Writing Through Grief

Much has been written about the therapeutic effects of writing, about its ability to help you sort out the noise in your head and push on. For Sarah Kilch Gaffney, the act of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, has become a “lifeline.”

As a young widow and single mom, Gaffney turned to writing to help her process her grief and to forge a new life with her toddler daughter. She writes beautifully of the experience in a recent Washington Post essay.

Please welcome Sarah to Write Despite.


I have always been a creative type, and I started writing in my late teens. I studied creative writing and environmental studies in college and went on to work in the conservation field for a number of years. I never stopped writing, but I also found it challenging to write with any sort of consistency. A poem here or there. A fiction story started but rarely finished.

Fast forward several years and I found myself in starkly different circumstances. My young husband was dying from a brain tumor and I was caring for him and our toddler daughter.

And I felt compelled to write about what was happening to us, like there was somehow no possible way that I could not write it all down and get it all out. During the last weeks of his life, I wrote an essay about our decision to have our daughter despite his terminal diagnosis. I remember desperately wanting to get it submitted before he died, having no idea if anyone would even want to publish it. In a surreal series of events, I sent the essay out on a Tuesday and the following day my husband’s hospice nurse told me we were looking at hours to days. He died that Saturday night, and Sunday morning the essay was accepted for publication.

I’ve continued to send essays into the world ever since.

Writing about my husband’s illness and death, and the challenges of raising a child as a young widow, has helped me work through my grief more effectively than bereavement groups, grief therapy, and anything else I have encountered. Everything has helped, but writing through it all has been the most fruitful. Knowing that there are others in the world finding comfort in my words, realizing that perhaps they are not alone in their suffering, has also given me a deeper purpose. That my grief might help others with their grief was an astonishing revelation.

Right now I am in a state of great flux in my life. My daughter and I just marked one year since losing my husband and her father. I recently left nursing school, which was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, but which has also brought me great relief and closure. I started nursing school to take care of my husband, to save him in the only way I could think of. I returned to school after he died, but my heart was no longer in it. Though I was succeeding in every aspect of the program, it became clear that I was succeeding despite myself and that I was not happy. I have learned the hard way that life’s far too short for that sort of thing.

As I start the process of rebuilding my life with my daughter, of figuring out what I want to do and what direction I want to take, my writing remains a constant source of grounding, problem-solving, and emotional expression. For me, writing is both an escape and a way to face my grief head-on, with all of the rawness, beauty, and love that I can manage. Writing allows me to focus and reflect on the small moments in life that are so, so important: reading with my little one, going for walks in the woods with her, acknowledging all of the good things in my life. It also gives me a chance to spend time with myself and to work through my grief on my own terms. It is a crucial and tangible lifeline, and I’m holding on for dear life.


9 thoughts on “Writing Through Grief”

  1. I am so very sorry for your heartbreaking loss and I really hope you can continue to find solace in writing as well as friends and loved ones. I just finished a really touching book I would like to share with you called “Love Never Dies: How to Reconnect and Make Peace with the Deceased” by Dr. Jamie Turndorf (http://askdrlove.com/). The way the author wrote this book really connected with me, she uses her own life and loss to educate the reader and show us not only that life after death is “possible”, it is “probable” She writes from experience because her husband died from an allergic reaction to a bee sting on vacation. She has used her experience in a wonderful way to help others and I am sure it was also very healing for her too. The book is therapeutic, hopeful and not a religious book by any means, this one is purely spiritual, and very comforting to read. I highly recommend it and hope it will inspire and comfort you

  2. Sarah, your resilience, your strength, your brutal honesty all come through so beautifully in your writing. It is clearly your calling, and I hope it will sustain you through this journey and all the ones to come. Thank you for sharing with us.

  3. Beautifully written, poignant and touching……loss is a communal experience to all but uniquely personal to each person experiencing it……Keep writing!

  4. Brilliant essay. Keep on writing! And it does get easier. Even if it doesn’t seem at all possible that it will, it does.

  5. A deeply touching essay. Grief is so difficult to experience. I’m glad you’ve found an outlet that works for you, and that will surely touch others. Hugs.

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