DeathWrites Blog

Angela Cran: writing as an outlet for sorrow, an inroad to healing  |  19 March 2024

In this blog post, Angela Cran emphasises the value of writing to give space to sorrow, and how a supportive community is helping her write about the death of her young son.

“Do you have children? How many?”

Questions like that. The awkward silence before you answer. Risk a conversation stopper if you tell the truth? Feel the dagger in your own heart if you don’t. There are good, simple responses to the truth: “I’m so sorry”. Sometimes, surprising tears – I mean, other people’s. But even the good responses can leave you wishing that you hadn’t mentioned it.

With experience and the scarring of your wounds, you find a way to navigate through this. To acknowledge your child’s death gently, in a way that feels true and respectful, but is also mindful of how others will feel at your difficult reply to what are essentially interested, if perhaps a little casual, questions. Questions I would also have asked too lightly, before.

Now I do most of my talking about my younger son’s illness and death on the page. I have less desire, less need perhaps, to splurge (horrible word, but that’s what it felt like sometimes) in person. People have the choice to read my stuff, or not. Even so, it’s taken me a long time to feel justified in writing about my experience: to feel I don’t have to apologise for potentially bringing people down every time I bring it up. 

Being part of the DeathWrites Network has helped with motivation and focus, but also with a feeling of acceptance; that what I write about is OK, and maybe even helpful to share. It’s not self-indulgent; it’s not mawkish; it’s not going to destroy my family (they understand). Writing about my experience is how I manage to stay the reasonably positive person I think I am. It provides an outlet for my sorrow that means my cheerfulness is rarely an act. My grief is endless and complex, but almost twelve years after my son’s death I don’t lie when I say I mainly enjoy life again and am genuinely grateful for everyone and everything I’m still so fortunate to have around me. I also recognise my place of privilege and safety, when even having the means to put words on a page must be an unthinkable luxury to people fighting every day for their lives, for their children’s lives, in so many devastated areas of the world.

I set out years ago to write a memoir about caring for my little boy during his late-diagnosed, life-shortening illness, alongside losing my mother to cancer nine days before he died. I’m still nowhere near completing that goal. But it feels pleasing, in that circular way that life sometimes takes, that tonight, while on holiday in the same house in Braemar where almost exactly a year ago I finally stopped contemplating and started writing a personal essay about grief, I find myself joining the company of fellow DeathWrites peers in a supportive online writing space. Back here, sustained by the gentle tumbling of the River Clunie that curls past the house, I’m now doing final edits to my long essay. It’s raw, but it’s also about how death – and music – can connect us; and my discovery that writing and reading about grief can unearth further, sometimes unexpected, connections, as well as offer inroads to compassion and healing. 

Angela Cran comes from Inverness and has an MA (Hons) English and an M.Phil Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow. Her jobs have included roles in publishing, journalism, local economy and the arts. She works at Moniack Mhor Writers' Centre, where she is currently Online Programme Manager. Publications include A Dictionary of Scottish Quotations (co-editor with James Robertson, 1996, Mainstream) and ‘Shopping for Lego’ (Scottish Book Trust, Journeys, 2015).

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