Eleven months after Brent died in a car accident, my friend & peer mentor Robin Litrenta invited me to attend a weekend conference for widowed people- Soaring Spirits International’s Camp Widow West. I did NOT want to go. I did NOT want to admit that Brent was really dead. I did NOT want to go to a place called Camp Widow. I did NOT want to be “one of them”. But I went anyway. Ugh.
One of the first break-out sessions was held in two huge hotel conference rooms. The first room was for people widowed by LONG TERM ILLNESS. Robin walked in that door. The second room was for people widowed by SUDDEN DEATH. I walked in that door. One of the first people I saw when I walked in the room was Rachel Kodanaz. She was a petite, energetic, lively, loving, vibrant individual standing in a room full of “campers” in varying degrees of shock, anger, agony, confusion and despair. We all listened as she spoke. “Well”, she said candidly. “We all have a story. We all got that phone call, didn’t we? We all got the phone call or the knock on the door. And then someone told us that our loved one had died.” I couldn’t BELIEVE that Rachel had also had that phone call. That knock on the door. How could that even be possible when she is standing here so full of LIFE and EXPECTANCY? Rachel was one of the first people to give me (and so many others) HOPE that I would survive and maybe even thrive after the sudden death of my husband. Thank you, Rachel. I am forever grateful!
In this week’s A2Z guest blog, Rachel Kodanaz- author, speaker, coach and marathon runner!- gives us tips, tricks and suggestions for incorporating the healing power of JOURNALING into our journey of restoration, renewal and rebuilding.
JOURNALING- SURVIVING THE TORNADO
By Rachel Kodanaz
Author, Speaker, Life Coach
When my husband passed away suddenly from arrhythmia at 32 years old, he left me to raise a 2 year-old daughter alone. Like all of us who have suffered a loss or have received the dreaded diagnosis of a terminal illness we find ourselves lost, confused and wandering in circles- similar to a tornado- just hoping to find a way to place our feet back on the ground and proceed with some type of normalcy.
(Picture of Rod a 4 months before he passed away)
Reality began to find its way to me several weeks after my family returned to their respective homes and schedules, leaving me with an uncertain future. In the first month of my new life, I returned from work to find a package on my front step from a complete stranger, with a card addressed to me. The package contained a very short and direct note – “Rachel – You don’t know me but I am leaving this package on your door step as I experienced a similar situation a few years ago and I wanted to provide you with the enclosed blank journal so you would be able to capture your thoughts and reflect on the early days of the loss”. My first reaction was that I found the gesture to be creepy – why would a stranger leave me a gift, how did she know what happened to Rod (pre-internet) and how did she find out where I lived? Needless to say I chose not to engage by placing the package in the pile of cards, books and other gifts I had received that I had no desire to engage with. Engaging would mean my husband actually did pass away.
Fast-forward to several years later when the tornado stopped swirling, my feet were secured to the ground (as securely as they could be) and I began helping the next round of grievers. While facilitating a support group, I listened to the stories of pain in the early days of the loss, encouraging the attendees to embrace the progress they had made over the weeks and months since joining the group. Unfortunately they were skeptical of my insight, as they did not feel the progress in their hearts or their daily lives. I spent the next couple of weeks contemplating how I could convince them they were making great strides to slow the wind of the their personal tornado. I thought about the stranger who left the journal on my front step. Had I personally embraced the notion of journaling, I would have been able to read prior entries, proving to myself that I was in a much better place than I had been in prior weeks and months. I immediately went to Target to purchased several blank journals to bring to group asking the attendees to write their daily thoughts – whatever came to their minds for the next month.
The next meeting we discussed the art of journaling, a few people shared their experience and I encouraged them to continue writing and to bring the journal to group the following month. As we took our seats I asked the attendees to take a few minutes to read several entries from 90 days prior and then read a few entries that were more recent. The exercise proved fruitful as 100% of the group could feel the change in attitude and emotions in their writing and proved to themselves that there were extreme setbacks with grief however forward momentum was occurring.
While I did not learn from writing in the journal that was graciously given to me when Rod passed away, I passed the helpful guidance and understanding on to the next group of grievers.
To this day, I like to encourage those around me to take the time to write in a journal. There is no right or wrong way to journal as there are no associated rules. Whether you write in a physical journal, capture your thoughts in a word document or scribble on a napkin – I encourage you embrace the notion of journaling to help you with your journey.
Steps to get started while journaling:
- Determine the physical journal that works best for you
- Choose a time of day that provides you with the best “me time” (possibly at night before you go to bed or with your morning coffee)
- Think about what format works best for you – following a format or just capturing free thoughts
- Start journaling today
- After you have been journaling for several weeks, read your earlier entries
- KEEP JOURNALING
In my book – Living with Loss, One Day at a Time I dedicate 2 of the 365 days to the notion of Journaling and extremely important part of your journey.
Then: Our daughter, Gretchen, and I three months after Rod passed away.
Now: Gretchen and I today