Writing My Way Through Tough Times

Writing my way through tough times.

If we live long enough, we all experience heartache at some time or another. It might be in the form of a breakup, or it might be in the loss of a loved one. I experienced a few breakups as I grew up, just like most everyone else, but my first big, real heartache was when my daddy was diagnosed with and eventually died of pancreatic cancer in 2006.

He was officially diagnosed in February of that year, and he died on October 2 of the same year. Today is the 16th anniversary of his death…a tough day for me, and a reminder of the heartache I managed to survive. I suffered. It was the most painful thing I had ever experienced…losing my daddy. I was the mother of a toddler, but I was afraid I was losing my mind. I made lots of plans, because I thought I needed to stay busy. I ran myself ragged. But I learned.

When my mother fell ill 11 years later, my friend, Angela, who has also lost her father, said, “Get ready. It’s going to be tough when you lose her.” I vividly remember turning to her, saying, “It’s going to be tough, for sure, but I feel like I learned something when Daddy died. I feel like I developed some coping skills.” And after Mother passed, I learned I had, in fact, developed some coping skills. I had learned not to run from it. I had learned from my experience with Daddy’s death that I needed to just drop out of the world for a little while and process it. So that’s what I did after Mother died. I have written about it before. I literally gave myself permission to recover quietly and cancelled all plans and went to bed for a month. Don’t get me wrong. I was functional. But I didn’t feel like being social, so I wasn’t. I did what I needed to do for our daughter, but for the most part, I stayed home. And after a month, I “pulled up my bootstraps” and rejoined the living.

For Christmas that year, I had received a gift from a friend. It was a book called My Future Listography: All I Hope to do in Lists. When I received the gift, I thought it was cool, but when Mother died five days after Christmas, the book took on more meaning. It’s a journal, of sorts, and it’s part of a series of Listography books. Each one contains lists to fill in, and this one is full of lists about the future. Examples of some of the lists: What countries do you want to visit? What films do you want to see? What fictional characters would you like to hang out with? But after Mother died, the book became good therapy for me. Sounds crazy, but it gave me things to think about in the future. It made me see past the state of gloom I was in and look to the future. It really helped me move through the grief. It helped me realize that the act of putting my thoughts out there could help me heal. To order My Future Listography, click here.

And because of that, I started my blog. Writing things down…or typing them, in the case of the blog…was therapeutic! My Future Listography had brought me through the initial trauma of losing my mother, and writing the blog helpted me continue to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Since losing my Mother on December 30, 2017, I have given copies of My Future Listography to lots of friends when they have been going through tough times…breakups, death of a loved one, or even new empty-nesters who are having a hard time. Sometimes, they look at me like it’s a weird gift, and maybe it is…but several times, people have called me later to tell me how much it helped them keep putting one foot in front of the other…keep looking toward the future. We know time helps with heartache, but knowing there is life ahead of the heartache can help too. When someone is in the middle of grief or heartache, they aren’t necessarily thinking about the good things ahead, but this journal can help them see what the future might look like.

I have a friend who went through a terrible breakup two years ago, and I gave her a copy after the relationship ended. There’s something about a relationship ending that can seem particularly dismal. It can feel like everything you believed about someone was wrong…a lie. Later, we realize that’s not always the case; sometimes, there are just extenuating circumstances that cause relationships to end. And as with my friend, sometimes we need to be reminded that there is a bright future ahead. She called me months after the breakup and told me the journal of lists had helped her. Now, I keep a few handy to give as gifts, because you never know when someone you love is going to experience something bad.

Sometimes, we just need a reminder that better things lie ahead.

Keeping a Coronavirus “Wartime” Journal

Keeping a coronavirus “wartime” journal.

I do think of this pandemic as wartime. We are waging a war against an unseen enemy…COVID-19. When our country has been at war in the past, we could see our enemies, but now…the enemy is all around; we just don’t know where.

We are prisoners in our own homes. Our children are missing out on real school…learning online, but missing their friends, their sports, and their social lives. Those who are supposed to graduate from high school are missing out on more…”lasts,” proms, and graduations, even.

During the “greatest generation,” people wrote letters…snail mail, real letters with pen and paper. For lots of people, that is their historical record of what happened during those days. People don’t write a lot of snail mail these days, so it’s not likely we’ll have that type of historical record of this “war.” And then there was Anne Frank, who wrote in her diary about her days in hiding with her family during the war…an historical record, for sure.

I was talking with my teenage daughter today and told her she needed to start keeping a daily journal of her thoughts, her feelings, and her activities during this pandemic. She likely thought it was a weird mom idea, but she agreed, nonetheless. At first, I was searching through the house for an unused composition notebook or spiral notebook for her to used as a journal, but after having no luck, I realized she doesn’t need a notebook. All she needs is her computer. She’ll be more likely to keep a journal on her computer. And her private thoughts are probably safer there anyway. I’m planning to keep my own journal on my computer too, simply because I know I’d be likely to misplace a journal, but I’m not going to misplace my computer. We can print our pages daily and bind them later.

Journaling, in my opinion, is a good idea anyway…in “normal” life. It’s relaxing, and I have found, in my past, that it was therapeutic. Sometimes, if I write down my feelings, I can get some clarity. Maybe I realize what I’m feeling is ridiculous, or maybe I realize my feelings are justified, but either way, it is helpful. As for journaling during this pandemic, I suggested to my daughter that we write something every day. It doesn’t even have to be meaningful…just something. But I reminded her we need to count our blessings. Sure, we can complain and write the facts about the pandemic…how many are infected, how many have died, all the restrictions to daily life, the shortages…but we need to write about the things we enjoy too and how we feel every day.

Take, for example, how fortunate we are that today is a beautiful day…75 degrees and sunny…in Charlotte. We are fortunate to have a backyard pool, where we can lounge and soak up the sun…something that is very good for improving mood, by the way. Roses are beginning to bloom on the back patio, and trees are growing thicker with bright green leaves every day. We are fortunate to have plenty of food in the pantry. And yes, plenty of toilet paper and Clorox wipes. And as far as we know, we do not have the dreaded coronavirus. Digging deeper into our situation, I might write that I’m beginning to feel really uneasy about the way the world is now. Will our economy ever rebound? Will we forget who we are while we’re all hunkered down in fear of the invisible virus? Will we be fearful of each other after this? Will we be afraid to travel?

Hopefully, my daughter will join me in journaling these crazy days in world history. I told her it’s likely her children won’t believe what we have been doing and will likely continue to do for the next few weeks, possibly months. Hopefully not months, though…seriously…hopefully not months. Her kids likely won’t believe people were hoarding toilet paper, paper towels, and groceries. They will likely be perplexed when she tells them airlines had to cut way back on flights, and people were wearing all kinds of crazy getups to “essential” stores. Hopefully, she will laugh when she tells them we made regular trips to the Krispy Kreme drive-thru, since thankfully, doughnuts are considered “essential.” Oh, I hope my daughter remembers to write all the funny stuff.

And after we write our own little historical records, I will say a prayer of thanks and forgiveness, and I will ask Him to keep us safe and end this pandemic as soon as possible.