Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The List, reframed

On the 10th anniversary of his suicide I found a list Ron wrote before he died. He had tucked it inside one of my journals. For three years since I've held the mystery of that list in my consciousness. He wrote:
1. Withdraw from family life.
2. Don’t pull my own weight with Kathy and kids.
3. Ran up large CC bills, didn’t share with her.
4. Didn’t communicate with her. Didn’t listen to her, she has been worried and concerned for years.
5. Do fun things not just work.
6. Alcohol—When at home have 2–5 drinks in evening. Don’t seem to drink when not home.
Why did it take me ten years to find this list? Because I have never been the type of person who reads her own journal pages.

Now, while writing my memoir, I must. I read not only to steep myself in the facts of my life at an earlier time, but to fully appreciate the ways my journal pages functioned in my life. Now I can see:
  • the way I partnered with these pages as Ron slowly withdrew from our lives.
  • the way I steeled myself to take on his duties as well as mine in all aspects of our farm and family life.
  • the way I’d work through my fears about our financial jeopardy as the clues slowly emerged.
  • the way I'd air my feelings because for years the pages were the only place I would be heard.
  • the way I’d fantasize about travel or doing something fun outside the demanding routine of our everyday lives.
  • the way my fears about Ron’s decline slowly added up to a conscious concern about alcoholism.

Hmm. Look at those two lists. Remarkably similar, aren’t they.

It occurs to me now that just three weeks before the suicide, when I returned from a weekend away, Ron admitted to having read all my journals. This shocked me. Not because I feared his awareness of their content; I'd been trying to share these thoughts and feelings with him for years. No, it shocked me because in our fifteen years together I only remember him reading one slim volume, while on vacation in North Carolina—Master Electrician—and my journaling at the time had spilled into more than a dozen spiral-bound notebooks.

Unfortunately, his newfound curiosity about me arrived too late.

I remember asking him what he found in those notebooks. He answered: “Hope.”

You may recall from my last post that ten years later, I too found hope in reading Ron’s list, for in awareness lies the seeds of wisdom. I thought the list was a gift from Ron showing that he was aware of the problems in our marriage. Tucked as it was inside the pocket of one of my personal journals, that list felt like an apology. That he wrote it at all made it seem like an action plan.

I'm sharing this story here because it reveals so much about memoir writing. The digging for clues. The surprises.

And the huge potential for erroneous conclusions based on point of view.

My recent re-examination of the facts leads me to a new conclusion, one you may already have come to: Ron wasn't devising an apology he hoped might reach me across time any more than he was he drafting an action plan. He was taking notes. He cribbed that list from my journal entries. Parroting, not understanding.

And within this new awareness lies an important clue as to why I have thrived in a way Ron could not.

It is my nature, not his, to analyze until I identify problems. It is my nature, not his, to seek answers. It is I, not Ron, who believes that the seeds of wisdom take root in awareness. I misunderstood that list for so many years because it is my nature to not only look for gifts from the universe, but to expect them.

I see myself as a small character in a grand, epic story, yet I don’t use that as an excuse to accept my insignificance; on the contrary, I see this as an opportunity to create a ripple effect. I have embraced the opportunity to co-author, with the help of God, the development of my own character.

I am a believer.

I think Ron was, too, but in a much different way, and it was the source of his undoing.

I fear his belief system was so small that when he began to sink it couldn’t possibly continue to hold him up. The commandments he internalized could not save his soul. Written on a yellow slip of paper, they were gleaned from a much more personal bible, and they fed perfectly into the cycle of self-condemnation caused by his alcoholic depression.

By the time his life imploded I fear Ron only believed in one thing.


Heaven help his tortured soul.

[Later that day, after writing this post, I heard a nun say on Oprah, "If we don't believe in anything larger than ourselves, we'll never do anything larger than ourselves." Coincidence?]


Marie Lamba said...


You are a gifted writer as well as an impressive woman. When I think of you, I always think of your sunny disposition...which is in itself a triumph of spirit.

Journal on, my friend.


Kathryn Craft said...

Marie: Pretty effective yourself, as a writer--in those few words you added a tear or two to my sunny disposition! xoxo

Colleen Friesen said...

It is very apparent to me that you must be writing an amazing memoir. I find your writing fluid, reflective and very aware. I am so glad you are doing this work. It will be an immense help to many people. Keep writing please...

Kathryn Craft said...

Colleen: Thanks so much for finding, reading, and commenting upon my blog. I so appreciate your feedback, and encouragement.

Lisa R. Tomarelli said...

Your courage helps me tap into my own understanding behind that curtain in my memoir writing...it is clear to me now that a part of me doesn't want to write this thing but I know I must.

Thanks for the boost.

I know you're driven by your significant audience of 'one', but I hope you're prepared for a much larger audience than that. My logical mind cannot fathom this writing of yours to be kept personal. I will continue to keep you in my prayers as you proceed.

I think it's time for a shared drink now...Belvedere, anyone? Oh the irony.