Expressing your grief through healthy outlets such as writing in a journal can give emotions that feel negative a positive, healthy conduit to beginning a healing process. The practice of writing in a journal can also create a personal source of self-empathy – a gift to and from yourself as you walk through your own mine field of grief, writing and then re-reading your self-expressions.
Whether you are a regular writer, or rarely sit down with a pen in hand, you can benefit greatly from the practice of writing in a journal on a regular basis as you cope with the death of a loved one.
1) Pick a Journal
To begin incorporating a journal-writing practice into your healing process, start by choosing a journal that beckons you to open it up and write inside. It can be a simple composition notebook, or an intriguing leather-bound journal from a specialty store.
2) Handwriting or Typing?
It’s ideal to handwrite as the connection between the hand and the brain is most powerful here. But, if you’re really not comfortable handwriting, there are several online journal websites you can use or, simply use a basic office document on your computer.
3) Where to Start?
You do not have to be a skilled writer to start a journal and experience the benefits of this practice. Using an open free writing process can get the words flowing freely. Write whatever comes to mind. If you don’t know where to start, begin by answering these three questions:
How are you feeling today?
Is there anything that’s bothering you?
What are you grateful for?
4) How Do I Express What I’m Feeling?
This is the place to be completely open and honest. Whatever comes naturally, put it down without censoring it. Your journal is your safe space where you can say the things you may not say out loud to any one else.
If you’re angry, and you feel compelled to curse at your journal, do it. If you’re sad, and you want to scribble long run-on-sentences expressing every ounce of that sorrow, write until your pen runs out of ink, or your arm is tired.
This free write process will hopefully create a channel for you to begin to pour out whatever emotions are stirring within.
5) Incorporating Quiet Reflection
Consider going for a hike or walk in nature, and finding a quiet spot to write under a tree, or beside a stream. Close your eyes, inhale and exhale three long, slow breaths, then try not to think while you sit quietly in total stillness. At first, this may be an uncomfortable feeling, but as you settle into the quiet, you may begin to feel a sense of peace.
From this space of stillness, you can begin to observe what you are feeling. Ask yourself questions: Are you angry? Are you tired? Are you feeling a mixed bag of emotions, or is one predominantly overtaking at the moment?
When you are ready, open your eyes, and try again to write what you noticed and uncovered. This is especially helpful if you’re still struggling with where to start writing. It should begin a stream of consciousness that opens the doorway to expressing more of what is alive in you.
6) Uncovering the Sources of Your Pain
As you begin noticing and observing your feelings in your quiet reflection and writing, you can take on a role as an investigator, seeking to uncover the sources of your pain that lie beneath the emotions. Continue asking yourself questions, peeling back the layers of emotion like an onion.
What is it you miss most about your loved one? What were the most sacred gifts they gave you in your time with them? Did they give you a sense of meaning, connection, friendship? How did they provide companionship, security, stability, connection or meaning in your life?
7) Can’t Find the Words?
If at any point, you’re feeling completely stuck and unable to begin writing, try writing about anything around you just to get a flow of words started.
“The dog is at my feet begging for attention right now, I think I need to let him out but I don’t want to. Right now, I just want to sit here and try to write because I…”
Sooner than later, this almost always leads to that steady stream of consciousness.
8) How Long Should I Write For & How Often?
A rule of thumb is to write until you have filled three pages, or until you can’t write anymore. The longer you write, the more you will begin to express.
Make a goal to write daily, or at the least, weekly.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by emotions at any time, force yourself to put pen to paper and write about whatever is going on to give those feelings a healthy outlet.
9) A Dose of Self-Empathy & Compassion
When you’re done writing, take the time to go back and re-read what you wrote. Consider this a dose of much-needed self-empathy as you reflect on the emotions and experiences you wrote about.
Allow yourself to feel compassion for the person who wrote those words, much like you would feel towards a child who had skinned his knee. These words hold the most tender soft spots of your pain – they deserve honor and compassion both.
Re-reading your journal entries may prompt even more “ah-ha” moments as you learn more about the specific sources of your pain. Feel free to continue free-writing where you left off to document new discoveries, thoughts or feelings.
10) A Path to Healing
As you continue this process, you’ll find that after each writing session, you feel a little lighter. It may not change the way you feel, but in giving voice to your feelings, and a dose of self-empathy, you may begin to feel less bogged down by the weight of such intense emotions.
Over time, you can look back at what you’ve written and observe the ebb and flow of emotions vs. healing. You may begin to notice that you’re feeling some of these emotions less intensely, or that you’re more able to work through them you were before.
Consider your journal a best friend and confidant as you work through your grief – a trusted source of compassion, empathy, and expression. Take comfort in the time you give yourself to write freely, and express yourself openly, and honestly. Give yourself the gift of quiet reflection and writing time as often as possible – whenever you are feeling awash in grief, and even when you begin to feel glimmers of joy and gratitude as you work through your healing process.
Updated: August 6, 2013