The Final Journal
My mother kept written journals off and on for most of her adult life. At first, they were straightforward records of day-to-day happenings, holidays, and milestones. Later, she kept a journal she called The Joy Book, with entries about things for which she was grateful.
Last year, after decades of suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, my mother moved to a nursing home. Weighing a mere 70 pounds and with joints so deformed that she could no longer walk or hold a pen well enough to write, she surprised me one day by asking for a journal. Her plan was to keep it on her dresser so that visitors could sign it or leave a note about their visit. My sister bought her a hardbound Italian-made Fabriano Venezia Art Book with heavy weight creamy paper and paired it with a plastic Bic four-color pen. With these incongruous materials, the final journal began.
The entries are mostly brief and primarily from my six siblings and me, my mother’s sisters, and a few dear friends. Day after day, week after week, the entries are almost entirely mundane– a stroll outside, the status of her comfort, notes on the weather, things brought or taken, and references to lots of chocolate milkshakes. Occasionally, I’d take a minute to add a touch of artwork to enliven the pages.
My mother died this week at the age of 81. And as I read the pages of this nearly full book, I see that we wrote for her what she could not write herself. We wrote her final journal. It is a painful reflection on how terribly diminished and boring her days were, but likewise, it is a powerful reflection on caring, compassion, simple joys and pleasures, and the love and support of family…the very things that mattered most to her.
There are lessons here: about gratitude and determination, about the things we leave behind, and about saying what needs to be said long before final words are spoken or written. I’m grateful to have all that captured here, and a lot more, to carry forward.