Writing to Awaken with Mark Matousek

In the summer of 2022, I had the pleasure of taking a 5 day long Writing to Awaken course with Mark Matousek. The course took place at beautiful Hollyhock, an educational retreat centre on Cortes Island, British Columbia, Canada.  The days were perfect filled with writing, reflecting, early morning hot tubs beside the ocean, yoga classes, yummy food, walks in the Hollyhock garden and meditation time in the sanctuary.  Each day, Mark guided us to the page with purpose.

Mark will be doing the same in an upcoming 4 week online course called Writing to Awaken: Journaling for Insight in Times of Adversity (in other words, in times like we are living in).  Please join us – the course starts on April 5th. You can find all of the details and register here, you will be glad you did >>

Mark guides writers to the page with prompts that lead to new insights and self-discovery and he calls forth one’s authentic voice on the page.

The writing that follows is from the unedited pages of my journal where I responded to Mark’s prompts during a writing exercise in the course… it is raw, real, free writing.

The Story I Tell Myself That Isn’t True by Lynda Monk

from the pages of my journal …

Mark’s writing prompt:  What is a story you tell yourself or to other people that you know isn’t true?

My response…

I keep hearing myself say that I know my mom’s end of life is near, nearer than it has ever been before.  I guess you could say the same is true for all of us, my end of life is closer today than it was yesterday.

I keep hearing myself say that I am ok with my mom dying, that I don’t want her to suffer and hope the end can come sooner than her most painful time that is sure to come.

My dear mom has Alzheimer’s disease. She was diagnosed over 5 years ago, just two months before my Dad died of this same unmerciful disease. We, me and my brother, have walked this path of slow, heartbreaking loss before. There is a reason Alzheimer’s gets called the “long good-bye.”  There is the loss of the person’s abilities, memory, motor and verbal skills. When my Dad died he was near unable to swallow because the brain, his brain, had forgotten that important bodily function. The demented brain eventually fails to keep the capacity of how to function alive.

Alzheimer’s is more than simply being forgetful, more than not remembering your own children, or your own life, it is declining path into a version of oneself that never existed before, a smaller, incapable, vulnerable and near invisible version of oneself. You become a version of yourself that most of your friends consider already dead, even when you are still alive.  Friends will say, “oh, I miss your mom’s laughter” and I think to myself “she just laughed this morning, she is still here.” But I don’t say that out loud. I understand that people die to some people long before they’re dead. I understand that people cope with loss in different ways.

Maybe that is why I tell myself what really isn’t true, that I am ok with my mom dying.

Mark’s next writing prompt: What might change in your life if you told yourself the truth?

I would have to face the truth that I am not ready for my mom to die. This woman who has been my best friend, my mother, the grandmother to my sons, her only grandchildren, the wife to my Dad, the friend to many, the woman I have confided in my whole life to, who I have laughed with, cried with, played Yahtzee with in living rooms, on ferry boats and in airports while waiting for flights between our next good-byes.  She is the woman I have stoked fires with at the camp every summer, who I wheeled to the surgery door when she had her mastectomy many years ago just two days after my grandma died.  She is the woman who I provided care to after her surgery.  I took the bandage off her wound and she asked me to look first and tell her what I saw where her breast used to be. She is the woman who always asked, and still does, if I’m warm enough when it’s cold and who would fold my laundry each time she visited.

Mark’s next writing prompt: How does this story lead to feelings of inauthenticity?

I have to say I’m fine with my mother dying, she is receiving palliative care, not only does she have Alzheimer’s she also has cervical cancer. We don’t want her to suffer, we want her life to end while she’s still smiling, and she is, most of the time. She has Alzheimer’s, cancer and has survived Covid twice within her care home room, and still when you ask her how she’s feeling, she says, “me, I’m fine” surprised that I would ask such a question.

It’s not inauthentic, it’s pending heartbreak that keeps the truth of my story at bay.

I learned my whole life to say “I’m fine” and now when I say to myself “I’m fine with my mother dying, I don’t want her to suffer.” I know that this is both the deep truth AND a huge lie I tell myself all at once. I will never be fine with losing my mother, but I will have to become fine when and after our final good-bye comes. And it won’t be long now. The good-bye is getting shorter in time.

Author: Lynda Monk is the Director of the IAJW.org.  She is an avid journal writer and currently writing her adoptee memoir.