What I Write

Lividity is when someone dies and the blood pools in their body based on the position they’re in. The skin turns dark. Philip was dead in his room for two days. He was lying on his back when his friends found him. One of the things I tortured myself about for months was thinking about what his body looked like, how all the blood had pooled on the back of it. I wished I’d never heard of lividity.

I knew that body wasn’t Philip any longer but it didn’t matter. I cried to think he was alone in his room for two days, to think that maybe he realized he was going to die and he was frightened; to think of him being handled by other people, put in a body bag, lying in the morgue. And now – I can look at it like he’s left this world and doesn’t get to live his life. Or I can look at it like he’s woken from this dream and so is spared the grief.

I’m grateful I wasn’t the one who found Philip. I used to wonder why we never see what a dead body really looks like, why the guy at the funeral parlor fixes them up first. You know what? Thank God. If I had to look at Philip in a coffin, better he looked like himself than what he looked like when his friends found him.

I thought about this because of an essay I read, which I’m linking to here.

My last post was a link, and I was about to end this one the same way. That’s not like me – and not that there’s anything wrong with linking. These two posts are just that good. But two in a row, plus not posting for two weeks, had me wondering, “What’s up with that?”

I started a ten-week writing class in January. It was hard to work on the assignments, as well as blog. Not because I didn’t have the time. Time doesn’t equal energy – I can only write for so long. And going from essay to blog post and back again was no easy transition. That would’ve been enough to deal with without my increasing frustration with the class. I had some real problems with V., the teacher. But that’s not the point. The point was I waited nine weeks to tell her what was going on. I acted like a resentful child, pleading sick when I didn’t want to go, until I went as far as I don’t want to write that assignment, and you can’t make me. And it’s not like I didn’t see what I was doing. I was paralyzed all the same.

Sometimes I think that since Philip died, what the hell else could bother me? Sometimes I think things bother me more because my emotional immune system is whacked. One thing’s for sure – his dying doesn’t give me a free pass. The things I was trying to work out before he died still have to be worked out. Like what went on in that writing class.

I’ve written about the way we take a situation – a set of facts – and turn it into a story where we’re writer, producer, executive director, star and victim. So if we see what we’re doing, we can stop, right? It’s that simple, but it isn’t easy. Some of my stories are old as I am, have a life and momentum of their own. It’s beyond thinking – my body gets involved. In fact, I’m not exactly aware of what I’m thinking because I’m consumed with reacting, wrung out and twisted and so terrified that I’m confused about what’s really going on or what to say about it.

So with V. I turned the problems I was having with her into she didn’t like me, wasn’t paying attention to me, wasn’t giving me what I needed. Blaming her rather than taking responsibility. Continuing the class with some secret hope that next time would be different, walking away pissed off and disappointed when it wasn’t. But why would it be? It was my version of “Ground Hog Day ” – doing the same thing over and over and thinking it’d turn out differently.

It didn’t help that I started class by announcing I wanted to use the assignments to write about something other than Philip. Did I forget who I was, who I am? That was a ridiculous and unrealistic pressure to put on myself because I do not want to write about something other than Philip. And what I write isn’t about “Philip.” It’s about me. What his death has done to me, what it feels like to live in the aftermath. This is hard, hard stuff. Writing’s a way I abide it. When I can abide it at all.

When writing is an assignment, it becomes a “have-to.” And it’s fine to say as a writer, I should be able to finish something when I have word count or a deadline. But I’m not living in a world of word counts or deadlines. I’m living in a world without. I don’t recognize it, I don’t like it, I don’t want it. When I’m with my daughter, when I’m at work, when I see Kirsten or Harriet, when I write – I crystalize. I feel it all, all of it. But then I’m driving or walking the dogs or sitting on the couch alone and it’s like trying to stand up in a rowboat during a monsoon.

It took nine weeks – as well as conversations with Ed, Kirsten and my daughter – for me to get the nerve to tell V. I wasn’t going to the last class.  “I’m like a child,” I told Natalie, who tilted her head and stared at me with a face full of  are-you-kidding-me?  “What do I say?”

“How about that class isn’t helping you?” she answered.

Result? V. and I talked about what was going on, and while I still didn’t go to the last class, I was out of the drama around it. In other words, I realized V. was not my mother.

And as far as what I write about, V said writers write about what they can’t stop talking about. I’d say we write about what we want to keep talking about but have to stop talking about because nobody wants to listen. So we write for others to read because we need that connection. I’m not saying “nobody” wants to listen to me about Philip. But it’d be impossible for anyone to listen to all I need to say, as impossible as it would be for me to keep talking. My throat would be scorched from the all of it.

It’s not for me to say, “I’m not going to write about Philip.” This is my need. For now, the writing is writing me.

© 2014 Denise Smyth


23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Deanna
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 12:58:48

    Yes! Exact. Every word.


  2. Greet Grief
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 19:29:41

    I can so relate to your statement – “the writing is writing me.” This is a powerful journey GRIEF even after 22 years and thinking how can there be one more thing I need to say about my experience, another topic rises to the surface. I write with the intention that one person be touched/helped by my words – sometimes that one person may be just ME. Your writing is a gift, to others and most importantly to YOU! Embrace the process.


    • Denise
      Mar 30, 2014 @ 11:30:49

      Writing is discovery – the act of focusing and articulating what I’m going through lets me know what I’m thinking. And it keeps me close to Philip, and to others. Yes, touching even one other person is a joy.


  3. behindthemask
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 20:38:09

    Write as much or little as you need, and whatever you want. Sitting with you xo


    • Denise
      Mar 30, 2014 @ 11:32:57

      Thanks, Zoe. Someone posted a “happy birthday” to her son who died three years ago, and it threw me. Such a sweet face, so much heartache. I’m starting to see it isn’t always this hard, but when it is, it’s torturous. I know you’re there – and your last post was a riot, as is that website!


  4. daveallen
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 20:39:33

    I still admire you for having the strength to write – I’ve left my page blank for well over a month. I’m afraid to start, not even sure where to begin. You hit the nail on the head when discussing the need for others to read, the connection… Reading your posts have helped me, knowing I’m not the only one going through this….


    • Denise
      Mar 30, 2014 @ 11:37:04

      No, you’re not alone, for sure, even though the place inside you that’s lonely for your son isn’t going to be touched by anyone. Still, I take comfort in others. It took a long, long time for that to happen. Of course it’s hard to write about what this is for you. I couldn’t write for a year after Philip died. I admire you for trying, and for your wit, humor and humanity. See, the helping works both ways.


      • daveallen
        Mar 30, 2014 @ 12:07:48

        Thanks for the support. Writing certainly isn’t easy; yesterday was the first time in almost a month I wrote anything at all. It’s still hard to find motivation or energy. I’m not ready to give in yet, though…

  5. jmgoyder
    Mar 30, 2014 @ 06:00:34



  6. kmlagatree
    Mar 30, 2014 @ 10:59:36

    You’ve done it again: articulated something vital and true for ALL of us, no matter our individual experiences.


  7. Denise
    Mar 30, 2014 @ 11:39:29

    As always, coming from you that means much. And you see how much you’re part of this post, from the link to Paige to True Detective to our conversations about “V” to the love I feel for you.


  8. lensgirl53
    Mar 30, 2014 @ 19:19:01

    I took Creative Writing in college when Brandon was a senior in high school. I realized that it requires you to go deep into your emotions, something not everyone is willing to do or is afraid to do. I know this much; you are in the newness of grieving and it cannot be about what others think you should be writing but what your heart dictates. Unless, of course, you are a sports writer or a lifestyle writer, etc…something that is less emotionally demanding, you will write what you know; the loss of your beloved son.

    I know that right after my son passed…I could not write the “D” word and still avoid it sometimes. Writing takes courage. You are courageous to take any kind of class that exposes the deepest cut a mother should never have to endure. It is a healing tool, so use it. Blessing to you dear friend…..I love you….dale


  9. Denise
    Mar 31, 2014 @ 12:02:05

    No, my writing can’t be dictated by anyone. The writing is my connection to Philip; it’s one of the ways I keep him close. I get this urge to tell – and here’s where I do it.

    Dale, thank you for listening. My heart so goes out to you, and I love you, too, dear friend.


  10. DragonPack
    Mar 31, 2014 @ 17:26:25

    OMG I obsessed on lividity too. I still do really. The ME told me she knew that Qory’s actual time of death was at the time I told her I felt him die, based on his lividity. I made her tell me what lividity meant. Good God it makes it all so real.

    I’m so glad you’re writing is writing you. And I get it.

    Hugs and love my friend. Thinking of you always… holding you close in my heart. ❤


  11. Denise
    Apr 01, 2014 @ 15:50:23

    I know you get it – and I’m both sad and grateful that you do. When Philip first died I kept (of course) going over everything – over and over and just making myself sicker. I couldn’t help it. One day I heard Philip say, “Mom, you don’t have to keep thinking about that.” Not about him, but about the way he looked, if he suffered; the moment I found out. Sure, I do that less. But it’s still a knife in my gut when I think about it.

    And I think of you a very lot, too; hugs and love back, my friend.


  12. Becki Duckworth
    Aug 29, 2014 @ 09:48:43

    Thanks for sharing. I have found myself lately wanting to write more about the stabbing. But I stop myself because I’ve already wrote that story. But the abuse is who I am, there is so much more to how that attack affected my life. It’s me it’s raw it’s real. The same with Philip.


  13. Denise
    Aug 29, 2014 @ 10:24:26

    Yes – and I don’t think you’ll ever run out of things to say about it. It’s so much more than the facts of what happened – it’s all that you mourn and discover.

    Good to hear from you xoxoxoxo


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: