Illustration by Emma Winterschladen
Writer and illustrator Emma Winterschladen is hosting her first writing workshop about grief and memories this week. Here she tells ehospice why writing is such a powerful tool for people grieving the loss of a loved one.
Emma’s mother died when she was just 16. As an adult, her work as a professional writer used to focus on food and travel, but she would often write journals and letters to herself as a way to process her feelings of grief. A turning point came on Mother’s Day in 2016, when she decided to write about the sadness of missing her own mum, as well as the important roles her friend’s mothers played in her life. The feature ended up in Stylist magazine, and since then Emma has been writing more and more about grief and bereavement.
She explains that writing that first article felt incredibly cathartic. “I had this initial emotional outpouring, which is very cathartic in itself, and is when you can use the power of language to conjure and almost relive memories and moments and feelings. But then the second part is the crafting and the editing, and then putting it out into the world. What I want my writing to do, and I think what anyone who shares their writing wants, is that feeling that you can connect with others, although people can have such different experiences with grief. There are different kinds of losses and relationships you lose, but there’s something to be said for just being really honest and sharing your own personal account.”
Writing about grief doesn’t necessarily mean sad stories. “The response I got from that piece in Stylist was how much it resonated with people, how the way that I wrote about my mum was very uplifting, even though it was obviously very sad. I’ve also had people say how powerful it is to read a piece of writing about grief and how it’s made them want to write as well.”
This week Emma is running her first writing workshop online, titled ‘Love, loss and memory’, together with psychotherapist and author Juliet Rosenfeld. The event will include a discussion explaining the difference between grief and mourning, and techniques for writing about a loved one. “Some of the techniques I use are simple things like looking at photographs, which are a really good way to conjure details you might not be able to remember. Dialogue too, if you’re struggling to remember a specific moment, you can think of a saying your loved one used to use, and you can try and build a scene around that. I also love the idea of time travelling with your pen, whether it’s a smell, or getting a playlist going that helps you get into that moment.”
“There’s also much to be said for touch and memory. My mum used to clamber over me when I was on the sofa watching TV, intertwining her legs with mine. Thinking about that brings back a real flood of feelings, it’s almost like my body remembers it. That can be a really useful way to start crafting a scene in your head, having a safe space to consider what you think of that memory now, and how you look back on that memory. I remember at the time I used to get really irritated, but now I look back at it in a very different way, I think what a gift it was that she was so affectionate and tactile with me. So that would be something I would maybe write about, a sort of reflection on it.”
Emma says that a big part of writing about a loved one that has died is about overcoming trauma, something an increased number of people have experienced this year by losing people suddenly to Covid-19, and without being able to say proper goodbyes. Could writing prove therapeutic in these cases? “Mental health resources are so stretched as it is that I think there should be easily accessible tools for people to supplement therapy with if they’re struggling” Emma says. “If they’re grieving, writing can be a guided way of accessing memories they might not be able to otherwise. It can also help tap into and write about joyful memories that are lodged away. Writing can be such a healing tool to explore memories, both traumatic and happy ones.”
For more information and to attend the workshop visit Love, Loss & Memory
For more on Emma’s work visit her website