The death of a loved one can have a devastating effect on our well-being. Grief can be overwhelming and draining for months, or even years. However, we all have at our disposal an important tool to help us cope: writing.
According to Harvard Medical School, writing while grieving boosts the immune system and increases the emotional and mental health. In the beginning, it might trigger strong emotions, like crying or feeling extremely upset, which can have therapeutic "letting off steam" benefits.
However, writing isn't a substitute for professional therapy, especially when dealing with a sudden or violent death.
Writing is an instrument of self-exploration, self-expression, and self-discovery that provides you with a safe space to simply be, without being judged. It's especially useful when there are things unsaid, emotions unshared, and no closure gained.
In this article, we'll discuss why writing is powerful for healing, types of writing to express loss and grief, tips to fearless writing, and prompts to get you started.
The Healing Power of Writing
Writing down thoughts and feelings after losing someone allows you to express yourself freely and safely, which is rare in this highly judgemental world. It also provides you with the tools to explore and discover within so that you can build your inner strength back up again.
The healing power of writing comes from being a safe place to reflect on the meaning of life and death, to be relieved from shackling thoughts, and to release whatever burden you have in your chest.
It also provides you with the opportunities to:
- Sort through conflicting emotions
- Write down thoughts and feelings about yourself and the departed
- Share deeply what you want the dead person to know and acknowledge
- Express your regret and apology as a way to bring closure—perhaps through an apology letter
- See clearly the thoughts and feelings you have about death, yourself, and the departed
- Develop an understanding on things that have been suppressed inside
- Give yourself a fresh start or a new chapter
- Make room for other thoughts and feelings as a chapter has been closed
- Understand yourself in a new light
- Simply be yourself, as the writing will remain private and confidential and wouldn't be published for public consumption
Types of Writing for Loss and Grief
While many mental health experts recommend journaling for its long-term therapeutic effects, there are other forms of writing with which you can write to feel, honor, express, apologize, say unsaid things, remember, or simply to be creative.
The key is to follow your heart in this trying time. Never judge yourself nor your writing.
Some forms to consider:
You probably miss the person, or you have something to say. A letter dedicated to him or her that starts with "Dear ...." and is followed by "I've always wanted to tell you that... " or "Today I went to that place where we..." will read as if the person were still alive.
This type of writing can be the most therapeutic as the griever has the opportunity to speak out from the heart about what he or she wants to express. It can be especially helpful when the letter touches a sensitive issue. You will probably cry or smile when writing it, which is healthy, as it can tap into strong memories and emotions.
Writing a memoir is usually for the public. However, you can choose to write it merely for grieving purposes, and it can be kept private. An emotionally charged memoir about your memories with a departed loved one allows you to revisit the good times, special events, and strong feelings. Sometimes, you can even feel his or her presence.
It serves as a tribute, which you can revisit from time to time. You can choose to share it with a select few relatives, keep it completely private, or publish it later.
Poetry or Haiku
Through poetry or Haiku, you can express your deepest feelings without being too explicit. You can use alliteration, assonance, imagery, metaphor, rhyme, simile, or stanza to embellish your poems. You can even use a unique point-of-view, which isn't even your own.
Remember to be fearless when expressing feelings creatively. Don't let any pressure to perform become an obstacle. Once completed, you'll have a beautiful gift that you can recite and cherish for years to come.
A reflection can be based on your interpretation of life and death or about something that concerns the departed loved one and yourself. Feel free to contemplate and write down whatever that comes to mind. Combine it with snippets of memories. Most likely, during the process, you'll feel how precious life is.
What did the person say to you that sticks with you? Perhaps they were favorite quotes from others? Traditional sayings? Or stories? How did he or she tell it the last time? Take note of wise words or narratives as they can be your bridge to the departed's heart and spirit.
If you're the curious type, maybe you can start research on death, claims on life after death, the concept of heaven, and the possibility of reincarnation. Of course, the research can be as scientific or as religious as you like, depending on how you perceive the world, life, and death. The better your understanding of life and death, the less anxious you'll become.
If you're the imaginative type and are done with reflecting and contemplating, consider writing a fictional story about you and the departed. You can create a new world where both of you enjoy certain things and "live happily ever after." You can make up stories where both of you feel good and positive, instead of sad and grieving.
Tips to Fearless Writing
Therapeutic writing is meant to be a safe activity when dealing with grief, so it'd be best when done with fearlessness and spontaneity. However, for those who are used to thinking things through before writing them down, it requires practice to write freely.
Here are six ways to write as fearlessly as possible.
Don't Think, Just Feel and Do
You aren't writing for others to read. You're writing for yourself, so don't feel obliged to think and make the words coherent. Just feel whatever it is you're feeling and continue typing.
Write in One Sweep
Type in one breath, one sweep. Don't pause to think. Give a chance for your feelings to flow effortlessly and let your fingers dance flowingly.
Keep Moving Forward
Whatever you've typed, keep typing. Don't stop to look back at what you've written and don't criticize yourself. This time, you're free from any self-criticism.
Don't Edit or Revise
Accept mistakes as they are, don't edit or revise. Nobody and nothing's perfect, so let things be. You're learning how to be more accepting of yourself and whatever life brings.
Let Mistakes Be, Let Things Be
By accepting your typing, spelling, and grammatical errors while staying focused on freewriting, you're growing as a person. It's a practice of embracing things that don't go as planned.
Let Things Out
If you want to cry or shout, do so without feeling being watched by anyone. You're grieving, so you have the privilege to be different and not give a damn about the world.
Prompts to Get Started
You might need a bit of inspiration to start. Here are several ideas to write about:
- What you loved the most about the person and your relationship with him or her
- What you miss the most
- What you learned
- What he or she influenced you the most
- What you wish he or she would do/know/say
- The best memory
- Things what you want to say
- Things you regret about
- Things you've wanted to do with him or her
- How you'd remember the person
At last, give yourself time to grieve. Everyone grieves differently and within their own timeframe. Let your heart and mind heal from this traumatic experience. Never judge yourself in the healing process. Whenever needed, just write freely.