Creating a Grief Journal

For some people expressing themselves is very natural, but for others, it may be difficult. Moreover, even for someone who has no trouble expressing his or her feelings, it may be harder to grasp what he or she is feeling in a highly emotional time of grief where all sorts of feelings may be fighting for supremacy.

This is where journaling is a very helpful tool.  Journaling allows a person to explore thoughts and feelings in a personal way that is open and free.  Even if you are someone who is fortunate enough to have friends available and willing to provide a listening ear and comforting shoulder, a journal or diary allows a person to explore feelings and thoughts without borders or time constraints.  This is even true if you are part of a support group or see a therapist because journaling can help you explore and focus your thoughts in a meaningful way that allows you to better share and process your thoughts with those who support you.

Whether you love journaling or do not know where to begin, here are some simple suggestions and tools to help you get started using journaling to focus, explore and find healing in your grief.  Keep in mind that journaling, like grief, can take many forms and doesn’t have to look or feel like anyone else’s, and will likely be more effective the more personal it is and the more it matches your personality and way of expressing yourself.

CHOOSING A TOOL

While the broad term journaling is being used, the idea is to express and reflect on what you are experiencing.  This means journaling, broadly defined could mean a lot of types of expression.  Journaling is about more than simply writing because one could write about any number of things, none of them introspective or personal.

When I say choosing a tool, I mean choosing a form for your expression.  A journal, a pen, a computer or a camera are all things that can be used to create a journal of some kind.  For some people it may be meaningful to purchase a new, nice looking journal and special pens to write with.  For others, a simple spiral notebook might feel more free and informal. A lot of people do not like writing by hand and might benefit from creating a digital journal of some kind, whether a simple text document or a creative blog with pictures. It could be writing a collection of letters that you wish to send your loved one.  Your journal does not have to be limited to words, if pictures/photographs or drawing/art help you express and reflect on your grief, those are valid forms of journaling as well.

The main point here is that the idea or form of journaling should not overwhelm or limit you.  It should not overwhelm you in the sense that journaling should be as simple as picking up a piece of paper and a pen and writing down the thoughts and emotions you are experiencing.  It should not limit you in the sense that you don’t have to rely solely on writing if writing is not your most natural form of expression. In simplest terms, pick a tool or form that is natural to you and helps motivate (or inspire) you to reflect on the grief process.

GETTING STARTED

Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part.  You may have a million thoughts and feelings, but when you reach for that first word or turn to that first page nothing comes out.  This likely happens for a couple of reasons. First, it may feel overwhelming to confront your feelings and grief. You may be feeling a greater sadness than you’ve ever felt, or even anger at the loved one you lost.  Especially if you are used to keeping your emotions in check it might feel like you’re about to open the floodgates and drown everything in the flood. However, it is possible the opposite is true. Maybe you are feeling nothing and when you reach for something to say, you feel ambivalent or uninterested.  

Whatever the reason, keep in mind that this process is for you.  No one ever has to see your journal, and to whatever extent you share what comes out is up to you.  Also, no one is asking you to create art or brilliant prose; the whole point is for you to express and reflect on what you are experiencing.  

The easiest way to get started and keep going is to use a simple jumping off or starting point.  Most people start each journal entry with the date, but it may also be helpful to start with a phrase or phrases that help get things going.  Something as simple as, “Today what I miss the most about you is . . .” Or, “ I wish we had spent more time . . . I wish we had talked about . . . I’ve had the hardest time dealing with . . .”

These prompts can be used as starting points to write and explore more extensively, or some days you simply finish the sentences and leave it at that.  Again, a journal in whatever form does not have to be a certain length and you can use any or none of these prompts to help you. Also, there are numerous suggestions like these on the internet for you to use.

Another simple way to get started is to choose a quote, picture, song, etc. that reminds you of your loved one.  Simply writing the quote down or putting the picture in your journal does not count as journaling, but that quote or whatever should remind you of your loved one in some way and invite you to share what it is about that thing that is meaningful.  This is a way of opening a door to give your memories and emotions air to breathe.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, it is helpful to summarize by presenting a couple of concrete examples.  Once again, these examples are not meant to limit how a journal should be done, but to guide you in such a process.

  • A typical journal

    • Purchase a notebook or journal of some kind

    • Date and open each entry with a prompt

    • Once a week/month read through previous entries and reflect

  • A blog (or any type of online journal)

    • Search or ask someone to help you set up an online blog (there are many free options)

    • Post pictures of people, places and things that remind you of your loved one, and then reflect in each post on those memories

    • Share your posts with those you trust and can reflect with

  • Video Journal

    • Take a camera to places that are meaningful in regards to your loved one

    • Narrate and describe the significance of each place (the videos can be as short or as long as you would like)

    • Post them somewhere to share with others or create your own personal movie about that person and your memories

Whatever form your journal takes, remember to give yourself grace and be willing to keep trying. It may take several attempts to get a journal going or you may find that some weeks/months you journal more than others.  Let your journal fit your needs and your grief experience in a way that is most helpful and meaningful to you.