How Keeping a Diary Helps Both You and Your Loved Ones

Journaling is beneficial for airing your feelings. It is a private musing where you can write anything your heart desires. I highly recommend it, but diaries are helpful, too.

How keeping a diary helps your grieving process.

The photo above shows three of the forty-five diaries my mother kept. Although they have been in my possession for almost two years, I began reading them yesterday, Saturday. On Friday, I started feeling extra sad about the ninth anniversary of my father’s death, and I wanted to read what Mom wrote in her diary on that day.

The three of us were together at the dinner table when Dad experienced extremely labored breathing. As he sought relief, he experienced dizziness and difficulty standing and walking. I physically supported him as well as I could while Mom called 911.

Each year at this time, I read my story of his death and the aftermath, My Father’s Love: You’re One of the Good Ones, remembering how grief has its ups and downs.

What did Mom’s diary reveal about her grief?

Mom was a very private person who kept her feelings close. Her diaries are filled with minutia about what she ate, who called, or who she saw at the local cafe in The Trading Post. Mom never spoke about that day, but her life was irreparably changed as she wrote, “Swede started gasping and died at 5:45 pm.”

Perhaps writing this helped her organize her life in an orderly fashion she could manage, just as the daily recitation of meals helped her close each day before heading up the stairs to bed.

She read her entries occasionally after finishing the last book she borrowed weekly from the library. She noted the book’s title in her diary when she finished it. In addition, she kept a running list of all the books she read to avoid re-reading one.

Mom was a voracious reader, finishing six a week.

When she noted something each day, it was important to her. That is how I saw that her loneliness and grief were gnawing away at her personal security. She recorded how many mice she had caught in traps or if she had seen a mouse. Finally, in desperation, she got some rat poison, and the mouse problem was resolved.

Next came plumbing problems, with a stopped-up upstairs bathroom sink and a toilet that quit functioning. The final blow was her inability to lift up the heavy cattle gate at the driveway entrance. She was good about asking local friends to help her, but she began to feel like a burden. Swede would have taken care of all those problems when he was alive, so it was no wonder that she called out to me for help.

“I can’t live alone anymore, Dawn!”

I responded as quickly as I could, coming to help with everyday problems and then bringing her home with me, where she remained until she fell six years later.

How could it have been easier for Mom?

Communication was almost nonexistent in my family. We talked about lightweight subjects unless it was current events or the bonehead play in the latest college football game.

It might have been different if I asked simple questions.

“What was the highlight of your week in your diary, Mom?”

She might have tried to avoid answering, but I could have creatively pursued a fuller reply. Of course, I can’t relive the past, but I can act differently in my other relationships.

I’ll continue reading Mom’s diary entries, remembering events, and feeling her spirit around me. I know she loves me and enjoys hearing my voice when I comment on a new discovery of her love.

Now, her diaries are helping me in my grief.

Grief on the First Mother’s Day Afterward

Grief on the first Mother’s Day afterward surprised me. I ignored it, forgot it, and didn’t face the fact that my mother passed away last year. It’s an example of how I’ve used denial in my grief. Mother’s Day was never a time I looked forward to for myself. So, I always focused on Mom.

But she isn’t here now. The last time I saw her was almost a year ago.

But before that, on October 15, 2020, Mom and I ate at one of our favorite seafood restaurants, Crazy Fish, in Lake Wales, Florida. It’s such a noisy place. We were excited to sit outside in the coolness. Perhaps we laughed about one of her stories before I took our selfie above.

What Woke Me Up?

My sister posted a picture on social media of the last time she and my brother-in-law hugged Mom. I commented, “Today it hit me… the first Mother’s Day without Mom.

Rather Than Sit with My Emotion

Since I was on my laptop, I automatically checked my email and was startled to find an email inviting me to use to see if Mom ever made it to the paper. I became lost down the rabbit hole of looking up every closely related woman in the newspapers. It was a fantastic avoidance tactic.

But I also learned new things about my mother, grandmothers, and aunts. Also, I was reminded how different married life was for women a generation older than me.

To find newspaper articles about your mother’s generation successfully, search for “Mrs.” and their husband’s name. Only one person in my family used her name, my Aunt Lila Roads. And it was clear how she was different. Aunt Lila entered the business world, where she sought employment in administrative roles. Most of my other relatives were homemakers, and their mentions were on the social pages, which was a perfect place for women in the Deep South. So, since Aunt Lila and Uncle Mick moved to the more progressive state of California, she ended up in the newspaper.

What did I learn about Mom?

There were many articles about her engagement and wedding, but what intrigued me the most was an inquiry sent to The Tampa Tribune’s Food section’s “Recipes: Lost and Found.” She asked for a coconut cake recipe with coconut milk. And I found the responses!

This is interesting because my Mom’s sister, Carolyn, and I have discussed the long-standing hunt for their mother’s famous coconut cake recipe. Is this it? I think it has the basic ingredients, but my grandmother always used fresh coconut, often from West Palm Beach, Florida. After all, that’s where her mother lived, along with her older sister. There would have been a lot of love in those coconuts.

The hours I spent searching for newspaper articles never resulted in tears. It kept my mind busy and opened up new realizations. It helped me celebrate the memory of my mother rather than mourn the loss of her touch. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from the tears. So, I’m happy about that.

What About the Grief?

My grief feels like it’s in my face, especially right now with the reminder of Mother’s Day. While writing, I’ve taken many crying breaks. Letting the feelings flow out feels good, leaving room for the joy of happy memories.

And one truth exists for anyone mourning a loss. Ignoring or avoiding the deep feelings of grief are impediments to healing. And I want to heal.

What are Some Ways for You to Heal?

Writing your feelings down is a great way to get your grief moving. Choose a place where you feel safe to cry or even scream if that is what you need. Your path toward healing is uniquely you. There are no right or wrong ways to express grief.

Walk outside. Grief can make us feel isolated, so getting up and moving helps to lift your mood.

Deep breathing is always welcome.

Here is one of my favorite deep breathing methods.

    • Take a deep breath in, filling your lungs.
    • Take one more sip of air at the top of your breath.
    • Exhale with a big sigh, “Aaaaaaaaa,” as you release all the air.

I always feel better when I do any of these activities.

Here’s wishing you a peaceful weekend.

Sending you loving kindness,

You are a Beautiful Soul

Mom, you are a beautiful soul too. This was evident while planning her memorial service, especially as family and friends gathered to remember her.

You are a Beautiful Soul

Remember that you are a beautiful soul when you start feeling less than your perfection. Because when your life is done, it’s the memories of your beautiful soul that remains.

The First Decision

It was just me when Mom breathed her last. My husband passed three months and three days earlier. My sister had moved to be close to the birth of her first grandchild, and I had moved to a new life in North Carolina. That sounds as lonely as life can be, but there is a unique peace amid loneliness. It allows deep healing.

Waiting until the Saturday after Thanksgiving also gave me time to process the loss of my husband and mother. It helped make it a true celebration of her life. After that, the first decision of place was easy.

Texas, Alaska, and Florida cousins
Texas, Alaska, and Florida cousins

Mom grew up in Winter Haven, Florida. It was where she worshiped, and it was my birthplace. So many relatives were close, and those far away could get time off work. It seemed a perfect time.

Holiday Realities

My wedding was six years prior, also right after Thanksgiving. I conveniently forgot about the difficulties during the planning phase. It’s a time when businesses other than retail aren’t always available.

Catering became a hurdle in the week before Mom’s memorial. Suddenly, the restaurant closed for the holiday weekend. Scrambling over the phone with the church administrator, she found a last-minute substitute. Then the plan for dessert fell apart. A change from coconut custard pie to various cakes solved this latest snafu. Some of these calls were while I was at a gas station on my way to Florida the Thursday before Thanksgiving. Oddly, I wasn’t flustered by any of it.

Everything worked out beautifully. Some expected to attend but didn’t show, and a few new, treasured guests were able to make it.

Time Gave Me Space

Compared to my grief at my husband Wayne’s memorial, I felt almost blissful this time. Instead of hiding in the back room for grieving family, my sister and I welcomed guests in the church narthex. my son Larry and IHere’s a photo of my younger son, Larry, and me by the sign-in book. Since Mom had been using a weekly calendar as a diary, I chose to use the 2022 book, placing it next to her framed photo.

Many people mentioned how lovely the service was. Part of the success came from a long phone conversation with Pastor Reich. So many small details flowed forth as he asked me questions about Mom’s life. It was like a review of everything that I loved about her. He wove her personality and small acts of kindness into a fabric that was her life. It was then I realized, Mom, you are a beautiful soul.

I told my mother how much I loved her many times while caring for her during the last few years. And she reciprocated.

Take the time this week to tell someone you love them. Give them a warm hug if you can. If they are too far away, wrap your arms around yourself and say, “You are a beautiful soul.” And know that you are a beautiful soul too.