Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Empty Journals


The mother of writer Terry Tempest Williams left Terry her journals, but said that she could not read them until after she died. When it was time, Terry discovered they were blank. Why would her mother take such care to nicely bind her journals yet leave the pages empty?

What would I do if my wife Evelyn had left blank journals when she died?

The journals would challenge me to fill the pages with what I knew of Ev’s life, and then research the parts I wasn’t involved in, like her growing up and her college years, by contacting the people who knew her then and asking what they remembered. Together we would build her story from what she had written in our hearts.

If Evelyn had written about her life, I would want her words to be on the left page with what she thought were the meaningful events, insights, when her heart soared, and when it crashed. On the facing page, I could add my commentary about what I thought was important in that year and react to what she had written, like a midrash on the main text. I would add context and put in some of the details that she, in modesty, had left out.

And then? 
Then her life would live on those pages and I could refer to them over the years and remember the wonder she was. I could use the words to rekindle her presence when her fire inside me had burned down into coals.

There is much that I wish Evelyn had shared with me. We both assumed that we would have forty years to do this. A few notes scribbled by her would have helped explain some of the mysteries I found stored in her boxes, like the turtle incense burners and a bird ocarina. When did she get them, and why were they important enough to keep? Now there is no one who knows to ask.

Even if Ev had jotted down something simple like “I baked sticky buns today,” a wealth of background material would have returned with that statement. She often made stick buns during the Christmas season, and she would have been thinking of her mother as she made them because it was her mom’s recipe, and that would bring back more memories of her mother.

Evelyn’s mention of the buns would also restore my physical memories of being in the kitchen as she baked, listening to her sing with joy and excitement, smelling the aroma of the rising buns, and our pleasure in breaking them apart and eating them together. This everyday event would be filled with all sorts of warm and gooey memories, brought back by a simply entry of five words that do not exist.

In all of the writing that I’ve done about Ev’s life, I had forgotten that she made sticky buns. Why did the buns come back now? I don’t know, but I’m writing this down, because I do not want to lose it again. What other forgotten memories are waiting on those imaginary blank pages?

Even if Evelyn’s journals existed, even if I reconstruct all the events of her life, they would still not be her. I could not hug her, or tease her. I could not tell her how much I loved her. And she would not be here to surprise me with something she said or did.

The journals would be like a winter fog drifting across the meadow. It is lovely, but I cannot hold it, yet sometimes the mystery of the mist is what I need.

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