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The Therapeutic Effectiveness of Memoir Writing


In memoir writing, more than in any other genre, it is not only legitimate to pour out your feelings on the page; it is also expected of you. Your reader wants to travel with you along the arc of your emotional journey, to empathise with you, to feel the same emotions as you, especially if he or she has lived through a similar experience. Hence the healing power of memoir for the writer as well as the reader. Depending on what you are writing about or reading, the experience can be painful, but if you don’t allow your tortured feelings to be expressed and dealt with, the psychologists will tell you that you could carry some of the emotional baggage with you for the rest of your life.

Breath of God pic121911

What better way, then, to deal with the emotional turmoil of bereavement than by writing a memoir? Of course, in the thick of the emotional battle, when you have only recently lost a person you love, it is often very difficult to even think coherent thoughts, let alone to write them down. But even those disjointed sentences, those fragments of thoughts, those scattered memories when recorded on the page at the very least make your experiences more understandable.

In hindsight, I certainly benefited from pouring my painful feelings onto the page after my beloved husband, Robert, died almost two decades ago. One of the most thoughtful gifts I received during that time, although it had little monetary value, turned out to be a lifeline, helping me on my agonisingly slow walk to ‘recovery’; I deliberately used inverted commas here, because there will always be a part of my very self that is missing, but I long ago learnt to forge a new life for myself. It helps that because of my Christian belief, I know that I shall meet my husband one day again in heaven.

To get back to that precious gift. My daughter gave me a foolscap hardcover book – 288 pages – in which to record my thoughts. She had covered this book with gold paper; the bold purple italic script of the title read, “Gillie’s Special Book”. I ended up often pouring out my heart and soul onto the lines of this book, frequently late at night when I couldn’t sleep or in the early hours of the morning. It is on these very diary entries that my Christian memoir, Breath of God, is based.

Before I conclude this blog post, I would like to share with you an extract from my Christian memoir about bereavement, ‘Breath of God’, so that you can perhaps empathise with the emotional roller-coaster that bereavement is:

The effort of daily life continues to exhaust me, and two diary entries bear testimony to this:

24-09-2000: “Sometimes I wish I could just sleep, and sleep, and wake up in your wonderful, warm, romantic arms.”

16-10-2000: “Everything seems to take so much energy these days, and I get very tired – particularly when Bonnie does her usual trick of barking at night, over and over again.”

Intense emotions can be very draining, and there are constant reminders of Robert’s vibrant presence to cause a fresh upwelling of tortured tears. Somebody ’phoned the other day and asked to speak to Mr Leggat. The man wanted to sell Robert a milk separator, and I was reminded of his abortive scheme just a few months previously to buy a goat.

However, it’s not the going out so much that is exhausting, but the weeping at home, so I am attempting to fill my life with a few “treats”: a play called “War-cry” at the Hilton drama festival proved to be a great distraction. It was a really good play about rivalry, the truth, rumour, values, responsibility, sacrifice etc, and I became totally involved.

I remember how Robert used to tease me and say, “It’s only a story!” when I cried or gripped my seat during a sad or tense movie.

Then there were the beautiful distractions of singing in the choir, playing the piano, going to the ballet and musical concerts. All these things have served to uplift my spirit, and have re-charged my batteries and enabled me to carry on with a more positive attitude.

But then there is also the painful business of attempting to socialise. A diary entry of the 23rd August records the sharp shock of feeling on the outside: “Why is it so difficult tonight? I’ve just come back from a church dinner and I’m crying my eyes out. They’re all red and blotchy and I feel as if my heart is literally breaking. I’ve even considered ’phoning Lifeline, and have looked up the number, but the trouble is, I’m crying so incoherently that I don’t think they’ll be able to hear me. In any case, I might find it really hard to talk to them. Everything seems so impersonal and empty again. I suppose it was because I was sitting at a table where I didn’t know most people, and I found it so hard to talk to them.

It was almost like a deeply personal shock when I got home. The intensity of the pain was so overwhelming and dramatic. Last time I saw Gary, he prayed for God to comfort me, and to put His loving arms around me. Oh, how I long for that, as I can’t have your loving arms. It sounds as if I’m putting God’s love second, which I’m really not, but oh, how I wish for comfort tonight – strong, tangible, powerful comfort. My whole life is steeped in you, and I desperately miss your physical presence and your spirit.

At a time when so many people worldwide are suffering bereavement as a result of the Coronavirus and COVID 19, it is my hope and prayer that some of them will find comfort in the healing power of the pen.

And to those authors out there who are writing memoirs about happier subjects, enjoy your memoir writing and feel satisfied that you are giving your readers a real taste of life.

Breath of God by Gillian Leggat
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