What do you do when the feelings of grief overwhelm and become too much for you to bear in the moment? Do you have coping skills that can help you through such times? It can be hard to know how to navigate feelings of guilt, shame, regret, anger, and the intense longing that goes along with missing your loved one. There are several coping skills that you can use. One of my favorites is journaling. Journaling is an exercise that is used by many therapists to assist clients in getting the feelings they have out of their head and onto paper where they can see what it is they're feeling. Once you see it, you know it's there. You have to deal with it, but it’s OK. Writing it down makes it easier to process. In the case of grief, it is very easy to stuff the feelings down in an act of suppressing. We are told by society that it is OK to grieve, but only for a period of time. Nothing is further from the truth. It takes as long for you to grieve as it takes. And the healthiest thing that you can do is to allow yourself the feelings that you have. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to do this is in journaling.
In the early 2000s, Erykah Badu sang a song about a “Bag Lady”.
“Bag lady, you gon' hurt your back Dragging all them bags like that I guess nobody ever told you All you must hold on to Is you, is you, is you”
When you journal about your grief, allow yourself to “let it go” as the feelings come up, you are not trying to read, edit, or explore what those feelings mean. You just want to get them down on paper. This is a brain dump of sorts. It is normal for us to want to read what we are writing and to make logical sense of what the words mean. I challenge you, don't do it! Your writing at this time, is meant to be cathartic, perhaps more so now than at any other time. Don't worry about spelling, grammar, or tense. The format of your margins, and the format of your paragraphs, are all unimportant. Get your thoughts on paper so that you are seeing what you feel. If the feelings become intense, allow it. Hell, welcome it. If you go off-topic. It's fine. When you are doing this exercise, it is possible that you may start to feel intense emotions including deep sadness and sorrow, shame, confusion, and disbelief. It's OK. This is your private, personal space. “Let it go”. At some time in life, we have been taught that it is not proper to express anger for those who have moved on. How ridiculous is that? If you were angry before your loved one passed you have to deal with that anger. Most times, because they are gone does not mean that those feelings have decreased. “Let it go”. Write them down so that you can explore them and deal with them in a therapeutic way rather than carrying those feelings. That load's got to get mighty heavy.
Here is a way to lighten your load. You say you'd like to journal, but you're not sure what to include or where to start. The important thing is that you start. Here are several reasons why journaling is helpful to the grief process.
1. Emotional release: Grief can bring a wide range of complex emotions, including sadness, anger, guilt, and confusion. Journaling allows you to release these emotions in a healthy and constructive way. Writing about your feelings can provide a sense of relief and help prevent them from becoming overwhelming.
2. Clarity and insight: Putting your thoughts and emotions into words can help you gain clarity and insight into your feelings. Writing allows you to process your thoughts more deeply and understand the underlying causes of your emotions. It can also help you identify patterns of thinking or behavior that may be contributing to your grief.
3. Validation: Grief can often make you feel isolated and misunderstood. Journaling provides a way to validate your feelings and experiences. As you write, you acknowledge the reality of your emotions, which can be comforting and help you feel heard and understood, even if it's only by yourself.
4. Track progress: Over time reading back through your journal entries can show you how far you've come on your grieving journey. You can observe changes in your emotions, thought processes, and coping strategies. This retrospective view can be reassuring and motivating during difficult moments.
5. Healthy coping: Journaling serves as a healthy coping mechanism that doesn't involve harmful behaviors. Instead of suppressing your emotions and turning to unhealthy habits, you can channel your energy into writing. Which can promote self-awareness and personal growth.
6. Reduced stress: Writing can have a calming effect on the mind and body. Engaging in journaling can help reduce stress and anxiety by providing an outlet for your feelings and helping you process them.
7. Problem-solving: As you write about your grief, you may discover new insights and perspectives that can help you find solutions to the challenges you're facing. Journaling can help you brainstorm strategies for coping with difficult emotions and situations.
8. Honoring the loved one: Journaling can be a way to pay tribute to the memory of the person you've lost. You can write about cherished moments, lessons learned from your relationship, and the impact they had on your life.
9. Personal growth: Grief can be an opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery through journaling. You can explore your values, beliefs, and aspirations. Reflecting on your grief journey can lead to a deeper understanding of yourself and your life's purpose.
10. Preserving memories: Writing about your loved one, your experiences together, and the impact they had on your life can help preserve their memory and create a lasting tribute.
Remember that there is no right or wrong way to journal through your grief. Your journal is a judgment-free space for you to express your honesty and authenticity. Whether you choose to write daily, sporadically, or whenever you feel the need, journaling can be a valuable tool for your journey toward healing and acceptance. Time to put down that heavy load and “pack light”.
I wish I could tell you that I knew some deep secret to the art of grieving, that there was some mystical way of waking one day and being completely over your loss. The secret is, there is no secret. Loss can come in many forms and can strike at any time. While we will all face the agony of loss at some point(s) in life, the fact is that it can be the hardest thing we will ever deal with. My name is Jacinta Wills. I became a Grief Specialist because I understand the need to deal with the difficult emotions of loss. I lost a job that I loved doing in 2010. In 2013 my mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. In 2015 my grandmother passed away. 4 days later we lost my mom. In 2017 I separated from my husband of 30 years. I am sharing my personal journey with grief so that you understand that when I tell you I know what grief looks like and have experienced so many aspects of what grief is that I do not take it lightly. The single most important thing you need to realize in this moment of your grief journey is this. However difficult it is, you are in the process of healing, right now. In my group, we will tackle some tough topics. You will be able to share experiences about your loss, receive and give support to others who are grieving, and work through some of the emotions that cause you distress. We will have conversations that are sometimes structured and sometimes free-flowing. You will be encouraged to feel your anger, shame, guilt, love, despair, and hopefully some humor along the way.