How to cope with loss and express grief through writing

Going through loss and grief is a difficult and trying experience for all of us. Often, grief takes us by surprise or overwhelm us no matter how much we prepare for it. In such times, writing can help us to work through our grief and allow us to come to terms with our loss.


Why Write?

Whether it is writing a letter, journal entry, fiction, or even poetry, the act of writing can be a helpful and therapeutic one.

Writing in our grief makes us talk about our pain and emotions instead of avoiding or suppressing them. While keeping these feelings suppressed may be easier in the short run, painful memories and emotions will not just go away. In fact, they can develop into other problems in the long run, such as a persistent poor mood or an inability to emotionally connect with others, which can definitely be detrimental.

Furthermore, writing allows us to express what we are feeling even if we are not yet ready to talk to someone about it. When we write, we can be as honest and unfiltered as we wish without fear of judgment. This is a good opportunity to sort through our emotions, start to reconcile the worries and fears induced by the passing of a loved one, and make meaning of our loss.

At times, we may find that we are simply overwhelmed by the torrent of emotions that come with devastating events such as this. In fact, we may not even know exactly what we are feeling. Writing helps us to cope with this anxiety and sorrow by articulating some of these feelings.

Furthermore, the loss can be stressful for us on many levels. Most obviously, it affects our emotions and mental health, sometimes leading to the experience of depressive or anxious moods. But more tangibly, it can also result in significant levels of physical stress which will affect our heart rate, blood pressure, sleep patterns, and muscle tension.

According to Harvard Medical Publishing, writing can alleviate such physical and mental stress. They report that journalling boosts immune function, improve sleep, and is beneficial to one’s overall mood and well-being. In addition, the small triumphs of successfully journaling or completing a writing task can also be especially encouraging after intense loss and pain.

Best of all, writing is an extremely accessible activity--you just need a pen and paper, or even just the notes app on your smartphone!


What to Write?

When we first start writing, it may be difficult to even know where to start or what exactly to write about. Grief experts suggest that we try to write a letter to the deceased person or to respond to specific writing prompts such as these below:

  • Today, I am feeling...
  • This is what I wish to say to you...
  • My favourite memory of you is...

If you need extra guidance or a like-minded community, there are a number of resources that you can find online. For instance, Our Favorite Jar provides a list of prompts that you can refer to. If you wish to share your own thoughts or hear about the experiences of others who have tried grief writing, Modern Loss is a great platform. Refuge in Grief also provides (at a cost) 30-day grief writing courses that you may find helpful.

It is even possible to write poems, short stories, or a memoir about the person. The important thing is that we let it all out. Do not get caught up in editing what you have written, being grammatically correct, or filtering your thoughts. Remember, the end goal is to process our experience, not write perfectly.


Things to Take Note Of

There are no rules for how you must write. Instead, we have provided a few tips and guidelines that others have found most helpful in their own journey. If you find that other ways of writing are more helpful to you, do not feel that you have to stick with the suggested methods.

On a similar note, remember that the act of writing is supposed to be helpful to you. If having to write something seems to give you additional stress, you don’t have to feel pressured to do it. Perhaps you need some time before you can start writing. Or maybe other creative avenues like drawing, painting, and music are better options for you. That is perfectly fine.

Even so, it is normal to feel pain or sadness during and/or immediately after writing. After all, recalling the passing of a loved one is surely a difficult thing to do. Rather than a one-time act, grief experts recommend regularly writing (daily, weekly, etc) for some time. It is likely that you will start seeing benefits in the long run.

Lastly, do note that writing or journaling is in no way a substitute for professional therapy if it is needed. The experience of loss, especially when sudden or traumatic, can have significant effects on us. While the grieving experience differs from person to person, if you find yourself in a persistent state of depression or anxiety that does not improve with time, you should seek your doctor or mental health professional.

At the end of the day, the act of writing does not solve our problems or take away our pain. However, it is a great way to sort through our thoughts, deal with overwhelming emotions, and cope with the passing of a loved one. Hopefully, this helps us to come to terms with our loss and move forward with peace.

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