Symposium aims to help people cope with grief through writing
By Sarah Campbell
Who: Chapel Hill writer and teacher Carol Henderson and the mothers of “Farther Along: The Writing Journey of Thirteen Bereaved Mothers”What: Book symposium When: Saturday, April 27 Sessions: 10 a.m. tø noon —Henderson will lead writing exercises based on “Farther Along” 2 to 4 p.m. — Henderson will speak briefly about writing, followed by a panel discussion with the “Farther Along” mothers Where: Literary Bookpost, 110 S. Main St., SalisburyMore information: Lori Yang at 704-798-2072 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When Lori Yang’s son, Michael, died suddenly about a month shy of his second birthday in November 2001, she took up journaling.
“Someone gave me a notebook and a pen, so I would write letters to him,” said the Salisbury resident. “Putting my thoughts down on paper was helpful to me. “
After more than a decade, Yang rarely writes, but she still looks back at those journals.
“It’s just amazing where I was then compared to now,” she said. “I can see the pain I was in just from my writing.”
Yang, who leads a monthly support group called Circle of Hope for parents who have experienced the death of a child, said she often encourages people to write.
“Journaling is a great way to deal with your grief and your pain,” she said.
But Yang recognizes that not everyone is immediately sold on the concept.
“Some are a little apprehensive because they don’t know what to expect,” she said. “I myself am not a writer; I’m a little apprehensive.”
That’s why Yang gave Beverly Burton the green light to plan a book symposium featuring “Farther Along: The Writing Journey of Thirteen Bereaved Mothers.”
Burton is one of 12 women who showed up for a writing workshop Carol Henderson hosted at Salem College more than 10 years ago.
“Carol created an atmosphere with her delicate heart and delicate hand that enabled us to put our pain on paper,” Burton said.
The healing had begun.
The women continue to meet every six months for a writing retreat where they talk and laugh and cry.
“We’re like sisters, we truly are,” Burton said. “But we’re not a sorority that anyone wants to belong to.”
Last August, the women published “Farther Along” as a tribute to the children they have lost.
Since then, Burton said the book has flourished because of its sincere nature.
“It’s not just a collection of bad stories; it’s about hope,” she said. “It’s helping others who have losses, not just children, but other deaths.
“We’re proud we can use it to help others because this a hard journey and not one that ever ends.”
Burton, whose sons Wes and Andy died in a car accident in Winston Salem during March 2002, said when she moved to Rowan County she wanted to share the book and writing with people here.
“There is loss everywhere every day,” she said.
Writing toward healing
Burton attended Henderson’s writing workshop just six months after losing her teenage sons.
“I was searching for anything that could help me,” she said. “When you wake up every morning, for the first year or so the first thing that floods your soul is that you don’t have your children anymore.
“It’s beyond words to describe the pain except to those who have had it happen.”
Her pain was so raw, it took Burton a while to find any healing in writing, but it came.
“To be able to pour my soul out in journals was a cathartic way to just let it out,” she said. “When you read back over, you see through the years that you’re writing evolves and it becomes less grief-filled and more hope-filled. “
Henderson, a writer and teacher who lives in Chapel Hill, will lead symposium participants in writing exercises starting at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Literary Bookpost.
“I feel that it’s really important to understand writing and the healing power of writing,” she said. “There’s an emotional power behind writing and what it can reveal to us.”
Henderson said writing gives people a chance to “go deep within oneself.”
“We think differently on the page than how we think when we’re talking,” she said. “We just don’t often do it or give ourselves that opportunity for reflection.”
During the symposium, Henderson will use “Farther Along” as the basis for a series of writing exercises.
“I will give participants several evocative prompts,” she said. “They are good at warming people up on the page and getting them thinking about themselves, their relationships and various aspects of their lives.”
Henderson will talk about how to approach writing to make the task less daunting.
“I’ll give them ideas about ways to fit writing into their daily lives,” she said. “People think you need two hours to sit down, meditate and write.
“I will give them ideas for ways to kind of quickly access the unconscious.”
Henderson herself knows what it’s like to experience loss. Her infant son, Malcolm, died after his second open heart surgery at just six weeks old some 30 years ago.
“There was nothing I could do but write — I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t read a magazine,” she said. “Writing was my way of digesting and understanding my world.”
Henderson said there’s no experience required to start writing.
“Nobody cares about complete sentences or any particular kind of writing,” she said. “If you can capture your talking voice and just treat the paper as if you are talking to a good friend, your therapist, your minister, your spouse — then you can write.”
Henderson said the event is open to anybody in the community.
“Writing is just a great tool for any human being,” she said. “And everybody has suffered some kind of loss.”
Yang said this is the first time the Michael Yang Foundation, which was started in memory of her son, has sponsored such an event.
“I thought this would be the perfect introduction to people who are uncertain about writing,” she said.
Burton said she hopes people won’t let fear keep them away from the event.
“It’s going to be a very warm and welcoming atmosphere,” she said. “It’s just learning how to let your soul flow through your pen and just write.
“It doesn’t have to be a beatifically constructed piece; it’s your heart.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.