Four Missing Pages...

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Finding (and reading) the journal of a deceased loved one can be life affirming, or devastatingly invalidating. What did they really mean when they wrote that?

The emotional value of journaling has not been lost on me over the years. The first time my pen hit paper, I was entering junior high school in a new town. As a freshly minted 7th grader with an over active social agenda, I was sure my “diary” would become a best seller in the event of my untimely death.

Although a disciplined diary devotee in the 7th grade, I graduated to journaling in the 8th. Two years of daily preteen and pubescent epiphanies... I had a lot to say about a lot of things, and the monologue of journaling was the perfect vehicle for its expression.

Although the exact memory eludes me, something dramatic must have happened at the end of 8th grade; something so traumatic that I burned my beloved journal. I vividly recall being alone in the house, opening the fireplace doors, and taking a match to my 13 year old life. Most likely, the sacrificial burn was the result of some mean-girl drama, or bad boy event. Regardless, I’m sure I shed ample tears to douse the fire, in the event it raged out of control.

(Side note –to this day, the burning of that journal is on my short list of “things I wicked regret doing in life”)

By the end of high school, I had developed a deep respect for the importance of journaling. Around the same time, and as a young woman solidly entrenched in her advanced teenage years, I began individuating from my mother and seeing her as a real and separate person from myself. I came to understand that she was a wife to my father, an occupational therapist to her patients, an artist, a singer.... in short, a woman with all kinds of interests and desires that had nothing to do with me.

And this real person was once a child, with parents of her own. At one time in her life, she too had separated emotionally from her mother and father, and later sought to learn more about them as individuals. 

Several years prior to her father’s death, my mother gave him a beautiful leather bound book in which to archive his life. She was afraid that all his great “stories” would die with him if not committed to paper. She asked him to chronicle the happy and sad events of his life to the best of his 72 year old recollection.

“Pampi” filled about twenty pages before he died; his journal becoming one of my mother’s most prized possessions. Seeing the immense appreciation she had for her father’s written word, I bought her her own cloth covered journal for Christmas my first year of college. Inside the cover, I penned in calligraphy:

To a beautiful woman with beatiful (sic) thoughts to save...

I love you and Merry Christmas, Love Emily

For some unidentified reason, Mom gave me her journal several years ago... not on-loan, but as a permanent gift. Doing the math, I realized she began writing in her new journal immediately upon acceptance. Although a sporadic scribe, she was effusive; most entries being updates on the highs and lows of each family member, and her feelings about the same.

It’s clear from her words that Mom anticipated her children would read her journal one day. Although her insights and honesty are spot on, she was adept at sidestepping, circumventing, and censoring wherever necessary. (Lucky for me, I am adept at reading between the lines).

Three quarters of the way down one page, Mom wrote: “June 25th, 1984, Happy Birthday to me”. She then completed the page with comments about “getting old” (58!) and “missing her girls”. Then...  an abrupt stop.

The next entry was written in a distinctly different style and color – clearly on a different day. Between her birthday and this entry, there are four missing pages... four pages of handwritten thoughts, ripped right out of her journal... four pages of my mother’s life removed by her own hand. Needless to say, I believe these four pages to be the most important four pages in the entire book. 

Before commencing mental gymnastics over what sordid details those pages could possibly have held, I simply asked my mother if she remembered what she’d written. Disappointingly (and unsurprisingly), she replied in the negative. Although my sense was that she did recall the details, I believe my 91 year old mother felt no need to open Pandora’s box this late in the game (let sleeping dogs lie, water under the bridge, and all that...)

Over time, I’ve imagined the four missing pages could have answered every question I ever had about my life and our family... that these pages held family secrets, neatly hidden under the rug for years...  that they could  answer the most important question of all – whom did Mom love best? Was there something in those pages that my mother knew would cause the reader pain or make them think less of her? Did she describe a private event she wanted to keep all to herself?

I imagine the missing pages held Mom’s feelings about something that illicited great emotion in her. Sadness? Rage? Indifference? Shame? Unrequited love? Feelings that even the healthiest of humans experience at one time or another; honest expressions of the heart.

Instead of pushing for the details (which would be most consistent with who I am), I decided to leave it alone. I don’t really need to know what was written in the missing pages- the historical stuff that has no current bearing on me or my family.

As my mother’s caregiver, I know who she is today... most of her. But she will always be an individual with private thoughts and emotional boundaries... things that are, quite honestly, none of my damn business.

Emily Gaffney