An interview with poet and writer, Catharine Murray about grieving and poetry. In 2004, Catharine’s son Chan died of leukemia despite months of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Catharine has been writing poems about her grief since the week after he died. She talks about how her poems help her slow down and listen to the pain inside. They also provide a little space between her deep grief and the mundane act of typing on the keyboard. Catharine reads three of her poems that speak to her sense of loss, capturing the way that he is “still as close as our hearts can bear to hold him.”
An interview with family therapist and author Evan Imber-Black about how to tell a family secret thoughtfully and well. In contrast to televised and sensationalist secret telling in front of mass audiences, Dr. Imber-Black works with families to prepare carefully before revealing important secrets. She tells stories from her work about the impact of secrets on family members, creating ever widening circles of silence and distance in relationships. She describes the impact on children who may not know a secret, but whose behavior is nonetheless deeply effected by the silence. She advises an individual analysis of each family member who may be effected by revealing a secret and how to respect those who may not want it revealed.
An interview with Professor Lawrence L Langer about his book, Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory. Professor Langer describes his own difficulty trying to imagine what it must have been like stand in a gas chamber facing death. He developed courses on the literature of atrocity to try and help people find a way to imagine this experience. He describes stories that survivors have told him, stories of such horror that the teller literally became speechless in trying to communicate. He states the importance for listeners in not judging survivors for what they had to do and not do, in situations of “choiceless choice.” One of the many ways that survivors suffer, is their own internal judgment for ways they were unable to protect and save their own loved ones. He tells of the challenges survivors face in trying to communicate their experiences in ways the listener can bear, will not be damaged by, and can begin to understand.
An interview with author Art Frank about telling stories about illness. Art describes his own experience with an early heart attack and later cancer. He describes the way the medical world can be oblivious to the patient’s needs and subjective experience. He talks about the importance of finding your own voice after your body has been colonized by treatment. He offered examples of the ways that medical professionals can connect more personally with the stories of their patients. He also describes ways that it is both difficult and imperative that we learn to stay present with difficult stories of illness, our own, and those of others. Art’s book is The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness and Ethics.
An interview with author and social psychologist, Jamie Pennebaker about his research into the benefits of confiding painful experiences. Jamie discovered that childhood traumas resulted in far greater long term health and psychological difficulties if they were not confided in others. He suggests that one of the reasons that childhood sexual abuse may be so destructive, is because it is so often kept secret. He describes experiments where people are invited to write for 20 minutes each day for four days about their most emotionally troubling experience. In study after study, the writers who are able to explore the depth of their emotions and express different perspectives on the event tend to show health benefits years after the experiment. He also describes new research into how our unknowing use of pronouns in speech reveals a great deal about our personalities, preferences and relational compatibility.