After finishing her freshman year of college as a double major in immunology and medical microbiology, and multidisciplinary studies, West Virginia University Student Kensey Bergdorf was faced with tragedy. She unexpectedly lost her father and grandmother just two days apart.
At their funerals, a kind soul offered her some inspiring advice: “You need to write down everything you can remember about them, because memories don’t last forever, and you’re going to want those. You’re going to want those little reminders, because ten years from now you may not remember these things.”
Kensey hurriedly started jotting down all of the memories that she could remember of her loved ones. From trips to the zoo with her dad to the distinct smell of wood smoke at her grandmother’s house, she captured it all within the lined sheets of a notebook. Pages upon pages of her thoughts and memories were compiled.
When her best friend’s father passed away five months after her own, Kensey brought the family notebooks so that they could all start journaling their memories. After losing two of her friends, she decided to reach out to the university’s Department of Leadership Studies for funding to get a project launched. However, it wasn’t until a scholarship dinner that things would really take off for her.
At the event, she happened to be seated next to Dr. Lisa Di Bartolomeo, a world language professor at West Virginia University. Kensey recalled Di Bartolomeo asking her what she did outside of science. After divulging the details of the Memory Journal Project, the professor felt compelled to help.
“It was such a striking idea that I told her immediately, ‘I want to help,’” Di Bartolomeo said. “I saw how inspired she was by the thought of helping others work through their losses. It was wonderful to see someone take their own pain and reach out to help others work through theirs, and I was just floored by Kensey’s ability to channel that loss into action.”
Kensey was then able to work with individuals from the Office of Student Life and the Carruth Center on campus to start drafting a guideline for students to record their memories. The goal at hand was to create therapeutic prompts and activities to engage those that were using it, and they accomplished just that. After getting the guideline polished up and the notebooks furnished, they were made available on campus to everyone.
“She was very focused and determined to bring this to our campus and we all got behind her in this endeavor,” Kim Mosby, senior associate dean of students and student advocate for campus and community life said.
Kensey wanted to go beyond the generic grief pamphlets that are often handed out. After experiencing her losses, she felt angry and had so much on her mind that she wanted to get off of her chest. Her journaling turned into a “brain dump” as she called it, where she could pour out all of her thoughts. Things that she couldn’t talk about were easy to let flow onto paper. The notebook wasn’t going to judge her, and she credits it to helping her get out of that “funk” she found herself in.
Kensey anticipates that her Memory Journal Guide Book will be a common practice in the grieving process, as she hopes for them to be exchanged during times of loss. The therapeutic benefits of writing have not only helped her, but several others as well. She has even modified the guideline for young children to use when they lose a loved one. Kensey has expressed interest in starting a group for those who have used the guideline to come and reflect on their journey towards healing.
“I took a kind thing that someone did for me and amplified it,” Kensey said, “I encourage people to take the things that they appreciate, and then try to emulate those in their own lives.”
Kensey’s determination to make a difference and help others through their most difficult times should serve as a reminder to us all that kindness has the undeniable power to heal.
We all share the inevitable pain that losing a loved one leaves us with. Kensey assures that it is never too late to start your own memory journal. For just a few bucks, you can pick up some notebooks and pencils for yourself (or a friend) and begin journaling your memories today. You may be surprised how healing it can be!