Journaling my way

May 31, 2021

Journaling from grieving to grateful

The buzz of silence rang in my ears, and I smiled, humming the melody of “all that jazz” from the Chicago musical we had just finished watching. Chelsea plodded up to bed and my mother-in-law, Jane, drove home as I walked through the house tidying our mess. With the boys off camping, the three of us girls had enjoyed an evening together with dinner and a movie. After everything was picked up, I slipped down to the basement to admire my newly updated craft room. With each transformation, it was becoming my favorite place to create and process my grief. 

As I stood beholden of the room and the progress I have made, the ringing phone interrupted my thoughts. I bolted up the steps two at a time to silence the ring and not wake Chelsea. “Hello,” I answered quietly and heard the quivering voice of my best friend Lisa. This day had marked the one-year anniversary of our siblings dating, but as she shared the update told by her sister, I grew to understand this was not our usual chat about family. Grasping the fear in her voice, I listened intently as Lisa explained the ominous news. My brother Joe had a seizure on their date at a drive-in movie theater. And as I stood frozen with fear, he was being rushed by ambulance to the hospital. 

Not again, I thought as my mind returned to the unprocessed grief of losing my fifty-three-year-old father in 1998 and the sudden loss of my five-year-old son Ryan five years prior in 1993. We were, at the chasm of another 5-years mark, and the heaviness of that truth made breathing impossible. Panicked, I notified my siblings and attempted to reach my husband at his camp site, then ran out into the night, struggling to slow my thoughts. 

Grief had been a tsunami to process, and before I could grasp one loss, another swept in. Now, as I attempted to comprehend the news of my brother, my logic dove to losing him and with that loss, my escape. Throughout the years, running from anguish became repetitive, I left, even when my only option was to shelter in another room. Sitting still made it real and escaping became my remedy to sidestep the pain.

Eventually I dissected this pattern of avoidance, but not before many years of stumbling. This practice of leaving to escape the grief, fostered my need to disconnect. And the longer I remained hidden, the easier my habit grew with alcohol. The spiral that began with the numbing from a glass of wine, slowly twisting into a desperate need to withdraw. Alcohol muddled the truth I could not face, with years of denial. 

As I drifted back to my haze of denial, my brother Joe remained at the hospital for three more weeks in a medically induced coma. Still unsure of his chance for survival, we shuffled to and from the hospital daily. When he was finally strong enough to undergo surgery to fix the ruptured brain aneurysm they had found, we gathered in the waiting room. After the surgery began, my sister and I left to grab coffee for the group and hunker down for the 3–5-hour surgery. 

As we returned to the hallway of the waiting room, my stomach lurched as I recognized the guttural sobs of my mother, entering we learned the devastating news. As soon as the surgeon removed the scar tissue to clamp the aneurysm it ruptured. Joe died the next day. 

The painful reality of his demise reinforced another reason for avoidance, stealing the hope I started to believe in. Loss renewed the justification to remain still, with its constant wave of heartache coaxing me towards the belly of depression. My desire to participate in life frayed as I disconnected once more. 

Throughout the many years of grieving, I learned to keep myself busy with a routine of daily chores. Growing accustomed to the monotonous way each day would start and end. Numb to the joy I had felt, I moved past my once coveted craft room without a glance. Time muddled by, until one day I paused to notice a journal almost waiting for me just inside my craft room. Breaking my reverie, I moved on while my heart tugged me backwards. Days later I picked up the journal and sensed a hint of joy reflecting on the me I once was. That moment became the first ember of light smoldering beneath the darkness. 

Afterwards, each nudge to create provided an early voice to my pain. A sliver of encouragement that moved me forward. At first, my desire to be constructive appeared in fits and starts. But for the first time in years, instead of fleeing, I found comfort in this space. Writing created the first step to my restoration, and as I journaled my anguish I was lost in the flow of creativity. These small steps provided a shift in my healing, allowing hope to surface once more. 

In order to expose my grief, instead of avoiding it, I discovered ways to creatively express emotions without seeking alcohol to mask them. A measurable piece in the start of my journey included abstaining from alcohol for thirty days. With compassion as my guide, I could lean into my sorrow in small doses. 

Eventually I began sharing the stories from the pages of my journal, providing another means to process my grief by unraveling thoughts in constructive ways that nurtured my soul.  Each story of pain and joy amplified my view of life nudging me towards gratitude. With hindsight and my journals, my outlook on life improved and a practice of gratitude developed.

Still, after all these years, I catch myself looking for my escape, and sometimes I find it. But now, with awareness, I follow those feelings, knowing my creative spirit needs a balance of both escaping and encouragement, and with these small measures, I can heal. Creativity helped me emerge from the depths of despair one day, one word, one story at a time. Illuminating the path back to my soul where hope and gratitude could flourish. 

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