Every Tuesday afternoon, volunteer Faith Wilcox brings her “Journals of Hope” program to young patients and their families at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC). Over her shoulder she carries a tote bag, loaded with brand new journals.
Faith invites patients and families to pick one and put their thoughts and feelings to paper. It might seem like an odd gesture in this age of electronic media, but she firmly believes in the cathartic power of journal writing, especially in the face of illness.
Writing Away Her Worries
Nearly two decades ago, Faith – a Sudbury, Massachusetts, resident – spent 11 months at MGHfC, by the bedside of her daughter Elizabeth as the teenager battled a rare bone cancer. “I worried about my daughter’s health but also her psychological well-being,” Faith recalls. “A hospital can be very isolating. She missed her friends a lot.”
Anxious about Elizabeth’s fate and worried about the toll on her other daughter, Faith turned to pen and paper. She found comfort in recording her observations about Elizabeth’s courage and inner-strength, in spite of her failing health. Writing also gave Faith a safe way to express emotions and thoughts that were otherwise trapped inside.
Elizabeth died in 2001 at age 14. But Faith continued to write in her journal. Now, looking back on those entries, she better understands the slow and complicated journey she took. She shares how she went “from despair to hope, from grief to healing, from almost giving up to knowing life is going to be okay.”
Faith recently pieced together her journal entries into a memoir, “Chasing Hope,” a recounting of Elizabeth living “a life filled with grace,” and of how family and community helped Faith become whole again.
For Faith, it doesn’t matter which path of creativity a patient or parent travels as long as the writer finds value in the act of self-expression.
Journals of Hope
Faith is a member of MGHfC’s Family Advisory Council, a group that builds relationships between patients, their families and hospital staff. In January 2019, she started “Journals of Hope” to honor Elizabeth and give back to MGHfC for its care of her daughter and family during their harrowing journey all those years ago.
She uses funds raised through her online BeCause page to purchase new journals of varying colors and styles that she distributes at the hospital. Every week, she spends three hours at MGHfC on Ellison 17 and 18, the pediatric inpatient floors, and in the pediatric intensive care unit. With journals and pens tucked in the tote bag, she starts walking the floors of the children’s hospital.
A Meaningful Gesture
When appropriate, Faith enters rooms and speaks with patients and their families about the therapeutic benefits of journal writing. If a patient expresses interest, she offers her or him a journal, and shares materials on the usefulness of journal writing and ideas on how to get started. After her visit, she takes notes on her exchanges, observations and family feedback. She revisits those notes each week, in an effort to gauge the impact of her program.
One Tuesday afternoon in September, Maureen Ouellette, mother of 16-year-old Kory, willingly accepted Faith’s invitation to journal. In fact, she regretted not having a journal the week prior, when Kory was admitted to MGHfC. “I could really have used this last Monday,” she says. “My son was very, very sick. I would have had a lot to write.” Now, as Kory pores over a 1,000-piece puzzle, things seem more positive, and even he plans on using his journal at school.
Poetry or prose – for Faith it doesn’t matter which path of creativity a patient or parent travels as long as the writer finds value in the act of self-expression. So far, more than 350 patients and parents have told her they intended to make use of their journals. She hopes her meaningful gesture enables them to find light in a dark moment.
If you would like to support the Journals of Hope program at MGHfC, please visit Faith’s BeCause fundraising page.