Friday, July 13, 2012

how to pass on a life

My grandmother left us a wonderful gift and that is the two thick three-ring binders that held her journals.  They tell the story of her life and faith, from the time she was twenty-three until her death at eighty-six.

I spent last weekend reading her journals, every word.  It is a story of a simple woman, who sought God, loved her family and community, and lived deeply.  I am so touched by how humbly she wanted to please God, from beginning to end.  

There will be another day, maybe another post, to give tribute to my grandmother.  They are most certainly fodder for my constant question; What will you do with your one wild and precious life?  Someday I would like to tell her story; of heartbreak and loss, faith and endurance, of the grace and pain of community.  Of a life spent in gratitude.  The healing power of home.  

Death rips a heart open wide and the rains of sorrow and beauty, winds of memory, the shock of existence, come in and soaks everything.  But the heart cannot allow itself to gape open, exposed, for long and eventually it must shift into practical matters to cope, to rebuild itself.  Board the windows, patch the roof.  Clean out the refrigerator, apportion the pantry.  Jars of beans and beets now jewels her hands have touched.  Bestow strawberry jam like fortune.

And just as the family is dealing with the practical issues of my grandparents' estate, so my heart is finding relief in the practical matters of my home and family, out-of-state grandparents visiting, chopping peaches.

I have been thinking about my grandmother's journals the past few days in practical terms; what made them so readable?  How does one leave behind the story of her life, telling only what is necessary and nothing hurtful, damaging, or superfluous?

I have always kept a journal of some kind or another, but if I died would I want them read?  I'm not sure.  Would anyone want to wade through the endless embarrassing pages of crushes and heartbreak, the sniveling pages, the random good days or bad days, peripheral information?  Would they find anything cohesive among the scattered books, computer files, and google docs?

Several people told me about journals they had from a grandmother or relative, full only of details about the weather, their daily tasks, and very little honest matters of the heart.  Sometimes journals left behind can be shocking or worse, devastating to discover what a person felt about another.

My grandmother was a wise woman, and she was wise in how she kept her journals.  In reading hers I have found some very good, practical tips in how to write my own.

does anyone else have this problem?
It seems very clear that my grandmother wrote her journals expecting that they may one day be read, and she was careful to not write anything hurtful or incriminating.  Even in the hard pages, where I knew she must have been filled with heartache or righteous anger, she was discreet.

Often people begin a journal but fizzle out because it requires too much time, or they do keep a journal but nobody cares to read it because there is simply too much information.  My grandmother kept her journal for sixty-three years, but I was able to read it in several hours.  This is because she only wrote about three or four times a year, often on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day, and one day in the spring.  I do not know if she did this purposely, or if these were significant days to her that inspired her to pick up her pen.

She did not give too many details, but just enough.  She would mention the weather, and I loved reading this knowing how much the weather affected her, as it does me.  She always recorded the menu she served at family meals, and who attended, and at Christmas she would list the gifts everyone gave and received.  These details are valuable because they tell so much about the year, the family, and even their financial struggle or prosperity that year.

In these entries she also told the highlights of the year; marriages, births, deaths, major life events happening in the family.  She was often sparse in her writing, and I loved most the entries that gave her own reflections and feelings.

Her writing remains upbeat and positive, but she does not gloss over the hard times, and these passages are to me the ones that speak loudest across time; what made her heart ache, how she coped with loss and death, the way that she fled to God with her anxieties and grief.  "I'm sure He never fails us," she would write, and how I need to cling to these words today.  I am so glad she passed them on to us.

Most significant are her prayers and the rich life of faith that she recorded.

She kept her journals neatly together in one place.  What is the best format to keep a journal?  I have always kept notebooks, but it seems that I have too many kinds of notebooks- one in which I write scripture and prayer, one with lists and details, one with funny things the kids say, a moleskin that also serves as a sketchbook but is just kind of a mess, and one where I record major events.  I keep a journal for each of my kids.  And there are others!  I tend to write my personal thoughts on the computer, and then there is this blog.  But will computer docs last, and should I go back and delete the entries I don't want read?  Should I print them?  Should I make sure that someone knows my passwords, or do I keep the passwords private so no one ever knows?

Does anyone else have this problem?  I would love to know what are your journaling techniques?

I think that if anything happened to me, I would want my friend Sally to have my journals and try to make them cohesive for my kids.  With all of these thoughts in mind, in seemed appropriate that she and I read The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nicole Bernier this summer.  I follow Nicole on facebook and her first book looks great, I can't wait to start it!


Ruth said...

Yes, I have these problems. Exactly the same ones. Sorry that I'm no help!

Ruth said...

I'm so glad you could read your grandmother's journals. What a treasure!

Jenny P. said...

I've taken several classes on this topic... one specifically on composing your own personal history, and another on writing family biographies. In the first class, I actually wrote my own history, which wasn't all that long, but still meaningful. It was spiritually themed and wrapped up the whys and hows of what I feel like my life is right now. The plan is to add to it over the years. I wrote it specifically for my children. I have journals too, and I hope they'll be able to glean something from those as well, but it's nice to have something intentional too.

Brandee Shafer said...

I love the word apportion.

I've never successfully kept a journal...until now. My blog is my journal. With very little exception, I write down only the things I want recorded for my children. I started blogging b/c I saw a coupon code for blog2print, and I thought: oh, wow. I can put all my new thoughts and all my old thoughts in one place and hit "print" every so often. And that's what I've done. I started blogging in Nov of 2010, and I've used blog2print 4x to print and bind my words. The books aren't perfect (some formatting issues, esp. w/ poetry), but they're pretty close. My son, who is 12, has already read all of them. blog2print comes out w/ a coupon code every 3-4 months, so I've spent a total of $70-$80 to print and bind almost two years' worth of material. FANTASTIC.

Jessica said...

Thanks, these are great ideas!

Fijufic said...

These are absolute treasures. You are so fortunate to have them...