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[SWP: Behind the Book] Write Through This
Written by
Kelley Clink
August 2014
Written by
Kelley Clink
August 2014

Wow. I’ve been working on this post for a few weeks and I have to say: reliving the creation of my book? Not as easy as I thought it would be.  Probably because while writing a memoir about losing my brother to suicide was incredibly healing, it was also slow and raw and painful, like digging glass splinters out of my heart with my fingers.

It's been ten years since my brother took his own life. I was 24 at the time. Fresh out of a graduate program in literature, I believed words were the answer to everything. I would write about my brother eventually, I knew. What I didn’t know was when I would do it or what I would say. The first year without him the grief was too hot and too sharp to touch. I worked a series of low-paying jobs and zombie-walked my way through the days, waiting for the pain to ease enough for me to approach it.

Of course, that didn't happen.

Here’s the thing about avoidance: it doesn’t work. The more I tried to ignore my grief the larger it swelled. By the second year after his death it had grown so big it eclipsed everything else. I quit all my jobs. I isolated myself from friends. There were some days I couldn’t even leave the house. I knew then that I didn’t have a choice—I was going to have to write my way through. And it was going to hurt like hell.

I developed a routine.  In the morning: breakfast.  A run.  A couple hours of mind-numbing TV.  Lunch.  A little more TV.  And then the long walk down the hallway to my office, where my brother’s journals waited on my desk.      

If it was a good day, I’d spend a few hours reading his words, combing my memory, taking notes, recording observations, and trying to jam together a few more puzzle pieces.  If it wasn’t a good day I’d write about how hard it was, how angry I was, how tired I was, how little made sense.  I’d wonder what the fuck I was doing, why I was wasting my time, why I couldn’t just move on with my life.  If it was a bad day I would cry.  And if it was a really bad day I would stay on the couch after lunch and watch reruns of Law & Order until the sun set and my husband’s key scraped in the lock.  Those days came far more often than I wanted them to, and I made them far worse than I needed to.  I berated myself for being a failure.  I let my husband do the dinner dishes, popped tranquilizers, and went to bed feeling hollow, weak, and ashamed.

That’s what my life looked like, every day, for about four years.


Here’s the good news: it got easier. All those thoughts and feelings started turning into a narrative, and as the story began to emerge my grief began to soften. The more I made sense of my and my brother’s pasts, the longer I was able to sit with my brother’s death, the more space there was for me to breathe again. To laugh. To dance.

Another four years have passed since then, during which I’ve survived a life-threatening illness, infertility treatment, and a major injury that resulted in two years of chronic pain (second memoir, anyone?). Yet somehow it wasn’t until I started working on this post that I realized that writing this memoir is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It forced me to face the darkest, most frightening parts of my grief and myself.

And then, it brought me back to life.

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  • Nina Gaby

    We think of these disclosures as brave, and they are, but also so necessary. How else will we be able to demand parity in treatment or compassion in our overly plasticized and homogenized world? Thanks for 'over sharing'.

  • Kelley Clink

    Thank you Nina :)

  • Kelley Clink

    Thanks Carole! 

  • Kelley Clink

    Oh Susan, I am so sorry for your losses. I hope that, when you are ready, writing about your son will bring you peace and comfort. xo

  • Nina Gaby

    I'm so grateful you were able to get this blog done! I remember you posting about how hard it was to get started. I love to see that 'zap' when everything catches fire and falls into place. I look forward to the book. As a psych nurse practitioner, I have worked with suicidality for decades, have lost people to it myself, and stood by when icons such as David Foster Wallace and Robin Williams succumbed. I think your book will add to our collective understanding of suicide and I give you so much credit for taking this on.

  • Carole Avila


    Excellent cover, fabulous title, and eloquent sharing. I went through the same avoidance writing my book on sexual abuse. I tried to commit suicide when I was 12 1/2 so I can relate to your story in so many ways. I'm glad you finally got it out. Keep writing and keep confronting your fears. It will be so worth it and will positively affect your health. Please e-mail if you'd like to brainstorm or get other input.

    ~Carole Avila - [email protected]

  • Susan Holck

    Thank you, Kelly, for your post. It's helpful to be reminded that  although the sharp, insistent pain of grief can feel overwhelming, confronting it through words, through a memoir, can make it easier to live with the reality of death. Thanks, too, for sharing how hard it was at times for you to write; again, this is reassuring to those of us who struggle to write our accounts of our own losses. I just completed a memoir of my husband's stroke then suicide. I have yet to write much about the more recent death of my 20 year-old son. Your post gives me a bit more courage to do that. 

  • Kelley Clink

    Thanks Kamy!!

  • Kelley Clink

    Thank you Tammy! xo

  • Kelley Clink

    Thank you Penny! Grief is so personal, but also so universal. How great that you shared your experience through words and continue to share by running a support group. So glad you are encouraging others to explore their losses through writing!

  • Kelley Clink

    Thank you Pamela. I am very sorry for your loss, but glad that you were able to write about it. I wish you continued healing. xo

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    Thanks for sharing this Kelley. I know so many of our members use writing as a way to work through pain -- and their final products often help so many others cope with their own. 

  • Tammy Flanders Hetrick

    A triumph. The post. The memoir. The survival. The journey. You. Congratulations, Kelley.

  • Penny Harter

    Kelley, you capture so well the healing that writing through loss can be---along with the pain of doing it, though it is cathartic. I lost my husband, poet, haiku poet, and scholar, William J. (Bill) Higginson to aggressive cancer in 2008. I wrote my way through 18 months of that grief, and the resultant chapbook  collection of poems, Recycling Starlight, was published in a special edition by Mountains and Rivers Press, a fine Oregon Press. (That book is now out of print, however.) Writing those very real poems saved me, I think. As Pamela says, you don't "get over it" but you do learn to live with it, and go on. Also, I have an e-book of haibun (prose w/haiku embedded), One Bowl, dealing with that loss. 


    Linked above, it was published by Snapshot Press in England. I now run a chapter of HOPE, a south Jersey grief support group just for widows and widowers. I suggest to the newly widowed that they try writing---keeping a journal, if not writing poetry or fiction. It helps!

  • Pamela Fender


    I can absolutely relate to your story. I lost my twin brother to suicide. He was assisted by our narcissistic mother and sociopathic brother. My twin was not terminally ill, but very depressed. It was 5 years ago and I will grieve everyday of my life.
    Many people still ask if writing my memoir was cathartic. Yes, it was, but more than that, it was liberating.
    We never get "over" the loss, but learn to live with it.
    I love the way you described writing your memoir..."was also slow and raw and painful, like digging glass splinters out of my heart with my fingers." What a perfect description.
    I began my memoir writing about my twinloss and the details surrounding his death. I wrote for 8 hours. Then I lost it. Forgot to hit "Save As" and instead only clicked "Save." I had to rewrite the entire portion. It was grueling.

    Keep writing. It does help heal.'m looking forward to reading your memoir.
    Pamela, author of Beside Myself:Recovery From My Family Betrayal and Estrangement.

  • Betsy Teutsch

     I can think of so many who deal with traumatic, tragic rendings of their life that will know just what you are describing.  thanks for giving voice to really hard to say stuff.  That we all fear.

  • Kelley Clink

    Thank you Diane! It's so hard, but so worth it. Keep writing!

  • Diane L. Fowlkes

    Write through my pain--how many times have I said that and know it is true for me, but it never gets any easier. Thank you for describing so well how writing through your pain is and has been. I am in the process of doing the "same" in my novel and finding it so slow and painful. But I know to keep going, and you have confirmed that for me with your post. Thank you.