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What We Can Learn from Reading People’s Final Journal Entries

strokeofmidnightLately, I’ve been somewhat obsessively reading Thomas Merton’s journals.

It was very eerie to read the final entry in his journal — which, of course, he had no idea would be his last. And that got me remembering other final journal entries from authors I love.

From Thomas Merton:

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In a little while I leave the hotel. I’m going to say Mass at St. Louis Church, have lunch at the Apostolic Delegation, and then on to the Red Cross place this afternoon.

— The Journals of Thomas Merton, vol. 7, December 8, 1968, Bangkok (Merton died on December 10, 1968, while at a conference, from an accidental electric shock from a fan with faulty wiring).

From Virginia Woolf:

A curious sea side feeling in the air today. It reminds me of lodgings on a parade at Easter. Everyone leaning against the wind, nipped & silenced. All pulp removed.

This windy corner. And Nessa is at Brighton, & I am imagining how it wd be if we could infuse souls.

Octavia’s story. Could I englobe it somehow? English youth in 1900.

Two long letters from Shena & O. I cant tackle them, yet enjoy having them.

L.  is doing the rhododendrons…

— The Diary of Virginia Woolf, vol. 5, March 24, 1941, Sussex (Woolf drowned herself on March 28, 1941).

Most haunting of all, from Anne Frank:

…I just can’t keep it up anymore, because when everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if…if only there were no other people in the world.

— The Diary of Anne Frank, August 1, 1944, Amsterdam (Frank was discovered and arrested on August 4, 1944, and died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in late February or early March 1945)

From Flannery O’Connor:

This isn’t a journal entry, but the final letter written by Flannery O’Connor.

Dear Raybat,

Cowards can be just as vicious as those who declare themselves–more so. Dont take any romantic attitude toward that call. Be properly scared and go on doing what you have to do, but take the necessary precautions. And call the police. That might be a lead for them.

Dont know when I’ll send those stories. I’ve felt too bad to type them.

Cheers, Tarfunk

Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being, letter to Maryat Lee, July 28, 1964, Georgia (O’Connor died on August 3, 1964, of complications from lupus).

It’s a very solemn moment, coming to the end of a journal that I know was ended by death. Although the person writing it doesn’t infuse the words with special meaning, they seem to take on power from being the last.

For me, these entries serve as reminders to be grateful for my ordinary life, for the unremarkable routine that might be cut off at any moment.

This kind of memento mori may seem a bit grim — but I find it very helpful. I always struggle to remember how thankful I am for my everyday life, and this helps.

How about you? What practices help you to remember to be grateful for your ordinary day?


What We Can Learn from Reading People’s Final Journal Entries

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Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin is the award-winning author of The Happiness Project, a #1 New York Times bestseller. You can also watch the one-minute book video. She is a regular contributor to Psych Central.

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APA Reference
Rubin, G. (2018). What We Can Learn from Reading People’s Final Journal Entries. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 21 Aug 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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