I don’t really know where to start with this blog post. I started out with a thought, an idea, of explaining to You how journaling helped me deal with a traumatic experience I had 22 years ago. As I sit here dictating my words into this microphone I am kind of loss for words. Now you can’t write if You’re loss for words. I think they call that writer’s block, but I’m not actually blocked at all. I just don’t know how to put this story on paper for You to read because I haven’t done that before. 22 years ago My Wife and Son were crushed in an vehicle accident….with a semi tractor trailer truck.
I am not a writer so bear with me while I try to form these words into sentences that flow and are easy for you, the reader, to follow. I was living what I considered a fairy tale life. My wife and I had been married for 9 years, when we moved to Sugarloaf Key Florida from the Chicagoland area with our 9-year-old son. I was a chef, professionally and classically trained at The Culinary lnstitute of America in New York City. This gig in Florida was my one and only job as a chef in the United States. Every job I had since then and before then was abroad, by design. I think I liked traveling as a chef as much as I liked actually being a chef. Every 6 or 8 months I would pick up my pots and pans and knives and go to another country to cook and work another multiple month gig.
I liked money. I liked money a lot. Even though I had a full-time job as a chef I always had a side hustle. While I lived in Sugarloaf Key Florida my side hustle was building computers from scratch. This was 15 years ago when you could buy computer components from two places online. One place, a Macintosh computer parts supplier. The other was a Windows computer parts supplier. I would buy the components which are called hardware components, and build the computers. My wife would buy the software which are called software programs and she would install those programs on my computer hardware. We were quite successful and good at what we did….. Our side hustle.
As spring break approached my wife and I decided to take a road trip from Sugarloaf Key Florida back home to Chicago Illinois to visit her parents. We had made this trek several times since we moved to Florida and we enjoyed being on the open road just the three of us…. Laughing, joking, playing road trip car games, and listening to the best music ever played on a stereo car radio. Those road trips we had together as a family, are memories I shall cherish forever.
I had packed our SUV the night before. The day to actually leave was upon us. I’ll never forget this….. My son and I were patiently waiting in the SUV for my wife to lock up and join us. She walked up to the driver side window to tell me there was a phone call for me from a client. We built these computers for different businesses in the Florida area. We were currently working on a project for the Best Western motel chain located in Miami. I climbed out the SUV, went in the house and took the phone call. This particular client was begging for me to move up the date for the completion of their project to right now, this very moment, as I was ready to hit the road.
As I said a little bit ago I liked money, a lot. Completing this project ahead of time meant the money would be in my bank account ahead of time, which I liked. I like that a lot. After discussing it with my wife she insisted I stay home, complete this project in 2 days then take a flight to Chicago. I saw dollar signs and not much else. I stayed home and completed the project. As I watched my two most cherished human beings rolling down the driveway I was sad and instantly lonely. But in 3 days time, we’d be together.
The drive usually took me 22 hours from Sugarloaf Key to Chicago. I figured it would take my wife about 24, 25 hours. I got done with the project for my Best Western client in about 24 hours instead of 48. I woke up that morning, called the airport in Miami and booked my flight. Sometime around noon I got a phone call. You know the funny thing about this timeline of events, I don’t remember anything emphatically. Everything about that day is fuzzy. In fact everything about the next 3 weeks is fuzzy. The call, it was my mother-in-law calling to tell me that my wife and son were dead.
I will not try to share with you what happened with me mentally and physically for the next 14 hours. To this day I do not know how I spent those 14 hours. I remember clearly the time on the kitchen wall clock the moment I got the phone call. I don’t remember much of anything else until the doorbell rang and it was my cousin standing in the doorway looking at me. 14 hours later. Looking at me with the eyes of another human being full of pity and sorrow, heartbreak. The eyes of a man not fully able to understanding what I was feeling at that very moment.
Let’s fast forward to four months later. I won’t leave you hanging about the four month gap. I will say that I spent that time in self-destructive mode. I took a sledgehammer to the interior of my house. I held a memorial in my backyard where I burned every single piece of evidence that my son and wife ever existed. I can’t really remember what I ate if I cooked if I did take out if I took dishes of food from neighbors. That time wasn’t even a blur. More like a mist that never really appeared, then just evaporated. Evaporated time. I don’t remember phone calls from family or friends. I do know that I did not attend the funeral in Chicago. I do know that I claimed my Wife and Son’s body. I do know that I made funeral arrangements. I do know that I did not attend the memorial services for either of them.
I hit proverbial rock bottom when I was sitting in my garage staring at the wreckage from the accident playing Russian roulette with an empty gun. It’s not really playing Russian roulette when all the chambers are empty. I have no clear clue why I did that or what I thought I was going to accomplish. The next morning I woke up went out and bought a heavy bag. The day after that, I went out and bought a speed bag. I installed both of these items from the garage ceiling and spent several hours each day taking my anger out on those two bags. I punched that heavy bag and I slapped that speed bag daily until I was dripping in sweat. My arms and legs so tired I could not take a step after I finished punching.
One day I was watching a television show and the subject was journaling. For some reason as I watched this show on television I started to withdraw from the fog I had been in for the past 4 months. I have no explanation why a television show on journaling was even on my TV screen. I watched I listened I paid attention. 2 days later I went out and bought 5 journals. Not the fancy kind sold on Amazon. These were your run-of-the-mill black and white journals.
To make a long story short I wrote in these journals everyday. Some days I would write 3 pages some days I’d write a paragraph some days I’d write 2 journals, full of words. This journaling went on for 22 years. That’s right. For the next 22 years I spent time writing in these journals. Of course me being myself, I did not journal the ordinary way. Most people sit down with a journal and write how they feel, what they feel, what they don’t feel. Not me.
I used my journals to hold conversations with my wife and son. I would talk to them about my day. If I ventured outside the house and did something, I would come home and talk to them about it. I would discuss plans for the coming week with them in my journal. I use my journals in an unconventional way instead of the regular normal way. Later on I learned that there is no regular normal way to do much of anything. However a person deals with grief is entirely okay for that person. I learned that using these journals to channel conversations with my dead wife and dead son helped me to cope with my solitude. My self imposed solitude.
After 5 years of journaling I stopped actually speaking to my wife and son in my journals and started speaking about my wife and son in my journals. I started to journal about my wife and son as a way to remember them, not as a way to hold a conversation with them, as had been the case in the beginning of my journaling journey. I would later reach the conclusion that I had started to heal myself by journaling. I had transformed from a person who used my journals to communicate with my wife and son beyond this existence, to a man who used the journals to remember them and the life we had before I lost them.
I reached a point where I started to heal from my pain and my grief. And thus started my journey of going from Grieving to Healing to Surviving to Thriving. I stopped journaling all together about 5 months ago. I don’t miss the journaling because I don’t look at my life in the same way I looked at my life when I needed to journal. Here’s a bit of trivia, call it journaling trivia. I have 20,612 journals. 20,612. I even built a bookcase about 5 years ago to store the journals, like a library. Not once have I ever went back and read what I wrote in my journals. That’s right, I have never pulled a journal off the shelf and read what I wrote. For me it was therapeutic just to write it in the journal.
I have been thinking about burning these journals because I’ve reached the end of my road with them. They’re taking up space in my house but that’s not really why I want to burn them. I think I have outgrown journaling. We’ll see what I decide about this.
I am not sure journaling will work for anybody else the way journaling worked for me. What I can tell you is that journaling was soothing for me. Journaling relaxed me. Journaling centered my mind, my soul, my chakras. I can also tell you that I don’t know where I would be in 2022 if I hadn’t started journaling in 2000. I think it’s safe to say that journaling saved my life.
I would never tell somebody to pick up a journal and start writing. My life experiences have shown me that what works for me probably won’t work for you. What that means is what works for one person does not have to work for the next person. As I said, we all process and handle grief differently. What I would like for anybody who reads this blog post to take away from my experience…….is anything that will help you with your experience, Don’t be timid to try. Whatever you need to try to survive do that. Not only survive but thrive.
Well that’s my story how journaling helped me go from my grieving angry father and husband self to a man who accepted life as it was given and decided to learn to thrive. I am forever confident that this post won’t help anyone else deal with their grief. I say that because each and every one of us deals with grief differently. This is my way of letting the world know how I dealt with my grief.