NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Writing to Cope With Grief

Coping with grief can be challenging.  Many people find that writing is helpful during times of grief and loss.

Coping With Grief

I've written about grief and loss in prior articles, including:

Coping With the Loss of a Loved One
Coping With Complicated Grief
Grief in Waiting After the Death of a Parent
Allowing Room For Grief
Holding Onto Grief as a Way to Stay Emotionally Connected to a Deceased Loved One
Inconsolable Grief After a Mother's Death

There are many ways to cope with grief.  In this article, I'm focusing on one particular way to cope with grief, which is to write.

Coping With Grief

Coping with grief is personal.  What works for one person might not work for someone else.  One way to cope with grief is to write.

Journal Writing
In a prior article, I wrote about journal writing to cope with stress and anxiety (Journal Writing Can Relieve Stress and Anxiety) and how journal writing can help to cultivate a sense of gratitude (Keeping a Gratitude Journal).

Writing to Cope With Grief

Keeping a journal during times of grief can help you to explore and release all the emotions that can come up when you've lost someone close to you.

At different times, you might feel sad, angry, confused, anxious or all of these feelings combined together.

Writing down your feelings in a journal helps to clarify what you're feeling, especially when you're caught up in a storm of confusing feelings.

The flow of writing can help to release feelings that you might not even know that you were having.

It can help you to get to some of the underlying emotions that are under the surface.

For instance, you might feel angry at the person who died, but you might not realize that underneath the anger might be sadness (see my article: Discovering That Sadness is Often Underneath Anger).

Writing Letters to a Deceased Loved One
Often, after a loved one dies, surviving family members realize that there are so many things they want to say that they went unsaid.

Writing to Cope With Grief

Many people find it helpful to write letters to a loved one that they keep.  These letters can be written in a stream of consciousness, writing whatever comes to mind. As a alternative,  each letter can be about particular emotions or subjects.

When you write stream of consciousness, you write whatever comes to mind without censoring yourself.

Many writers, who feel blocked, write stream of consciousness to get ideas and emotions flowing.

In the same way, if you're struggling with your emotions about someone close to you who died, you can use this method to allow your emotions to flow.

Writing Down the Milestones of a Deceased Loved One's Life
In an earlier article, Writing the Milestones of Your Life, I wrote about how making a list of the big events in your life can help to give you a perspective about your life.

Writing to Cope With Grief

In the same way, writing down the milestones of a deceased loved one can also give you a different perspective.

For instance, if you thought that your loved one had only sad times in his or her life, you might remember certain big events in his or her life that brought joy and happiness or was meaningful in a certain way.

Usually, after someone who was close to us dies, we tend to remember only the final days, which are usually sad, challenging and, possibly, traumatic.  But to put everything into perspective, in most cases, there were usually many more days in a full life that weren't sad, challenging or traumatic.

Even if it's not a milestone, like birth or marriage, there might be an event that you remember that you know was meaningful to your loved one.  Write it down and it will help to put your loved one's life in context and, hopefully, provide you with some relief in your time of grief.

Writing a "Memoir"or Story
The word "memoir" sounds so formal.

When we think of memoirs, we think of famous people, like presidents, actors or other important people in history.

But anyone can write a memoir or story about him or herself or about someone else.

Writing to Cope With Grief

The type of memoir that I'm suggesting is more personal and informal and not for publication (unless after you write it, you want to do so).

After you write down the milestones in your loved one's life, you might want to write a page or so about one or more of those milestones in order to expand upon it.

There's no pressure about doing this because it's only for you.

In the same way that you might speak about a deceased loved one at a memorial service, writing a memoir or story is essentially a dialogue that you have with yourself.

There might be parts of your loved one's life that you don't know about when you're writing.  Maybe you'll choose one particular day to write about instead of trying to write about more than one event.

Since this is only writing that you're doing for yourself, you can do your best to guess what might have happened during that period.

The purpose of writing a memoir or story is not to get all the facts right.  The purpose is to help you during your time of grief by seeing the totality of your loved one's life, the good times, the hard times, etc.

Having a Dialogue in Writing
Aside from journal writing, letter writing and writing a memoir or story, you can use your imagination to write down a conversation that you would like to have with a deceased loved one.

Similar to writing a letter, you might have things you would have liked to have said but you didn't get a chance before s/he died.

By writing a dialogue, you have an imaginary conversation with your loved one.  If s/he was close to you, you can imagine how s/he might have responded to you.

Another way to use having a dialogue in writing is to use your imagination to rewrite an actual conversation that you wish had gone differently.

For instance, maybe you have regrets about something you said or maybe you wish your loved one would have responded differently during an actual conversation.

You can't undo what has already happened in the past, but you can experience some relief by using your imagination to write down the conversation that you wish you would have had.

Very often, people are amazed at how healing this can be.

Writing can be a healing when you're struggling with grief.

People often say that they're not sure how to begin or what to write.  If you feel stuck, use the stream of consciousness method where you just write the first thing that comes to your mind without censoring yourself.

These writing exercises can be done at any time, whether your loved one passed away today or 50 or more years ago.

Allowing yourself to express your feelings in writing can be a great relief and help you in your healing process.

Getting Help in Therapy
Psychotherapy with a licensed psychotherapist can also help you through the grieving process.

Having a place that is private and comfortable for you to talk can be a gift that you give yourself.

A licensed mental health professional, who has expertise with grief and mourning, can help you to heal your sadness and grief.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

My specialties, among other areas, include trauma and grief, and I have helped many clients through the grieving process.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.