Tag Archive for grieving

Client Success: Author Kirby Vanderyt

41P-A0MkR7L._SY300_A conversation about her recently published memoir, Afterglow.

Over ten years ago, Kirby joined my Journaling workshop and became my first client.  I’ve been fortunate to be her writing coach as she wrote three children’s books, various short stories, and a novel.  Recently, after the sudden loss of her husband, Bill, in 2009, her journaling led to writing her first memoir. 

WSS: I know journaling is meditative for you.  How much did you journal before and after Bill’s passing, and how did this lead to writing the book?

KV: I journaled nearly every day, sometimes just quick notes, sometimes long rants during Bill’s surgery and treatments. I continued to journal the entire next year, including writing a letter to him each Monday night at the time he passed away, a time of day we used to sit and reflect upon our respective days’ activities. It was rereading these letters that lead me to think about writing memoir.

WSS: Did any journal writing directly transfer to the book?  Scan 105 - Copy

KV: Some, not a lot verbatim. I mainly used my journal to establish or reinforce facts like date, time, and location. There are snippets of phrases, even chapter titles that came to mind. The imagery in certain passages, particularly in the dream sequences I write about, helped me recreate my feelings and thoughts.

WSS: Beyond journaling, do you feel writing the book helped you with your grieving process? 

KV: Yes, journaling and then writing the memoir helped me wrestle with all the emotions whirling around inside and outside of me. It’s like I had to relive and relive, retell and retell what happened to convince myself the horror of what I experienced actually did happen. Like a broken record…eventually you have to accept reality, whether you want to or not, the truth just stares you in the face and doesn’t go away.

WSS: In your process, how important were photos, objects and Bill’s notes to you?  Was this a first for you to write from visual prompts?

KV: I think it’s the other way around. I used them to enhance, to complete the stories rather than acting as springboards. Using them as illustration in the text made me feel as if Bill’s presence was literally in the book.

WSS: Who is your audience?

KV: I guess I’d have to say my age group, yet what I write about in memoir is timeless: love, loss, trust, feeling valued. To touch a reader you have to reach out and connect on these universal levels.

IMG_1850 - CopyWSS: How has it felt to get royalty checks?  Do you feel like royalty?!

KV: Exciting! I haven’t received a paycheck in nearly 40 years! At first I thought about saving and framing the check, and then I thought, heck no, I’m going to spend it on something! I don’t feel like royalty, but I feel strangely endorsed.

WSS: Any surprising sales or feedback?

KV: Sales are just beginning, but yes. The Assistant Athletic Director for the University of Oregon (where her father is an alumna and well-regarded athlete) not only bought four books to give to others, he was so moved by the chapter on the Gingko Tree that he hand-turned a bowl out of Gingko wood from a tree in Eugene and sent it to me. I was speechless!

What I hadn’t realized, but what a majority of friends have said to me, is the book is a beautiful love story. I wasn’t aware of that as I wrote it, but I understand that description.

WSS: Any challenges during publication or promotion?

KV:  Publication went smoothly. However, I have always been aware that ‘self-promotion’ was a negative attribute. And I also grew up at a time when girls and women were expected to sit pretty and keep their mouths closed. You know I can’t do the latter!

So establishing a website and opening a Facebook account has been hard for me. I realize since Bill’s death, I have had to deal with a lot of different challenges.  Publishing and promoting became some new ones to deal with.  The benefit has led to healing.

WSS: Any hints for budding authors, other than to work with me and only me?!41P-A0MkR7L._SY300_

KV: Well, besides working with you and you only (laughs), the biggest concept to embrace is give yourself permission, then schedule time to write. Words don’t jump onto the page, often the ‘right’ words don’t appear on the page, but writing, writing, writing helps winnow them down to what works, seems right. Writing is discipline.

Discover more on Kirby’s process, read a sample chapter, and purchase her book through Amazon.  Info at www.karenjvanderyt.com
Read about Obsidian Rose, the sequel to Afterglow.


Pleas and Thank Yous


After my morning ritual of journaling the cobwebs from my head, stretching the cricks from my joints, then feeding my body tea, fruit and grain, I felt jaunty, ready to go.

As I passed my desk, I noticed a text from an inner circle friend sharing that a mutual friend had suddenly passed away.

Instinctively, I sat down.  I stared at the screen’s stark words.  I knew my friend was hurting, too, yet the words seemed so flat on the phone.  Maybe it’s not true, I begged.  I read them over and over trying out every interpretation to deny the obvious as I felt my energy sink from the top of my head into a dense lump below my stomach.

Suddenly processing another significant loss, I recalled Mother’s Day just weeks before, the first since Mom died last October.  Getting ready to drive to my hometown and join the family, something had set me off, and my ‘stuff’ had risen and roared.  I called another inner circle friend who listened, allowed me to be mad, suggested ideas, then consoled while cajoling me to a happier, healing place.  I felt better, the rolling boil reduced to a steaming simmer.  Then she gently asked, “Have you written a letter to your mother telling her how much you miss her?”

Tears welled, and I could hardly take the breath to say ‘thanks’ before hanging up.  I slumped into my desk chair and through my puddled vision, found the home keys.

“Dear Momma…”

After wrapping up the letter, I sat spent.  I rested, but soon scolded myself for being a writing coach to others, yet I hadn’t identified what I needed.  I’d journaled about Mom all week acknowledging the significance of the coming holiday, but didn’t reach the core of complete expression, much less release.  Like when I encountered a display of Mother’s Day cards at the grocery store, felt the onset of pain and quickly pushed my buggy around the glaring truth, the overture was obvious.  Still, I pleaded for the opposite, politely notating the incident in my journal without divining its essence.

Putting avoidance and perfection aside, I finally spotted the depth of my hurt, as well as the stealthy way I’d skirted around it, and then wrote and nurtured myself.  Simultaneously, I gave thanks to Mom for all the love she’d shared and lessons she’d taught, to my friend for her compassionate encouragement, and to myself for opening again to full expression and accepting guidance.

Now, in the chair with phone still in hand, I sat with my present loss.  I had lost a new friend, someone I knew for only a year, but one who expanded my heart and broadened my thinking while providing safety for me to share, ask personal questions, as well as listen to her truth.  I had bonded with her kind, unassuming spirit, a unique presence draped with honor and love.

Recently, I pondered plans to spend time deepening our friendship into the inner circle.  Unexpectedly, all that remained were memories of someone special who gave so much in such a brief time.rose.petals

So, I asked myself the question, “Can I tell her how much she meant to me and how much I will miss her?”  I put down my phone and ceremonially placed fingers on home keys.  My breathing deepened, my eyes dampened, and with courage and gratitude, I listened, and my mourning ritual began.

“Dear Shauna…”

Dear John, It’s Over #breakup


29 characters of a short-not-sweet tweet broke his heart.

Then she grinded it into the ground with detailed phrases.

Always late.  Earbuds in ears, you never listen.  Forgot bday.  Crappy friends.  Not best lover. #breakup

Not only did they go out to her hundreds of followers including their friends and families, but she hash-tagged it for anyone who wanted to follow her ‘breakup’ rant.  And she wouldn’t return his calls; she had a different audience she wanted to talk to.

Keep stinky dog.  I get DR table, bed, clothes Sat noon.  Be scarce.  Stop calling. #breakup

Her follower count climbed as John commiserated with his pals at the sports bar the next day.  Too many beers for 11:30am on a Saturday with no good game on.  The buds pretended to check scores while following the ex on twitter, shooting grimaces behind John’s back while they tried to console him.

“You’re too good for her, man.  I bet she’s messing around.”

“John, if she won’t take your calls, you should be tweeting.  Let her have it!  Crap, here’s another one!”

Dog bit my friend, ripped his jeans.  Lucky I didn’t kill her.  Trapped her on balcony.  #breakup

“When Shandra was fooling around on me, I figured it out after her phone kept breaking up on the road.  She never drove on the expressway, and that’s the only dead zone between our places.  Where was she going?”

“When I lived with Beth, she’s such a snoop that I just sent myself a sexy text from a girl’s phone at work.  Then I left my phone when I went in the next day, and Beth did the rest.  She was gone when I got back that night.  Trashed the place, but I never heard from her again.”

John emptied the pitcher.  “Maybe I should have tracked her more.”

They reinforced “Couldn’t hurt” and then “Too late now.”

Taking ipod dock you never use.  Leaving dishes.  #breakup

“Shoot, I remember way back before my first wife when I dated a gal who kept getting pages and left me to get to a phone.  Crazy, but I thought she was a dealer or something until a buddy showed me how easy it was for her to set off the beeper.”  He poured some beer on the old wound.  “Just an excuse to get away to find a hookup.  I wish she just could have told me.”

Broke shelves laughing.  Glass against wall.  Buy broom.  #breakup

Many operate intimate relationships by rules learned as seventh graders where they tell their friends to tell the other person their feelings, or they do something to make the other person break up with them so they don’t have to look bad.  Now with more ways to communicate, it’s easier.  But do these rules really work?

Is it time to play by new rules?  If you can say “I Love You” to someone in the passion of the moment, why is it so hard to tell them face-to-face that it’s time to move on?

Can you really express your character in 140 or less?  Do you owe the one you loved more than that?  And what do you owe yourself?

Outta here.  Place is all yours.  #breakup

Disclaimer:  It’s true: writers write what they know, and, yes, I write from my experiences.  However, all characters and situations in my stories are fictitious fusions, creative amalgamations.  Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or real interactions with me are purely coincidental.

The Last Line: Writing Through Grief

Friday morning before dawn, my mother’s life came to a peaceful end after a 12-year struggle with Parkinson’s Disease.

“Dad,” I said on Saturday evening after the visitation as we sat in his home blankly watching TV.  “The minister asked if we wanted to prepare something for her eulogy.”  I mentioned I’d talked to my brothers, and I briefly shared their stories with him.  I asked if he had something to share, adding how hard it is to sum up a loved one’s life in a few paragraphs.  He said nothing.

I went upstairs and delved into 40 pages of remembrances I’d written over the last six years of Momma’s life.  Through my tears, I pulled representative stories into a cohesive order, and then wrote the opening 600 words to tie it all together.  However, when I went to save it, I somehow lost what I’d written.  On this night before the funeral, I felt deflated and guilty, but intuitively knew the words had already served a higher purpose.

In the morning, I found Dad typing at his computer.

“It hit me when I woke up,” he said with a grin.  “She was an only child, and when we married, she became part of a large extended family.  She loved that.”

When he finished, he asked me to read it, then polish and add to it if I wanted.   His written words were simple, yet profound.

I sat alone with only moments to add a few details, including the final sentence he couldn’t write about how the two of them stood side by side, heart to heart for 59 years, a statement about how much she loved him.

He smiled and nodded as he read the piece.  When he got to that last line and began to tear up, I realized that all my years of writing about her, along with the reading and writing the night before, had deepened my healing, clarity and compassion.  My contribution added something to Dad’s words that touched his heart while honoring my brothers’ stories and my mother’s life.

My union with writing and the Creative Spirit I feel through the intimate process of journaling and memoir brings me home to my center and helps me extend to full presence with others by knowing myself more fully and deeply.  Writing nurtures my heart and spirit, then facilitates confident expression in times of sorrow and in times of love.

Affirm:  I allow my writing to serve my spirit, to clarify and lift me through my own words. This process, even when kept private, benefits me, as well as those in my family and community.