I worked with a writer whose father had committed suicide when she was twelve years old. She was one of twelve children.
Her first writings were filled with rage and betrayal. She couldn't fathom what had driven her father to suicide. As if that weren't enough, the family lived a lie: "He died of a heart attack in his sleep."
But when she completed the memoir, it had become a moving story of a family tragedy, truth-telling, and the power of family love. No matter how many times I've read the ending, I've cried!
What allowed the writer to move from rage and confusion to love? One day, when she and I were discussing the many incidents that made her angry and left her bereft, she mentioned, with sadness, that she hadn't been allowed to go to the funeral.
"I can't tell you how much I wish I'd been able to go to the funeral," she admitted.
"So go," I suggested. "Write the scene where you do go to the funeral!"
"I can do that?" she asked in amazement.
"Absolutely!" I told her. And she was off and running. She wrote a powerful scene where she and two of her younger siblings sneak out of the house and make their way to the church. Along the way, they met a strange character, a wise fool of sorts. Then they slipped into the church where the funeral was going on, and the memoir opened up!
She changed. She was inspired. New story lines emerged, much of it based on fact and some on imagined scenes that allowed her to make sense of her world. Finally, she was able to shed light on the family secret that said her father died of a heart attack in his sleep. Most important, her "made up" adventure of sneaking into the church opened her to the fertile complexities of family love. It's part of the amazing and mysterious journey of the imagination.
Do you have something in your own past that you wish you could change? Embrace my What If? technique. When we brave the risks of the journey, a memoir is a tapestry that liberates us in ways we never imagined were possible!