Journaling class helping students make history

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, March 28, 2013

— When Judy Williamson's husband was ill, their grandson gave him a journal and asked him to record stories about his life.

Her husband—who had spent time as a marine biologist, chemist, artist and pianist—couldn't imagine what was so important in his life that would be worth writing in a journal.

But the day he found out he was terminally ill, he wrote a prayer in the journal.

When he died, Williamson returned the journal to their grandson and apologized for the single entry.

Still, the grandson was grateful and told her he'd cherish the journal for the rest of his life.

Williamson thought her husband's life was so interesting that books could have been written about his talents.

She also believes “every person's life is a book.”

That's why the 61-year-old Rockton, Ill., woman, agreed to lead a new journaling class at the Beloit Senior Center. The sessions started in March and continue at 1 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at Grinnell Hall, 631 Bluff St. They are free and open to those 50 and older.

Paula Schutt, director of the senior center, agreed people's lives are rich and worth sharing.

“People's life stories are precious, and they shouldn't be lost,” she said.

Schutt said she would give anything to have stories from her grandmothers, who died when she was a child.

“I never knew them and am learning more about them as I get older. I wish they would have written things down so I could know how they felt as women, how they felt about their situations in life and how they handled it,'' she said.

It's common for many not to know where to start in journaling. Williamson shares journal writing and memory stimulation tips.

During Tuesday's class, Williamson asked participants to write a subject in a circle on paper. Then she asked them to write things that pertained to that on the outside of that circle.

Each thing stimulates another memory. After jotting down items for 10 minutes, then you begin to write, she said.

“We take the most significant days of our lives and turn them into stories,” Williamson said.

“That way we can put together a journal and leave a living testament of who we were, how we lived, what we believed and how we overcame our struggles,” she said.

Most children don't know a person until after he or she is gone, and that's when they begin to understand why they did the things they did, Williamson said.

That's the idea behind the class.

“It's the process of learning why we keep a journal and something more than genealogy,” she said.

“Everybody has something to say and share with their families,” Williamson said. “You can't live to be 60, 70 or 80 without having something to say or a story to tell. We're just trying to write and leave our significant stories behind so we have a living testament to leave our children and grandchildren about who we were.''

Last updated: 8:16 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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