Huntington Woods author sees her essays about child’s passing published

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published June 24, 2015

 Gabriella Burman stands outside her Huntington Woods home June 19 with her family, from left, Ilanit, 4 months; Ayelet, 8; Maayan, 6; and her husband, Adam. Burman had her chapbook of personal essays published after winning a writing contest.

Gabriella Burman stands outside her Huntington Woods home June 19 with her family, from left, Ilanit, 4 months; Ayelet, 8; Maayan, 6; and her husband, Adam. Burman had her chapbook of personal essays published after winning a writing contest.

Photo by Donna Agusti

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HUNTINGTON WOODS — Nothing can replace the loss of the Burmans’ oldest daughter, Michaela, who died in her sleep at the age of 5 in 2009. Michaela had cerebral palsy, but her passing was unexpected for a child who was, for all intents and purposes, healthy.


Nothing fills that void for Gabriella Burman, a 41-year-old Huntington Woods resident, but writing about her feelings has helped.


And with Michaela having two younger sisters, and now a third sibling with the birth of the Burmans’ fourth child, Gabriella Burman felt that writing would not only help her, but help Michaela’s memory live on with her siblings.


“While Michaela was alive, my husband and I were entirely devoted to helping her fill her potential,” Burman said. “She was a healthy child with a physical disability and required our assistance in daily life, but her death came as a complete shock. When she died, I felt compelled to write down the story of her life because it would be mostly through stories that (her siblings) would know their sister.”

Burman’s collection of personal essays have been compiled into a 48-page chapbook — a small collection of essays or poems that focus on a central theme — titled “Michaela.” And thanks to Michigan Writers Cooperative Press, the chapbook has been published after it was one of two winners of the organization’s annual chapbook contest.


“It is really something to hold your own work in your hands with your own copy,” Burman said. “When you see your words in print in a finished publication, especially the first time, you are really proud of yourself, and that is how I feel holding this book in my hands. It is by no way comprehensive of what we have gone through, but it gives the reader the very deep sense of this loss and the way it has shaped me.”


Burman has been writing her entire life, having majored in writing at Johns Hopkins University and spending several years as a journalist. She said she didn’t write as much when Michaela was alive, but when she started again, she was encouraged by other writers and professors to write nonfiction based on her family’s loss.


While most of the essays focus on the loss of Michaela, Burman said she touches on grief, disability, parenting and religion in her writing.


“A lot of books about grief and child loss are awful, so I hope this is a very honest and personal look into my grief,” she said. “Grief is the thread that links them all together, and I think when you are telling your story so personally, the reader will find his or her story, and in that way your story becomes universal.”


Through the process of making her essays ready to publish, Burman said she gained more distance when she had to read the same stories over and over, but she still struggles going through some of the stories about her daughter.


The winners of the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press chapbook contest were chosen by a panel of two judges. Judge Keith Taylor, an author and editor who teaches at the University of Michigan and directs the Bear River Writers Conference, said that “Michaela” focuses on the tragic loss through every page.


“(Gabriella Burman) never lets her readers forget the overwhelming loss that has shaped her, that continues to shape her, and she doesn’t let herself get away with any fatuous platitudes or easy answers,” Taylor said about picking the winners. “What we are left with is the example of endurance, and endurance assumes its own rough nobility.”


Through the essays, Burman hopes others can find hope or help when going through a loss of their own. But for her and her family, the publication of “Michaela” has helped her accomplish a lifelong goal and keep Michaela present in the Burman home.


“Being published is something I have aspired to do for my entire adult life, and I hope there are some more books in me so I can provide some solace to other parents who have lost a child,” she said. “And I hope people remember my daughter, because she continues to exist as a member of our family and is still very present in our lives.”


“Michaela” is available to purchase at www.amazon.com.

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