Thinking Through My Fingers

Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers. — Isaac Asimov

The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe. — Gustave Flaubert

Occasionally, after writing about grief, I get concerned messages from readers or facebook friends suggesting that I might want to see a therapist. Or I get messages of pity, which is strange — why should they feel sorry for me when I don’t feel sorry for myself? The very word — grief — scares people, and worries them, and my use of the word gives people the wrong impression of me. Although I’m on a journey through grief, I don’t spend my days in bed crying my eyes out. I don’t shrink from life or hold myself stiff against onslaughts of pain. I haven’t numbed myself into unfeelingness. In fact, I live normally. I’ve come through the worst of the pain stronger (though not much wiser, at least not yet). I do still have grief bursts, but mostly I’m just . . . journeying.

The problem with continually putting my thoughts and feeling out there for anyone to see is that readers draw their own conclusions based on their own experiences, and sometimes those conclusions don’t reflect my truth. I don’t always like seeing myself through pitying eyes, so periodically I decide to stop writing about grief, and sometimes I do stop for a week or two, but I always come back to it because my message is an important one:

Grief is normal. If a friend or loved one is grieving, and it bothers you, get over it. It is not your problem. Give them the respect they deserve and the space they need to find their way through grief in their own time. (Admittedly, a small percentage of people have trouble and get stuck in one place, but if a person’s grief is fluid — continually changing — chances are she is doing just fine.)

Besides, whether I’m actively grieving or just processing what I’ve learned, writing about grief is a way for me to learn the truth. (And, as I explained yesterday, in my Grief is a Gift post, I have always been a truth-seeker.) So why should I let anyone’s “concern” stop me from thinking with my fingers and discovering what I believe?

Sometimes the discoveries surprise me. In a post a few days ago, What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas?, I wrote: “Nothing you can ever say will bring the bereft what they most need: life to make sense once more. (That might not be what we most want, but it is what we most need.)” I didn’t realize this before I wrote those words, but it’s the truth. And in this post, I discovered something. I didn’t know until I saw the words, “my message is an important one” that I had a message, had something I wanted to impart with my grief posts.

So, as I continue on my journey through grief, I will still write about it — or not — depending on how I feel, not how anyone else feels.

9 Responses to “Thinking Through My Fingers”

  1. Catherine Says:

    Thank you. Because what YOU write makes ME feel normal and I need to hear that I am not the only one who feels that way.

  2. careann Says:

    I’ve always found it easier to think “with my fingers” than with my voice. I’ve never been much of a talker, so when I send my words out into cyberspace it’s with a sense of uncertainty. We never know how our written words will be interpreted by others so there’s a risk involved. You express yourself so well, Pat … your message is clear, and always helpful. You have a meaningful ministry to others as you share your journey. I hope one day you’ll put all this into a book!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      How astute of you! I’ve combined my blog posts and various other writings into a book of grief that is now in the hands of my publisher. I’m thinking of doing another book on the second year of grief, with these other posts as the basis. Or perhaps, instead of being geared to grievers, it should be addressed to those who know someone who is still grieving.

  3. Smoky Zeidel Says:

    You nailed it here, Pat–as usual. Grief is such a personal experience; we each deal with it our own way. My way may not be your way, and yours not mine, but pity is the last thing either of us want or need. And I, too, think through my fingers. I think most writers do.

  4. joylene Says:

    I hate the pity part, so thank you for writing this. I don’t speak of my grief because people assume I want pity. I want to be heard. I don’t need a fix or a solution, just an ear. I’ll give it back. For a moment I simply want to think through my fingers.

    Love that.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t know why it’s so difficult for people to understand that we don’t need solutions, just an ear. The only solution is for our loved ones not to be dead, and since that is not going to happen, we have to find our way through grief alone. No suggestion anyone has ever given me has helped, though the company of others in a similar situation eases the isolation. Thank you for being here with me from the beginning.

  5. Michael Kay Says:

    Hi Pat, I came across this as I was looking, on a whim, to see if anyone else had used the name I have taken for my own recent;y-started wordpress blog, ‘Thinking through my fingers’. I had no idea this was an Asimov quote, and this makes me tremendously happy as I have always been a huge Asimov fan. It reminds me of a quote from the play/film The History Boys:

    “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”

    I honestly thought I had come up with this on my own (and I suppose I did, from my own feelings, not knowing that anyone else had thought of it first), but of all the writers who could have more famously expressed it before me, it brings me immense pleasure to learn that it was one of my heroes.

    I am so sorry to read around your blog and see how you are grieving; I recently lost my mother to cancer, at the end of December. She was 54. Your entries about your grief process are incredibly moving, and very powerful. I hope that writing them is proving useful to you as you go through this period and reorientate yourself to your knew reality. I hope your fond memories and the support of your friends and family are a source of strength and bring you some consolation. But I can see how your eloquent and thoughtful posts are providing others a space to voice, realise, shape and confront their own feelings, and this is something wonderful. Thank you for having the courage and dedication to share these precious thoughts.

    Wishing all the best and the greatest success with your new book.


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m sorry about your mother, Michael. Fifty-four is so very young, it’s hard not to grieve for all she will be missing.

      I really do believe we think through our fingers, which is why I write fiction and stream-of-consciousness essays by hand. I heard once that we have bits of gray matter at the ends of our finger tips, and it always seemed so to me. Like you, I thought the expression was original, something I thought of, and yet there it is, in the public domain. Best of luck with your new blog. I hope it brings you the peace and enjoyment and connection this blog has brought me.

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