turning the pages through grief
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or much of my counseling career, I have encouraged bereaved people to write about their grief. Sometimes, those writings have taken the form of collections of letters written to the deceased or files of ideas about “what I would say” if given the chance again. Most have recorded their musings in a simple blank book in which they record reflections, historical anecdotes, and verbal expressions of their feelings.
whatever interval you choose—is particularly good for expressing emotion. You might even discover you can more easily talk about your grief after you have expressed it on paper. Start with a metaphor and create a new one. Metaphors are word pictures that share symbolic characteristics with your grief. You might try starting with one of these: • My grief is like an iceberg in these ways … • My life feels like a patchwork quilt… • To me, the waves of the ocean are a good picture of grief…
Writing through Your Grief
If you are a “quiet griever,” one who does not easily talk out your feelings, writing is especially helpful. Writing seems to help reach that part of the brain where feelings and emotions are processed. And of course, journaling creates a running record of the bereavement experience; many times, rereading my own journals helps me see just how far I have grown in some aspect of life since this time last year or five years ago. If you are like many, you might be interested in journaling but are not sure where to start. Here are some proven suggestions for getting started in writing through your grief: Write a letter to your loved one. Tell her some of the highlights and low points of your day. Write about the period when you thought about her most or missed her most. This introductory writing—which can be done daily, weekly, or at
Describe a favorite memory. One benefit to journaling in grief is the opportunity to more fully describe the details of particularly vivid memories. After my own father died in 1993, I made a list of a couple dozen of my favorite memories from our life together—vacation destinations, character qualities I admired, and quirky habits. Each week, I selected one from my list (adding a few along the way) and gave myself an hour or more just to write about that memory. This proved to be one of the most helpful experiences in moving through that loss. Since I wrote over a cup of coffee on
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” ~Albert Camus
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When it comes to grief, autobiographical accounts, or what I call the “My story grief books” are, as the old saying goes, “a dime a dozen!” While undoubtedly a good outlet for their authors, these books can make you think that your experience ought to be the same as the author’s. After all, one could reason, “It’s in a book.”
Saturday mornings at a local fast food eatery, getting away from home and familiar distractions improved my focus.
Cheryl Eckl’s little book A Beautiful Grief: Reflections on Letting Go breaks that mold. In a brief 150 pages, she does share her own story, written from the vantage point of three years past the death of her husband to colon cancer. These 24 highly readable chapters offer hope and direction for grieving people. Her writing paints colorfully on the canvas of a bereaved heart, creatively addressing the questions with which grieving people struggle but about which they are often afraid to speak. My favorite story from the book concerns Bentley, the Eckl’s 14-month old standard poodle whose life was turned upside down by Stephen’s death. Cheryl describes his response to the loss of his ’alpha male” in terms with which animal lovers will resonate. But my favorite lines from the book come early: “I’m beginning to notice a new aspect of grief. It’s a constant dance between claiming the present and letting go of the past. My mother reminded me last night that time is a great healer. But I don’t think it’s actually time itself that heals. It’s what we do with the time” (p. 17). Perhaps the best feature of all in this book: there is a companion workbook/journal that will help even the most timid journal-keeper in getting started.
Express regret. Nearly every relationship is characterized by some regrets when that relationship is interrupted by death. Perhaps it is words not spoken or a deed left undone; perhaps it is the hurtful thing said that I now wish could be “taken back.” A grief journal provides a safe, private place to express those regrets. You might even find it useful to ask forgiveness of your loved one (or grant forgiveness) in the pages of your journal. Read entries from a few days/weeks/months ago. After you have kept a journal for some time, reread those pages. You might just be amazed at the progress you have experienced as you realize the ways you have gradually worked through the depths of pain in the early weeks or months after your loss. As the year began a few years ago, I reread entries from my earliest journals I kept in graduate school—some more than 25 years old. Frankly, I was amazed at some of the concerns that held sway two decades ago, stressors that I hardly even remember now. And, I was also amazed at how insignificant some of the issues of a twenty-something were when looked at from the perspective of middle age! But rereading some of my old journal entries—my final semester in college, the move from my native Louisiana to California, the months of “courting” the woman who would become my wife, the birth and growth of our children, and a thousand other transitions—also provided an opportunity for profound thanksgiving to God for the growth in the first chapters of my life. And a journal of the grief journey—with which my journal is certainly laced—provides the same opportunity to remember, reflect, and express gratitude. —William G. Hoy
* Here are some online resources that you may find inspiring, humorous, educational or otherwise helpful as you turn the pages through grief.
• Grief Beyond Belief Faith-free support for non-religious people grieving the death of a loved one. Search Grief Beyond Belief on Facebook • The Grief Toolbox Offering tools for finding hope. www.grieftoolbox.com Search The Grief Toolbox on Facebook • GriefLink www.GriefLink.net is an online community and directory of grief counselors and therapists, and grief educators, along with a directory of grief support groups. It also provides a comprehensive resource for people who are grieving. blog.grieflink.net. Search GriefLink on Facebook • Grief Speaks Out Everything you’re feeling is normal. Sharing pics, quotes, laughter, tears, even curses. For blog: www.griefspeaksout.com. Search Frief Speaks Out on Facebook.
Bill Hoy • Contributing Editor • firstname.lastname@example.org William G. Hoy is a counselor and educator with more than 25 years experience working with people in grief and the professionals who care for them. In addition to his oversight of a large hospice bereavement program, Dr. Hoy teaches on the faculties of Baylor University and Marian University.
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