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NYT Modern Love essayist navigates her grief with support from Walpole writing group

Two headshots next to each other. On the left is an older woman, on the right is a younger woman.
Courtesy
/
Tina Hedin
Tina Hedin (left) says her essay in the New York Times' Modern Love section is about the experience of living in both the past and present as she grieves the death of her daughter, Kiki Hedin (right).

Writing can be a lonely activity, and you could say the same thing about processing grief. But Tina Hedin of Keene found community in a local writing group. It’s there that she started working on an essay about her grief after her daughter’s death. That essay recently appeared in the New York Times’ Modern Love section.

NHPR's Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Hedin about how writing can connect people who are grieving.

Transcript

Your essay's called "We Didn't Know It Was the Last Time." Can you tell us about the essay for listeners who have not read that yet?

I think of it as an essay where the past and the present are happening at the same time. In my own experience of grief, that's a state that I find myself in a lot – where I'm in the present, but memories of the past are triggered by some little event and come rushing back.

And that's what happened the day that I'm describing in the story. I was at the gym. I saw a young woman there who reminded me of my daughter. It was Christmas season. I saw a picture on my phone that day taken of my daughter, and it took me back so vividly to the last days that we were together with her, and I describe that in my story.

And the experience of writing about that made me reflect on a more universal experience. Often we don't get a chance to know when something is the last time, when it's the last time we're with our loved one. Or we do something that we think is ordinary, and then in retrospect, it's incredibly precious and special because it will never happen again.

Writing isn't your job professionally, but you belong to a Walpole writing group. How did that help you navigate your grief after your daughter Kiki died?

I didn't expect to share the things that I was writing initially, but I did have a place to share them with my group. And as the months went by and I did get feedback from others, I realized that sharing my writing with other people who have experienced grief could give others what I got from reading.

Initially, after Kiki died, I was just desperate to find writing by others who had gone through the loss of a child, who were experiencing that kind of grief, and I was in hopes of feeling a connection, feeling not alone in this terrible experience.

What's been the response from readers to your essay? The New York Times obviously has a huge reach.

It's been pretty mind blowing for me. I woke up at 3 a.m. in the morning that it came out, too excited to sleep. And I went online, and I saw that I already had emails from Switzerland, and Dubai and the Netherlands – people around the world that had read it. At this point, I'm still trying to work my way through them.

Many of them are from parents who have lost a child. Many of them are from people experiencing grief and loss. Our grief is universal. Each loss is unique and precious to that person. And I really do feel honored that so many people have taken the time to reach out, especially considering that that was my hope in writing in the first place – was to connect with other people.

Jackie Harris is the Morning Edition Producer at NHPR. She first joined NHPR in 2021 as the Morning Edition Fellow.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
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