alone and afraid. The only thing I can think to do is to write. When I write, I control the time. I can stay in a memory as long as I want. I can embrace the dream because I can see it, black on white, in front of my eyes. I can experience it as many times as I want. I can leave the moment with the flip of a page.
All I have is you, my dear, sweet story. You won’t ever leave me—you can’t. You are a part of me and I am a part of you. Each day that I live, you live too. When I die, you will still go on. You do not get weak and tired. You do not cry. You are not bound by the human condition and are not subject to vulnerability and sorrow. You are what you are, only because I am what I am. You teach me about myself because you preserve my thoughts. You remind me of truths that I’d otherwise forget.
Please teach me, story. What is it I should learn? I read you again and again. I look for your hidden ways. I search—I’m on the edge of my perception.
I think I’ve found what it is you’ve intended for me to know. I realize that you, my dear little story, are part of a bigger story. Not my story, or his story, but His story. The author of all life—of all creation—has a story that is full of joy and pain, just like mine. But His story breathes. His story became flesh and dwelt among us. My story grieves because of death, but His story rejoices because of the life that overcame death. He that writes the story has determined how it will end.
And though it is time that I have viewed as an enemy—time that took him away from me—and time that keeps him from me, it is also time that teaches me. And I know, that in time, I will not only be with him again—but I will be with Him forever.
1) 4:16 a.m 2
16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2) 5:01 a.m. 2 Corinthians 5:1-8:
1Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
6Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7We live by faith, not by sight. 8We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
3) 8:26 p.m. Romans 8:26-27:
26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.
4) 3:01 p.m. à Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
2 a time to be born
and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and
a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and
a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter
stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
6 a time to search
and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and
a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and
a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
5) 11:28 p.m.Matthew 11:28-30:
28"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
6) 8:16 p.m. Romans 8:16-21:
16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21thatthe creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
7) 8:31 a.m. Romans 8:31-39:
31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If
God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own
Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him,
graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against
those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that
condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at
the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall
separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."[l]37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.