Word Therapy

Donna - Charlestown, Massachusetts
Entered on April 27, 2009
Age Group: 50 - 65
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

Word Therapy

I believe in words. I dispute those who claim they are quiet and cheap. Every morning, I hook myself up to them, from Bible to blogs, and feel their power pump hope into me.

Words guide me through past, present, and future. These chapters of my life would blur without the precision of language, distinguishing ‘what was’ from ‘what is’ and ‘what if.’ When my husband suffered a fatal heart attack at 50, I would have lost control of my tenses were it not for words.

I welcomed hugs, flowers, and food, but these do not endure the way words do. Five years later, I cherish wisdom ~ handwritten letters, favorite quotes, snippets of conversation ~ often from unlikely sources.

A woman I hadn’t seen in several years created an ‘ah ha” moment with one simple sentence. Her condolences arrived with dozens of cheerful Christmas cards addressed to a couple who no longer existed. They explained how I was trudging through the holiday season with stoic calm.

“It’s the ordinary days that are killers,” she observed.

Indeed, those days ~ once bland in their hellos and goodbyes, quick hugs and perfunctory kisses, thoughtful gestures and lost opportunities ~ summoned all my courage.

Meanwhile, conversations with an older widow promised that the passage of time would soften the blow, and I felt hopeful, as I looked at her busy life.

In another exchange, my boss’s husband, leaving my home after the funeral, counseled me to “weep with Jesus.” I wasn’t sure what that meant until I sobbed uncontrollably in the shower one morning and felt a comforting Presence.

In fact, I often turn to God, borrowing His words for the funeral service and for consolation in the middle of the night.

Other words have been my own. Jerry’s eulogy was an urgent mission in the first 48 hours. More writing assignments followed, infusing purposeful meaning into the void that was now my life. I agonized over headstone text, re-interpreting the cliché, “etched in stone.” I wrote an article for Jerry’s alumni magazine at West Point and got writer’s cramp from more than 100 thank-you notes.

I am driven to memorialize the man who bravely courted and “married us” ~ me and my three small children That’s how Jerry described our romance, a complicated, often slapstick affair which he wholeheartedly embraced until his heart gave out.

My gratitude journal, a ‘count your blessings’ exercise begun five years earlier, proved inadequate for the rage of emotions that demand expression in the wake of death. Thus, began a separate, more somber chronicling, uncensored sorrow spilling from heart to hand to page. Word therapy strengthened me in overcoming the disabling effects of life altering randomness. When I write about Jerry, I see myself, not as burdened but as richly blessed. Gratitude overpowers grief. A timeless river of ideas, insights, and imagination has pulled me into a current of words, moving me forward to undiscovered places