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On Grief and Notebooks

Mahlon and mom

In Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair Anne Lamott writes, “I’d given talks for years about how when it comes to grieving, the culture lies — you really do not get over the biggest losses, you don’t pass through grief in any organized way, and it takes years and infinitely more tears than people want to allot you. Yet the gift of grief is incalculable, in giving you back to yourself.”

I love Lamott’s words because they are so affirming and feel so true. After my step-dad, Mahlon, died I didn’t pass through grief in an organized way. I will never stop missing him and I’ve definitely shed many tears over the last few years. It’s still hard for me to believe he’s gone, and it’s even harder to believe it’s been two years since Mahlon died.

After Mahlon’s first stroke in January of 2012 — and since then — I’ve written about him in many journal entries. The entries included childhood memories, funny things he used to say, and I also processed my feelings of grief by putting pen to paper. I kept my old journals because I was attached to the emotion the entries carried. In a weird way, I felt like Mahlon was a part of those pages.

For the last few months, I’ve slowly read through my old journals. I looked for themes I wanted to write about in more depth and transcribed entries onto my computer. A few days ago, I decided to shred those journals. The journal shredding process was cathartic and it made me feel good. Journaling — and taking my daily photo — has been incredibly healing. However, I know when it’s time to let go of the stuff that is weighing me down.

Hanging onto my old notebooks won’t bring Mahlon back. He will always be with me. I believe the best way to honor his memory is by engaging in work I love, exploring nature, and spending time with my loved ones.

Be well,

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sandra Pawula June 10, 2014, 11:49 am

    That’s a huge step, Tammy. I’m in awe of your courage and willingness to follow your inner knowing. Your connection with Mahlon will never be lost, journals or not.

  • Jeanne Cantrell June 10, 2014, 12:24 pm

    Hi Tammy,
    I lost my mother just before Mahlon died. I know your posts helped me in the beginning and I thank you. Now after two years they are painful reminders of the pain of her passing. Please stop and move on. I find this very difficult for me for you to keep discussing Mahlon. Stop, stop please stop.

    • Tammy Strobel June 10, 2014, 2:51 pm

      Jeanne – I’m sorry you feel that way. If my posts are no longer helpful, please unsubscribe from this website. There are plenty of other blogs out there to read. Wishing you all the best.


  • Pat June 10, 2014, 2:23 pm

    I’m stunned that it has been two years since Mahlon’s passing! It seems like just yesterday that I sat here reading your post about it. He must have been a incredible man to have left you with so many precious memories. That is not always the case between step-parents and -children. Being able to shred the journals is a big step in the healing process, a good step. In the last year as I’ve let go of my dad’s possessions (he was a child of the Depression and, therefore, a hoarder), I’ve reassured myself that I have the memories of him in my heart/mind, and those are what count. I hope Dad is sitting beside my grandfather and cheering Mahlon’s party along.
    Warm encouragement is sent to you.

    • Tammy Strobel June 10, 2014, 3:00 pm

      Thank you Pat! Mahlon was an incredible man. He taught me many valuable life lessons. The last two years have flown by and I’ve learned so much. I’m grateful to be happy and healthy. Also, I’m sure Mahlon and your dad are having a great time in the clouds. 🙂

      Thank you for your support over the years. I appreciate it.


  • Susan M Hall June 10, 2014, 7:28 pm

    Anne Lamott’s poignant first novel “Hard Laughter” was my initial exposure to Lamott.

    “Writer (and sometime housecleaner) Jennifer is twenty-three when her beloved father, Wallace, is diagnosed with a brain tumor. This catastrophic discovery sets off Anne Lamott’s unexpectedly sweet and funny first novel…” (Good Reads review)

    My dad died in an Air Force plane crash in March 1975. My family tended to deal with tragedy through humor so “Hard Laughter” resonated. I’ve read all of Lamott’s subsequent books but “Hard Laughter” is my favorite.

    • Tammy Strobel June 11, 2014, 9:29 am


      I love Anne Lamott. She is awesome! I will check out “Hard Laughter.” It sounds like a fantastic book. Also, I’m sorry about your dad. Thank you for reading my words.


  • Bette June 10, 2014, 7:48 pm

    My mother gave me a big box of the sympathy cards that poured in when my brother died — 30 years ago! He and I were both in college at the time and his death was a painful blur I chose not to deal with. I lugged that box of cards around over the past decades, figuring one day I’d want to read through the words penned by those who loved my brother. Surprise! That day never came. I threw the box out a few months ago, unread. I don’t need to read what was written to carry him with me.

    Thank you so much for all you give your readers — I really appreciate your honest sharing.

    • Tammy Strobel June 11, 2014, 9:31 am

      Thanks for sharing your story, Bette. I’m sorry for your loss. Letting go of the box of cards must have been so freeing. Also, I appreciate your kind words.


  • Steph June 10, 2014, 8:43 pm

    I so respect your ability to share what I am sure is a painful part of your life and your process. You are a brave, strong, courageous woman. I wish you much love.

    • Tammy Strobel June 11, 2014, 9:28 am

      Thank you, Steph. I appreciate your kind words.

  • Natalie June 11, 2014, 8:22 am


    I think that Mahlon would be very proud of you and the way that you are working through the grief and honoring him. I’m grateful that you let us, your readers, into this part of your life.


  • Alyx Falkner June 12, 2014, 8:08 am

    Hey Tammy,
    Thanks for sharing this with us. My grandfather just passed a few weeks ago and even though we weren’t that close we were working to build a better relationship but were cut short in our efforts. He had a stroke while teaching and his brain lacked oxygen for 45 mins. But the time I spent contemplating him moving back and the things we would do together has given me great solace in knowing we were on the right track. However, I will forever, silently, miss him and no one may ever understand my pain because pain is expressed differently through each of us.

    Reading this, I’ve taken away the fact that we must cherish the time we have to spend with loved ones because we never know when that time will expire.

    Thanks again for sharing Tammy.

  • Rebecca June 21, 2014, 5:17 am

    Hi Tammy-
    Thank you for sharing this. How blessed you are to have had Mahlon in your life.

    I have thought for some time of letting go of journals I have kept since middle school. They are starting to take up entirely too much space (which doesn’t help my minimalist efforts) and reading back on some of them, they are downright depressing. I feel like letting go of them now will help me to let go of some of the sadness that seems to weigh me down these days. Thank you for the inspiration.

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