Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The SFDWG (Sh*tty First Draft Writing Group)

A few years ago, I met a group of bereaved mothers online. Each one of us had recently suffered the death of our child, all due to completely different causes. We are bloggers who live in Ohio, Virginia and Washington state. Robin, Karen, Chris & I had never met in the flesh, but we felt akin to one another once we began to correspond. One of our group suggested that we start a book group using a private blog where we could reflect and discuss what we were reading. That is exactly what we did - except (of course), much more than that happened.

We chose a book by wonderful author Joyce Rupp called "Open the Door." As we read and responded to the questions for each chapter, we walked together through our grief, our deepest thoughts and spiritual issues, family difficulties, anniversaries, and more. We got to know each other intimately...and some of us have now met in person. These relationships are a tremendous gift of solace to me.

The blog is still private. We tried to study another book after finishing "Open the Door," but everyone's life got busier and the book study disbanded. We keep in touch through our blogs, facebook and private email communications, but have allowed the group activity around a book to go away.

I found I missed the regular exchanges and camaraderie with such women; though I don't seek them out, bereaved mothers do tend to find each other. But it can't be just ANY bereaved mother: she has to have a deep (and preferably dark) sense of humor and irony; she needs some kind of spiritual sense, and she has to be determined to live a full life, while facing the fact that there is one part of her life that will never, ever be filled again.

A little over a year ago, I attended the Field's End Writer's Conference with my friend, Reba (Hannah's mom). That event inspired us to found a writing group, and invite other fledgling writers to join in for accountability and encouragement. Enter the Sh*tty First Draft Writing Group. It just happened that the members of this group are all bereaved mothers -  most of the credit for this miracle goes to Reba, Hannah's mom; she knows all of us, and introduced us to one another. Credit for the name of the group goes to Anne Lamott, who encourages her students to write "shitty first drafts," and not to edit prematurely - just get it out, get it down - go for it.

We meet every two weeks at one home or other, share what we are working on, offer commentary and encouragement, laugh, cry, eat, drink and generally support each other creatively in a space which no one but a bereaved parent understands. No one but a mother who has had to say "goodbye" to her child knows the gnawing space left in the heart and gut; the difficulties of living each day, facing the future without that child's presence; the existential questions and challenges to faith, the search for meaning - and meaningful work, - the panic attacks, doubt and the harsh reality of a life changed, permanently, forever, stretching out before us - a life without that child's laughter, love, touch, smell, sensibility, contributions and need for our care. We also share our joys in day-to-day living, our families, progress, growth and inspiration.

In the presence of such understanding, I do not feel "alien;" without that fellowship, my loss looms even greater. I'm thankful for these beautiful, talented, generous women and each of their precious children.
Robin, Stefanie, Reba and Teri

"Leonard Cohen’s song, 'Anthem,' states in the refrain: 'There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.' It sounds a lot like Paul’s statement about carrying 'the treasure in earthen vessels' (2 Corinthians 4:7). These are both much more poetic ways of naming what we unfortunately called 'original sin' —a poor choice of words because the word sin implies fault and culpability, and that is precisely not the point! Original sin was trying to warn us that the flaw at the heart of all reality is nothing we did personally, but that there is simply 'a crack in everything' and so we should not be surprised when it shows itself in us or in everything else." - Richard Rohr
 Thank God for good company on a hard road. That's another example of "how the light gets in."


ChiTown Girl said...

I'm so happy that you were blessed with these women in your life!


Kay Windsor said...

From a bereaved mother in another writing group, I can tell you that your description of those of us who write together after the death of a child as having a deep and dark sense of humor and irony, a spiritual sense, a determination to live a full life while facing the missing part, is just as we see it too. May I add your blog link to our blog? http://fartheralongbook.com

And we too are your sisters in this sorority none of us would ever have chosen.
Kay Windsor

Karen Gerstenberger said...

Dear Kay,
YES, please do add my blog to yours - thank you! I am looking forward to reading more of yours.
God bless you

Kay Windsor said...

I just linked your blog on ours. I am glad to find your blog, and I so appreciate the "crack in everything" post--yes, thank God for good company on a hard road, a traveling mercy (as Anne Lamott titled one of her books).

Robin said...

So glad you've found(ed) this group -- I felt the same way in DC, as if I had found more of my tribe, people with whom no explanations are necessary.

Karen Gerstenberger said...

Thank you, Kay. You might also enjoy my other friend Robin's blog (on my sidebar), Grief & Gratitude. She's the Robin in the photo. Blessings to you!

Elizabeth said...

How wonderful -- this group of women and your support of one another and each other's art. I've always loved that line from Leonard Cohen, and I really like your interpretation (or Rohr's) of it being likened to "original sin." I learned from Alan Watts (I forget which book) that "sin" in the original Aramaic meant "to miss the mark" --

Karen Gerstenberger said...

I've heard that, too, Elizabeth - and appreciate that translation - it's more forgiving & realistic.
Robin, I'm so glad you have found another "tribe" of good people...that is beyond price.

Busy Bee Suz said...

What a wonderful group for all of you. I really love the name (ann is genius!)
Your last line really struck a chord with me. Blessings to you Karen.

GrahamForeverInMyHeart said...

You are truly fortunate to have such a group of friends with whom you can share your true self, knowing that you can all understand each other.