Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Words from the Brink of the Chasm

Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Words from the Brink of the Chasm

Article excerpt


What can words say about pain, loss, despair, or fear?

How can words express a void, extinction, terminality, nothingness?

How can one talk of the soul's convulsions, the slivers of emotions in complex life situations?

Death seems to empty words of their meaning and they become hollow, void and meaningless, or even worse, annoying, sanctimonious and specious.

For many years I led suppor t groups for people who were battling cancer. I was a par ty to their hopes and prayers and also to their feelings of dread and defeat when they succumbed to cancer and realised that their lifespan was getting shor ter. I discovered that ordinar y words are not sufficient and that another language is necessar y, a language that addresses the soul and that can provide words for which there are no words.

NOw i knOw

Hannah, a for ty-five-year-old mother of four adolescent daughters and a teacher, par ticipated in one of the support groups for cancer patients. Once she was diagnosed she knew she had a virulent form of cancer. She gave up all her outside activities including her work as a teacher to concentrate on her inner-spiritual world, hoping that would help her overcome the illness and strengthen her battle against cancer. The suppor t group met at the Cancer Patient Center in Jerusalem, where there were a number of different suppor t groups - ar t therapy, dance therapy and therapy through writing, which I will describe later.

Usually, people who come to the writing group bring attractive notebooks with colourful hard binding and relate to the writing seriously. Hannah was reser ved and modest. She would smile shyly and always sat on the side. She never once brought a notebook. She would write on odd scraps of paper that she found in her handbag. However, her writing was clear, pure and always exciting. It upset me that she always wrote on 'paper rags' and once I dared to ask her why she never brought a decent notebook that would match the profundity of her writing. Hannah shrugged her shoulders, saying offhandedly that a simple piece of paper was enough for her, as though refusing to attach impor tance to her sensitive writing.

Never theless, Hannah liked the writing process and for four years, almost until her death, she par ticipated in the group and we grew very close. At first, she would come by herself, but as she got weaker her husband would bring her, do the weekly shopping and pick her up. I saw him suppor t her as she walked and felt they had a special relationship. At the last meeting she attended, I brought a poem And Adam knew Eve his wife (Galit Hasan Rokem, 1998, p. 15), which is composed of verbs that describe a woman's life cycle.

And Adam knew Eve his wife

I was born grew up and was orphaned

I was exiled I rose I adjusted

I loved I was widowed I was comforted

I was loved I fell pregnant I gave birth

I breastfed I reared children I created

I searched I learnt I wrote

I demonstrated I rebelled I betrayed a trust

I traveled I was unfaithful I miscarried

I was in heat I enticed I got pleasure

I whispered I shouted I was silent

I was embraced I was dependent I was abandoned

I was bereaved I mourned I sur vived I knew

I asked the par ticipants to choose several verbs from the poem and to inter twine them with their own words to create a text that suited their mood.

Hannah chose the verb 'I knew' that concludes the poem. She wrote:

They told me it had metastasised to my head; ever y morning when I wake up I check to make sure that I still know myself. However, today, when I prepared the weekly shopping list for my husband, I couldn't read my own writing. I said to him: 'Look what's happened to my handwriting - nobody can read it. Until now I have been afraid of damage to my brain, I didn't want to think about it or talk about it, today I know (the emphasis is mine), that's it, I am at the end of the road. …

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