Journals, Memories, and Tulips: guest post by Mary Catalfo


I have put them, standing upright, in a box adorned with images of tulips, my favourite flower, and I’ve been staring at them for two days now, afraid to open them.

And I know why.


When I decide to write my memoirs, I begin working on a timeline of my life, filling in events as I recall them. I realize my journals might be valuable, so I plan to go through them and add more memories.

I have kept a journal for many years, but I am not sure exactly how many. I keep them in one of the many boxes I have collected. One weekend, I flip open the lid of a box made of woven twine and there they are, sitting on a turquoise and rose-coloured silk scarf. Six of them. I put them in order but, strangely, the order is off. One of them covers periods that I wrote about in some of the other journals, and there are also some big gaps.

Did I really go such long periods without writing? Why does one overlap the others? It feels like something is missing but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

The first journal I open is the one that does not make sense. I read the first page, and then I remember.

In 1998 I started writing in this separate journal. It was a few months after my son went to live with his father. As was routine at the time, he had been spending alternating weekends there. It was just days before Christmas, and a few days more before his 13th birthday, that my son left me, and he did not return for two years. I had no contact with him while he was gone, so this journal was a collection of notes to him, and my way of dealing with the emptiness and loss.

I flip a few more pages and realize the reason I kept a separate journal was that I wanted it to be positive messages to him and not about the grief I was going through not having him in my life. The other journals were for writing about that pain.

I keep adding to my timeline and suddenly I have four pages of events and memories, and the journal entries are triggering more. But something is still missing. Significant events in my life that I remember writing about are conspicuously absent from these journals. Is my memory failing?

There must be more, but what did I do with them? Did I throw them away by accident, or in an impulsive fit of rage or sadness?

This thought reminds me of the time ten years ago that I spent with Patricia just weeks before she died. As a friend, she was my soul-mate. My heart aches just thinking about her. She was diagnosed with colon cancer in October of 2003 and died in May of 2004 — five months later than expected.

She had destroyed all of her own journals because she did not want anyone to read them. I wish I could have read them. But I understand her motive. I’m not sure I would want anyone to read some of the dark inner thoughts I’ve written in my journals.

This triggers yet another memory. I remember writing in my journal about time with her when she was very ill. But among these journals there isn’t one that covers the end of 2003 to the beginning of 2004. There are definitely more journals! Somewhere.

It’s midnight on a Sunday. Time to go to bed. I’ll search for them tomorrow.


At work on Monday, I can’t stop thinking about the journals. Late in the afternoon I remember suddenly that one of my favourites was an expensive one, deep red with gold etchings, that I had purchased in a specialty gift shop on a golf weekend in Collingwood with three girlfriends. I recall writing about that weekend, but that journal was not in the box either.

At home, after a busy day at the office, I put my feet up on the coffee table and wonder, once again, where the hell those journals could be. The coffee table is a bamboo cube. I bought it at IKEA years ago and had a glass piece cut to fit on top. It serves double duty, coffee table and . . . extra storage. Oh my God!

I take the glass off the top, flip open the top, and see another pretty box. I lift the box out and remove the lid and there they are: eleven more journals.


I have been keeping a journal since 1996. I now have sixteen of them. Each covers a period of about six to eighteen months. I certainly wasn’t consistent in writing in them.

Now what?

Well first, of course, I have to organize them, because that’s what I do when I want to avoid something. I put them in order and leave them in the box on the floor by the couch.

They stay there for a week.

Then I use stickers to label them — little white rectangles, each with a big colourful circle next to it. I write in the white rectangle the dates each journal covers. The plan is to then number them 1 through 16 so that I can easily refer to them.

I haven’t written the number in the circle yet because I think there might be one more journal somewhere. I’m just not sure.


And so here they are, standing upright, in the pretty box patterned with tulips, and I’ve been staring at them for two days now. I’m sure there are lots of joyful entries, but for some reason emotions bubble to the surface that are rooted in the sad memories I know are also in there.

Still, along with the painful memories of Patricia’s passing, there are many happy memories of spending time with her before she fell ill. I know I wrote about how broken and empty I felt when my son left. Do I really want to revisit that pain? But I have also written about the special bond he and I have. The many, many late-night heartfelt chats. I want to revisit and savour those intimate moments, now, with the benefit of hindsight.

I’ve done a lot of healing and I’ve experienced a lot of joy. Everything I’ve written in my journals is a part of who I am today — and I like who I am. I want to remember, and write about, how I got here.

And most of all, I want to deliver on a promise I made two years ago to my now 28-year-old son — to write a memoir, even if it’s for his eyes only. That journey starts with finding the courage to open up these journals and let every entry take me back. And I will.


♦     ♦     ♦

I was born in Toronto, and now live and work here. I love my city. I’m trying to figure out how to paint and write full-time. Until then, I’m grateful for my corporate job. I’m working on writing my memoirs because my son asked me to.

Mary Catalfo will participate in Spice Isle Writing & Yoga Retreat, in Grenada, April 7 to 14.



  1. Valerie says:

    Stickers to order and date your journals – Genius! I am inspired to dig out my journals and organize them – and to write a memoir for my boys too. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Mary says:


      It’s payback, Valerie! You introduced me to writing workshops and now I’m drinking the koolaid … going on a retreat to write. It’s a great idea to start writing now while your boys are still babies.

      May we continue to inspire each other through our writing and the wonderful teachers that come into our lives!

  2. Coral Jewell says:

    Thanks Allyson and Mary,

    What a lovely piece of writing. Congratulations, Mary. I wish I could be organized enough to keep a journal, but I think that I’d rather not for fear of someone delving into my innermost thoughts. I’m not brave enough yet. At the moment all the memories and bright ideas about topics are stewing around in my brain. Sometimes the lid pops off and everything spews out in a jumbled mess. I write it down as fast as I can, hoping to organize it later.

  3. Susan Siddeley says:

    Way to go, Mary and Allyson, a lovely write-up about the fear of digging in. I think we can all relate to it.

    I hope you have a great workshop — I’ve been assured Grenada is a dreamy place.

  4. Mary,

    Your writing, and your writing process, continue to push past boundaries, to explore and inspire. Thank you for this tender and honest writing! It went strait to my heart.

    On this path with you,

    • Mary says:


      You are one of many teachers I have on this writing journey.

      Thank you for sharing … I appreciate your feedback and encouragement.


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