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November 28, 2010

Writing Heals

There are books out there for every kind of ailment, disorder and difficult experience you can imagine. Books can bring us together by reminding us that we are not alone in our problems. Recently I attended an event that brought home the point that writing heals the writer, often even more than it helps the readers.

It was last Friday. A woman was reading excerpts from her soon-to-be-published book entitled “A Widow Should Not Talk”. In this book, the author, a British citizen, discusses the rituals that she was expected to endure after her Ghanaian husband died. The rituals vary from tribe to tribe and in many parts of Ghana none are practiced at all. Where there are rituals, some are helpful, some just annoying and many are downright cruel. This woman was lucky enough to have the support of one of her in-laws and so she was able to avoid having her head shaved and her loins bound (to prevent her dead husband from returning to have his way with her) among other things.

One ritual that she could not avoid was that of confinement. She was required to remain at home 24-7 from the time of she was told of her husband’s death until 40 days AFTER the burial. Keep in mind that in Ghana, the burial could be anywhere from a few weeks to several months even a year after the person’s death. Before the burial, she spent many days from sun up to 6pm greeting well-wishers. She had to hear the story of her husband’s horrible accident recounted to each new visitor. At 6pm, she was finally able to retire to her room.

When she retired to her room each night, she wrote about her experiences. This helped her to analyse, to understand and to heal. Remarkably, this was never her intention. She began writing because she felt that her words could help others in a similar situation. This act of looking outwards and forwards was possibly the most therapeutic of all.

(Originally posted on Novel Spaces on November 28, 2010)

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