Mention Your Journal in Your Will

>After learning that I teach and write about journaling, a woman I recently met asked me a heart-wrenching question. She told me that her adult daughter died last year and left instructions with her significant other that she did not want her mother to read her journals. Then she asked, “Should I read them?” 

My reflexive answer was simple: “No! I wouldn’t if I were you.” We discussed the matter briefly, and I could sense her disappointment with my answer. Clearly she’d hoped for permission to cling to that forbidden fragment of her beloved daughter, to know her as fully as possible under the circumstances. But I stand by my answer for the following reasons:
  • Her daughter asked that they not be shared with Mom. This a chance for Mom to honor her daughter’s wishes and memory in this last way.
  • Journals are a place to write with brutal honesty about our own shortcomings and uncertainties. They are a place to try on ideas the way we try on clothing in a store. Just for fun I often try on outfits I know will look ridiculous, or I discover others I really like don’t fit well. Most of what I try on goes back on the return rack. I try out ideas the same way in my journal. So there may be things in the daughter’s journals that were temporary thoughts, soon discarded without further consideration or note, but they linger in those pages, waiting to mislead potential readers.
  • Journals are a safe place to ventilate frustration and anger about parents and other loved ones. Once it’s on paper, it often dissipates and disappears without a trace, even if no solutions are found, but those smoldering embers remain, waiting to scorch or sear more hearts.
  • Young people often try on behaviors the same way they try on ideas. Journals are a safe place to confess to behavior that others may condemn, to analyze and work through trials and tribulations. If others know of these events, even long after the fact, relationships that could otherwise thrive may be irreparably harmed.

The fact that Daughter specifically said she didn’t want Mom reading her journals signals that she knew they contained volatile material, and she was trying to protect both Mom’s serenity and Mom’s memory of her. To me that seems like an act of love. There is no opportunity to clear up misunderstandings with a dead person. 

Some people choose to write journals intended to be a written legacy for grandchildren and the future That’s a noble thing to do. If you are one of these people, you know how much you want to disclose and where to set your boundaries as you write. If you write with pens of fire, take measures to protect your words. 

In either case, whether you write Top Secret journals or open book ones, it’s prudent to state in your will what’s to become of them. This will avoid family squabbles and confusion about who is to receive the public ones, and ensure your wishes are followed if they are to be destroyed. Especially if you want them to be destroyed, be sure to pick a person you can trust to carry out your intention. 

Write now: a short explanation explaining your thoughts and intentions on the future of your journals. Do you want them to be read or destroyed? If you died tomorrow, who would you want them to pass on to? Or who would you trust to destroy them unread? Type this up and date and sign it and have a couple of friends or relatives sign as witnesses. Then place it with your will.


Maria said...

Thanks for this post it has really made me think. I was home a few weekends ago and I had to sort through some boxes. I found old journals that I had hidden (all wrapped up and cellophaned up)which I took out and looked at briefly. I put them into a new fresh box and left them with my dad. When I got back home I did have a panic thinking I really hope dad will not realise what they are and start reading them. They were written at precisely the time of teenage angst so definately not something for his eyes!!!

Sharon Lippincott said...

Wow, what a dilemma! I'll cross my fingers for you. Now you have to decide whether to alert your dad not to read them, which could make him curious, or stay quiet and hope he doesn't think about it or notice...

Livvy U. said...

I think this is a really important post about something not many of us dare to think about. I have diaries from when I was 13, and they are incredibly precious to me - but I haven't thought through exactly what I want doing with them when I'm gone. And as I need to write a will, this is good timing!