Marking time

When a loved one first entered a memory care unit, she was still cognizant enough to recognize the passage of time. But living in a place that offered limited opportunity to plan and look forward to events, she found herself forgetting not only what day of the week it was but also what month.

I bought her a large calendar and colorful pens so she could visually track the days. As we talked that day and she recognized where we were on the current calendar page, she took one of the pens and began placing huge Xs on the days leading up to the current one.

After a moment I reached out gently and covered her hand with mine. “Instead of an X, why don’t you draw a heart or a flower?” I suggested. “That way, at the end of the month, instead of a page filled with Xs, you’ll have a page filled with art.”

X-ing out, crossing out, days is not for me. When I worked in an office, it was common to see cubicle walls decorated with beautiful calendars with the days X-d out. The dictionary tells us that to X out something is to obliterate or invalidate that something. So to me, it was as if the cubicle inhabitant was saying, “Thank God, THAT day is over.” Or “That day meant nothing, and I don’t want to consider it again.”

It reminded me of prisoners marking time until a release date or execution date. I found those Xd-out calendars depressing.

If you happen to be a calendar X-er, may I metaphorically gently cover your hand with mine and ask you to consider replacing that daily action with another?

If you are artistically inclined, then sketch a little something on each day’s grid that brings you joy. And if your drawing ability is like mine (non-existent), then how about some stickers from a dollar store?

Or if you are more word-inclined, turn each day’s blank space into a gratitude journal of sorts. Write briefly about one happy event that occurred that day. Some examples might be:  Beautiful sunset /  Spotted the first bloom on the crepe myrtle today  / Video chatted with an old friend  / Made my sister’s recipe for scalloped potatoes and they were delicious (As a matter of fact, they were.)

Even those of us currently going through a rough time will find ourselves seeking out the small joys in our lives if we make this a conscious decision to find one bright spot each day.

A third idea is to turn your calendar into a “reverse” gratitude journal by noting how you did something nice for someone else. Again, these can be small occurrences such as: Mailed a thank you note  /  Smiled at someone in line at the post office  /  Shared online a happy experience I had at a store

Here too we unknowingly prod ourselves to take more kind actions so we have something to write about!

If these sound like interesting ideas, we can also incorporate all three options. Maybe sketch or sticker for a day or two, write gratitude prose for several days, and also remind ourselves that we are kind people.

Then instead of tearing off the just-ended month or throwing away your calendar at the end of the year, take the time to look back on your offerings. Replacing a bunch of Xs, you’ll find a reflection of yourself, of who you were on each of those days. You’ll be reminded of the goodness each single day held, even on the not-so-good days.


You don’t even have to buy a calendar! Here are some that you can download and print.