Writing Life Journals
I am always intrigued when I meet a hospice patient for the first time because I realize I’m about to hear this persons’ entire life story, or at least the parts of it they are willing to share. I find that most people at the end of life have few regrets and don’t hold back. They pretty much just lay it all out there! I usually ask them to tell me something about themselves their family doesn’t already know. It makes it much more interesting for the family to read later. Some patients struggle to come up with something new. But then there was the man I recently met whose entire life as a young adult will come as a surprise to his family! When I talked to him he told me he didn’t want anyone to read his life journal until after he was gone. His story was essentially a confession, so I wrote it in first-person. With no names, no specifics, no pictures – his story goes something like this:
I was born on a southern farm in the 1930’s. It was a hard life for me as a kid. With no dad at home, I was the man of the house; and since my mother was always having babies, I was basically the woman of the house, too. As the oldest of four boys and five girls, I did the cooking, the cleaning and took care of the kids. I also worked on the farm for $3.00 a week. My brothers and sisters all got to go to school, but I stayed home and worked. The only time I went to school was when it rained and I couldn’t work on the farm.
We were share croppers. That’s when a landowner allows tenants to use the land in return for a share of the crops. Our farm manager gave each family $20.00 a month and took half of what we produced. We raised all our food: chickens, hogs, beef, vegetables in the garden and grain in the fields. We ground corn into meal for cornbread. The only food we ever bought was flour and sugar. I remember needing coupons to buy sugar because it was rationed during the war.
By the time I was 13, I began to realize what life was all about. I was with my mother day and night in the three room shack we called home. It wasn’t much of a house. I remember lying in bed at night and looking up at the moon through holes in the roof. We would huddle under layers of hand-made quilts to keep warm.
I left home to seek a better life as soon as I turned 18. The next thing I knew, I had a wife and three kids! I found a job out-of-state driving trucks and tractors on a farm. My wife didn’t want to go, so I left her and the kids behind.
Soon after that my new life style began. I was a womanizer; a wine ‘em & dine ‘em – love ‘em & leave ‘em – ladies’ man! My life was nothing but women, whiskey and gambling. I’m not proud of that, it’s just who I was. It seemed like the smartest way to live at the time.
When I started driving a multi-state truck route, I had a woman in each city where I’d spend the night. I knew it was wrong, but they didn’t. They believed me when I told them I wasn’t married. I’m pretty sure I have 10 children, but there might be some “overnight kids” I don’t know about.
When I finally retired from my job, I retired from everything! I quit working, I quit drinking, I quit smoking and I changed my life. “I turned over a brand new leaf and asked the good Lord to forgive what I had done. I wised up. I never meant to do nobody no harm. I hope my family will forgive me.”
I found this man to be genuinely kindhearted and I am happy to say that, yes, his family DID forgive him!