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Journaling Your Memories
Good question - why write about your memories? Rather than just speculate with random hypothetical situations, I would prefer to draw upon my own experience.
My mother's extended illness and then her death left me deeply grieving. My mother had been a Christian and I was not worried about her eternal destination; in fact, that knowledge was the only thing that comforted me. Still, I was lost without her. My grief further deepened when I was struck with the reality that I could never ask for her advice, or share a recipe, or take her out to eat, etc. A bit later, I came across all sorts of very old photographs of hers, and most of the subjects of those photos were unknown to me. I didn't know a soul who could help me identify them. It seemed like each passing day became more difficult instead of less so. I had grieved before, but not to this extent.
On one particular afternoon I came through the fog enough to make a decision of sorts. I didn't want my daughter to experience this total sense of loss one day after I was gone. I felt an urgency to begin a journal for her - of things important to me from my childhood, of things important in our family, handed-down hints and tips about this and that, etc. So, this was my "why."
How to Begin
Okay, I knew what I wanted to do, but had no idea how to begin. For one thing, I was having difficulty remembering anything about my "family life" apart from my father's lung cancer and cantankerousness (is that even a word?) and my mother's years-long illness and the agonizing decisions I found myself making at the end.
I did some Internet research and found a message board that seemed appropriate. After posting a question about how to begin, someone suggested using a universal topic, something with which every person on earth can identify: food. Food? I remember thinking how silly that sounded, but I decided to give it a try. I refused to use one of my pretty journals until I knew that this project was going to work. Instead, I went to my wonderful stack of super-inexpensive one-subject composition books and voila - birth of my "practice" journal. If I found the venture to be successful, I'd start a "real" one in a pretty journal, maybe the one with the suede cover.
The first question for this journal was "what's your favorite food?" Okay, that was easy. Chicken - fried, baked, stewed, any way you can make it - chicken. Now - "who made it for you - and for what occasion(s)?" Mama, of course, and usually after church for Sunday "dinner" (the southern countryfied woman's term for lunch.) While writing about those flavorful memories, my mind wandered, quite naturally, and remember that fried chicken had always been a favorite food at our annual family reunions at a little country church nestled in the mountains. There the kids would eat and play while the grownups listened to various southern gospel music groups and other folks sing the rest of the afternoon.
As my memories clucked right along, I recalled there were various gatherings for chicken stew in the fall. We would be invited to someone's home where a huge black kettle would be cooking over an open fire in their back yard. We'd take our own bowls and spoons, and the host provided the chicken stew, "light" bread and drinks. I recall quite vividly the butter floating on top of the delectable stew and how later all the kids would play tag and capture lightning bugs in jars which were magically provided by someone still unknown to me.
Let me tell you, folks, I began to feel myself lifting from that low, low point. My GOOD memories began to break through all the heartbreaking ones. How wonderful it was to remember how much my mother loved watermelon and how she would give each of us a huge slice to eat in the back yard. Of course, we'd spit the seeds into the grass, and before long some of those seeds would actually sprout! The journal I was trying to begin for my daughter was also helping me with my grief, and I couldn't write fast enough! I was remembering all sorts of family memories and one day my daughter can read all about them. It's odd how a simple topic of food can spur so many memories. After all, most events, special and otherwise, include food, don't they? Whether you were catching lightning bugs or spitting watermelon seeds, those are memories just waiting to be dusted off and shared. Once those memories start finding their way to the surface, others will follow so quickly you'll need to keep a notepad close by to record ideas for future journal entries.
To be sure, each person's past is unique. There are surely plenty of painful memories and you might feel totally depleted for a bit after writing about those. Still, writing about the good, the bad and the ugly is cathartic.
For me, remembering a time when we went to bed with our doors unlocked, standing in just the right spot for the television reception to be clear, and having ice cream one Saturday night a month at Farmer's Dairy was just what I needed - for myself and my daughter, too. Who knows, maybe even my grandchildren will read my memories journals. I hope they enjoy the composition books. :) I was so comfortable writing in the first one, I continued using them afterwards!
Also, if you're interested in doing so, you might consider volunteering at a nursing home or similar facility and help a patient or resident put together a memories journal. Just think of all the rich stories waiting to be rediscovered and recorded. What a treasure you could help provide for someone and his or her loved ones. A call to the facility's activities coordinator would be a great starting point.
Why not begin a memories journal of your own? And while you're thinking about it, would you please pass the chicken?
Photo of Mom's Journals courtesy of Melissa Martin
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