Personal growth through others’ stories

As much as I have been cranking out poetry recently and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future, I can never put my grief over my Papa’s death out of my mind. That was the catalyst for this blog, which began with my Skeptic’s Kaddish series, written during my first year of mourning.

My grief suffuses me to the point that I can no longer perceive myself without it.

For me, that banner at the top of my blog is actually haunting. It’s a photograph of my father in Costa Rica, a year before he died… he never went anywhere without that camera of his. Looking at my blog every day, as I do, reminds me of him to the point that I sometimes find myself toying with the idea of changing the banner to something – to anything – else… but, somehow, it also comforts me; I’m a thick, frothy mess of emotions.

So while the Skeptic’s Kaddish is now primarily a poetry blog, it will forever remain anchored by that series of kaddish-related blog posts I completed more than two years ago. Most people don’t read those posts because they’re fairly heavy, but, every so often, somebody unexpectedly comes upon them and resonates to them… and that is incredibly meaningful to me.

While I first started writing about my experience of mourning for Papa for myself (first and foremost) and my family, it eventually dawned on me that sharing my reflections could be meaningful or helpful to other mourners… and since my Skeptic’s Kaddish series lives here on the Internet, anybody in the world could come across it at any time.

It goes both ways

This way

I’ve been thinking about this recently because of two unrelated events.

First, a lovely human being named Linda very recently came upon my kaddish series, and she started sharing her reflections with me in the comments. At one point, she wrote me the following, which profoundly moved me:

… your loss exacerbated my loss. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though. I didn’t talk much about my loss – any of them – and that’s not necessarily healthy. What you are doing with this blog IS healthy, as you are working through your feelings. And now, so am I. Thank you. 

My exchanges with Linda have quite affected me; as I’ve said to several people recently, if my writing about my mourning experience helps only one person other than me, I would feel that it was worth it. I mean, really, what does any author most fundamentally want? We want to connect with other human beings. We want to be understood by them. We want our words to matter – to somebody.

You know, to paraphrase Jewish tradition, we Heebs like to say that “every person is an entire world unto themselves.” Linda is an entire world unto herself, and my words have somehow manage to penetrate that world. For that, I am so thankful.

That way

Another lovely human being named Eleanor connected with me here on WordPress, and I came across the series of blog posts she is writing about the abuse that she and her siblings suffered at their father’s hands as children.

Now, thankfully, I was very lucky to have two loving parents and never suffered from any childhood abuse, but Eleanor’s writing has deeply affected me. I mean, of course I have read books and watched movies with characters that suffer various forms of abuse, but it’s entirely different to read an abuse victim’s firsthand accounts of her traumatic experiences.

Eleanor’s writing is simply cutting. I look at my six-year-old daughter and cannot fathom causing her any physical harm – and I wonder how many innocent, little children around the world are being beaten every day by their parents… it’s inexpressibly horrible. Eleanor’s blog posts have left me shaken.

I mention this because Eleanor is clearly writing, in large part, for others – to raise awareness of childhood abuse. Certainly, I cannot speak for her, but I imagine that she is touched when people take the time to read her recollections and engage with her on these issues. As a writer, Eleanor, like me, wants to connect meaningfully with other human beings. She wants to be understood.

She wants her words to matter; and to me – they most definitely do.


Just the other day, our six-year-old asked us why people once did not have last names; and we explained that people’s lives used to be much more limited, in terms of how many other people they ever interacted with. Once upon a time, it was enough to know one’s fellow villagers by name and profession – ships, trains, and airplanes did not exist; very few people traveled.

Today, thanks to the Internet, one might say that, in a certain way, everything is local. Speaking personally, I never imagined that I would some day be corresponding with so many other writers from all over the globe… from more countries than I could possibly list…

And, taking it a step further, consider what it’s like to be a child in today’s era. The Internet only entered our homes when I was a teenager – I was the last generation to grow up without it… But today’s youth are growing up with their fingers at their keyboards, and, for better or worse, interacting with people of all ages from the far corners of the earth.

One could write many a cautionary article about the Internet, but I’m also struck by its sheer power – the power to touch people’s hearts – the power to amplify our voices – the power to fight against tyrants.

None of these reflections are new or revolutionary, but, from time to time, I find myself struck anew at the power of the words we write… and struck over and over again at the great distances that they are able to magically travel.

47 thoughts on “Personal growth through others’ stories”

  1. Hello David,

    It’s lovely that you’ve been able to write out your loss. Writing is very therapeutic and blogging that journey helps others in the same situation I think. Writing helps one sort through feelings and organize one’s thoughts and learn to cope and move one.

    The grief of losing family eases with time, but it suddenly crops up unexpected now and then. It’s been many years for me since we lost 3 family members in the space of 15 months and there’s a comfort now for me, in the memories. In knowing that we carry them with us even as we eventually move on, I think.

    It’s tragic that memories might be those of abuse for others and it’s so important that they too, speak out. It helps others in the same situation find ways to get out of the cycle of abuse and move on.

    1. blogging that journey helps others in the same situation I think.

      I very much hope so – that’s something that would make me very happy, Anitaelise 🙂

      From my perspective, you’re pretty much spot on with this entire comment… and wow – three family members in such a short period… that’s really hard 😦

      May I ask if their deaths were at all expected?


      1. One was sudden. The others were not well but doing ok so they were unexpected. It was a time of personal growth for us I think looking back and I wrote my way through a lot of the grief. And playing the piano helped.

        We’d moved house during those years, to a locality with a very different culture, and visiting to support family was a lot of commuting. So often, we were running on empty.

        It was quite a lot of change all at once and some lesson from that time made us interested in minimalism as a means to happiness.

        I feel everything happens when it needs to and we have to let go and know that we carry a part of the ones we care for with us where-ever we go.

    1. That’s very sweet of you to say, Carol.


      BTW, please feel free to call me ‘David’ – that is my first name. The word ‘ben’ means ‘son of’ in Hebrew. I’m sorry for my confusing pen name!


  2. Ben, Thanks for finding my little post. I am happy you did. My Father is 95. I share more time with him now that I ever did. I cherish his wisdom that he sprinkles with both joy and fear. Best wishes to you from Melbourne. Leo

    1. 🤗 Leo 🤗

      You’re very lucky; I’m very happy for you & your Dad – it’s wonderful that you have this time together.

      BTW, please feel free to call me ‘David’ – that’s my first name. The word ‘ben’ just means ‘son of’ in Hebrew. My pen name is confusing – I’m sorry!


  3. Writing can definitely save you in a time of crisis whether this be physical or emtional. Sometimes it takes longer to recover than we allow ourselves sometimes. My condolences.

  4. It was so heartening to read this, David. Sharing pain instead of comparing it is so important. Because of the internet, the world has become a smaller place. Now hearts need to grow bigger. 🙂

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