Today I am honored to have the very talented Christine Grote as my guest. Christine is a multifaceted memoirist, photographer, and blogger extraordinaire who can often be found at her blog Christine M Grote: Random Thoughts from Midlife. In this post she explores that age old question of why we write our stories.
From the earliest recorded history, human beings have written their stories. We can see evidence of this in the Chauvet or Lascaux cave paintings in France. Before that, people undoubtedly spoke or somehow communicated their stories. We are all storytellers. We share our stories big and small with family, friends, and coworkers, whether they are about the tree that fell in our yard during the last storm or the way our mother died.
Some of us go a step further and write our stories down for others to read.
I don't know why we choose to tell or write our stories. There are likely a multitude of reasons. Maybe we want to share our experience to help others learn from it, or to shed light on something unique to us that most people know little to nothing about. Perhaps we want to amuse or entertain. Maybe we just want to be heard.
When I was in college for the second time around as a 40-something-year-old, we were reading Holocaust literature for a class I was taking. This was very heavy, depressing stuff, and I remember asking, "What can I do for these people and their suffering? It all happened a long time ago and there is nothing I can do now. Why should I continue to read it?" I found an answer in the words of Elie Wiesel, concentration camp survivor and author of Night. He wrote somewhere in an introduction or author's note, and I paraphrase, "You can read our stories so that they will be acknowledged and not be forgotten." That's what I could still do.
There are a lot of good reasons to tell our stories.
I told my story about my sister Annie for many years. People were curious. "Annie was born with severe brain damage," I'd say. "She can't walk or talk and requires the care of an infant." If they had questions, I'd answer them. I told my story because people wanted to know.
In a creative writing class in 2005, while in college for the second time, I wrote a short story about Annie in which I shared memories of what it was like growing up with a severely disabled sibling. "When I was young, I used to pray that I could trade places with Annie. Maybe we could share our lives. One week she could be in the wheelchair, and the next it could be me," I wrote.
A lot of things came to the forefront of my mind as I wrote Annie's story. Sometimes we write just to understand.
I finished the short story for my class and put it in a drawer.
Then in the summer of 2009, Annie became very ill. Our family struggled with fear and uncertainty about what to do as we helplessly watched Annie suffer. We ended up at the ER with Annie, and then back home again under the care of Hospice with the knowledge that Annie's time here was at an end.
After Annie died, my desire to tell her story turned into a compulsion. I felt like I had to tell her story. I pulled out the short story I had written for class, collected all the emails I had sent out to friends and family during Annie's illness, gathered medical records from her physician and the Hospice nurses, and I wrote Dancing in Heaven.
Many times I woke up at 4:00 in the morning with the next part of the story in my head. I got up and started typing with a box of tissues beside me. I struggled and cried my way through many parts of writing Annie's story. But I wrote it.
I wrote it for Annie and I wrote it for me. On an intellectual level, I believed people might benefit from reading about the self-sacrificing love and care my parents gave to Annie. They set a good example of what is possible. I wanted people to know that even those individuals who are the most disabled among us still have purpose and value on this planet. And I wanted to give my sister Annie, who left no footprint behind, a legacy, that her life won't have been, as my father cried out in anguish, "all for nothing."
When people read Annie's story, her life is acknowledged and she isn't forgotten.
That's the best I can do for her. That's the only thing I can do for her.
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You can listen to excerpts and read reviews of Dancing in Heaven—a sister's memoir on my blog. (http://randomthoughtsfrommidlife.wordpress.com/dancing-in-heaven/)
Dancing in Heaven is available at:
Amazon.com (print and Kindle) - (http://ow.ly/b9JRY)
BN.com (print and Nook) - (http://ow.ly/b9K1T)
Createspace (print) - (http://www.createspace.com/3609410)
Smashwords (multiple e-book formats) - (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/93539)
About the Author
Christine M Grote earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton, Ohio, in 1979. After working for three and a half years in product development at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, she became a full-time homemaker as she raised three sons and a daughter. In 1999, she returned to school at the College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio, earning a bachelor’s degree in English in 2007. Christine lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband Mark and their dog Arthur.