Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by T. Pearl Joynz’s essay, Reflections of a Mother Who Writes to Heal, and Rachel Sturges’s essay, Sand Stories. We asked, “How has writing helped you learn to trust yourself, find yourself, or remake yourself? How has it led you to see your connections to others when you’ve felt lost? How have your children (likely unbeknownst to them) helped you do the writing that must be done?” Below is Kelly Niebergall’s response.
To Write a Voice
By Kelly Niebergall
When there are no words to speak, there are words to write.
I know this because I have led writing therapy groups on and off for ten years. I have seen the way people struggle with the act of sharing who they are without yet having had time to process their thoughts or experiences. I have seen how, when it comes time to write, they can create words that communicate emotions so eloquently, words so utterly authentic and truthful, that it wouldn’t have been the same had they spoken their truth out loud.
I know this because it is the same for me.
For many years, I led writing therapy groups for brain injury survivors. They were people who had been in car accidents or had fallen off bikes, who had had strokes or aneurysms. They were struggling to communicate, struggling to come to terms with a life-changing event that left them different from who they were before. Their brains were desperately trying to recover from the trauma they had endured. I know this because it happened to my father.
Eleven years ago, my father had a massive stroke that left him partially paralyzed on his right side and unable to speak. I was there when the stroke happened. I was there as the coffee cup he held in his hand slipped and tumbled down the stairs, hitting each one until it shattered on the tile floor below. I was there through the doctor appointments and therapies, the search for caregivers, and the process of rebuilding my parents’ home so that it could accommodate someone in a wheelchair.
I wrote through it all. I journaled, created short stories and essays. I played with the idea of a memoir. I poured raw honesty onto lined pages and filled them with the devastation I felt at losing who my father once was. I had to learn to love the new man he had become.
I channeled this into my work with brain injury survivors. I watched in awe as they created sentences and thoughts on the page that would have remained unborn had they tried to find the words to speak. I watched as they shared their own joys and sorrows, losses and confusion. One man told me that he was inspired to write a novel about his experiences. I’m a survivor, he said. My story needs to be told. Another woman wrote me a heartfelt thank you, sharing that she hadn’t had a place to express herself, but now did, through writing.
Unfortunately, my father is fully aphasic and unable to write or speak. I’m heartbroken that I cannot share the gift of writing with him. I hold my two daughters close, knowing that to have a voice is sacred. I hope they see my pen furiously moving or my fingers typing. I hope I can teach them to find their own voices inside the humble walls of their own written words, as I have.
Kelly Niebergall has a masters in creative writing from San Francisco State University. She finds solace and strength in writing about the motherhood experience, and her work has appeared in Motherly, Mothers Always Write, The Mighty, and elsewhere. She lives in Thousand Oaks, California, with her husband and two wild daughters. When not writing about their shenanigans, she has been working on her first novel.