Keeping a Personal Journal

Working through the grief process must be done by each of us in our own unique way. Many times talking to a trusted and compassionate listener is an effective way to release and resolve feelings of loss and grief.

There may be times when you are able to verbalize your feelings and needs or they are just too private to share. Writing your thoughts on paper can be helpful.

Journaling can help you clarify where you have been, where you are now and where you hope to be in the future. Putting your thoughts, memories, concerns and needs on paper may help you measure your progress in your grief journey and realize that the pain and sorrow are lifting and your grief is beginning to heal.

Once you record your ideas on paper you do not have to be preoccupied with thoughts of losing them. The writing makes “room” for new avenues of thinking that you may not have had time to consider previously.

Remember, your journal is private! You are the only one who needs to see it.

Ideas for Journal Writing

Begin by acquiring a notebook of your choice. Then choose one or several of the following approaches to journal writing that appeals to you.

You may find it helpful recording your feelings about your loved one in the form of a letter. Write a letter to the person who died, expressing thoughts and feelings about the following issues:

  • A special memory that I have about you.
  • What I miss the most about you and our relationship
  • What I wish I’d said or hadn’t said
  • What I’d like to ask you
  • What I wish we’d done of hadn’t done
  • What I’ve had the hardest time dealing with
  • Ways in which you will continue to live on in me
  • Special ways I have for keeping my memories of you alive.

Choose one or several ideas that have significance for you or start at the top of the list and work your way down. These topics may serve to help you come up with your own ideas specific to your situation and relationship.

Provide a page or two for each of the following headings:

  • Losses in Childhood : record how you felt when you had a loss as a child and how you feel now about those losses. What made it easy? What made it difficult?
  • Losses in Adolescence: same as above except for age.
  • Losses in Adulthood : same as above except for age.
  • Hurting: record your present hurts and compare them to earlier times.
  • Healing : record your resources and healings after past losses. Record the healing you have experienced in your current grief.

Beyond Now: record your musings about the future. Write about plans for bringing meaning back into life again.

  • Periodic Entries : establish a daily or weekly time to record entries about your feelings during the next few months.

In addition to letters and narrative written material about your own thoughts, feelings, and observations you may also choose to include:

  • Drawings or other visual materials, i.e., dreams, fantasies, symbols or diagrams that are useful in clarifying or expressing your ideas.
  • Illustrations from magazines or newspapers which capture the thought or image you are writing about.
  • Personally meaningful quotations you may have read or heard.
  • A section entitled Bright Ideas may help you to “brainstorm” about all the possible alternatives to your problems.

In time you will find that your writing has provided you with a “silent listening friend” and an effective way to bring about resolution of grief and personal growth.

Adapted from
“Self-Help Correspondence for the Bereaved: A Manual for Support Programs”
by Mary Ann Harter Janson, RN, MS

God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.
James M. Barrie