Ten years ago, when my father was diagnosed with Stage IV base of the tongue cancer none told me that I was about to embark on the ride of my life. As my father began his grueling treatments I went out and purchased journals. I began to feverishly put my feelings down on paper and document this new, often horrific journey.
My journey with grief began the day a mass on the base of my father’s tongue was given a name – squamous cell carcinoma. As a matter of fact, I still have the paperwork that I frantically faxed over to the team of doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering to evaluate my father. The cover sheet in my father’s handwriting ends with “I would like to see the doctor as soon as possible. Thanks for your help.”
Our family had no idea the cruel battle we were about to embark on. We only knew that that we needed my father to live. Life without him was unimaginable, it still is and he’s been gone three years.
I watched cancer hijack my father’s body until I could hardly recognize him. Those radiation treatments for that “little” mass at the base of his tongue wreaked havoc on his entire body. The radiation eventually destroyed his entire epiglottis, making it impossible to eat or drink orally for the last four years of his life, relying on a feeding tube inserted in his belly for his sole means of nutrition.
Sunken cheekbones, his dark hair gone white. Pale, pasty skin. Brown eyes that were distant, almost empty. Strong hands that had guided me throughout my entire life became thin and frail, and often trembled. The last four years of my father’s life are forever etched in my brain, a painful reminder to never take life for granted.
A few weeks after my father’s death, my husband encouraged me to write down my feelings and send them to the Huffington Post. I thought he lost his mind. Who wants to hear my sob story? I was already on the verge of depression, why would I share my darkest feelings with the entire world? Instantly I envisioned internet trolls making a mockery of my grief. My husband’s response to me was, “Steve Harvey had a make up blogger on his show yesterday and I don’t really know what she was talking about, but I think you should share your articles. People will read them, I believe in you.” I laughed and began to critique a very private essay I wrote to my mom who was my father’s caregiver for his entire journey with cancer. I then decided to go big or go home, and I sent my article to Ariana Huffington. I remember thinking, well if I’m going to share my deepest feelings with the entire world let’s start with someone I admire.
The next day I was a Huffington Post Blogger. I also began journaling again.
Why? Because grief has a way of making you feel like you’re trapped on a deserted island and you’re all alone. My articles and journals have been my lifesaver when no one could save me. And guess what there have been no internet trolls, just some really incredible people who are also hurting as they embark on their own grief journey.
Grief is a long, lonely journey and my journals and expressive art are my most intimate, trusted friends during one of the darkest, most difficult times of my life.
If you’re lucky, friends and family will offer as much comfort as they can give, but they all have their own lives to live and after the funeral most people don’t want to hear your sad story repeatedly. Let’s face it, grief makes most people uncomfortable. We live in a society where death is taboo, and we are expected to “get over it.” Unfortunately, there is no getting over a person of significance. Where there is great love, there is great grief, and if we do not find an outlet we will not heal. If you broke your arm would you leave it unattended? So why do many choose to ignore their grief and think it will just vanish?
Writing has provided me immense comfort and relief at a time when nothing or no one else could. My writing is one of the places where I can speak the truth and express my emotions. My journal is always there for me to listen to the same story, over and over, without judgment until I am ready to move onto the next chapter.
Journaling is is an effective way to keep their legacy alive.
10 years ago, I was unaware that expressive writing and journal therapy are actual ways for healing. I’ve always grabbed a pen to document my feelings, to process what was happening. By putting my emotions on paper, I could somehow make sense of what seemed impossible and find strength to carry on.
Journaling is also the cheapest form of self-care there is and a great way to heal grief. Even if you don’t start your own blog and share your raw emotions with the entire world, I challenge you to go buy a journal and start documenting your feelings throughout your grief journey. Why not keep a journal by your bed and each night write down your feelings, you never know you might find it helpful.L