How a Tragedy Helped Me Find My Voice as a Writer

J. H. Moncreiff - Pyragraph
Ogiya Hanaôgi by Utamaro Kitagawa. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

This post was originally published on J.H. Moncrieff’s blog and reposted here with kind permission.

As writers, we have one great, powerful tool.

A voice.

And whether we use that voice for good or ill, for something that will make people think or make them laugh, is up to us.

I tended to use that voice to scare people. Until recently.

A good friend of mine took his own life last week. I was shocked, furious, and deeply saddened—not just by the loss of my friend, which was bad enough, but by some of the reactions to it.

If we aren’t brave enough to speak up when we see injustice, we don’t deserve the power we’ve been given.

Ordinarily I would fume behind closed doors. I would write about it in my journal, cry to a couple of close friends, and that would be it. But Stan deserved more than that, so I wrote this post. I thought if I could make just one person understand what he was going through, speaking out publicly would be worth it.

But was it terrifying? Oh yes, it was scary as hell. Instead of telling spooky stories that would give others nightmares, I was scaring myself.

I thought my work was over with that post, but no. Other people decided to write their own posts and columns about my friend, suggesting that his death was due to the fact that we live in a cold and callused world where people limit their interactions with others to social media.

This time, there was no chance that I could fume behind closed doors. And to explain why, I have to introduce you to another friend of mine.

His name is Perry.

When his friend was in trouble, what did Perry do? He gave him a home. He provided a shoulder to cry on, endless emotional support, and hours of distracting entertainment.

He contacted all of us—every single person our dear friend might have lost touch with—and said, “Hey, this guy’s in trouble! Please reach out to him.” And we did. And now that our friend is gone, we can at least take comfort in the fact we had another chance to say “We love you. We’re here for you.”

Thanks to Perry.

Perry did not sit idly by while his friend suffered. And that is why he is my personal hero. There were many other friends and family members who also did everything they could to let Stan know he was loved. And he did know, right up until his very last moments on earth.

To suggest otherwise is to spit in the face of every single person who did what they could to support, love and comfort Stan.

So, wherever I could, I told the full story—how depression is a disease that took our friend even though he was loved and cared for. Even though he knew he was loved and cared for. Sometimes love is not enough, and unfortunately, this was one of those times.

I wrote a letter to the editor to refute that ugly, misleading column. I told the author how I felt. Seems like I’ve been telling many people how I feel about their misguided comments these days. But I think of Stan, and of Perry, and I can’t stay silent anymore.

Our writing voice is a great power, and with great power comes great responsibility. (One can’t write about Perry without quoting Spiderman; it’s a rule.)

We can lift others up or we can drag them down again. Thanks to the internet, our words will live forever, so it’s best not to have any regrets.

That can make us nervous to use our power.

I know I was.

But if we aren’t brave enough to speak up when we see injustice, if we’re not strong enough to ask for help when a friend’s in trouble, we don’t deserve the power we’ve been given.

So use your voice and let it shine.

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  1. I know I’ve said some thoughtless things to loved ones. At the time I didn’t know it. At the time I thought I was being wise and all knowing. I’d like to kick younger-me’s ass, because one day I opened my ears and heard the words from the receiving end.

    It’s too late to take them back, but I know better than to say them again.

    We grow up. We learn. Everyone does in their own time.

    I’m sorry for your loss.

  2. I am so glad you wrote this post JH even though you were scared. I am reminded of a quote that says, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” Also I may have to quote Spiderman too. I fume so very much at how passive we can be. People can’t do more than grunt a greeting but let them loose on the internet and they become the most insidious bullies. My saying is that any asshole can tear someone down, it takes no talent what so ever. I applaud you for speaking out and bringing tenderness and awareness to Stan and depression. I am also moved and overwhelmed by the comments you are receiving on the original post. People need to talk don’t they. Although I didn’t know Stan, I wish I did. I can tell that the world is less of a better place because he isn’t in it. Sorry for your loss and thank you for championing your friend. What a great testament. Kellie from Princess and the Yard Ape

  3. The power of voice is to learn when to speak up, and when to shut up. A verbal response isn’t always the right one, but at times it’s crucial that people speak up. For others. For themselves. Even in speaking up for yourself, you can give a voice to others.

    The bittersweet reality is that sometimes the people we save with our efforts are not those who we set out to save. But someone is saved all the same.

    Thank you for speaking up.

  4. Wonderfully said Holli. Too many of us simply don’t understand the struggles and inner demons that others face every day. My heart goes out to you for the loss of your friend.

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