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Friday, February 2, 2018

Writing About Your Mother After Her Death

I've written about grief in prior articles, including grief after parents die (see the end of this article for a list).  In this article, I'm focusing specifically on a mother's death and how writing can help you to heal. Although I'm focusing on mothers, you can, of course, apply what I've written to fathers, brothers, sisters, a spouse or any relatives or close friends.  I'm choosing to focus on mothers in this article because, for most people, it's usually the closest relationship you have from before your birth until death.

Writing About Your Mother After Her Death

Losing a mother is one of the biggest losses that anyone will ever face.  Even if you didn't have a good relationship with your mother, you might grieve for the aspects that were positive, if there were positive aspects to your relationship with her, and also for what you wanted and didn't get from your mother.

If your mother died and you were fortunate enough to say goodbye and express your feelings before she died, afterwards you might remember something you wanted to say and didn't or a question you would have liked to ask.

If you didn't get a chance to say goodbye, you probably feel a need to say goodbye and that much more after your mother died.

Writing About Your Mother After Her Death

It's common to feel regret about unexpressed feelings or questions after the death of your mother, and you might feel despair because you can no longer express these feelings or ask these questions.

But there are other ways to deal with working through grief and dealing with unresolved feelings.  One way is to spend time writing about your mother.

Writing can be an integrating process where your thoughts, feelings, memories, dreams and daydreams come together.

Writing About Your Mother After Her Death
  • Keeping a Journal: Keeping a journal of whatever feelings, memories, dreams and thoughts you have is one way to use writing to heal yourself.  The journal would only be for you to see, unless you choose to share it with people close to you or with your psychotherapist.  Write whatever comes to mind and don't censor yourself.  What comes up won't always be loving thoughts.  You might feel angry for things that happened during her life or that you feel abandoned since she died.  You might also have other feelings that you weren't aware of until you start writing.
  • Writing Poetry: If you enjoy reading and writing poetry, you might find it healing to write one or more poems about your mother that capture the essence of who she was and your relationship with her.  The use of metaphor and symbols in poetry can also help to express deep feelings as well as provide a healing experience for you.
  • Writing Letters to Your Mother: If there were things you would have liked to say, but you didn't, writing letters to your mother in which you express your feelings can be helpful.  You can write one letter or a series of letters about different topics.  These letters won't all necessarily be loving.  There might be letters that are angry, sad, frustrating or express whatever feels unfinished to you.  Since your emotional relationship with your mother continues to grow and change over the years, you might have different, even contradictory, feelings at various times.  For instance, at one point, you might write a letter to "tell her" about a happy occasion, like your daughter's wedding and at another point, you might write about something you're experiencing where you wish you had her support, for example, if you're going through a divorce.  You might even imagine what your mother might have said about these situations and write letters from her perspective back to you.
  • Writing a Short Story: If you grew up with your mother and had an ongoing relationship with her, you probably know a lot of stories about her life and your relationship with her.  Some of them might be sad and some might be humorous.  Capturing these experiences in a short story or two can help you to relive those experiences and to heal emotionally.  Even if you have to fill in certain parts of the story because you don't know what the whole story, you can imagine part of it and write about that part of it from your imagination.  
  • Writing a Collection of Short Stories:  If you have many stories that you want to remember, you can write a collection of stories that you either keep for your own private use or share with family members and close friends.  How you use these stories is up to you.  If you write a collection of short stories, it can include stories that you know about from the time your mother was an infant (maybe she told you stories that she heard from her mother about infancy) until her death or you can choose certain significant milestones of her life to write about.  Each chapter can be about a different time in her life.  Although this might sound daunting, you don't have a deadline, so you're not under any pressure to complete this project by a specific date.  You can write these stories whenever you feel like it and you have time.  Once again, capturing these stories in writing can be a healing process.  
  • Writing a Memoir:  Maybe you want to focus specifically on your relationship with your mother from your point of view and your relationship with her rather than about her personal life.  Writing a memoir doesn't have to capture her whole life or your whole life with your mother.  It can include whatever experiences are meaningful to you that you want to write about.  Once again, if you're doing this for yourself, there's no rush and no pressure.
Overcoming Obstacles to Writing
You might read these suggestions and say, "But I'm not a writer..."

Even if you've never kept a journal and never attempted any particular writing project, you can still write.

The problem that most people have with writing is getting started because they think their writing won't be good enough or that it should look and sound a certain way.

But, remember, you're doing this for yourself to help you with your grief, so no one will be judging your writing, except maybe you if you happen to be particularly critical of yourself.

To overcome this obstacle, I usually recommend that people do free associative writing to get the words to start flowing before you begin any of the writing suggestions above.

Just like in free association in the psychoanalytic sense, when you do free associative writing, you're just writing whatever comes to mind and you keep going.  You're not stopping to fix punctuation or grammar.  You're just letting it all pour out.

The intent is to help you to relax and get into the flow of writing.

If you have some time before you get started with your day, the best time to do free associative writing is in the morning before you're completely awake and before your defenses and fears take hold.

If nothing comes to mind at first, choose a word, any word, and write whatever comes to mind.  It can be any word at all, even if it seems trivial at first.  For instance, if you've just woken up and you're staring at your box of corn flakes and you can't think of a word, write down "corn flakes" and keep going from there and don't stop for at least 5-10 minutes.

Don't go back to critique it.  That's not the  point.  What you wrote might appear be a word salad.  That's okay.  Let it be whatever it is.

If you happen to come upon an idea that you want to include in your writing about your mother then, by all means, go back and use that piece.

In Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way, she has suggestions about a form of free associative writing that she calls the morning pages.  You can follow this method or any other free associative method that feels right for you.

You might also want to look at a book by Marion Milner (pseudonym: Joanna Field) called A Life of One's Own where she writes about her own personal growth process and how she used a diary for self exploration.

There are many different approaches that you can take, possibly even ones that I haven't included in this article, to express your grief in writing or memorialize your mother.

Writing about grief is usually an integrative process so that it helps you to bring together the many different feelings you have about your mother and your relationship with your mother.

When you're ready to write about your mother, it can be a healing experience that gets you through the mourning process and beyond.

Getting Help in Therapy
As I've mentioned in previous articles, losing your mother is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, loss that you will experience.

If you've having problems grieving for your mother or you're stuck in the mourning process, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional to help you through this process (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

Grief and mourning are unique for each person.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to work through this loss so that you can work through the loss and heal (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to work through their grief.

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.

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