For September 10th, 2017: Lost & Found

Dear Readers,

Apologies to you all as this week is a repost from 2016.  However, given the circumstances that prompted me to return to earlier content, I’m hoping you’ll understand.  I will say, however, that in the midst of the devastation in Texas over a week ago, and now, Hurricane Irma plowing northward through Florida, my loss seems trivial.  But it has affected my ability to use my computer.  On Friday afternoon, my computer crashed, and with it, not only contacts and folders of various important information, but over a decade of manuscripts–unfinished stories and poems–and, you guessed it, a body of work devoted to expressive writing and cancer that, as I write this today, has been only partly recovered.  Given that, the topic of losing something and finding it–or having to re-invent it–seemed apropos.  I hope that by next weekend, I’ll be fully operational once more.  Thanks for understanding and following this weekly blog site.–Sharon Bray

For the Week of September 10, 2017:  Lost & Found

Death steals everything except our stories.–Jim Harrison

(From: “Larson’s Holstein Bull,” In Search of Small Gods, 2009)

Loss.  It’s something we’ve been witnessing as natural disasters–hurricanes, floods, wildfire–take toll on people and their lives.  Loss is also often synonymous with cancer–the loss of hair, parts of the body; self-image, dreams, or loss of loved ones.  In a world that seems to be dominated by losses, we feel overwhelmed and hopeless as we face a landscape defined  by tragedy, sorrow and grief.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

–from “Kindness”, by Naomi Shihab-Nye in The Words Under The Words ©1994

When cancer strikes or you experience the kind of devastation suffered at the hands of Nature’s wrath, life, as you once knew it, is never the same afterward.  The landscape between what Shihab-Nye calls the  “regions of kindness,” does seem desolate.  What we took for granted seems like a distant memory.  And for a time, we grieve, yes, but hope somehow finds a way back to us, solace is given, and in those small moments of kindness, we start to see our world differently, and find our way back to life and begin to heal.  As Shihab-Nye says,

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore…
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

During times of loss and grief,when we least expect it, we discover kindness.  We make  new friends, build new dreams, and discover gratitude for small gifts life offers us, ones we overlooked or barely noticed before.  We find new facets of ourselves to explore, strength or resilience we never imagined possible.  Perhaps we even discover we haven’t lost as much as we thought.  The kind of loss that comes from cancer or other serious illness is often fertile ground for new knowledge and understanding.

Writing helps us articulate– even mourn–what we have lost in the difficult chapters of life,  but it offers us much more.  When we write, we have a blank page, an unblemished open space upon which to reclaim lost stories, create new ones, reclaim our voices and ourselves.  We discover new insights, new possibilities.  Our words have the power to touch others.  We find new realms of creativity we never realized we possessed.  We find ourselves again.

Writing Suggestions:

I.   First, take a blank sheet of paper and list  all that you have lost–whether important keepsakes, friendships, loved ones or physical attributes and abilities you had before cancer.

  • Don’t stop there.  Turn the page over.  Now list the acts of kindness that you remember, the ones that made a difference.And gave you hope, helped you rediscover what you thought your lost or helped you see things in a new light.  Even, sometimes, helped you reinvent what you thought you lost into something new and even better.  Explore what you’ve lost and what you’ve found.

II.  Using Jim Harrison’s words, “death steals everything but our stories,” write about losing something or someone.  What stories about that thing or person  do you carry with you?  Write one of them.

About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
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