Writing to heal in times of grief

Wendy Brown-Baez and I are soul mates. We’re both advocates and beneficiaries of writing to heal and survivors of a loved one’s suicide. Please welcome Wendy today as she stops by Choices on her WOW! Women on Writing book tour. Her literary fiction book, Catch a Dream, is described below. Here are her words about experiencing loss and grief and the benefits of writing to heal that experience.

Writing for Healing

by Wendy Brown-Baez, author of Catch a Dream

My healing story begins not with my own healing but with seeking solutions for my companion’s depression. Sometimes Michael was unable to get out of bed for days at a time. Other times, he was energetic, gregarious, spending money wildly, followed by aggression. With a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, the puzzle pieces fell into place.

I was involved in two writing groups at the time, a writing support group called Write Action and a women’s poetry group. Michael became more and more mentally unstable and finally killed himself. I wept until my eyes were swollen shut. To pour out my grieving heart onto the page and to share my words in my writing groups was cathartic.

I believe that the soul knows what it needs to take care of itself if we listen to our inner voice. Writing is a way to pay attention to the world around us and the world within us. It opens our hearts so that we can be authentic. We can let down the façade and explore what we yearn for, what our passions are, and what give us solace and spiritual nourishment. We can coach ourselves through grief by being present and reminding ourselves to focus on the present. We become aware of blessings along the way, our support systems of family, friends and our spiritual foundation, and our resilience and courage strengthens.

The benefits of writing to heal were studied by Dr. James Pennebaker, of the University of Texas at Austin, and Joshua Smyth, PhD, of Syracuse University. Their studies suggest that writing about emotions can also boost physical health. The key to writing’s effectiveness is in the way people use it to interpret their experiences. Writing that describes traumatic or distressing events in detail and how we felt about it at the time and how we feel about it now is the only kind of writing that has clinically been proven to improve health. Venting emotions alone—whether through writing or talking—is not enough. Transformation as a change of attitude, understanding or perspective is the key to using writing to heal effectively. My experience is that this transformation can happen quickly in a group setting as the writer hears one’s own words spoken aloud. Further experiments have demonstrated that months later, better life choices are made and productivity at work or school increases.

Receiving the 2012 Minnesota State Arts Board grant enabled me to take writing workshops to twelve non-profit arts and human services organizations. This meant that I was writing in groups every week and sometimes two or three times a week. I wrote with the participants and shared my work, taking care to direct my words toward the branch of insight, lessons learned, new perspectives discovered or deeper meanings explored. Because I was writing on such a consistent basis, my intuition was guiding me powerfully, both in my writing and in the prompts I chose. The surprise gift that I received was my own healing.

Writing a story, whether in short form or novel-length, is also a way to heal from loss and grief, disillusionment and betrayal, regret and guilt. By pondering the choices I made through my character of Lily and the responses of her son, her best friend, and others, I was able to reflect on my time in Israel from a more objective approach. Although certain things were unresolved and although my heart was broken by the constant conflict between the people I had come to cherish, my story is a story of courage, reclaiming my voice, and healing my past. Those insights are now mine to claim and keep.

About Catch a Dream 

A woman’s healing journey begins in a country embroiled in relentless turmoil. In Israel, the first Intifada has just begun. Palestinian frustration for a homeland erupts in strikes, demonstrations and suicide bombings and Israel responds with tear gas, arrests, and house demolitions. Lily Ambrosia and Rainbow Dove arrive in Haifa with their children on a pilgrimage to sow seeds of peace. Lily’s fascination with Jewish culture inspires her to dream she can plant roots in the Holy Land. She falls in love with the land itself, with its people, and with Levi, a charming enigma, dangerous but irresistible. Eventually she is fully immersed in Israeli life, earning her way as a nanny, hanging out in cafes with friends, and attending Yom Kippur in the synagogue. Her son rebels against the lifestyle she has chosen and war with Syria looms on the horizon. Will she be able to stay? What does she have to give up and what will she be able to keep?

Print Length: 196 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: BookBaby (March 24, 2018)
ISBN-13: 9781543925579

Catch a Dream is available as an eBook at BookBaby and Amazon.

About the Author

Wendy Brown-Báez is the author of a poetry CD Longing for Home, the full-length poetry collection Ceremonies of the Spirit (Plain View Press, ’09), and chapbooks: transparencies of light (Finishing Line Press, ’11) and Elegy for Newtown (Red Bird Chapbooks, ’14).  She has published both poetry and prose in numerous literary journals and anthologies, both in print and on-line. She received McKnight, Mn State Arts Board and Saint Louis Park Arts & Culture grants to bring writing workshops into non-profits and community centers.

Wendy has facilitated writing workshops since 1994 including at Cornerstone’s support groups, the Women & Spirituality conference at MSU Mankato, Celebrate Yourself women’s retreats, All About the Journey healing center, The Aliveness Project, Unity Minneapolis,  El Colegio High School and Jacob’s Well women’s retreat. Wendy received 2008 and 2009 McKnight grants through COMPAS Community Art Program to teach writing workshops for youth in crisis. The project at SafeZone and Face to Face Academy developed into an art installation showcasing their recorded writings. When it was noted that students’ reading scores improved, she was hired as Face to Face’s writing instructor.

In 2012 she was awarded a MN State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant to teach writing workshops in twelve non-profit arts and human service organizations. She continues to teach at Pathways: a healing center, in Mn prisons, and in community spaces such as public libraries, yoga studios, churches, and cafes.

Wendy has taught memoir at MCTC continuing ed and through Minneapolis community ed.

In addition, Wendy has managed shelters for the homeless and visited incarcerated teens. She is trained as a hospice volunteer and as a facilitator of Monologue Life Stories. Wendy studied alternative healing, ceremony, and spiritual traditions with Earthwalks for Health and lived in Mexico and Israel. She has collected wisdom teachings from these diverse cultures, as well as written memoirs of her adventures.

You can find Wendy Brown-Baez at:

Website: www.wendybrownbaez.com
Blog: www.wendysmuse.blogspot.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/wendybrownbaez
GoodReads: www.goodreads.com/wendybrownbaez
Facebook: www.facebook.com/wendybrownbaez.author
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/wendybrownbaez

Choices is so pleased to have Wendy Brown-Baez here with us today. Let us know your thoughts about this very serious and proven subject: that it is possible to write to heal. 

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