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Start a Grief Journal

"Journal writing," said author Christina Baldwin, "is a voyage to the interior." There's little doubt that when you're grieving the loss of someone dear to you, writing can be a way to let go of deep feelings and guide you through this time of transition. The good thing is that you don't have to think of yourself as a writer to commit to a practice of bereavement journal writing.

There are no rules. This isn't something that will be turned in to your English teacher to review for spelling, grammar and usage errors. This is simply an opportunity to pour out your heart onto paper.

  • You don't have to spend hours writing. Dedicate a certain amount of time (ex. 15 minutes a day) to begin. You may discover you enjoy writing for longer periods of time.
  • You don't have to invest in a fancy bound journal; a basic school composition book or spiral notebook is fine. If you'd rather use your computer, there are a number of tools to use. (See the Resources section at the close of this article.)
  • It's important for a writer to have the best tools to work with. If pen and paper is your choice, purchase some of your favorite pens. There's nothing worse than trying to write with a pen that doesn't fit your hand or that's running out of ink. If you think pencil is a better option, buy a pack of fresh pencils and a sharpener.

Take some time to prepare for your journaling. Pick a comfortable spot in your home where you can sit quietly. You may also wish to select some background music to set the mood. Breathe deeply and clear your mind of those busy thoughts about the day.

What about Writer's Block

Sometimes the blank page can leave a writer at a loss for words. Let's face it, the emotions of grief are often huge and feel unmanageable. It may help to remember that you are using the act of writing as a healing tool; you're not trying to write the next New York Times bestseller. This is for you and no one else need ever see it. In case you're still at a loss about what to write, here are a few ideas:

Create an alpha poem. Start with a line of letters from the alphabet or even the letters in your loved one's name, written vertically down the left hand side of the page. Create lines of poetry by using those letters as the starting point for each line. For example, using the letters of the name Rosemary:

Some of the
Evenings when you
Managed to find happiness in
Anger finds me sadly

You could also use the letters of an emotion you are feeling at the moment such as anger, joy, loneliness, regret, appreciation or acceptance. If an alpha poem doesn't capture your interest:

Use one of the following writer's prompts. Complete one or more of these following sentences:

  • When I think about you, I feel...
  • If I could talk to you again, I'd tell you...
  • One of my fondest memories of you is...
  • One of my least favorite memories of you is...

Write about a special time you shared. Try to capture as many details as possible. Where were you? What did you do together? What did you wear? What was said?

Chronicle the things you'd wished you'd taken the time to say. Or write about those things you wished you hadn't said.

Look to the future. Write an essay titled, "What My Life May be Six Months from Now" (or a year from now).

Write a letter to your loved one.This is a simple enough way to release your complex emotions by sharing them with someone who knew and loved you.

Tell the story of your relationship. This could be an on-going project and will certainly do a lot to calm your mind. In attempting to capture the details, you have less time to feel anxiety or sorrow.

Through journal writing, you have an unparalleled opportunity to look inward and in so doing, you can identify your strengths and weaknesses, and focus on developing resiliency and growing stronger through your bereavement.

As Linda Cherek, a member of the Board of Trustees for the National Catholic Ministry to the Bereaved, notes: "Writing out our losses is a method of therapy. The word 'therapy' comes from the Greek word therapei which means the kind of attention one gives the sacred. The way our life was connected with that of our loved one is a sacred story of the unique journey we walked. Keeping a journal is one valuable way to honor that journey."

Storytelling is one of the techniques that you can use in learning the attitudes and skills of resiliency. In short, resilience is the ability to:

  • make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
  • feel confident in your strengths and abilities
  • communicate and demonstrate problem-solving skills
  • manage strong feelings and impulses

Storytelling has been a part of human societies for ages and many of the stories from our own culture or faith deal specifically with resilience. Think back to some stories from your childhood or name a few of your favorite film titles. Chances are good that at least one of your all-time best movies and books has to do with someone facing adversity and (through resilience) not only surviving, but thriving.

If the mood strikes, pick up that beloved book or film and see if it still speaks to you of inner strength. If you’re someone who loves to write, consider telling your own story of resilience. Writing about difficult things that have occurred in our lives may be helpful.  In fact, James Pennebaker, psychologist and author of Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma & Emotional Upheaval, declared, "When we put our traumatic experiences into words, we tend to become less concerned with the emotional events that have been weighing us down."

If writing your story sounds like a positive way to support your bereavement, here are some additional tips from his book:

  • Write continuously for 20 minutes a day.
  • Write only for yourself.
  • If you feel you're going to flip out, then switch topics.

At the close of your daily writing session, ask yourself the following questions and base your answers on a sliding scale of 1-10 (1 being the least, 10 being the most):

  • To what degree did you express your deepest thoughts and feelings?
  • To what degree do you currently feel sad or upset?
  • To what degree do you currently feel happy?
  • To what degree was today's writing valuable and meaningful for you?

“And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.”
Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing