Grief Interrupted: Writing My Father’s Life

G. Thomas Couser


In the fall of 1974, my mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 65; about eight months later, my father succumbed to depression at 69. The job of cleaning out the house in which I had grown up fell to me. My labors were rewarded by the discovery of a trove of personal documents—mostly personal  letters— in my father’s closet. At the time, too traumatized to engage with them, I skimmed, sorted, boxed, and stored them. It took me more than thirty years to open that box and absorb its contents. My rediscovery of this archive significantly affected my relation to the field of life writing, to which I had devoted my academic career. It greatly enhanced my appreciation of correspondence: I finally “get” letters. And the rich material impelled me to compose a memoir of my father. Doing so made me face ethical issues from a novel perspective. Moreover, writing my father’s story has helped me understand how a traumatic sequence of events when I was 28 has directed and shaped my academic work from the beginning.


This article was submitted to the European Journal of Life Writing on August 29th 2015 and published on June 22nd 2016.


Grief, memoir, genre, patriography, depression, immigration, life-writing ethics

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Copyright (c) 2016 G. Thomas Couser

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European Journal of Life Writing - ISSN 1876-8156 - is an open access initiative supported by the VU University Library.