February 7, 2012

How Do You Write Through Life’s Chaos?

Shattered mirror

I didn’t want to write this post.  I wanted to be stronger.  I wanted to be professional.  I wanted to hold this pain inside and not let my vulnerability show.

If I can’t handle life’s combination of good and bad events without shattering, how will I survive the huge swings between excitement and disappointment involved with being an author?

However, it had already been a month of emotional extremes for me, what with my grandmother’s death followed by a request from Pitch Your Shorts.  At least those events were spread out by more than a week.

Now double the size of that emotional rollercoaster hill and add a third traumatic event and squish it all into 5 days, and you’ll have an idea of what last week was like for me.

I tried to pretend that everything was normal, that I was okay.  I reposted an old blog last Tuesday, a funny one no less.  I responded to comments with good humor.  I concentrated on last Wednesday’s good news for Thursday’s post, but those who were on Twitter Thursday evening started seeing the cracks.

I posted a tweet:

“Apologies to all I haven’t thanked for RTs this week. I had *another* death in the family on Monday, and this week has been brutal.”

Replies poured in with sympathy, more than I can acknowledge here without adding several paragraphs to this post.  Even then I tried turning it around and focusing on the good news of how Rachel Graves and I had our workshop accepted for the National Conference of Romance Writers of America.

After that, I thought I could soldier through in silence.  I was wrong.  And now I’m here, unable to pretend any longer.

Last Monday, a close friend died after rapid decline over a 48-hour period.  She had been there for me—for decades.  When I was away from my support system for the first time after college.  When I escaped from an abusive relationship.  When I landed on the West Coast with no family or friends within two thousand miles.

She was also there with me when my life turned around.  When I found happiness.  When I finally had a family of my own.  When I started writing.

Yes, she was a cat.  I know some of you are rolling your eyes now, and I don’t blame you.  I know some of you are dealing with the aftereffects of car accidents, friends or family members with cancer, a sick parent, and so forth, and I don’t mean to belittle anyone else’s pain here.

However, my cat was a member of my family.  Not in a shallow, carry-her-around-like-a-baby way, but in a she-was-there-for-me-when-no-one-else-was way.

And she didn’t just die.  I had to make the decision to have the vet put her to sleep after it became obvious nerve damage would prevent her from ever walking, or even standing again.  Combined with her other serious health issues, I logically know it was time, but having to make that decision still tortures me when I stop to think about it.  I killed her.

I cradled her in my arms, where she snuggled close and purred while I failed to protect her from the needle heralding her death.  I died a bit inside that day, and I’ll never quite be the same.

Those emotions left me on shaky ground for the rest of the week.  Last Wednesday’s good news about the RWA workshop gave me something else to think about, but it also meant I didn’t have time to process the bad or celebrate the good.

Then on Friday, major financial bad news hit my family.  I fell to pieces.  It didn’t matter that I know we’ll figure out a way to be okay.  That things will probably work out for the best.  That I have faith things happen for a reason.  The extreme down-up-down of the week was beyond my ability to hold inside.

So here I am, trying to find a way to keep going, to keep writing, to keep myself together by pouring my emotions into this blog post.  I doubt I’ll even post it.  It’s too personal, too much an invasion of my privacy, too…revealing of my weaknesses.

Then again, maybe I will post it.  Maybe the message is that just when we think life is too crazy for us to write, maybe that’s the exact time we should be writing.

We all know writing can be therapeutic.  Some of us try to deny how much of ourselves and our issues end up on the page.  Some of us do a better job at twisting the truth so it’s not “us” anymore.  Some of us write such edgy content that we don’t want people to think about our state of mind while they read.

But sometimes we might need to embrace that therapeutic aspect.  Maybe it’s better to write for therapy than to not write at all, withdrawing into an empty shell.  And maybe the ultimate truth is that writing—all kinds of writing—can help us be better writers.

When you’re dealing with emotional events, do you withdraw from writing or does it make you want to write more?  Are you able to write under those circumstances?  Has writing helped you deal with situations?  What else keeps you going when you’re facing chaos or trauma?

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Oh. I’m so sorry. I totally fell apart when my cat of 20 years had to be put down (I didn’t even get to hold her…I still sort of regret that, but I was 500 miles away at college when my parents had to make the call), so *hugshugshugs*. I remember that once I was done with the hour’s worth of sobbing to my boyfriend, I picked myself up and started writing again because it was the only thing I could think to do. It was soothing to do something useful.

Suzanne Johnson

Oh, Jami, sorry to hear about all of this. I totally understand about your kitty–my dogs are my family. And financial pressures just weigh on you. I firmly believe in using writing to vent–I started my first book as (I thought thinly veiled) way of coping with the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. It was seriously therapeutic. So write! Remember–even if it’s something you decide not to keep or not to use right now, that writing will be there later when it’s easier to work with.

Angela Quarles

Oh man, Jami, I missed that tweet on Thursday and I’m devastated for you! Despite what some may think, losing a beloved pet is traumatic, especially under those circumstances. Pets see you at your best and worst and they still love you and support you. I’m so sorry!

I had at least 1 month warning that my dog was terminally ill, but still at the end, it was hard to make that decision. You were braver than me, I couldn’t be in the room with her when it happened…

Keep writing Jami, whatever helps!

Susan Sipal

Jami, you are not alone. I’m so glad you reached out to the community of people you’ve given so much to and channeled your writing to begin the healing process. Part of the beauty of being a writer is feeling so deeply…it is also part of the pain of being a writer. I’m sending healing thoughts your way.

Lena Corazon

Oh, Jami, hugs a million times over! I still remember how shattered my whole family was when we had to put my cat down, and that was over 8 years ago. Our pets truly do become family, and their losses are never easy to bear.

I first became a writer because I had no other way to grapple with the pain that I had in my life. For me, my writing from that time is so raw and ravaged that I don’t think anything could ever come of it, but it saved me in so many other ways. I will hold you in my thoughts in the weeks to come.

Jami's Tech Guy

Hi Jami. Sorry you’re going through such a rough time. And I truly doubt anyone questions your strength – if they do, let us at them! Things will get (and stay) better.

I remember when I had to make that horrible decision for my favorite dog. I came home from work to see her dragging her back half to (even then) excitedly greet me at the garage. She was such a proud creature and was embarrassed by her vulnerability. I practically collapsed when I realized she wasn’t playing. Despite happening 15 years ago, when I think of it, I’m right back in that horrible moment. I force myself to remember all the crazy things we went through and how blessed I was to have had her at all. Thinking of all the joyous moments helps.

And on the Friday troubles, let me take one small worry off your shoulders: We’ll keep your website going no matter what.

Take care of yourself!


Yelena Casale

I’m so sorry for your losses. And I understand about a pet’s death all too well. Over the course of 2010 two of our three beloved cats have died in a span of a few months (both had problems and had to be put to sleep). One of them was literally like a son to my husband and he still cries sometimes thinking about him and I can’t do anything but cry with him. Pets are a part of our family. They are our children and best friends. Their loss is as hard to take as any other, if not more (maybe because they do remind us of children so much).
I admire you for writing even during this hard time. You’re right, it can be so therapeutic.
I’m thinking of you and your family and sending you prayers.
Take care!

Justine Dare Davis (@Justine_D_Davis)

Oh, Jami, I am so, so sorry. I know -exactly- how you feel. Three weeks ago I had to make the same awful, soul-killing decision for my sweet, wonderful 15 year old Lab. She was my late husband’s girl, they adored each other, and it was like losing a bit of him all over again. After he died, she was the only reason I got out of bed for a long time. Since I work at home, we were always together. She was the one constant in my life when it turned to chaos. The hole she leaves is so huge it’s nearly unbearable. And I understand you feeling you failed in the end to protect her as you should have. The best thing I can say is that our vet came here, that it happened in her home, in her own bed, with me holding her and others who loved her around her. I tell myself it was for the best, she was so tired, and very sick, but even knowing it’s true doesn’t help.

And for any who roll their eyes, well, they’re not worth stressing about. It’s their loss. Don’t waste an ounce of your energy on them. If they were worth it, they’d understand.

Hugs, Jami.

Buffy Armstrong

Jami, I feel so bad about what you have been through in a very short period of time. Lots of hugs your way. You are wrong though. You didn’t kill your cat. What you did was very brave and humane. You were there for her in her time of need as she was for you. She needed you to be strong and you were. Don’t forget that.

My husband lost his fuzzy person (a cat named Varmint) right after we moved in with each other a few years back. He had her for 16 years. She wandered into his college apartment and stayed. He didn’t truly get over her death until we adopted two more fuzzy people. When you are ready, the best tribute you can give your friend is to continue the love. I know that sounds corny and a tad bit trite, but it’s true.

I allow myself to wallow for a short period of time after something horrible happens. I sulk and cry. I’m a fabulous crier. I go to work. I go through the motions of everyday life, but I don’t write. Maybe I should.

I hope writing this blog post helped you nail down your emotions and start the healing process. I haven’t known you very long, but you seem to be a very strong person. You will get through this.

John Holton

Sorry to hear about your cat. I lost my little buddy just a couple of weeks ago and I’m still not over it. I tend to shut down and not write when I’ve been through a down period. Being able to write again is generally a sign that I’m getting over it.


I’m so sorry for your losses. And I think you are so brave to come out and be so open about your struggles. There’s nothing wrong with feeling vulnerable or helpless or lost. This is part of what makes us human. We all have struggles and problems we face at varying stages of our lives, so we understand.

But the good news is, there’s always hope. Hope for the day when the pain will ease bit by bit, and a smile will grace your face. Have faith, stay strong, and keep writing, if that’s what helps you deal with the grief and pain. Do what’s best for you. Hugs for you, Jami. <3

Angela Ackerman

I am so sorry. Something similar happened with our cat, and feeling the life go out of her body as I held her, knowing I made the decision for this to happen…it was awful. It isn’t easily forgotten, but eventually we know it was the right thing and we are grateful to have had such a wonderful animal in our lives for so many years, enriching our world.

Hugs to you, and no you never have to go it alone. Talking helps, and if you ever need an ear, I have two 🙂


Heather Day Gilbert
Heather Day Gilbert

Thanks so much for opening up to us. We just lost a kittie over Christmas (well, he was 15 years old!), and I had to be there with him. It does help to know that you’re sparing the cat from the slow, horrible death they would have to endure, but it doesn’t make it easier to be the one standing there.

Writing itself is such a roller-coaster, added to life’s ups and downs, it can really shake you up. Hoping things look up for an extended period of time for you, so you can get back on your feet!

Janice Hardy

Oh Jami I’m so, so sorry. I’ve been in the same situation (more than once sadly) and I know how hard it is. And how there’s very little anyone can say to make it better. Even when it’s a mercy and done out of love, it still hurts. Huge hugs for you and your family. You’ll get through this, I promise.

If working helps you, work. If hiding in the dark watching romantic comedies makes it better, do that. Your friends and readers will understand. Take care of yourself and do what you need to do to grieve. I’m here if you need me 🙂 Just hang in there.

Juli Page Morgan

Oh, Jami! I’m so sorry about your beloved kitty. But don’t ever – EVER – think you’re weak for feeling these things. I think you’re showing how strong you are: doing the best thing for your cat even though it hurt (I had to do the same thing for my kitty last March), knowing that you’ll figure a way to be okay through financial difficulties and, most of all, opening up and letting it all out. That, my girl, is strong!

When my life turns topsy-turvy, I still write. More often that not it’s utterly vile writing that ends up being tossed, but I still write. It’s a balm for me, something I can control when I feel I can’t control anything else.

As others have said here, do what’s best for you, and know you’re getting tons of cyber hugs!

Marcy Kennedy

Jami, I am so sorry for what you’re going through. I’m sending you virtual hugs. My husband and I have faced a couple of years where everything seemed to go wrong, so I know how it can be when you go into survival mode. I’m a write through the pain kind of girl, but only after I’ve had a complete jello-blob-in-the-middle-of-the-kitchen-floor meltdown.

I’m also a pet owner, and I love my furry little family members. I worry over them when they’re sick, and I agonize over making that final decision. I’ll never forget what my mom told me when I had to put down the first dog I owned on my own as an adult because she got bone cancer. She told me that by making the decision that was best for her, rather than what I wanted to do, I showed her one final time how much I loved her.


The funny thing about the death of a pet is everyone scoffs about how hard some people take it, and then when it happens to them, they collapse in tears.

I can’t write when stuff like that happens. My stomach gets all tight and I can’t concentrate on anything. All I can do is watch TV and re-read trashy romance novels that I’ve read a thousand times before. A friend of mine, on the other hand, is a musician, and some of his best work comes from times when he’s been either extremely angry or depressed.

Brooklyn Ann

AWWWW. HUGE HUGS!!! Deaths in the family are never easy and financial stress can be cataclysmic. I send my best wishes.

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly

I’m so sorry to hear you news. Loss of family members and financial badness all at the same time, yuck. It’s times like these where friends and family are needed most. Even those of us out here on the interwebz.

Like so many others here, I lost my little lion of the backyard a few months ago. Twenty years he prowled his domain, but then it was time to go, and he slowly faded away, finally lying down next to the house under a lilac bush and falling to sleep. Twenty years was a good run.

I hope life balances out for you…it seems to be doing so for us. We learned a few weeks ago that a little puppy will be joining our pack.

Nancy S. Thompson

Oh, Jami, I am so very sorry. Don’t feel weird about posting this. Our pets are our family, too. They take up huge places in our hearts. They never judge us and they’re always there when we need love. They are the very best of what life has to offer and their kind of companionship cannot be duplicated by a human, no matter how close or how much we love them. They are uniquely loving and tender and they make us more human. I suffered the loss of my kitty, after nearly 20 years! That was one of the toughest moments of my life, dealing with her illness and treatment, and finally having to make that choice to end her suffering, then holding her in my arms as the angels sailed away with her spirit. The loss and rage is unbearable and the feeling you have inside that tells you you shouldn’t feel so overwhelmed by a mere animal doesn’t make sense at all. But it was a life that had great impact on your own, so your feelings are completely legitimate and you deserve time to both mourn her passing and celebrate the joy she brought to your life. And, as with all things, time will make it easier and you will always have the precious memories of all the silly things she used to do. As for writing, I think it’s moments like these that help us to better tap into our deep emotional reservoir, to draw from…  — Read More »

Natalie Hartford

My deepest sympathies on everything you’ve had to handle. I just wanted to share with you that I had a cat who had been there with me threw it all that I had to put down two years ago for a similar reason. It broke my heart. There is nothing silly or small about it. Our animals are just as much a part of our family as our human friends and family and when one passes on, we grieve! Just like we would anyone else…
For me, in my deepest times of sorrow and anxiety, I wrote. Journal style but I wrote and poured my heart and every emotion onto the page and I healed. Slowly but surely.
Sending you a huge hug!

Gene Lempp

All my sympathies for your loss (the many), my friend. Our pets are an important part of our lives, they never say the wrong thing, they always listen and they always love and in these ways they are often closer to our hearts then people. Loss is never trivial and I don’t think that there is a way to categorize levels of such. Chaos and loss are what they are without qualification.

Do I continue to write during times of loss and chaos? Absolutely, and you know me well enough to know I’ve faced (and continue to) many such occurrences. At times like these I write out the emotions, sometimes in stream of consciousness, others using whatever character from my head shows up as a foil for dialogue and let the emotion loose on the page. It doesn’t have to be for a project but it is something I can go back and tap into later and it gets the feelings out so that healing can begin. Once that is done, I find quiet time or time spent with my kids and wife are superb medicine for the soul.

Stay strong my friend. Only the moment seems eternal and in a moment everything will change.

Jen J. Danna

I’m so very sorry about your cat. Aboslutely no eye rolling here. A pet is a true member of the family and losing one is hard. Heck, I’ve been known to get upset when we’ve had to put down a hamster, but a long term pet like a cat or a dog is really difficult. So give yourself a break. We all do the best we can, and that’s enough. Sometimes the kindest thing we can do to our pets is to put them out of their misery. Sometimes I think we’re kinder to our pets than we are to other humans. And then to have another crisis laid on top… That’s just not fair.

You do what you have to do to cope and there isn’t a wrong way to do that. Through January, as I was in the last weeks of my 20 year career at the University, I used writing as my therapy too. Losing myself somewhere else was definitely what worked for me. If it works for you, great. If you look back at it in 2 months and it’s utter tripe, that’s okay too. It served it’s purpose at the time. But my money’s on the fact that some of that emotion will leak through and it will be very, very good. *hugs*

Melinda S. Collins

Jami, I am so sorry to hear about your losses. I too know what it’s like to lose a pet that’s always been there, through thick and thin. It’s a gut-wrenching experience that’s especially hard to get over when you were the final decision maker (even if it was in their best interest). *double hugs* I am so glad that you shared your pain with the rest of the writing community – it isn’t easy and it’s most certainly scary. For that I bow to you. Youv’e built such a wonderful circle of writing friends and family – the proof is right here as you’re reading through all of our posts and feeling all the healing thoughts we’ve been sending your way. For the longest time – and still to this day – it really feels like my husband and I will never catch a break. We waited 9 years to get married and right after we did, he lost his job and it took him a year to find another one. In life if it isn’t one thing, it’s another. But I do write through the pain. Like Susan said, it’s a blessing and curse for a writer because we feel so deeply. That adds sparkle to our writing, but when something personal happens we feel it like no other and sometimes we can’t see the end in sight. Keep your head up and give yourself some time. It’s good to let a breakdown happen once in a good…  — Read More »

Jamie Raintree


I’m so sorry for all your hardships over the past week. I feel for you and even though I don’t know you that well, I’d still like to send you lots and lots of hugs! I also appreciate you posting this. I have a hard time being too personal online but I think it’s important to be human every once in a while, no matter how professional we are the rest of the time.

I usually can’t write when I’m feeling really down but I think it’s great that you wrote this and I hope it did make you feel a little better, though I’m sure it will be a while before you feel like yourself again. Remember, this too shall pass.

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