A Second Wind: Write for life

Senior Man Writing Memoirs In Book Sitting At Desk

By Mary Petersen

Signal Staff Writer

This week I was fumbling through a desk drawer I hadn’t opened in years, looking for I don’t remember what.

In these last months with so much time on our hands, I find myself dillydallying around the house noticing a screw that’s come loose, a house plant that needs fertilizing, or crumbs that have mischievously fallen into the silverware drawer.

As I rummaged through notecards, photos and letters, I happened upon my long-forgotten journals, a dozen of them! The earliest one was a gift from a friend dated December 25, 1978, and was inscribed with the words “I have always found how nice it is to be able to look back on my thoughts and dreams. I hope that you can utilize this in the same manner.”

That journal was filled to the last page with the reflections, observations, and lamentations of a young woman trying to find her way. The others each displayed the dates of decades gone by. In that moment I came face to face with 40 years of my personal history.

Seniors have a particularly important reason to keep journals. The last trimester of life is filled with changes to our bodies, minds, and lifestyles. Exploring these changes helps us to manage our feelings and put life into perspective.

Chronicling our experiences helps us to acknowledge our accomplishments and work through life’s difficulties. Getting our thoughts down on paper provides clarity. When we write, we figure out what we think.

Even if the pages are disposed of, the value has already been acquired in the therapeutic and cathartic process of writing them. The benefit is the serenity that results from candidly and self-reflectively documenting life. 

There is another reason to document our personal histories. Our experiences are history embodied.

Our stories provide a unique view of events that can shed light on the times in which we’ve lived. Our recollections provide nuance and personal voice to historical textbook accounts.

Sharing significant memories of life-changing events also deepens families’ personal histories. Our hardships can be reassuring to our children who may be experiencing the same kinds of struggles we did. Reading about how we faced and overcame past challenges might help them to confront new challenges.

Granted, I don’t relish my children reading about “a lost but determined individual” (my words) lamenting heart-breaking relationships and searching for self-confidence.

I don’t want to be remembered for ranting about personal crises and inability to cope. But reading these cherished stories may be as important to family members as writing them was for me. 

Healthcare professionals encourage seniors to write, reminding us that journaling enhances dexterity, fights memory loss, lessens depression and promotes better sleep. These are persuasive reasons to keep a journal.

But journaling is so much more than an exercise to ward off dementia. It is a way to reclaim balance and stability. It’s a way to become reacquainted with ourselves, to honor ourselves and the insights we have discovered living these many decades.

Journaling is a life-saving act. All that’s required is a pen and paper and an open heart.

Mary Petersen is a retired COC English instructor, 30-year SCV resident and two-time breast cancer survivor. 

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