Emelie Hill Dittmer is one of Write Your Self’s license scholarship recipients, as well as one of the first guides to become a certified Write Your Self guide.
This summer she will be hosting workshops at the group exhibition Sick! – Living with invisible illness, located in Rochester, England. The exhibition “will explore what it means to live with an invisible illness by artists with first-hand experience. The show will cover work over a range of different mediums such as installation, video, painting and sculpture”.
In this blog post, Emelie tells about her writing and why she has chosen to train to become a Write Your Self guide.
I have one photo album left. It gives a glimpse of what was once our family, during a brief time period in the 80’s. I’m six or maybe seven years old. Most of the photos were taken during the summer, at our summer house or on the beach.
We stand in the water, my mother and me. Our legs are entwined on this photograph, the one that always stuck with me. For some reason there were two copies of this particular photo. The second one I once gave away as a Mother’s Day gift. In the accompanying card, I wrote “Mum I love you in wet and dry”, a greeting authored by my chubby childish hand.
Mum has now dissolved in this water and her home is no longer on earth. But I write to her, about us, every day, in my heart.
Now I will help others write. I’m doing it because of what happened to us. This photograph has become a symbol of the reason I write, all that’s left, what could have been. I’m now picking up shards of wounds and sand, skies and sea and all that we longed for. We saved each other; after all, we did.
When my mother left me on an August night nearly two years ago, I called the few people who were in her life to let them know she had left this earth. One of them was her former manager at a retirement home in the small community where we once lived. I’ll probably never forget that conversation, and what this woman revealed to me.
“Your mum wrote during those quiet moments in the night. She always had a notebook at hand. She was great with words, yes, she was. She wrote about us all, her colleagues, on all those days that mattered, birthdays, wedding days. Your mother was a true poet”.
I was more than surprised. I’d had no idea that mum had been writing. Instead, she encouraged me, clapping her hands in pure joy for every word I produced. When I got a weekend assignment at a local newspaper during my teens, she was so proud. “Never stop writing!” she reminded me when I lost my way and went abroad to try my luck in other areas of work.
I never stopped writing but I almost gave up.
In a new land, with the large open sea between us, we longed for each other constantly. I could no longer live in my family home, it was too painful. Mum understood, told me to fly free, for her sake as well. She stayed behind, trying to somehow hold the pieces that were left together, so that I would have a home to return to. Years passed and she stayed in a house where the walls could not protect her. It became an enclosed life, a lonely existence. I was constantly worried about her.
Not many have the courage to leave their home and all their belongings when presented with a terminal cancer diagnosis. My mum did. That’s what it took.
Humiliation, violence, unpredictable eruptions. Our family life was made up of periods of darkness and small glares of light in between. It went on for decades. We never dared to tell the truth about our volatile existence. We were trying to hide from it, my mum and I. Sometimes our legs were entwined at night, just like in the photograph.
For me, it took all these years, and my mother’s illness and passing, to find the courage to tell the world the truth about our family, which had appeared to be so perfect. How it was to live in a home where a partner and a parent lived with a hidden disease that permeated everything. My dad, my mother’s husband.
People reacted strongly. Some were frightened, some disappeared when I told our story.
That’s why I’m writing with even greater intensity now, to mark that I’m emerging out from behind the veil. Because I cannot sit down and do nothing now when mum is no longer with me. That’s why I’m writing, for her and for us, and through the Write Your Self License Program I will be able to help others. I cannot imagine a bigger and more meaningful task.
I found ways that I can write for you, mum, I write for us.
I hope to help many more who want to do the same, showing that there are ways out of the dark closet. Because when we find the words for these traumatic stories, we reconcile ourselves with life and existence. We decide to not let the bitterness tear us apart, to erode us.
During all those years I lived in some kind of grey nothingness. Through Write Your Self, I’m given permission to once again show my colours, strong, red, pink, blue.
The colours that prove I survived.
Emelie Hill Dittmer is a journalist and a writing teacher specialising in therapeutic writing. She divides her time between England and Sweden.
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