Recently I stumbled across a blog of a stranger through a Facebook link. Some days I wish I hadn't. The writer of the posts was a father of four who had just lost his wife and unborn child when his wife had complications from a heart condition, leaving him a single father of 3 (ages 2, 4 and 6). It was sudden, unexpected.
We hear this type of thing often, in news stories, and while they may make me sad for a moment or two, I forget them easily enough. After all, I don't know them. But this was different. I couldn't stop thinking about the family for days. And here I am two weeks later, writing about them. Their story has changed me. The night of the first day I read it, I cried for hours. I couldn't do anything without thinking of them. I was making dinner and I started to tear up because I realized that mother would no longer be able to ever make her children dinner. When my husband came home from work, I grabbed him and held him tight and cried into his chest, thinking that if I held him tight enough, he'd never leave, never die.
A few days later, someone left a comment on that original blog. It was a link to another blog of a man who had a similar thing happen to him. His wife died in a car crash leaving behind him and 3 children, also young. I began reading, and while I felt for this man, I wasn't as affected. I didn't cry. I didn't think about the family much after leaving the site. Why was that?
It was the writing. I know it seems morbid to relate writing to two family's pain and maybe a little cruel, but I think that's when it hit me that I really am a writer. Here are some examples of what I'm talking about.
First blog: "I can wake up and there is one frozen moment in time that nothing is out of the ordinary and I expect to hear the garage door creak open and her footsteps up the stairs to come and tell me how her night shift at the hospital was. The moment is a short one however, and the memories from the last few days come rushing in like a torrent of nails into my head as I recall the events that landed me here on this Monday morning. I find that it really only hurts when I think, or sit still, or breathe. I didn’t really think anything of answering her cell phone when it rang, I guess it hadn’t occurred to me that life was still going on without her. I just can’t force myself to turn her phone off yet, and what is the protocol on something like that anyway? My answer to the voice asking for her and when I would expect her back was probably more cruel than intended, surprising to me I couldn’t help feeling annoyed that there was anyone out there that didn’t know I wasn’t expecting her back."
Did that just rip your heart out? I think what really gets me is that since I've never lost anyone that I've lived with, I've never thought about the little details. The "when do I turn off her phone"? questions. Later he talks about not being able to throw away her toothbrush. It's heart wrenchingly sad. So sad that I will not share the link to the blog.
The second blog contains items like this: "My absolute love, the best mother to our kids, the best wife I could ever imagine, has left this earth to be in Heaven. Every day, beginning with this one, will be a long day this side of heaven. I have our three wonderful children to keep me company until Jesus calls me to Heaven. Selfishly I pray it would be tomorrow. But our kids need parents. Still cannot believe this is real. My wife has died. Three children lost their mother four hours ago. The questions are endless. The pain is overwhelming. The hurt is all-consuming. I don't know what to do. How I sincerely wish it were me."
Now, I'm not saying that the second family did not experience as much sadness as that first family, but I wasn't as haunted by the second blog. Do you see the difference? How did your emotions respond to the words?
To me the difference is what many people talk about in the writing industry. Showing versus telling. It's something I'm struggling with as a writer. I think the first blog did an excellent job at showing what life was like without his wife. Little details like the phone and toothbrush thing. While the second one told how he was feeling. Sad, overwhelmed, pain.
Am I cruel by sharing these to explain writing techniques? I hope you don't see it that way. And please, share what you think about why these two paragraphs evoke such different emotions.