I often find that the most difficult times in my life have also been the times when it’s easiest to be a writer. As a playwright, letting the words flow through the filter of a character I’ve created helps me gain some perspective on the situation at hand. This has never been truer than in April 2011, when my younger brother Craigen died unexpectedly in an accident. We were good friends as well as siblings, and I knew the only way I would be able to process the grief of losing him would be through writing.
Craigen was a thoughtful, funny and talented young man. He would call me almost every day to tell me about something beautiful he had seen or an interesting fact he had read somewhere. I had an endless supply of emails from him with various links to videos or poems or photos he loved.
His passing left a large hole in each of my days. He died on the day before the anniversary of our father’s death, and I couldn’t help but reflect not only on these two people I loved dearly, but also on the process of grief itself. So I turned to a play I had been struggling with for some time and refocused it on my personal experience. I wanted the play not just to be about the sadness that comes with the loss of a loved one but also the confusion and anger, the revisionist history and the rawness.
In the initial weeks after losing Craigen, I spent most of my days watching nature shows and poring through the emails and voicemails he had sent me. I worked on the script whenever I needed an outlet and wrote the scenes out of order, as I was feeling them. What I ended up with was my play “The Deer,” which parallels the lives of a human and an animal after an accident. I was really interested in creating an atmosphere where lines overlap and memories may or may not be accurate. I wanted to use nature to show how death is partly a tragic circumstance and partly a fact of life. In the play the main character states, “It all sort of comes at once, doesn’t it?” which is about the most succinct way I could manage to explain how I was feeling after such a difficult loss.
My hope is that upon viewing this play, people will not just see the hard parts associated with grief, but the entire journey. The show ends with the notion that while the sting of loss may never fully leave you, there are people on the other side of your pain to guide you out once you are ready — and if you let them. Even though this play deals with my personal experience, it’s my hope that I’m touching on a universal theme that everyone who has experienced loss can tap into. For me personally, it began as a way to keep my brother near me, and has evolved into a lovely way to finally let him go.
The Deer runs April 13-May 11 at Collaboraction (1579 N. Milwaukee). For tickets and more information, visit Thedeer.bpt.me.