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Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Healing Power of Memoir

I stood before the strangers in the audience feeling shaky but prepared to take the risk to read aloud a very private, emotional story from my life. 

Though my voice was quivering a bit, I read, gulped, and continued reading the first few paragraphs. Before I knew it, I was reliving the memory, back at my mother’s gravesite with my father standing in the rain. I listened to his regrets.

Tears and rain spattered my face. I stood there unable to speak, caught in the middle between my parents, in life and in death. And now, here I was living it again, oblivious to the darkened room and shadowy forms watching and listening to my story.

And just like then, I couldn’t speak. I could only cry as I recalled my father saying he was sorry to my dead mother and me. I could not get the words out. I was stuck in two times, the past and the present, caught in the grip of the memory.

I felt naked in front of strangers as the memory replayed itself. I could not hide from it. I had to let it run its course and relive it in front of 60 people who came to a public reading at a writers’ workshop in Woodstock, NY.

I stood there suspended in time, tears streaming down my face, trying to compose myself to finish the reading. The more I tried to stop crying, the harder it was to speak. I gave up, sobbed, swallowed hard and struggled to return to the present.

The room had gone strangely quiet. No one uttered a sound. We all waited for the scene to change.

When the intensity of the past shifted, I finished my story in a halting, barely audible voice, embarrassed and uncomfortable with my disclosure.

I tried to relieve the tension in the room by commenting lightly about what comes from writers’ workshops. There was a pause and then some gentle laughter. I returned to my seat and cried quietly to myself as the next presenter began her reading.

Afterwards, a number of people approached and told me how touched they were by my story; some reminisced about their own fathers. I could only nod and politely respond through my puffy face and swollen eyelids.

Later that night I felt an enormous sense of relief, as if the shared memory had set me free. It was no longer a family secret aching inside of me. The”telling” gave me comfort and moved the listeners.

That night I also discovered the power of memoir to connect me to a universal family and to my still healing self.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photo by Sanja Gjenero


  1. I know the feeling. I'm very proud of you... I know, if I were there in the crowd, I would've been touched.

  2. Thanks. Doing this blog is my ongoing "therapy":)

  3. You go girl -- you've inpired me to do the same.

  4. LOVE it! And it's something I'm learning as I blog. It takes energy to get some of the words out (typed onto the screen) but it's SUCH a huge weight lifted when I'm done. In this case, it's a 20-year weight, I've been carrying around.

    If I may shamelessly self-promote, the first chapter of the story to which I refer can be found here:

    Chapter 2 follows, and Chapter 3 is soon to be completed (as soon as I get the energy! lol!)