by Lynda Monk
Writing is a way to stay grounded and centered during times of grief and loss. I have used journaling as one of my key practices for coping with the loss of my father to Alzheimer’s disease.
For the past 9 years, since my Dad retired from his 30 years of work with Ford Motor Company, year by year, month by month, week by week, and more recently, day by day – I have watched him disappear into the confusing abyss of Alzheimer’s disease. I have watched my Mom care for him - tenderly tucking him in at night, latching his arm as he crosses the street, helping him point his fork in the right direction and waiting patiently while he puts on his clothes (which can take an hour). I have watched her love and care for him, her husband of 54 years, as he slowly disappears from the realm of cognitive functioning, slowly goes to a place where he no longer knows her name, no longer knows what day it is, nor if it is summer or winter.
I have heard the journey of grief losing someone to Alzheimer’s referred to as “the long good-bye”. In this slow march of loss, grief does not know where to begin or end. There is no defining moment, a death, or a complete good-bye that triggers the heart to realize “Ok, now I am grieving”. Instead, it happens slowly, like the moment last summer when I visited my parents - my Dad stood beside me drying the dishes that I was washing (a task he could no longer due today) and I turned to him and asked, “Dad, do you know my name?”
He started shaking his head “No.”
I took his hand and said, “Take your time Dad, there’s lots of time.”
Soon it was not just his head saying “No” but his whole body started to tremble, as did mine. I took him in my arms and I whispered in his ear, “Dad, do you know who I am to you, if you don’t know my name, do you know who I am? What is our relationship? Who am I to you?”
There was a long silence. I stood holding him in my arms. He whispered in my ear, “My daughter.”
My Dad could not answer this question now and I know longer ask him these sorts of things. I don’t need to. My mind and heart have caught up with understanding the gravity of my father’s diminished capacity, it is no longer hard to believe that he is “so far gone” but rather I focus on how to love him now, in ways that he can feel through his skin, feel past his lost memory and somehow be touched by my love on a cellular level when I rub his back, or make him laugh, or sit beside him on the edge of his single bed, in the Long Term Care facility where he now lives.
While my emotions are many and varied at this time, I turn to the pages of my journal to heal and grow. I live half a country away from my parents, which makes this time even more difficult to navigate both logistically and emotionally.
In my journal, I can remember my father, who he was before Alzheimer’s, I can hear his laughter as I write about my memories of him then and now. As I write, I feel deep compassion for his journey, for our journey as a family. On the page and in my heart, I tap into this deep, generous, kind space – where I am called, over and over again, to the acceptance of what is and to the deep end of love. Memory and the workings of the human mind are an amazing mystery to me. What I do know and continue to learn, is what the great poet Rumi says…“In the thick of things we discover that love will not die.”
Journaling Exercises for healing through the “long good-bye” and other losses…
Do you have someone in your life you are saying “good-bye” to in some way, for some reason? It could be a parent, a child, a partner, a sibling, a friend, a colleague – we say “good-bye” many times in our lives – for many reasons, planned and unplanned.
Journaling is a powerful tool for healing and navigating the stirring waters of grief and transition in our lives. Here are some creative journaling exercises for self-care and healing during times of grief, loss and transition – try them, you will see, your heart will heal and be comforted, one journal entry at a time.
1) Write a letter to the person – saying all the things you would like to say, that maybe you are unable to say in words, or perhaps it is not possible, for whatever reason, to say these things to the person themselves. Writing unsent letters is a way to feel like you are able to express yourself, self-expression heals.
2) Write a poem – filled with words and ideas that comfort you – it can be long or short – rhyme or not – poetry is a way to capture the essence of your heart.
3) Complete this journaling prompt: What nourishes, inspires and comforts me at this time is…
“When inspiration has become hidden, when we feel ready to give up, this is the time when healing can be found in the tenderness of pain itself.” Rumi
Lynda Monk, MSW, RSW, CPCC is the founder of Creative Wellness – where writing and well-being meet. She regularly teaches and speaks on the healing and transformational power of expressive writing. Access her FREE Writing for Wellness Getting Started Guide at http://creativewellnessworks.com/GettingStartedGuide.
Join Lynda for a 3-hour virtual retreat to tap into the healing power of writing from the comfort of your own home. The next Renew You Writing Retreat is Saturday, October 26th from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm PST. Learn more and register at http://creativewellnessworks.com/renew-writing-retreat/