April 26, 2019 / Reid M. Jacobs, APHSW-C, MSW

Grief can bring up a world of emotion that can be difficult to express. You may find yourself withdrawing or trying to put on a happy face for those around you. Sometimes we don’t have anyone to talk to or who we feel comfortable sharing the intimate feelings that often come along with grief. Keeping these feelings bottled-up inside can become an unhealthy coping mechanism though. To paraphrase Shakespeare, grief that does not speak builds up to break the heart. Journaling helps release these emotions so that they don’t build up and over time. Journaling can also help us better understand our experiences and make sense of what we go through after losing someone important to us. You can also look back over the journals to see how you develop and grow over time. There may be times that you feel stuck in your grief, but reading over old journal entries may allow you to see how your thoughts and emotions have changed over time.

Here are a few journaling tips to get you started.

1. Keep it brief. Write for only 10-15 minutes, or something that is more comfortable for you so that it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming chore.

2. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Your middle school English teacher won’t be checking this. It’s just for you. And I’ll tell the grammar police to give you a pass if they happen to show up.

3. Write what is on your mind or use journaling prompts to get started. You can find journaling books full of prompts or your can do a quick internet search of “grief journaling prompts.” Here are few to get you started:

  • The greatest lesson you taught me was…
  • I think of you when…
  • You made me laugh when you…
  • How loving you has changed me…

4. Try using pen and paper. There is something about writing out your journal by hand that helps process more. You’ll also be less likely to get bogged down by autocorrect or email alerts. You can even get a special notebook and pen just for journaling. That being said, don’t feel like you must use pen and paper. If writing on a computer or mobile device works better for you, use that instead.

5. Keep your journal with you so that you can write if inspiration or emotion hits you while you’re away from home. Consider using an app like Journey or Day One if you’re concerned about misplacing your journal or worried about someone else reading your private thoughts.

If you are looking for something structured to guide your journaling, I recommend, The Understanding Your Grief Journal: Exploring the Ten Essential Touchstones, by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, a researcher, teacher, and grief counseling who is renowned for his work in grief and bereavement.