Healing Through Words: Keeping a Grief Journal

Loss comes in many forms: death of a pet or person; the loss of a friend or position; the loss of youth we experience as we grow older. It's a part of life that we sometimes shuffle past and don't delve into. Today's post touches on this sensitive topic. I don't want to make anyone upset or trigger past emotional issues; but seeing that the topic of loss hit me hard during my hiatus, I felt that writing my thoughts down on this process and sharing them with all of you is important. 

Please, if you have lost someone and are having issues "getting past it all", find someone to talk to and perhaps keep a journal of your thoughts. Grieving is a long process and the more you deal with the whirlwind of emotions you feel, the faster you can start the healing process. Writing down your thoughts is one tool that can help you feel better about what happened and help you move on and rebuild your life.

Our eldest cat, mo, died two months ago. Yes, he was physically old but he still had the spark of a kitten in his eye. We lost him in one of the most shocking ways-- during a 3 day stay at the hospital where we hoped the vet health care system could nurse him back to health. I still remember the early morning phone call, and the shock, horror, and anger I felt at the situation. Neither one of us expected to have to make "the decision" so soon and yet, we couldn't just turn the other way and ignore what we had to do. For the first hours without him, I cried. A lot. The world seemed to be a colder place, the colors less vivid. And I had no idea what I was going to do to adjust to life without him.

I lost the ability to write, those first few days. Every time I looked at the unfinished D*I*Y Planner article sitting on my computer monitor, I felt sick to my stomach. Go figure... here was my primary passion and means of getting through life, and I felt frozen, unable to write another word. It felt as if my muse took off. Of course, this stressed me out even more and brought on more tears. This was when I decided to take my hiatus. I needed that time to heal myself and, also, figure out what I was going to do about the loss of words. The funny thing is that when I decided not to force the words to come, they came.

While I was away, I wrote. Nothing spectacular, mind you... mostly rambling daily thoughts and pure emotions that revolved around what I was doing every day and how I felt. Little did I realize that these ramblings were the first steps into what would help (and is STILL helping) me heal the pain of losing our eldest furkid, a core member of our family.

Journaling your grief helps you to make sense of what happened. It gives you the safe space to experience or re-experience those feelings that you might not normally show to others during this time. It allows you to act out and ask the unanswerable questions, or hold conversations or events you wish you had the chance to (re)do. I know that writing it down and talking to my friends helped to start the healing process. But, I also know it's not easy to do, the blank page can be rather scary. While I'm not 100% beyond the loss (as evidenced a few nights ago when I burst out crying at dinner after being shown a picture of mo), I know that writing and allowing myself to feel things has helped me work through some of the anger and guilt and pain. 

Where do you begin? Open your journal and put the pen on the page. Internally, I had this need to get all my feelings out before they consumed me. That, along with just turning to the next page in my daily journal, got me going. It was time to write down and acknowledge that he was gone. That first entry was the hardest. I remember writing a short and rather largely printed statement that simply stated when he passed and how I felt. The tears were coming down so hard I couldn't see where the pen was. Since then, when I look up and not see mo on his sofa perch or notice he's gone, I'll write how I feel on the printed page. I also try to think of the fonder moments we had when he was here. There's really nothing else to it, except to just put the pen on the page and write. You don't even have to start at the beginning. You don't even have to start with the snapshot of the event that lead to the loss.

Here's a short list of things that can help you write when you experience loss:

Keep writing. Writing may uncover emotions surrounding the event that you didn’t think you were feeling. You may find yourself getting angry or crying as you write. This is natural... allow yourself to feel the emotion. Don't worry about spelling or grammar. While it may not make sense, letting go all of those bottled up emotions helps you through the grieving process.

Examine your emotions. Give yourself time and space. Make a list of everything you feel regarding what happened and then write out, at length, how and why you feel each feeling. Don't be afraid to go in-depth. 

Be creative. Draw or collage your grief. When it's too hard to write or you feel that words don't convey the exact thoughts you feel, turn to art. Draw out your emotions... scribble out the anger or tears. Cry on the page. Collage images that show how you feel or the best times you had with the one you lost. I found a few images I had of mo and me and I turned them into a digital  remembrance collage of him. 

Write unsent letters. Write letters that no one else will see, except for you, the page, and the spirit of who you lost. I know many people who have dealt with their grief this way. They say it's therapeutic and helps them feel connected to who they lost.

Remember the memories. Write down happy events. Keep a record of who you lost and what they looked like. Keep a list of the things they loved (music, books, movies, chew toys, etc.) and allow yourself to remember the love you had for them.

Taking time to work through the grieving process does really help you. It's never easy to lose something, it's hard to pick up the pieces and move on. Keeping a written log of your thoughts and emotions can help you gain perspective, remove blocks, and have you saying what you need to say in order to heal and live your life more fully again.

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Thank you so much for this

Thank you so much for this article. I am a subscriber to the d.i.y. planner-feed. And i also lost one of my two cats last week, and it hit me so much how hard i am grieving. I always had problems to express my thoughts about losing someone or something, but even though i like writing, it never came to my mind to let myself write about it. To allow me to do this. Somehow grieve has no place in this world, and its a pitty. I still believe and have experienced, that oppressed emotions always come back twice as hard in the long run.
I am really sorry for your loss. I would very much appreciate it, if you emailed me in case you have any advice on how to help my - now single - cat to get over the loss of her lifelong friend. But, however, thank you for sharing these thoughts.

Ronia,

Ronia,

Thank you for your thoughts. I send you lots of hugs and my heart goes out to you on the loss of your own cat. It's difficult to get over. I also agree, that we don't allow ourselves to grieve as much in this age of constant action. I also believe that we need to be able to sit down and examine our thoughts and emotions and let them out before they consume us.

I'd love to email you but you didn't post an email address for me to contact. If you read this, please click here to email me and I'll try and give you some suggestions for your other cat.

/innowen

G. Thanks- grief log to eulogy

When our favoritest cat of all time passed away last year, my husband and I just sat in the garden and poured all of our memories of him and with him into a journal. He was an especially emotionally-intelligent cat, laying over my bald head to keep me warm when I was going through the aftermath of chemo. A few days later when we had a euology and service over his ashes, those memories were so comforting to read over him. I felt it was the perfect send-off and expression of gratitude for all the kindesses and love he gave to us all our married life. I still miss him but the aching and loneliness is eased.

sporter
"To fly, we must have resistance."

That's a wonderful idea. We

That's a wonderful idea. We also did a private ceremony when we got the ashes, which I think helped my hubby cope a bit more. For awhile when we were sad, we'd say "We miss mo." and then hug.

Thank you for sharing,
/innowen

Thank you for a wonderful

Thank you for a wonderful article. As a counselor, I've recommended writing therapy over and over again to my clients, and it always makes a difference.

I'm glad you included the unsent letter exercise. One of the things that can be so hard in losing a pet is not knowing if you made the right choice for euthanasia... and if you made it at the right time. Writing all of these feelings to the pet really does help.

In addition, you can also dialogue thorugh your journal. Write what you'd like to say to your pet, and then let yourself write what you think they'd say back. If you don't overthink and just let it come, it's amazing what can come out and how healing it can be.

I'm so sorry for your own grief. I've had to say good-bye to a couple of deeply loved pets, and am beginning to anticipate the time that will come for my 13 year old cats. But our grief is just a reflection of how deeply we loved them.. and they loved us.

As Stephen Levine wrote, "Grief is the rope burns left when what we love most has been pulled from our grasp."

Thank you for the support.

Thank you for the support.

I've written about dialog with yourself in earlier articles as well. But for some reason, when loss comes to mind it's those unsent letters that seem to be the best help for me. They allow me to let go on my own terms.

Give yer kitties a scritch for me,
/innowen

Thank you...

for being transparent enough to share your grief and the healing process you've been going through. And sincere condolences on the loss of your kitty.

Two things really helped me in the loss of my cat: 1. making a scrapbook of his life, including memories, poems, photos from many occasions over the years. 2. A poem and website a friend referred me to:
www (dot) rainbowbridge (dot) com. They have some great resources for dealing with grief over losing a pet, especially the other people in the community who have gone through the same thing. At some point I'll have to try journaling...so far it just makes me cry.

Thanks. Sometimes it's hard

Thanks. Sometimes it's hard for me to expose too much of myself. I don't really see DIY Planner as a traditional blog. It's more of a webzine of ideas and tips. Therefore, I try and keep a lot of my personality out of my words and go towards a more traditional approach of magazine writing. It's not perfect and I do enjoy posting and telling you all about my ideas.

The rainbow bridge poem always has me in tears. I read it a few years ago, before I ended up being mom to multiple kitties and it made me cry. I haven't been to the site since mo died. I'm not sure I could handle it yet.

We have photo galleries on our websites of our kitties, I just wish I had been able to know mo for more than 4 years. He was such a great companion.

/innowen

what a beautiful...

poem! I have never heard that one before. Here I am sitting at work with tears running down my face! This poem contains all of those hopes and dreams we have for all of our lost ones (pets and people). That they do feel well again and play and have fun and that one day we will see them all again!

Hugs and best wishes to all of you who have loved and lost.

nay nay

Poignant article

I am very proud you were able to write about this. It shows great strength and healing on your part. And it also shows that writing is helping.

As you know, journaling is what got me through A LOT the first few months of this year. When my beloved furkid of 20 years had to be put to sleep, writing is what helped me to sort out the chaos in my head and the raging turmoil within my cracked heart. I remember crying as I wrote; some of he ink got smeared but I didn't try and fix it (neat freak that I am). I left it as is.

The day she passed away I created a two page homage to her with a poem, doodles, a pix of her and favorite memories.

Journaling even helped me get through the loss of a long term friendship. I always tell people -- I have two forms of therapy: dancing and writing.

Kudos innowen.

~~Moleskines and a pint of room temperature Guinness are my drugs of choice.~~

This is wonderful. My

This is wonderful. My father passed two weeks ago. This'll help with all of the memories and feelings that have been swirling around my mind since.

Sorry...

I am very, very sorry for your loss Corliss.

My thoughts and prayers,
nay nay