Sooner or later, life has a way of allowing all of us to experience loss. Whether it’s witnessing the demise of a relationship, mourning an ideal or belief once held dear, or facing physical death, grief is a journey everyone must take at some point.
Usually a grief has many layers; each can seem more all-absorbing than the last, and it can seem as if the crushing loss that we feel right now is what we will feel forever.
However, journaling across time provides both proof of the journey and perspective as we see the steps walked in their sequence. Without a record, it is much easier to get lost in today’s emotions and feel that every day is the same, and always will be.
Writing can serve as an emotional release. When their friend was killed in battle at Bunker Hill, a grief-stricken Abigail Adams composed a letter to her husband John, writing that “My bursting heart must find vent at my pen.”
Journaling offers the opportunity to set down thoughts we are still processing and preserve them as we continue to work through the loss. Your grief journal records and proves the value of your journey.
When memories of a late loved one resurface, capturing them in a journal can preserve them for years to come, sometimes freeing the mind to remember other happenings. Little by little, these can multiply into far more than what might have been recalled without the journal’s assistance; what began as small notes can even become a book.
There is energy embedded in memories, and healing can be found in reviewing one’s writings of the grief journey. The lost loved one is absent, yet their spirit is present in the story and in the love that preserves that story. This nourishes the soul of the one grieving the loss, and can help them in progressing from bereft, raw despair to strong, healed hope.
If you have lost a loved one, sharing memories with others experiencing the same loss can be a comforting and healing practice, establishing a record of times past while creating new experiences of shared joy in remembering. Some families or groups of friends might want to create a shared memory book where each person writes favorite recollections of the late loved one. The book could be sent in a circle through the mail, or simply passed around for each one’s contribution when there is a gathering. The collection thus created would be a priceless shared treasure.
Alternately, a person who is aware that they are approaching life’s end could choose to prepare a memory book of their own to leave for their loved ones, each day recording a memory or message to be read, treasured, and re-read when they are no longer present. Knowing their thoughts will live on can make the pain of goodbye just a little more bearable and soften the days that are all too briefly numbered.
In either situation, precious memories and thoughts are preserved to be loved and enjoyed over time, and stories that would otherwise be lost can live on.
Sometimes a loss is less tangible than a physical death. There’s no grave to visit when a relationship dies or when one goes through a life-altering experience or a trauma is inflicted.
At these times, putting pen to physical paper can be a way of capturing and grasping hold of intense emotions, rather than feeling smothered in a swirl of nameless sensations. It can be genuinely helpful to write a page based on the therapist’s classic prompt: “How does that make you feel?” Getting those mental and emotional concepts into a physical form as part of a journal can often make them feel less threatening or overwhelming.
Individual losses are especially well suited to being processed in a journal, but collective grief must be attended to as well. Every generation has its signposts that mark a sudden wound in the cultural psyche: the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassinations of JFK and MLK, the attacks of September 11th.
These kinds of events are certainly deserving of an entry in a personal journal, while keeping a collective journal or creating a memory album with entries from multiple contributors can create a memorial that shares comfort and builds resilience among the whole group. And new entries can be added to both individual and collective journals to mark anniversaries of loss and other significant events on the grief journey.
For more about journaling through loss, consider checking your local library or bookstore for some handbooks that can guide you in using proven techniques for expressive writing.
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A love of reading is often discovered at a young age and is a tremendous asset for anyone; readers have an entire world available to them that non-readers don’t benefit from. They can learn skills, entertain themselves, glean wisdom from history, and find inspiration for self-improvement using nothing but a (free!) public library. Yet sometimes, though children can read, they see it more as required work than a privilege and miss out on the joy that the habit can bring.