When we experience a traumatic event in our lives such as death, divorce or child abuse, it is often difficult to talk about what has happened. The bereaved may find it hard to acknowledge or explain their grief responses. They may ask questions of themselves and others such as: “What is happening to me?”; “Why is my body reacting in these strange ways?”; “Why am I experiencing such odd emotions or such a roller coaster of feelings?”. Informed and sensitive helpers can give names to the emotional responses that the bereaved are experiencing. Helpers can also assist in finding appropriate ways to express strong feelings and other responses.
Writing about negative experiences may have benefit those who have a difficult time talking about their feelings. Getting emotions down on paper, whether in a journal, a letter or some other form can help the griever come to terms with feelings and resolve them. Some may want to seek counselling as well. But confronting painful events realistically can help an individual understand them.
Many bereaved persons have found comfort in reading the published version of the notebooks in which C. S. Lewis A Grief Observed, 1976) wrote out his feelings about the death of his wife. His original writings, in journal form, were done as a way of spelling out his grief. But his description has rung so true with other bereaved persons that his book has provided a “normal” way to look at grief and the assurance that others are on a similar journey.
Keeping a journal can provide an opportunity to spell out ideas, beliefs, attitudes and feelings in a style comfortable to the griever. It is descriptive and explicit; it is spontaneous and honest. It establishes a sense of competence in being able to discipline and reveal yourself in a safe, non-threatening way. The writing belongs to you alone. Journalling traces growth and changes in thoughts, attitudes and behaviours.
As one writer indicated, ” I don’t always understand exactly how I feel until I see it on paper.” The process of writing out one’s thoughts helps to clarify and come to grips with them. Keeping a grief journal is not for everyone, but it can be another tool for the bereaved individual to deal with the reality of loss.
There are no right or wrong ways to keep a grief journal. If you are considering this option, the following suggestions may be helpful:
- write about your own feelings and experiences, not those of others;
- add to the journal on a regular basis – daily, twice weekly, weekly – or as the need arises;
- include special poems, drawings, pictures, sayings or other materials that impact at a particular time;
- write a letter to the deceased loved one…or to God;
- if you are having difficulty getting started, consider writing about “why I feel sad”, or “what I miss the most”.
In her book, Living With An Empty Chair, Robert Temes notes that “words can help you. They need not be sophisticated. They need only be sincere.” Keeping a journal while dealing with grief can be of help to the griever.
Again, from C.S. Lewis, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
“At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”
The grief journey is one of life’s most difficult transitions. The bereaved person can find help for the journey in a variety of ways – journalling may be one. Evergreen Hospice provides bereavement support on an individual basis, through community seminars, an annual memorial service and through Bridges of Hope, our grief support group. Additionally, an extensive selection of books, audio and video tapes are available. If you need support, call 416 499-2185.