Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Remembering Darlene: Stories Which Death Cannot Steal

As I write this on a chilly winter morning, my heart is heavy. Last night I learned that a dear member of our Women’s Writing Circle took her own life the week before Christmas.

As the facilitator of the Women’s Writing Circle, I have long understood that my role is one of conveyor for women to come together and share their truths through writing. This passion came to me late in life. I’m not sure why, but this I know—it is a sacred mission and the Circle a spiritual container. When we light the candle, we shut out the distractions of the outside world and for the next two and a half hours concentrate on our writing, our creative lives, sharing and absorbing each other’s pains, triumphs and tragedies. I honor the stories and I know the "caves we enter hold the treasures we seek." In doing so, hopefully, we lift the burdens dragging us down and find in words a release and the solace of our collective journey.


When Darlene first came to the Circle five years ago, we still met at the bookstore. She showed up in a pair of light blue jeans, a tee-shirt with sparkles and long brown hair hanging below her shoulders. This gal was different and unique, a self-described “motorcycle Marlboro smoking Mama,” who wrote fiction in third person from the point of view of a woman named Rose. When she came to my house for our writing workshops, she took a seat outside on my deck during writing time and I noticed how the smoking calmed her, as she contemplated her words and put pen to paper in a worn journal. She told me she wrote at night and I don’t believe she ever used a computer.

In our Circle readarounds she usually sat to my left and wanted to read first. Her hands shook and she admitted she “was nervous and wanted to go first to get it over with,” a testament to how hard it was for her to come to the writing group. But her courage prevailed and she stood out, not only as one of our strongest wordsmiths, although to my knowledge she had never studied writing, but as the voice that all of us NEEDED to hear…that voice being pure vulnerability and honesty, no artifice whatsoever. This is why we will miss her so much. Darlene was a touchstone to our hearts.

Darlene (second from right) with our writers.
I remember the last time she came to the Circle; a bright and warm November day and I joined her outside during our break. A bit shy, she rarely, if ever, voiced her thoughts on what the other women had written. She often texted me late at night the morning before the Circle met to say she would be there, as if she knew she needed to gird herself to do this thing called writing. She had a terrific, throaty laugh and that November day spoke how proud she was of her son and daughter. She cherished a child’s story written by her daughter in grade school, the main character a cow named “Cowie”—a humorous tale she wanted to see published and attended our publishing workshop in August to learn more. She had found a new relationship and apologized for not attending our September writing workshop because of a planned camping trip with him. Two years before on the Fourth of July, she sat alone in a chair, reading a paperback book on the field where the fireworks were held. We chatted briefly that July evening, I don’t remember what we said, but I always found her smart, engaging...her beautiful smile radiated warmth, a smile which now I know belied a deep despair over the abuse she wrote of and suffered in her life—the betrayals that even writing could not heal.

Writing together in the Circle.

Darlene went off alone to die in her car, from what I heard. Suicide has become far too common, especially among the creative and tenderhearted. Still, I have a hard time wrapping my head around it and I cannot imagine how terrifying it must have been for Darlene or how terrible this is for her family. Darlene's unexpected death makes me realize how important it is to reach out to others during their times of duress and offer whatever help I can give.

In the end, all I can do is hope that the Women’s Writing Circle provides relief and respite from the world, if only for one morning a month.  When we blow out the candle and close the circle, all of us leave a bit richer than before we came. But then it is back to real life—and what awaits out there can be dangerous, terrifying, monstrous. Like wind whispering through barren tree branches in the dead of winter, life is fragile and fleeting and gone in a heartbeat. Yet our words, our stories, live on in each other’s hearts. So, I am here, writing this, remembering Darlene. I rejoice that our paths crossed, not in some superficial way of the world, but in the most deeply meaningful and profound connection, which is sharing our stories—a gift that even death cannot steal.

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