Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Putting it into Words

The value of journaling in the grieving process
One of Linda Cherek's ideas on how to use journaling as part
of the grieving process is to create a special place to write.
Photo courtesy of, a royality-free photo site.

On July 24, 1999, my dad died following an accidental fall that resulted in traumatic brain injury. He was 86 years old, with penetrating blue eyes, a handshake that scared any potential boyfriend, and a gentle and caring heart.

My mother, siblings and I sat at his bedside as he began the journey into life eternal. The moments of his last breath can best be described in the words of a dear friend on the death of her husband: "It was as delicate as the flutter of the wings of a butterfly."

While his death was peaceful, it felt sudden, harsh and unexpected. He had been part of my life for nearly 50 years. Questions ran through my mind. How could I acknowledge the influence he had on my life? What would it be like for my mother to be alone after 62 years of marriage? Why him, why now, why my dad?

I asked myself many of the same questions when our daughter, Kristen, died six years ago at the age of 19. How much of my experience of loss from Kristen's death would resurface?

I felt exhausted, empty and numb from nine days of anticipating and waiting for Dad's last breath. I knew it was normal for grieving people to feel helpless and out of control. These feeling were all too familiar.

So I turned to journaling, as I had after Kristen's death. Writing on a regular basis, using words to express feelings, gives us time for reflection. It provides a clear picture of time, helping to document the past where my grief and loss began, the present where the perception of loss associated with my dad's death was currently, and the future, where I wanted to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in the next month, year, two years, etc. Journaling helped me acknowledge my feelings, hopes and dreams and lead me on the journey toward healing. Journaling helped my personal history unfold once again.

"Journaling is a way to recognize and name our losses-                                                          to get on paper what is within our heart, mind and soul." 

Often, we have grief and loss issues that have never been acknowledged, expressed or understood as such-moving away from our childhood home, leaving a best friend, divorce, changing schools, graduation, loss of a job or retirement. Often death will be a trigger event, and these older losses will resurface. Through writing, we can express our ideas and feelings about the death and these other losses in our lives, and look inward to identify and consider our strengths, areas for growth and coping mechanisms.

Journaling is a way to recognize and name our losses-to get on paper what is within our heart, mind and soul. It is writing down what it is like to be us, right now-what we feel and think about this death and its impact on our life. Journaling allows us to explore who we are now and where we want to go in the future. It is a respectful and nonjudgemental way to test the waters of change, feelings, disappointments, longing, wishes and hopes.

Writing out our losses is a method of therapy. The word "therapy" comes from the Greek work therapei, which means attention of the kind one gives the sacred. The way our life was connected with that of our loved one is a sacred story of the unique journey we walked. Keeping a journal is one valuable way to honor that journey.

Getting Started

Linda Cherek offers the following ideas on how to use journaling as part of the grieving process.
  • Find writing materials that appeal to you-a bound book, a spiral notebook, or loose sheets.
  • Create a special place to write. Make it comfortable and inviting.
  • Set aside a time to write. Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way suggests getting up a half hour earlier each day (while your brain is still free from the cares of the day ahead) and write three pages-whatever comes into your head.
  • Don't worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar. If you can't think of anything to write, just write, "I can't think of anything to write" over and over. Often, your inner most feelings will emerge. Your journal listens without judgement. 
  • Consider some questions to focus your writing. Are there unresolved problems or questions about your relationship with the loved one who died? What has the experience of their death been like for you? What am I going to do without their physical presence? What do I want to remember? What have I learned about myself?
  • Consider writing a letter to your loved one-what has it been like since their death, or what you want your life to be like in the years ahead.
Funeral Home Note: Please join us next Wednesday when Certified Funeral Director Apprentice and Office Manager, Victoria Shea, holds her first Facebook Live discussion on Journaling Through Grief. Additional details regarding her discussion can be found on the Funeral Home's Facebook page. 
Putting it into words: The value of journaling in the grieving process was penned by Linda Cherek, R.N., CCm, MSW, LCSW and appeared in Blessed Are They Who Mourn, a Publication of Catholic Cemeteries Bereavement Ministry for the Diocese of Cleveland. It appeared in their January 2000 newsletter. 

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