We’ve told you the heartbreaking and beautiful story of Johnny Gunther written about in Death Be Not Proud—the seventeen-year-old boy who was diagnosed with a brain tumor a few months before he was set to begin his freshman year at Harvard. But how do we know this story? How did some of Johnny’s innermost thoughts in his brief life survive? Like Anne Frank, whose life was also cut tragically short, he journaled about it. And he journaled about it because his parents encouraged him to.
“You put it on my desk so gently,” Johnny wrote of the diary his parents gave him. “You didn’t tell me to use it. You just put it gently on my desk, remember, and then I began using it, and I’m so glad.”
That journal became a resource, a safe place for him to deal with what must have been overwhelming emotions. Think about how angry he must have been, and how much solace he might have found, as Anne Frank also did, in the patience of paper. Those pages and that writing became, also, a place for Johnny to live on forever, when the tumor finally overtook him.
Journaling isn’t something we can force our kids to do, but it is something we can encourage, gently, as the Gunthers did. We can also model it. We can show them what the habit looks like, and share with them the journals of our own younger days (or even their own younger days).
We can make a soft pitch of the benefits, of the role it has played in our lives.
But most importantly of all, we can show them the benefits of journaling through our actions, our mood, our patience and care and contemplation as adults. And then hopefully, as Johnny lives on forever in the pages of his journey, we can live on for our kids through the pages of our journal.