The Importance of Journaling

A simple search of your favorite internet search engine can produce many tips on “writing through grief.” I’m not going to bury you with more tips, instead I want to show you an example. This morning I wrote a piece that has far more potential than I have given it, because at the time that I experienced this I was not journaling. In writing memoirs, sometimes we just don’t have the energy to write, life gets us down, or we are just overwhelmed with time constraints and life. Yet, writing, drawing, or even taking pictures from magazines to reflect our emotions can be helpful to us later.

As I wrote a piece about my first experience with death, first hand. I was not and could not write at the time that this occurred, basically, I was being lazy. I would like you to read the below essay and think for yourself; how could I improve upon this? What if I had notes from this incident to refer back to? What kind of emotions am I trying to evoke and how could I go about doing this?

If you choose, you may post in the comments answering some or all of these questions, but if not, at least take the time to think it through so that you don’t repeat my mistake.

It was November 3, 2002 when I got the news, answering the phone I heard my sister, breathless, “Lee’s blood pressure and heart rate are dropping,” she informed me of her husband who had been sick for quite some time and was lying in a coma, at home. “Can you come over?” she asked as if it were necessary to pose a question. I was already putting my shoes and coat on.

The twenty minute drive took me about ten, but it felt like two years had passed by the time I arrived. No need for knocking, I just walked in and hugged my sister. Together we went to the bedroom, where I heard his death gurgle and I cried. I only had two things on my list to tell him, but I wasn’t sure he would hear me. I said them anyway, “Lee, I love you, and I hope that you will grace our lives in whatever way you can after death.”

The words fell into the empty air, I wanted to hug him, to show him the pain we were all witnessing, but I feared hurting him. As if it mattered, his pain had been frequent, his soul long ready to move on, only holding out for the rest of us to be ready.

As my tears flowed it dawned on me, I don’t want him to see me cry, because he might know and be pained by my show of love. I left the room, somehow I knew it was the last chance I had, yet comforted in the idea that he already knew everything I was thinking.

We knew this was going to be an all-nighter, and in somber silence we sipped our coffee. After a couple of minutes Linda returned to the bedroom to check his vitals, I watched from my perch upon the kitchen bar stool. It wasn’t the normal vital check though, she sat on the edge of the bed, pausing before dropping the blood pressure cuff, and placing her head on his chest. Thirty seconds later I heard the words I didn’t want to hear, “He just took his last breath, he’s gone!”

Rushing through the dining room I joined her in the bedroom with two of my niece’s running in behind me. There we stood, in shock of what we just saw. Slowly, Linda pulled the oxygen hose from behind his ears, and slid it off his face in a manner that showed she too was wondering if the moment to say goodbye had actually arrived.

It had, and it was more painful than anything I had ever witnessed. Picking up the phone she dialed hospice to let them know, within minutes a nurse was there to help prepare the body for the funeral home. Linda and the nurse quietly shut themselves in the room to save Lee his dignity, even in death he deserved that much.

The remaining family members returned to the kitchen to continue our somber silence and sip our coffee. When Linda and the nurse were done we were invited in to say our final goodbyes, I rushed in, expecting to see him as the countless other bodies I’ve seen in caskets, lying there appearing to be asleep. Instead I saw the blue tint of the man he once was, the shock of death freaked me out and I ran from the room, just behind my nieces who seemed to have the same reaction to our first viewing of a body without three inches of make-up carelessly applied by some overpaid undertaker.

As the three of us stood in a hug, with tears freely flowing, no words were needed, each of us knew we had just been immersed into life and death, lost love with only memories to bind us to him. There would be no more laughter with him, no more special moments, just us and the memory of him.

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Reviewing those written memories

I was up late last night and decided to read through some of the stories that I have written. Some became many and soon I noticed an underlying theme, as a character I always come out the victim of life or circumstance.

This theme is based on a belief inadvertently imposed upon my young mind somewhere between birth and age five. The belief is that females are the weaker gender. Though I don’t believe that to be true it seems as though a majority of my writing puts this belief across to the reader.

It is easy enough to do, our parents are handed beliefs at birth, as were their parents and so on. We are spoon-fed these, though deep down we may not believe them, yet in reality we might be portraying that we do.

Personally, I believe I have subconsciously done this as a way of keeping my place in the family immortalized as others see me, or are supposed to see me. This action is unfair to me as a human being, and to my readers. My writing loses its authenticity because it is not mine, it is me regurgitating someone else’s perception of me as a person. This would be the exact opposite of what memoir writing is all about. 

My task now is to examine, I mean really tear down, every story and be sure that I am doing my life a good turn by writing in my own words and spending less time worrying about how others have perceived me. 

I challenge you to do the same, to really notice your underlying theme, to be true to yourself, to respect yourself, and write the way it is, rather than the way it is supposed to be.

My Inner Critic

I had just walked in the door from school, before I even opened the front door I could hear Mom yelling. I should have just walked away, but I could tell the yelling was coming from my room, and my 14 year old mind knew it had to have the last word.

Approaching from behind I thought I could sneak up on her, but the floorboards creaked and she spun on her foot to direct her rant at some place other than the wall. “What are these?” she yelled as a not so friendly greeting. “What are they?”

She held in her hands a lot of notes that I had written. To my mind there was nothing bad in them, maybe a bit personal, but nothing bad. “It looks like you read them all, so why don’t you tell me?” my mouth shot out before my brain could stop it.

Still screaming she quoted my carefully written cursive as to attest to the evil that laid in her hands.

“What’s the problem? Obviously I didn’t give them to him, so I don’t see a problem!”

Those words earned me a slap across the face, probably long after I deserved it for talking back, but my mind raced with a retort to her violent outburst, “You’re a bitch!” I screamed at Mom.

I think she was too mad to respond, if she had, I’m certain I wouldn’t have lived to tell the story. Oh, wait, she did kind of respond … she grabbed my head, held it toward the light and examined my eyes, “Are you high?”

No, I wasn’t, unless you count really pissed about my privacy being intruded upon as a high on life sort of thing.

For once I let her have the final word, “If you don’t want anyone to read it, then you shouldn’t write it.” The words have rang in my mind for decades. I often wonder how I can write what I write with that constant reminder. Last night it dawned on me, I can’t … sure, I can write facts, I might even make you laugh, but have I ever brought you to tears when I’ve written the facts? My guess is “no.” That’s because, as other writers have pointed out, I can’t get to the emotion, I miss it almost every time, unless it is humor.

Mom passed away eight years ago, and still her warning shadows everything that I write. Especially now that I am staying in her home. It is amazing how just a few words can inhibit someone’s abilities. So last night I sat down and wrote what I would say to her if she were still alive, “You are welcome to spend lots of time with me, but you are no longer welcome to read what I write. You are to critical … judgmental … overbearing.”

Since then I have approached tons of subjects that I feel I can write with emotion, but haven’t had time to write them. However, my list of memories has grown from 144 to 437 since last night. I have realized that this memory has crippled my ability to write for a long time, and maybe it is time that I get to have the final word.