An introduction to Reconceiving Loss Magazine by New Yorker contributor Daniel Raeburn:
A few years after our daughter was born dead, my wife and I took a writing class from the cartoonist Lynda Barry. The class was called “Writing the Unthinkable.” Of course that’s what I was doing: writing the unthinkable. It had been several years since I’d held my daughter’s body, but I still didn’t know how to think about that moment, and about her–even though I thought about her all day, every day. She’d stopped living, but I couldn’t stop being her father.
At the class, something Lynda said struck me. People sometimes think of writing as an imitation of therapy, she said, but these people have it backwards. It’s actually the reverse: therapy is an imitation of writing.
Deep down I’d always known this, and yet I’d never really realized it, not until Lynda articulated it. Like therapy, writing is narrative. It’s taking the raw, senseless material of this world and shaping it into something that’s not so senseless, into something that we can live with. A story. And after the death of a child, that’s what we need: a story that we can live with.
Nobody knows better than I that the death of a child is ultimately random and in that sense meaningless. But by writing about that death, we’re actually writing about life. We’re making something out of the void, something that is more meaningful, and more true, for being invented.
For Raeburn’s remembrance of his stillborn daughter Irene, read Vessels. For his account of the subsequent birth of his daughter Willa, read Department of Amplification, Willa Raeburn: Born May 22, 2006.