I’ve been pleased and surprised by the response to my previous post, “Digging Ditches…” which was about my brother’s suicide and our mutual struggles with mental illness. Several people whose own deeply personal writing influenced my decision to write the essay were kind of enough to link the piece, and I’m not sure they’ll ever know how grateful I am, as it was surprisingly hard to write, and that’s the kind of thing I find I both really want people to read and am a little afraid for them to.
It may have been my wife who unwittingly provided the spark to go ahead and do it, though. She recently attended a digital storytelling workshop in Denver, Colorado. Denver is Dana’s hometown and her grandparents live there. The result of the workshop and staying with her grandparents was a moving video essay, which you can watch in a post on her education blog, here.
I can be voluble and quick to show emotion. Dana can be reserved and uncomfortable with emotions and talking about them, as well. So when I watched her video essay, I was struck by just how deep she reached to express the great love and regard she has for her grandparents, and how frank she was about her childhood. She writes in her post on creating the essay how she was able to do that:
The [workshop] facilitator looked at me, a pointed expression on her face, and she asked me, “Dana, how is this story about you?” I was startled by the question, but I thought for a minute, and then, naturally, I burst into tears. It was about me because of everything my grandparents had done for me. It was about me because they are elderly, and I don’t know how much time I have left. It was about me because I will be devastated when they are gone.
“Digging Ditches…” was just going to be about my brother, but in the end it had to also be about our family and me. I’m not afraid to admit I can easily make a lot of shit about me, it’s a character flaw, but in this instance it was about things that even after years of therapy, I am afraid to admit and speak freely about–like how I was a little afraid of my brother after things started getting bad, like being suicidal enough to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
I could probably re-write everything I’ve ever written and not truly be happy with it, but with this one I can say I at least did much of what I intended to do, and am glad that people have responded to it. And a lot of credit for that goes to my wife, who somehow manages to teach me things even when she’s off-duty from being a teacher.