Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Letters to Your Loved Ones: Memorial Journaling

We knew he was dying. Our fourteen year old son would never see fifteen. We didn't know how much time we had left with him, but we knew it was precious. And we wanted to capture as much of it as we possibly could. So we passed around a journal and invited everyone who knew Chris to write. Some wrote to Chris; some wrote about him.

Those memories from others are a priceless gift. They opened a window that we would not have been able to peek through without help.

At first some folks hesitated; they thought that they had to write something profound or eloquent, but the opposite was true. I cherish the uncomplicated comments. One of my favorite entries was from a school cafeteria worker.

"...All of a sudden this very cute and sweet freckle faced second grade boy came skipping out of the room and handed me a little chocolate heart and said, "Happy Valentine' s Day, Mrs. Hubbard!"

It was so simple, so every-day, so Chris.

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Some writers captured Chris's antics:

"...You would hide under the computer stand unbeknownst to me...I'd walk all the way back upstairs to (look in) Mrs. Bowan's room...I'd go back and forth. Finally I'd hear a giggle..."

"...I also remember one day when Chris called me as I walked by his room and  he acted like he had vomit on his table. I ran to get towels and he started to laugh as he showed me the fake vomit he had ...He got me good!"

Those entries allowed us to become the proverbial 'fly on the wall'.

Do you know someone who is dying or recently passed? Please consider the gift of journaling. If you are not up to it, get someone else to do it. Lots of your friends and family may be asking, "Is there anything I can do?" Tell them to go to Walmart, buy a journal, and pass it around.

"Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book!

The front page should contain the directions instructing the writers to jot down a favorite memory, and it should include contact information for the person in charge. Each person should be given a deadline when it is to be returned to the contact person. For folks who prefer email or messaging those can be printed and pasted into the book. This is effective for loved ones who live far away. The journal can be decorative or simple. It's what 's inside that is important. A copybook is better than a spiral as the pages do not tear easily, and the pages should be large enough to accommodate cursive as well as printed material

Organize the book sharing for maximum convenience. Since our Chris was a cancer patient and had spent years building relationships with the medical staff at the children' hospital and the volunteers at The Ronald McDonald House, we started there. We set a time frame and let everyone know that the journal was being circulated. After that, I took the journal to his school and had all of the staff and teachers write.

If your family member is young allow classmates to share. If your loved one is older and enjoyed a career, colleagues at their place of employment can pen some gems that offer treasured insights. Did your loved one belong to a church, professional or volunteer organization, or a military unit? Offer those connections an opportunity to write.

You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men;

Be patient. Some people may decline. Try not to take it personally. Encourage folks to write from the heart and not to worry about spelling and grammar. It may take several weeks or even months for your journal to make the rounds. It's worth the wait!

We had family write in the journal last, but the order is entirely up to you. I did it for practical reasons, because, without Chris, we no longer had much, if any, interaction with the other institutions. I wanted to catch them when their memories were fresh.

Nowadays with so much social media and video recording a simple journal may seem outdated, but I couldn't disagree more. For one thing, it is sometimes difficult for the bereaved to watch videos. And many such recordings aren't very candid. The subject is often performing for the benefit of the camera.

In my opinion, the written word is so much more intimate. Each journal entry tells a special story from that person's unique perspective. We can glimpse the life of our loved one as others saw him. The writings also highlight how our dear ones touched those lives, many times in ways we never would have known!

"...Being his schoolteacher and homebound teacher in fifth grade were special experiences I will cherish always. My time with Chris was a blessing to me...He was the first student to utilize my pig mailbox by sending me a note...whenever he came to visit he always left me a note...he helped me teach two entire homeroom classes about courage and compassion..."

Those journal entries remind me that my son's life mattered, and that he was here for a reason. They remind me of my blessings. I can't promise that journaling will do the same for you, but I'd be very surprised if it didn't.

Perhaps your beloved subject is very elderly and has no contemporaries to share thoughts. Loving memories from younger generations can be recorded. If possible, find someone to interview them about their life and record it in the journal.

One final reason to collect stories is to benefit those who can't read them yet. What a wonderful family legacy to leave for children and grandchildren!

This will be written for the generation to come, That a people yet to be created may praise the LORD.

Recently, we lost our second son, Jarrod. Unlike Chris, who knew his time on earth was limited, Jarrod's loss was sudden. There was no time to prepare, no time to reflect beforehand. I will be collecting memories nonetheless.  Many will be printed e-mails that I will lovingly glue into a very special journal of love.

Our Jarrod

Whether your loss is imminent, sudden, or has come after a long illness, a memorial journal is a priceless treasure, and it will also give others the opportunity to participate in the healing process.