When I was 29, I picked up my pen and began journaling for the first time. (Huge shifts always come for me in the years ending in nine.)
As I started writing this blog, I wondered why I started journaling. And then I remembered that I was 29 when I ended a profound intimate relationship. I first turned to the journal for understanding and healing. Through much of it, this man, who was older than me, had encouraged me to communicate my deepest emotions — things I couldn’t say to him — through letter writing.
Writing those deeply personal letters had helped me to sort through so much emotion and come to understandings about myself about how I viewed relationships. I had so much more to work through and the journal was there.
As I recall, the general themes of my journal entries were about longing for love, what I had learned about my strengths and my sexual power as I moved through the intense relationship I had been in, finally acknowledging the hurt I had denied my entire adult life about my childhood, yearning for spirituality and stepping into my wild woman-ness.
Journaling gave me the first inkling that I wasn’t going to have the traditional life that most women seemed to and I thought I so desperately wanted. Through this writing, I came to realize that not having children was a viable choice. While I yearned for a loving relationship, I ran from any that were possible. I kept searching for the dream and the more I searched the more I saw that I was called to a bigger life than I ever thought it could be.
But I was afraid to make the big changes I was being called to make. I was afraid of what and whom I would be asked to let go from my life. I was afraid of the unknown path that was ahead of me. I turned away from the possibility of the life that was calling and my journal entries became shallower and shallower until I was essentially writing a diary of what I did in my day.
That is, until my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She phoned me just a week before my thirtieth birthday in May. The spectre of her mortality hung over everything like a big grey thundercloud. Because her breast lump was so large, my mother had a barrage of medical tests, but they could find no evidence it had spread beyond her lymph nodes. It felt like a miracle that her course of treatment would require only a mastectomy and radiation therapy.
As soon as Mom called me, I went straight to my journal. For months I filled the pages with pain and fear as I waded through what it would mean to lose a parent, and then to relief that she would be spared.
Or so we thought. By February of the following year, my mother’s breast cancer — which had released a few stray cells through her lymph system into her bloodstream that settled into her liver and pelvic bones — was discovered.
A cure was no longer possible, but reducing the tumor so she could live longer, and then making her comfortable for as long as possible, became the goal. When she finally went into the hospital and then palliative care in November 2002, our family knew she was at the end.
My immediate and extended family gathered around her, seeing her through to the end. And during those three weeks, I wrote almost non-stop, pouring my grief and fears of losing my mother onto page after page of my journal.
Journaling allowed me to clear the fog long enough to see that there were so many incredible moments of deep grace, dignity, and courage in my mother’s dying. I saw that death, as ugly as it can be, was also gorgeously beautiful and a rite of passage that eased my own fears about death.
When Mom surrendered, my sister was on the phone with me and described her final moments — her blue eyes blazing as she opened them for the last time, looking beyond and smiling as she was called home — I see it and feel as though I was right there with her.
I’m incredibly grateful for journaling and its healing power. I don’t honestly know how I would have managed my fear and unresolved feeling about my mother, death, and my family if I hadn’t had my journal to hear my sadness.
HERE'S WHAT I KNOW TO BE TRUE
Journaling can be a lifesaver — and I mean that literally. It is a self-care gift that takes our pain, our confusion and leads us through understandings when all we feel is powerless.
I often think about the wondrous ways in which the Universe works. I’ve said before that I believe our soul decides the lessons and experiences it wants to happen before we are born — we decide our own fate. But it’s the job of the infinite energy of the Universe to fulfill our agreement and lead us to the places, events, signs, and opportunities along our life’s path.
We are born and for those first years we are truly powerless — those who have the job of raising us, shape our lives and set the stage for who and what we are fated to experience and learn. Sometimes it’s horrific, sometimes mostly good, but I don’t know anyone who passes through childhood and early adulthood without some trauma.
Pain is pain, so I ask you not to diminish yours because others are higher on the suffering scale. We all feel the effects of what was passed onto us by our parents, schooling, religion, and the experiences we signed up for before we came into our lives.
But, as adults, the rest is more or less up to us. Every life shifting event that happens to us is actually happening for us — to give notice that we need to pay attention and make changes. Yes, we have a life that is fated for us before we are born, but we shape our destiny by deciding what we make of the things that happen for us. We shape who and what we become by our choices.
We can choose to shake our fist at the sky and wail, “why did this happen to me?” and we can choose to feel victimized by circumstances we cannot change. We can choose to spend weeks, months, years, a lifetime, fighting against what happened, or eventually say to ourselves, “Okay, this happened, now what can I do to move through this and what lessons can I take from what happened?” As harsh as that may sound, how we choose to rise or not rise to circumstances that are out of our control, is up to us.
I for one can no longer imagine navigating my life without my journal with me. It holds space for me to work through and see the grace in all the course correcting, milestones, and blessings I’ve received in my life. And it helps me to trust that what the future hold can be gentle or hard through my level of trust that I am divinely protected and provided for.
kathy mercure is a storyhealer, storylistener, and storyteller. Her life’s work is to gently draw stories from her students to help them unblock their writing, find their voice, and heal their lives. Her passion is to support women in realizing their true identity as wild women, claiming their passions, and speaking their truth as they become their most authentic selves. (Photo by EagleSpirit Soul Shots)