Grieving? Find Your ‘Fishtrap’ Experience


We sat on a circle on the deck, warming in the sun as we wrote poetry. Nearby, the river rushed noisily toward the sea. Squirrels chased each other down the spruce tree and across the deck while a doe silently watched from a few feet away. This was the scene during my mornings last week at the Fishtrap writers workshop in Eastern Oregon. Writers from all over the country gathered to study with experts in all different types of writing. I was one of a dozen in Holly Hughes’ poetry class, a wonderful blend of meditation, mindfulness and creative writing. We writers quickly bonded. There were young people here, too, participating in a program for teens. Young or old, parents or not, married or not, it didn’t matter because we had come together to do something we love. More than spouses or parents or grandparents, we were writers. And I did not feel bad even once about not having children.
In contrast, when I got back to the real world, I visited The Grotto in Portland, which is like a giant Catholic garden, with sculptures and paintings telling the stories of Jesus, Mary and Joseph amid the trees and flowers. Recorded music plays above an outdoor chapel as you walk through the gardens, pausing to think about the Bible stories depicted in the art. It’s lovely, but it’s also full of people with their kids. I was walking through the rose garden when I heard a child call “Baba!” I turned to see a woman about my age stop and hold her arms open wide as her granddaughter ran into her embrace. Suddenly I wanted to weep. I had been looking at religious scenes for 45 minutes, feeling nothing, but this I felt. It was one of those moments. If you’re childless, you know what I mean.
But let’s get back to the joy of Fishtrap. If we immerse ourselves in things we love, we can stop dwelling on the children we don’t have and just enjoy being with people who like to do the same things we like to do. There were some people at Fishtrap who were not writers, who had come as chaperones for their teen-aged kids. And you know what? I felt sorry for them because they always had to worry about the kids. I didn’t have to worry about anyone but myself. I was totally free to write and think and make new friends.
The moral of this story is that you can find relief from your grief by immersing yourself in something you love. It doesn’t have to be writing; it can be anything that takes you out of yourself and into something that captures your mind and heart.
Is there something you can do, someplace you can go to give yourself that Fishtrap feeling?

Playing with the kids at camp

It’s my last full day at Fishtrap, which one participant dubbed “camp with pencils.” We’re near Joseph in far northeastern Oregon, a land of high mountains and real cowboys. We live in tents and yurts, attend workshops, eat cafeteria-style meals, listen to readings every night, and finish off our days with music around the campfire or drinks at Russell’s in Wallowa Lake. At any time of day or night, you can see people huddled over their notebooks or laptop computers writing. It’s as if we have finally found people just like us. These people come in all ages and stages of life.

Fishtrap has a substantial youth program, so there’s a large cadre of teens here. Some have come with their parents or grandparents, each participating in their own programs. Others are here on scholarship with adult chaperones. We also have college-age interns. I’m loving hanging out with the young ones. Last night a high school girl borrowed my guitar and played a great song. You could tell she’s just learning to play, but I felt such a camaraderie, as well as a little motherliness. I’m thrilled at the talent just blooming in these kids.

In my songwriting workshop, we have two college girls, a few baby boomers like me, and Alfred, who is 86 and amazing. We have different levels of life experience and musical training, but we’re all trying to write good songs.

One of our assignments was to interview each other. I traded interviews with Ryann, a senior at Whitman College. She’s beautiful, intelligent, talented and so young. I’m sure I’m way older than her mother, but it’s never as if she’s a kid and I’m an old lady. I’m proud of her and glad to claim her as my friend, and she’s excited when my songs come out well.

There is a beauty in being able to connect with young people who are not our children. I have noticed that the folks who brought their own kids frequently had their writing and socializing interrupted by the needs of their offspring. I didn’t have to worry about that, nor did I have to keep checking in at home.

Childlessness can be tough, but there are ways to bring young people into our lives as their friends, their mentors, their teachers, or their aunts. I highly recommend it.