By Carol Longenecker Hiestand
I dabbled at writing a diary in high school, but that diary disappeared along with the one I started my first year in college – the one where I carefully noted every interaction with any boy, down to the detail of what was said and done so that someday I could return to said diary and point to the notation that would remind us when, where, and how it all started. I was sure I would meet Mr. Wonderful at Bible college. After all, wasn’t that how it was supposed to be? That first year in college, I did find a boy who broke my heart 10 months later. I gave up on diary writing. A couple years passed, and I found my boy, just not at college. Three sons, three daughters-in-law and 10 grandchildren later, we are getting ready to celebrate our 50th anniversary in December 2020.
I took up journaling again as a young mom where I worked out the emotions and struggles of the early years of marriage, parenting, and life. In addition, I recorded the brilliantly funny things my kids said when they were little. As they grew past the cute sayings stage, I began to write letters as a way to continue to “talk” to them when they were not all that talkative – a place to tell them what I saw in them, recording significant events from my perspective. Now I make memory books for my grandchildren.
The summer of 2005, in my late 50s, my journaling took on new meaning as I participated in weekly group spiritual direction. I was satisfied/content with how things were with me and God, yet as I engaged in this group, I sensed a deepening desire to know God more fully. Little did I know this desire would soon be challenged as I experienced major losses. In this group, I learned ways to engage my heart with God through scripture by learning to “read for the pause,” stopping to ponder what caught my attention, journaling my thoughts to God and then being quiet to see what God might be teaching me. I learned to pay attention – Look up. Look down. Look around. See what God might be saying to me.
Part of the requirement for being in the group was to journal our thoughts as we processed the homework we were given. As we came together each week, we read from our journal, sharing what we had written. Each week as I listened to the soulful words of others as they shared their connection with God in their quiet times I wished I could “write like that.” Then as I leaned into the assignments, listening to my heart listening to God, and hearing his heart for me, I found my words.
I would need those words later that fall, when my younger brother died of hypothermia after getting lost in the Montana wilderness. We flew to Montana for the funeral. On the plane I grabbed my journal and a pen. I knew I had to write. And in the writing, I found voice for my grief as I poured my sorrow onto the pages of my journal. Here are the first words I wrote that dark day:
I am in the middle of a DC10.
We don’t turn on the overhead light.
I can’t believe I am taking this journey
The darkness of the late afternoon
matches the darkness of our
Mom and Dad
sitting a few rows
away from me
their hearts breaking
just like mine
Yet another child
Dad will be missing his calls, he says
Mom losing yet another child
How can she bear this grief?
Galen, beside me losing a brother-in-law.
I have lost yet another sibling.
Each of us, lost in our own
I grab my journal
and a pen
and I start to write.
Somehow . . .
I know I must write
I must find my
I’m the only one left
An only Child
I continued to write over the coming days, months, and years, filling the journals one after another, my eyes often blurred with tears, as my pen traveled over the pages. I began to share my thoughts with my friends to include them in my journey. I needed them. They read and told me to keep writing. One friend said he learned from me and would remember what he learned when it was his turn to meet Grief. My friends listened without trying to make me feel better or fixing things for me. Grief cannot be fixed.
I fell into a form of free verse in much of my writing through those first years of grief. I joined a local poetry group and learned things like “less words are more,” but they seemed to merely tolerate my writing, telling told me they could see why what I wrote mattered to me. It felt like the kiss of death to this writer who wanted to write not only for herself but for others. They finally told me I didn’t write poetry at all. I wrote reflections they said. Later I took an essay class and the instructor said it was like prose poetry. I still am not sure what to call it. All I know for sure is that writing saved me then and has continued to save me over the years.
I was determined I would record this journey because I felt so unprepared for this deep grief and I wanted to be able to help others. I think more important than that though, was what it did for me in giving voice to my grief. It connected me to others who walked alongside me in the intensity of the first few years of my grief. It has continued to save me in the years since when grief makes her unexpected visits.
A few years later I started a blog, recording the grief journey there and then branching out into writing “when inspired about the things often unnoticed.” This gave me a voice to people I would never have spoken to. My “audience” is small. Sometimes I wonder if it really matters at all and then I hear from someone who is touched by something I wrote because someone who read what I wrote passed it on. And I know it matters. I am learning to pray before I post that the one who needs what I have written will find it. I am learning I do not have to know who that person is.
My passion is to continue to write the things I have learned and put them into a form to pass on the ones I love most – my friends and especially my family so they can pass it on to others. When I write, I often imagine a great grandchild who will never know me meeting me through my writing and learning about the things that matter most to me for those I love – that seeing it in me, they would have a heart for God and a desire to walk in his truth.
Carol Longenecker Hiestand writes when inspired about things that often go unnoticed, and sees herself as a storyteller. She’s a wife, mom, grandmother, and friend living right in the middle of the second half of life. She’s passionate about writing to and for her grandchildren about her life, passing on the things she’s learned. You’ll often find her immersed in making photo books for her family, working to keep her scattered family connected. She’s a lover of all shades of purple and rose. Lilacs, waterfalls, any body of water, porch swings and Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi (when she can find it!) make her happy. She writes at www.carolhiestand.com