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.

Looking Back Has Merit – My Sixties

Talking about my birthday is not something I normally do, but this year, it has a purpose I couldn’t ignore.

A New Decade Birthday

Some people celebrate their birthday with a cake. I celebrate with fresh flowers that I buy and arrange. It’s like a double gift to myself. This quilt has many layers of meaning, but most importantly, almost all the material was in my fabric stash. I donated it to Mom’s friend, Lola, who made tied quilts for St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monte Vista, Colorado. Lola then pieced it into my favorite design, Log Cabin. Mom bought it for her guest bedroom, but now it is mine.

Looking back over ten years

As I lay awake at the end of the day before my 70th birthday, I naturally played the timeline of my 60s in my mind. It was both scary and hopeful.

Ten years ago, I considered signing up for psychic medium Kim Moore’s ten-month course “Psychic and Personal Development.” The only way I could consider it was to drop the first word, psychic. On the last day, I sent her an email asking to be her student. The nine women met every third Saturday. The classes were mostly at her business on South Wadsworth in Denver, Colorado. But we also gathered for a couple of excursions.

As I grew in understanding an alternative way of looking at life, my husband, Pablo, was sinking deeper and deeper into despair, which resulted in his suicide. Kim and my fellow students came to my home eight days later, and we cleared the energy together.

Perhaps I thought that would solve everything. So, I put it all behind me and sought a replacement relationship. Yes, I really did.

Please avoid my mistakes

My life before I turned 60 was filled with pleasing others and looking for someone to complete my life. At the time of Pablo’s suicide nine years ago, I had no idea how to grieve because I didn’t know who I was. It took almost nine years and the deaths of three more loved ones for me to start to discover answers.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

Rule 1 – It’s important to make time to grieve.

What does it mean to make time to grieve? When I finally allowed the emotions of grief to emerge fully, I took time after starting my day to revisit the feelings I had immediately after my losses. Before this, I was afraid to delve deep. It helped when I prayed for the strength to let go of control and the courage to start the process.

Each time, my deep crying was short-lived, perhaps a minute. But the relief and calmness afterward have never left me.

Since I was alone, there was no choice but to go through this alone. You may find that too scary. If you choose to have someone with you, let them know you want them there for moral support but to keep their distance unless you motion them to come to you. Alternatively, you may seek a therapist who specializes in grief or a grief coach.

Follow the path that feels right for you.

Rule 2 – Grief is a normal reaction to loss

Your friends might not know how to comfort you. This is also very common. If you want to be completely alone, that’s okay. If you have someone to run interference, that is ideal; a pastor or best friend comes to mind.

Final Thoughts

Give yourself time to work through all your feelings. But also permit yourself to find joy in beautiful memories, the kiss of a loving pet, or random acts of kindness that come your way. It’s okay to allow unexpected moments of joy to embrace you.

Four Empty Chairs

Do you have four empty chairs at your dining table?

Looking back, I have spent my adult life ensuring there was always someone, usually a husband, at my table. That equates to a lifetime of care-giving, and self-sacrifice.

Moving Forward

To move forward, we have to face our fears, and that includes our grief.

Are you afraid:

  • The grief will be so bad, that you’ll never stop crying
  • If you feel less grief, it means you don’t care anymore
  • Sudden, unexpected showers of tears will rain down
  • The grief will worsen if you let your emotions loose

Let me reassure you that grief is the normal reaction to loss. It can be unsettling, but it isn’t something to fear. However, if you have been diagnosed with clinical depression, you must see a licensed therapist.

Let’s Address the Fears

Crying is a way to release tension, anxiety, and grief. So that means, you will stop and feel better when it’s over. Grief doesn’t follow a prescribed pattern. It’s like a roller coaster of emotions, including extreme sadness and joy. It’s okay to laugh.

When grief starts to lose its grip, it doesn’t mean you don’t care. Rather, it means you are starting to heal. This is cause for celebration. And any judgment from others is not welcome. Nor should it be tolerated.

I’m afraid I’ll start crying in public! Well, that’s exactly what happened to me. I was conducting a Garden Tour at Bok Tower Gardens. It was at the end as I talked about the ironwork on the bridges across the moat. The memory of my father, who was a blacksmith, overpowered me. Thankfully, I was facing away from the tour group. Closing my eyes, I took a couple of slow breaths in and out. Then I finished the tour. Four people stayed behind to hug me and reassure me they understood. And it was also a wake-up call. I knew I needed help to heal my grief. I’m very emotional and still tear up at inopportune moments. But I have never felt bad about it. It’s just how I am.

When you express your grief and pain as deeply as you can, it not only allows healing, but it can even make it possible to switch your emotion from feeling sadness to reliving a joyful moment you shared with your loved one.

In Parting

You might find it helpful to set an empty chair at your table during this holiday season. Perhaps add a place card with their name and a favorite photo. Recalling fun times with your loved one might break the tension. And if someone starts crying, let them finish. Then, give them a reassuring hug.

I’d love to hear one of your cherished memories in the comments.