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Healing Arts
Alternative Therapies > Journaling During Grief

By Kara L.C. Jones
KotaPress Editor

It is my firm belief that everyone needs an outlet for expressing emotions during grief -- and that outlet has to be available to people *over time* -- loooooong periods of time. I don't have any prescription for what that expression should be, what it might look like, nor how long any individual outlet might be needed or wanted by each individual person. I just believe that the expression needs to happen -- and that it needs to happen with the support, encouragement, and caring of the people who are around the bereaved.

One of the most malleable ways to find expression during grief is through journalling. I say it is malleable because it can start off as a safe mode of expression that happens between one person and one piece of paper. But it can then morph when the bereaved decide to let others read that paper or when they read the words outloud or post them on grief boards online or email their expressions to a magazine to see if they will publish it. The public expressions help to chip away at the isolation grief brings with it -- helps to reconnect the bereaved person back to the world at large *while at the same time* finding voice for whatever losses they have lived through.

So I am not talking about telling a bereaved person that they should write down their feelings and then burn the paper to "be free of" or "to be rid of" of the feelings. I am not talking about having the bereaved person write down their experiences and then locking that diary away so no one ever sees it. I'm talking about a FULL EXPRESSION of grief and all that comes with it OVER THE COURSE OF TIME. A bereaved person might journal something now and lock it away *because they themselves choose* to do that. But if/when they are ready to bring it back out to share or publish, I believe the rest of us have a responsibility to help them with the further expression of what started as a journal entry.

Malleable.

Okay, so how do we start with the first step -- just the journalling, one-to-one, writer-to-paper? There are so many ways to start, so many resources available for prompting the journal writing. You need only to a Net search and you'll find some of the following:

Prompts for reflective writing after September 11, 2001

Prompts for journaling from a Creative Arts Therapist

Prompts for journaling from Tera's Wish

Ideas & information from GriefJournal.com

Or you might look for more specifically grief oriented materials that will give you prompts to think about your situation and losses and healing path. You might try things like:

A deck of Support Cards from Tear Soup

Kathleen Adams' article exploring the ups & downs of grief journalling

Quote Garden's list of Grief Quotes

One of the books from the MISS Foundation

Or you might try reading some poetry about death and dying or about grief and living. You might try reading and responding to this poem "Ascension" 1987 Colleen Corah Hitchcock, P. O. Box 390082, Edina, MN 55439, Email: missnovel@aol.com Website: www.colleenhitchcock.com

And if I go, while you're still here...
know that I live on,
vibrating to a different measure
behind a thin veil you cannot see through.

You will not see me,
so you must have faith.

I wait for the time when
we can soar together again,
both aware of each other.

Until then, live your life to its fullest
and when you need me,
just whisper my name in your heart,
...I will be there.

Whatever you choose, it should be something that makes you want to respond. Something that makes you think and feel and find words of your own. And then you can write with pen and paper or type with keyboard and monitor -- whatever makes the words tumble out for you. And this writing isn't about having a polished, publishable piece of writing. This isn't even about writing to be shared -- not yet. This beginning step is just the writing from your heart. The space between you and the paper is sacred. In that space are all the pieces of grief's ebb and flow in your life. The paper is a safe landing for all that. It is private. It belongs to you.

And this sacred space is always available for bereaved people. It doesn't go away if you ignore it for awhile. It doesn't have an expiration date. It is there at any time of day or night -- for it is impossible to schedule the purgings of grief-filled emotions and observations. It belongs to each individual who wishes to interact with it. So if you are a bereaved person, I encourage you to take ownership of that pen and piece of paper -- and the sacred space inbetween. Make it your own. Express whatever you need to express, regardless of what it might be: sorrow, anger, jealousy, envy, exhaustion, healing, a sense of meaning or a sense of emptiness. You have my permission to write whatever you are feeling!

What you do with it after you write it out -- *that* is your call.

Sometimes, after the writing is out on the paper, people feel like sharing the words with others. They might wait a few days or weeks or years. They may revise the original writing or not. They may choose to read the writing outloud to share it or they may put it in print or post it electronically via email or on a website. You might choose to burn the writings in an effort to be rid of some of the energy that was pent up before you expressed yourself -- but don't let anyone tell you that this would get rid of grief completely nor that you have to be rid of the writings, etc. Whatever you want to do with these words -- whatever you don't want to do -- it is your decision.

In our online KotaPress discussion group, we do a lot of writing to one another. Sometimes these are like journal entries. Sometimes we ask specific questions of each other to share experience, gain knowledge. Sometimes we are just venting. Sometimes, like with our Grief Journey Q & A, we then take some of our writings and offer the answers publicly here in the Kota Loss Journal as a way to connect with others.

Recently, one of our members began reading the book "Healing a Parent's Grieving Heart" and was moved to share one of the writing exercises with us all. This prompt was part of what the book called "the 4th need of mourning...to develop a new self-identity" and we all thought it was such a wonderful prompt that many of us wrote responses. Some of us decided to share the responses here. The prompt was made up of a few sentences that had blanks for the reader to fill in answers -- you'll see a pattern in the writings here that reflect the prompt.

Kota Group Responses:

I used to be a gale,
soaring into any room
with an outburst of laughter,
a pouring of sunny miracles.
But since my son died,
I am a sallow fog,
a damp veil hanging from thin air
with the ability to unsettle
the marrow from your bones.
Most birds don't like
my moist tears on their wings,
but some --
like the black birds --
gather to crowe dirges,
giving voice to sorrow
over the lands.
I used to be a gale
who would just breeze by.
Now I am a mist,
permanently part of your land.
~by Kara L.C. Jones

I used to be the ocean
Wide, expansive and all encompassing.
No beginning, no end.
Stretching to all corners of the universe.

Tumbling to reach the shore line to kiss the earth.
Feeling the warm sun kiss me.
Peaceful waves bringing solace to the weary, to the sick.
Now I am the weary and the sick

Now I need the peace.
Yet the ocean I was,
Is now black and filled with hate and anger.
So dark and heavy.

I can no longer see the sunshine I once loved.
The shoreline is now plagued
By pregnant women and swollen bellies.
The bitter taste of the salt water
Is now my tears.

I am now nothing more than a mud puddle.

~Angie Westermann

I used to be a different person
One so full of life

I once possessed a sparkle
That lingered in my big brown eyes.

Now that my darling Ashley has died
I am broken and I'm torn

My heart's been ripped in a million pieces
On my sleeve is where it's worn

This makes me feel so cheated
Because my child is no longer here

I wonder what she is doing today
As I once again wipe away my tears.

~Carrie 9/5/03
....just sitting here day dreaming about my precious daughter *sigh*

 

I used to be one who thought she knew what a broken heart felt like. Now that Charles died, I am one who knows what a broken heart feels like. This makes me feel a void in my life. I feel lost at times without my Son. There's an emptiness that surrounds me that will never go away. I survive this pain though by surrounding myself with friends that understand...other bereaved parents. We share similar pain... a pain indescribable in our hearts that won't ever fully mend.
~Katie

I used to be a happy person, the life of the party, always laughing and feeling great. Now that Amanda died, I am not that person, I am quieter and more reserved. This makes me feel like my life is not my own, I still want to be that happy person, but she isn't in there anymore.
~Stephanie

I used to be a spirit, so full of life, living very carefree. Life was so beautiful and seeing life brought such a joy to my life. Now that 4 of my children have died, I am without life. I struggle to find the beauty... I don't trust that life will be there from one minute to the next. Carefree is not my way of living any longer, but rather so very cautiously, stepping through life like I am walking on eggshells. This makes me feel like I am missing out on something. I look at others who have all their children and I want to live their innocent life. I don't want to learn lessons from my children's death, I want to be innocent again.
~Christine
mother to angels Mackenzie, Peyton and Jamie and Nora

I used to be one of those people who was easy to be around. I was the gatekeeper in any situation -- I made sure that everyone was heard. It was very important to me and I took pride in it. I assumed that if I was ever in a situation where I felt powerless, a suitable person would rise to the same occasion and make sure I was heard. Even it was something stupid like , "what do you think about the new grocery store in town?"

Since Lily died I am the person who doesn't fit. I am the outcast, the one you might catch child death from. If you're pregnant, stay away. If you have a newborn, stay away. Do it because you're nice or considerate, but still, do it. Do it because you're ignorant and scared, whatever, just do it. I am the one no one talks to anymore. Until I say that first "happy" word and then you must talk "falsely" to me, too loud and too fast and obviously avoiding the one thing I want you to say...I miss your baby girl. Lily, was that her name? What did she look like? What did she feel like. I miss her.

I miss you.
~Your mom, Melanie

I used to be more confident in myself and what my role was in life. Now that Adam has died, I am lost. This make me feel scared because I don't know who I am or who I was meant to be anymore. I knew from the time I was a little girl, that the one thing in life I would be good at, really good at, was being a mother and my dreams of motherhood always involved at least 3 living children, I never had reason to dream of having only 1 child to watch grow up. I go through my days thinking at times that I am not where or who I was supposed to be. I'm scared that my childhood dreams will be just that. Dreams.
~Nisa

You can see how different the responses are in style and form. Even the content varies widely, though we are all talking about the death of a child and the lives we are living without them. And your style, form, and content will be completely different than anything you see here, too. There is no right or wrong with any of this kind of grief journalling because it is simply reflecting and offering expressions of grief. And we know that grief is different for every single person.

The important thing with any of this is to find your voice again. When grief sets in, we are often left feeling isolated and alone. People often want us to "be better" so we stop telling them anything real and just say "I'm fine" when we really are not fine. So this kind of writing is about finding expression for your voice no matter what comes up during the grief journey. That journey can last a long time -- in fact, just like you are a parent to your living children forever, so too are you a parent to your dead child. In that sense, we are bereaved parents for the rest of our lives. The grief will change shape, gain and lose meanings, be more or less intense, but you will remain a parent even if your child is not physically standing next to you. It is just a different kind of parenthood than most think of. So there is a need for expression of the course of time for this parenthood. That is a fact.

So while you may have whole flocks of family and friends around you who understand this -- or while you may only be able to share your expressions with other bereaved parents who understand -- whatever the case may be -- it is still important to find the voice, give credence to your own grief and parenthood, find your way as you live life after the death of your child. And though I have no particular prescription for how it might manifest, I do believe that journalling can be a powerful tool to pull out of the box now and then while you are on this path.

About the Author

Kara has been using poetry and other expressive arts tools on the grief journey since the death of her son in 1999. Her poetic and non-fiction works have been included in publications such as New Works Review, PoetsWest, Real Henna, Shared Heart Foundation's "Meant To Be", LightHearts Publication's "Soul Trek", MISSing Angels Newsletter, American Tanka, Mother Tongue Ink's We'Moon, Honored Babies, Cup of Comfort series, and more. She is a Carnegie Mellon graduate who co-founded KotaPress with her husband Hawk Jones. She is currently in an apprenticeship working toward Master level of Reiki. And she founded HennaHealing.com where she is exploring the ancient art of henna and its uses for ritual and healing.
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