After a death, our culture quickly expects a griever to quickly resume to everyday life. This expectation creates struggles for the one who is grieving as it is normal to want to share your emotions and grief with others. Many find they can confide in friends and family but there are times when one may feel as if everyone is tired of hearing the stories.
Journal writing is one of the most powerful tools anyone can utilize in expressing emotions and this is specifically true for one who is grieving. As a counselor, I encourage each of my clients to establish some form of a journal. However, I am often met with resistance.
“I don’t have time to write.”
“I’m a lousy writer.”
“I can’t write every day.”
Many of the reasons come from misconceptions regarding what it means to keep a journal. I ask that you let go of the thoughts of “Dear Diary” from childhood or “A Daily Agenda” from the classroom. In fact, in some form, you are already journaling and do not realize it. Your daily calendar, your bank account and social media statements each demonstrates a timeline of your life. A personal journal enables the writer to go deeper by expressing emotions and thoughts which can not be placed on a calendar or within a short amount social media statement.
Why Should You Journal?
While grieving, an important self-care activity is expressing your emotions in a healthy manner. This can happen with a counselor, friends or family. However, at times you may be unable to meet with those individuals and continue to need to let your emotions out. By establishing a journal, you have a friend/therapist at 1:00 in the afternoon or 1:00 in the morning. Research by Dr. James Pennabaker has shown that regular journal writing for as little as 15 minutes per day for 3-4 days can improve immune system functioning.
How To Journal
- There is no right or wrong way to journal. You are not being judged or graded. Forget about grammar and spelling.
- Choose a journal that fits your lifestyle. Some people use loose paper or a spiral notebook, others prefer to purchase a leather bound journal. You may also find you prefer your computer. What is important is that you enjoy the medium you have chosen and want to write.
- Use a favorite pen/pencil/marker (or one of each).
- Find a spot in your home or favorite place which is comforting. Don’t feel guilty about setting aside time to write.
- Keep the first page of your journal blank so that you are met with a soft page to look at.
- Consider where you would like to keep your journal for privacy.
- Date each entry with the Day, Date and time. Many grieving (and not grieving) individuals may have more than one entry per day. This also provides a documentation of changes in your grief and mood over time.
- Writing for a short time can be effective. You may want to set a timer for 5, 10 or 15 minutes and then stop once the time is up. If you are not timing yourself, I suggest not writing for longer than 30 minutes at one time.
What to say in the journal?
Again, there is no right or wrong way to journal.
- List your fears or worries
- Share memories of your loved one that you do not want to forget
- Write unsent letters or prayers
- Collect favorite quotes or song lyrics
- Draw or past photographs
- When uncertain of where to start, use the prompt “What’s going on right now.” This can lead you many different directions.
If you are still uncertain regarding the process of journal writing try the following exercise; At the end of each day, list 3 things you are grateful for or 3 incidents that made you happy. It can be as simple as someone smiling at you or that you avoided an accident. After one week of practicing this, assess how you are feeling.
On a personal note, I feel it is important to share that I have written in some form of a journal for many years. I have witnessed the benefit of a journal practice multiple times. After the cancer deaths of my Mother and Grandmother in 2013, it was the ability to write which helped me to process the multitude of emotions. Additionally, I felt it was necessary to establish a personal blog where I discussed grief reactions from the perspective of a former grief counselor. I encourage you to try your own form of a journal during your personal grief journey.