Poetry & Art Therapy Column, August 2004
By Kara L.C. Jones

Open Ended Conversations

One of my favorite exercises in John Fox's book "Poetic Medicine" is about using open ended questions to get to know a child or your own inner child. But my heart does catch sometime when doing the exercise because my own child is dead and will never be able to have those open ended conversations with me. So I was thinking of ways that a bereaved person might still "talk" with their loved one who is gone. And open ended questions are the way to go!!

I know we can't really talk to our deceased loved ones, but we can do some free writing and see what comes as part of an imaginative, mindful, even spiritual exchange. The idea is to come up with a list of open ended questions. These are questions that require more than a "yes" or "no" answer. And then to pose those questions to yourself while you have a blank piece of paper or a blank screen in front of you. Then don't think about it -- just write or type. Stream of conscience. Don't stop, keep going, don't edit, don't fix spelling errors, just keep writing. See what comes from the top of mind and heart.

So open ended questions you might ask could be things like:

Where are you now?

What is it like there?

What have you seen on your journey since you died?

What do you miss most?

What would you have liked to have done most before you died?

If you could tell me just one more thing, what would it be?

If you could write a book now, what would the title be?

Is there anything you'd like to have done in your honor and memory?

These are just ideas for questions. You are invited to make up you own list to add to these or to use instead of these. The results may be writings that you'd like to keep privately in your journal. Or they may be a great tool to use in a therapeutic setting or with a spiritual guide. They may be something you'd like to add to your child's memory book. You might share them with others you trust or send them in for one of the bereavement support newsletters like MISS or Compassionate Friends.

What you do with the results is entirely secondary. The most important thing is to write freely as you answer the questions. I find that to really stay in the stream of free writing, I have to have the time and space to do it. The phone ringers need to be turned off, everyone else in the house has to know it is not okay to interrupt me, my email reader and internet browser must be closed, instant messenger must be disconnected!!

Sometimes the best place for free writing is when I do it with old fashioned pen & paper while sitting on one of the outside benches on the ferry boat!! Almost no one sits out there, the ride gives me at least 15 to 20 minutes, I can smell the salt air, see the waters of the Sound, the trees of the islands all around -- and I just write, write, write. And usually, I put it away immediately and don't go back to read it till a day or two later. It is at this later time that I will correct spelling errors and the like. And let me just say that sometimes, when I go back and read the writings, I'm floored by what is there. I don't mean that in a bragging "look at me such a great writer" way. I just mean that it sometimes is writing that makes me feel very close to my son who is so far away now. It always shocks me just a little to feel him near again.

Your experience might be completely and totally different. That's okay!! It just about the experiment -- the writing -- the process -- and freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedom to make the words flow. If something more comes of it, then that's cool, too.

Try it!! Claim your freedom!



A Comprehensive Archive

A few readers have written to say it's difficult to locate previous issues of this column, so below is a comprehensive archive. Please note that each link here will pop open a new window containing the Poetry Therapy column named:

Discovering Poetry Therapy

Pt I: Defining Poetry Therapy *and* Pt II: Coping with the Holidays

The Notion of "Healing"

National Poetry Awareness Month - 2003

At the MISS Conference: poetry and kids

So you want to be certified?

Let go, Let go

Outside, Inside

Can't you get over it?

Layers & Living - 9/11


Be Still

Reviewing "Poetic Medicine"

Day of the Dead

Letting Expression Come

Forgotten Familiar

Empty Chairs, Tiny Stockings


Word Play Leads to Music

Reaction Writing

Giving Voice During Grief - winter holiday oriented

Shifting Perspective

About the Author
Kara is an artist of many disciplines. Trained as a poet and bookmaker, she has also been known to act, bellydance, and do henna body arts. She teaches and performs through faires, festivals, local art centers, artists in the schools programs, KotaPress and independently. To find out more, see:


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