The Importance of Journaling In Your Grief Journey
Contrary to the old saying – time heals all wounds – at Dandelions Bereavement Support, we know that it is the expression of our grief and emotions over time that helps us to work through the pain of bereavement.
Grief never ends, but the way we feel about the loss changes as we process it.
People use many different tools and methods to work through their grief and express their feelings around the loss.
One of the most popular ways is journaling which has been proven to have many benefits to a person’s wellbeing and can particularly help in bereavement.
During the pandemic, we have all been spending much more time at home and many of us are unable to access our usual resources of support.
It’s therefore well worth using some of the extra time you find yourself with to give journaling a go. Whilst it is such a simple method, it’s a surprisingly powerful tool.
Release and express some of the intense feelings of grief:
Throughout the grief journey, we often experience amplified emotions that can be extremely overwhelming. It is important to find an outlet for these emotions and the process of physically writing your feelings in a journal can be very cathartic.
Your consistent friend:
In times like these, when our access to those we usually turn to for support is so limited, having somewhere you can ‘get out’ your feelings at any time can be invaluable. You can take your journal with you to most places and it is constantly available to you. You don’t need to wait for it to be free to listen to you and you don’t need to worry about overloading it or hurting its feelings. Whilst it is important to the grieving process to be listened to and understood by other human beings, the journal is a good alternative for times when there isn’t someone around to listen.
A non-judgmental outlet:
Often, in grief, we experience emotions and thoughts that we may be ashamed of or worried that others will not understand. Emotions like anger and relief, although common, can make us uncomfortable and it can be difficult to talk them through if you are not sure people will understand. Your journal is there just for you, it’s non-judgemental and you do not have to show it to anybody.
You can use your journal to form a continuing bond with your loved one, or work through unfinished business. Many people find it helpful to write letters to their loved one that has died, often telling them what they have been up to or saying things that they wish they could have told them if they were still here. Another use for writing letters in your journal is to deal with unfinished business either with the person that has died, or with someone that is still living. It is not uncommon when someone dies, for a grieving person to be upset with someone around them, be it another family member, a friend or a professional. It is also not uncommon for the griever not to feel able to speak to that person about what has upset them without causing further hurt and disruption. Writing a letter in your journal of what you would like to say to them can therefore be really helpful, even though they will never see it. This method gives you a bit of emotional distance and provides an outlet for those negative emotions without causing further harm.
Identify your grief triggers
By recording your feelings, prominent thoughts and the events of your days, it will help you to identify your grief triggers and unhelpful thought patterns. You can then use this knowledge to your advantage by adapting your thought patterns and by being prepared when you know you are likely to come into contact with one of your grief triggers.
In the depths of grief, ‘brain fog’ can leave us muddled and it can feel impossible to concentrate on finding solutions to the many practical problems and adjustments we face. Writing them out can give us the emotional distance we need to think about them in a different way and to feel more able to solve them or identify the help we need in order to solve them.
Faced with a difficult day or week, it can feel difficult to remember a time that didn’t feel as bad. Being able to refer back to your journal and seeing that not all days or weeks are like the one you are experiencing can give you hope, especially as you see the difficult times getting further and further apart.
Helping you sleep
Using your journal to pour all of your thoughts on to paper can help to quieten your mind enough to sleep. Similarly, if you find yourself waking up in the night with your mind full, emptying everything into your journal may calm your mind enough to allow you a little more rest.
There are various types of journal which work best for different people depending on their personality.
Some examples of the kinds of journals you might find helpful are:
Mood and Thought Journal
The ‘traditional’ style of journal that involves you making a note of thoughts, feelings and events that you have experienced throughout the day. This type is particularly helpful in helping to identify your grief triggers, identifying practical problems and solutions and keeping track of how far you have come along your journey.
This involves you writing down your dreams, including the events and thoughts and feelings that arise in them. This type of journal can help give you a clue about patterns in your subconscious thoughts, if there is a common emotion or theme that seems to frequently arise in your dreams, it may be worth exploring where that emotion or theme sits with you in waking consciousness. This type of journal is best written first thing in the morning when your dream will be at its clearest in your memory.
This journal is used to write letters that you never intend to send. This can be an outlet for all the things you want to say but can’t, either to the loved one that has died or to someone else who has affected you along your journey. It can be a great way to deal with anger and guilt but also to have a continuing bond with the person that has died.
This is all about being grateful for the day. In a gratitude journal you write a pre-determined number (usually three to five) of things that you are grateful for in that day, no matter how big or small. The things you are grateful for can be anything, a good cup of coffee, spending time with someone you love or seeing something beautiful in nature. This type of journal can help shift your thinking pattern to a more positive one as it forces you to find some good in even the hardest of days.
Sometimes words are hard to find but the emotions are still there, assigning a different colour to each emotion and simply colouring the page with how you have felt that day can still help you to process those feelings. This can be done with pens, crayons, paint or even by sticking coloured pieces of paper onto the page, it can be as creative as you like. Make sure to create a key so you know which emotion each colour stands for.
Here are some tips to get you started if you have never used a journal before:
Mix it up
Your journal doesn’t have to be a set type or theme, if you normally write about your feelings and mood but today you would rather use it to write to your loved one then do it! Your journal is yours to use in whatever way feels right for you and what feels right one day, may feel different another.
Allocate a short amount of time each day to write. Journaling works best as a daily exercise so setting a short time limit on it makes it feel more achievable which will keep you more motivated.
It’s important to be completely honest in what you write, no one else is going to read it so you don’t need to worry about if what you are saying sounds right or may be hurtful to someone. If you are thinking or feeling it, even just for that moment write it down. Often the thoughts and feelings that are difficult to admit to are the most important to explore.
Write how you want
If you don’t want to use full sentences and proper grammar, don’t. It’s your outlet and only you will read it, which means it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you, there is also no pressure to keep it neat or spelt correctly.
This means you will not have time to critique what you are saying before you write it. This will allow you to write more honestly because you will not have as much time to think about what you should or shouldn’t think or say.
One of the key features of Wathall’s expanded Dandelions Bereavement Support programme is the opportunity for people to buy our specially-designed grief journal which is safe place for people who have lost a loved one to express their memories, thoughts and feelings.
Anyone who joins the Dandelions Grief Journey support and education programme (which will re-start when the government’s pandemic restrictions allow) receive a free journal. Otherwise, they are available to buy from Wathall’s for £6.50. To order a copy, please call Fay Bloor on 01332 345268 or email firstname.lastname@example.org