Journal Keeping for Health and Productivity

Even though my husband Paul was terminally ill, and I was prepared for his death in 2006, it was still very difficult to adjust to this loss at that time. Journaling helped me to communicate, sort through, and explore what was going on in my mind.

Journaling was an easy practice for me to follow and maintain. I journaled periodically after my father died more than thirty years ago but didn’t stick with it long enough to fully address my feelings of loss and helplessness. When Paul died, however, I would write down my thoughts each night for the first few months.

Paul had cancer that spread to his liver and passed away almost six months after he was diagnosed. Initially, I set aside a certain time each night that was exclusively devoted to journaling. I continued to write in my journal on an occasional basis more than a year after his passing.

Although I didn’t realize it, that initial routine helped me to handle daily responsibilities more effectively because it gave me the opportunity to focus on grief outside my working hours. I was working full time and taking care of my teenage daughter when Paul died. Journaling was my private time to communicate with Paul and reflect on how I was going to manage my life without him.

Each night at 10:30, before I went to sleep, I would write a letter to Paul and describe my day and emotions. I’d go through the usual conversations that I might have had with him if he had been alive. At times, my letters were very sad. I’d ask him questions like, “Why did you have to die so soon?”

I’d describe the day’s events, whether it involved telling him about how I tackled a project at work or how the Boston Red Sox had done that day. He was a big Red Sox fan, and one of the last things he said to me while he was still able to speak was, “Did the Red Sox win the big game?” Even when they lost, I would tell him the Red Sox were doing fine. After all, why upset a dying man who has worshipped his favorite team his entire life?

One benefit of journaling for me was gaining the opportunity to ask Paul, the special person in my life, any questions that I didn’t get to ask during his lifetime. It was an immense help in my coping with the unfinished business left painfully behind after the death of a loved one.

The journaling allowed me to process regrets, “such as I wish I could’ve done more to prevent his death,” even though these thoughts commonly burden survivors. My journal allowed me to get these painful worries, ideas, and emotions out of my head. These feelings and thoughts had a place to go outside my head — to my journal. It allowed me to be mentally present for the challenge as a survivor after the death of a loved one,

My recordings allowed me to be more present instead of being preoccupied and somewhere else. I essentially was able to free up space in my brain, like offloading memory to a flash drive, so that I could focus on the things in front of me and move forward. What might seem like a one way of writing and recording thoughts and feeling, actually, for me, was a two-way dialogue with my lost loved one. I got clarity and answers as if I were directly talking to my deceased husband. I would imagine myself in Paul’s shoes and think about how he would respond, and then I would have my answer or the direction I could consider taking.

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