Five benefits of grief journaling

In this blog, Shantanu describes the benefits of grief journaling to help process and manage grief. We hope you find this post helpful. Get in touch to share your own story or advice for others.

There are numerous ways to process your grief. Grief journaling is perhaps the most self-reliant of all options. You don’t have to depend on another person. You don’t have to be vulnerable in front of anyone else. It is just your diary that is privy to your secrets. Here’s why it could help…

De-clutters the mind

Writing is an excellent exercise if you want to de-clutter your mind and unravel your thoughts. You cannot anticipate tragedy beforehand or avoid grief. However, you can control your reaction to it. It is very easy to marinate in your suffering and feelings about how unfair everything is. Getting back up and fighting back is what takes real courage.

Organise your emotions

Writing is a very cathartic process. It helps you relive, remember, and rethink the experience, but with a different perspective. Write only when you are ready to confront your emotions, prod your feelings, and put yourself under the microscope. It can help you to organise your feelings in an orderly way.

Journaling is one of the best ways to move on from a bad situation. It empties your mind and helps you calm down. Devote an hour every day to sit down, relax, and jot down your thoughts. You can talk about the most mundane of activities, the little ideas you have or the serious stuff. The entire process is almost meditative.

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Constructive and creative

There is no checklist for writing a diary. You can note down whatever you want, however you want it. Some people prefer to keep a record of the events in chronological order. Others feel more comfortable writing poetry to express their grief. It is a very constructive and creative way to channel your feelings. Mould your suffering into something beautiful. You can write stories, letters to your future self, little notes of encouragement, and other tit-bits.

Maintaining a journal helps you systematically process your grief. Write down your feelings and thoughts as clearly and lucidly as possible. Pain may be a spontaneous outburst, but journaling it involves some degree of thought and analysis. Don’t dive headlong into the process though. Give yourself ample time to cry, or rage, or whatever emotion you are feeling.

Build endurance

Grief journaling has several physical benefits as well. Keeping your feelings bottled up can lead to increased stress levels. It increases the cortisol levels and reduces the oxytocin levels in the brain. This combination can make you more susceptible to negative emotions. Suppressed grief also triggers high blood pressure, reduced metabolism, decreased immunity and chronic pain.

As well as a way of reducing these risks through expressing your feelings in some form, journaling also builds your inner strength. You emerge stronger than before. You have a healthy, productive coping mechanism to process your emotions. Writing helps you scrutinize your thoughts and reactions. It is a very holistic process that gives you a complete picture of the situation.

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Track your progress

There is nothing better than looking back at your feelings with a sense of accomplishment. Wear your battle-worn armour like a badge of honour. What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger. And your journal bears testament to your struggle. Reading those little notes, letters, and entries at a future date is a very empowering exercise. And anytime you feel like giving up; you can read your grief journal- your personalised pep talk to you!

Let it go

Grief journaling should help you move on from the past. Like Dumbledore said:

“It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live”

Confront your feelings headlong, deal with it, dust it away, and try to ‘move on’; whatever that means for you! Life is full of surprises and your happily-ever-after is just around the corner. You never know what joy the next moment might bring you. Holding on to grief only fosters more bitterness. You have to let it go and create space for hope.

Shantanu

Shantanu works as an inbound content marketer at GayCelebrant.Melbourne & has helped develop it to cater to the LGBTIQ Wedding industry since 2018.

You can’t change the past, but you can change the future

In this blog, Jane reflects on the losses she has experienced and how she has used the benefit of hindsight to write a book to help others navigating through their own grief.

When a death occurs outside of the expected sequence of life, the resulting grief is brutal. When more than one death occurs in this way, the grief is compounded. Believe me, I know.

Being “stuck”

My brother died in a car accident when I was 23 years old. My mother died from cancer when I was 33 years old and expecting my first child. My Mum didn’t live long enough to meet my daughter. My father died when I was 39 years old. I realise now that I didn’t cope with these cumulative losses, and became stuck from unresolved grief.

My observation is that people who are stuck are usually struggling with emotions such as sorrow, guilt, remorse, resentment, anger, shame, blame, despair, bitterness and regret, which are directed at themselves, and at other people.

I was intensely angry with the drunk driver who killed my brother. I was resentful and despairing when my friends were able to call their mothers for advice when they were pregnant, and were then new mums, yet mine was dead. I felt guilt and remorse that I couldn’t spend more time with my father when he was in palliative care. I knew I had to do something about these emotions because they were destroying my life.

Letting go

I changed the way I thought about the past and let my grief go. It wasn’t an easy process, but it was a necessary one. I also realised my experience could help others, and I wrote a book called Unstuck: Rescuing yourself from unresolved grief that tracks the process and mindset it took for me to become unstuck and embrace the future. It is the book I needed to read all those years ago.

It is now 30 years since my brother died, 21 years since mum died, and 15 years since dad died. I give myself advice in Unstuck with the benefit of hindsight, and it is advice that I hope will help others.

Advice for a past-self

Before mum died I promised her I would be OK and consequently kept smiling and keeping up appearances, even when I wasn’t. I also rarely asked other women for help to protect myself from the unspoken “but you’re not my daughter” vibe that hovers in the ether (and is one of the main reasons motherless mothers don’t ask for help).

This is the advice I would have given myself with the benefit of hindsight that I wrote in my book Unstuck:

“You told mum you will be OK without her, but that doesn’t mean never asking for help. No one can replace her, but don’t think you have to do everything on our own. Asking for help when you need it is not a sign of weakness or failure. It is a perfectly sensible thing to do.”

Grief is tough, and moving forward without the people who you thought would be by your side is soul destroying. But as I’ve written in Unstuck: It’s not disrespectful to a cherished person who died to continue to live and enjoy life. This seems self-evident and yet it needs to be said.

Embracing the future

Moving forward doesn’t mean you have forgotten the person/s who died or are not honouring their memory. What has happened is seared into your DNA and left emotional scar tissue. But it does mean you haven’t forgotten you, or the people who are still in your life. That’s a really important message that took me some time to figure out.

Don’t be afraid to embrace your future, even if it’s different to the life you had originally mapped out for yourself. Remember, you can’t change the past, but you can change the future.

Jane Carstens

You can read more about Jane Carstens, contact her, or sign up for her blog here.

A different journey into motherhood

In this blog, Michaela reflects on her journey into motherhood and describes the unrivalled love she feels; which she now uses to help others.

Two lines on the pregnancy stick

On Monday 21st January 2019 I was overjoyed as I found out that I had been blessed with a child. Staring down at two lines on the pregnancy stick, I cradled my still flat stomach in disbelief. I waited all day for my husband to get home from work so that I could surprise him with the most beautiful news.

A few weeks had gone by and we were basking in the anticipation of impending parenthood. We sat and dreamed on about what our little one would look like, what their name would be, and how we would paint the nursery. It’s completely true that when you find out you have already planned a lifetime!

Around this time, I suffered some complications and found myself in a clinical room with a sonographer looking at my baby in black and white on the screen. Thankfully, our little life was just that and as we looked on in astonishment, the dreams began to further unfold. That wasn’t the end of the pregnancy complications; I spent weeks with bleeding and pain. I had many scans in that time and each one showed that our little baby was healthy, until he was not.

‘Something was wrong’

Later down the line we found ourselves in a familiar scanning room, lights lowered, gel brushed across my stomach and we stared at the screen in expectation. We started to laugh and giggle at his little hands waving around and then silence filled the room. I looked across at the sonographer and her whole demeanour had changed, we knew instantly that something was wrong.

We implored and begged to be given any kind of information and finally she let the words slip out of her mouth ‘There is a problem with your baby’s brain’. What followed were long minutes sat frozen on hard plastic waiting room chairs. We watched families walk past with the all too recognisable black balloons filled with pink and blue confetti and heard the mumbles of heartbeats under the door.

Somehow, we made it back to the car and my husband drove through a sea of tears to our friends’ house. We were met with cups of tea, hugs, listening ears, and prayers and I truly think that saved us. After we’d made our way home, we sat and waited to be called by the hospital. The next day, we met with a consultant and our gravest fears were confirmed, our baby most likely had a life-limiting condition.

Waiting for the call

We waited for four agonizing days to receive a phone call that we lived on tenterhooks for, yet never wanted to come. My phone buzzed in my pocket and I timidly answered the call. I was met with words that have been buried deep into the depths of my being ‘I am so sorry, but your baby is incompatible with life’. In the matter of a week we had gone from thinking about colours for the nursery to facing a future childless in the natural. More shocking news came as we were told that there was also danger to me carrying our baby.

I stumbled through the front door of my house and into my husband’s arms as I tried to explain all of the information I had to interpret on my own. In summary, our baby was going to die, and I may too. In essence, that day we had to decide to save my own life and no mother wants to put themselves before their child.

‘We felt love that we never knew to be possible’

Just two days later, our son was born, and we stared into his tiny eyes and admired his features. That day was most certainly the worst day of my life as I laboured for hours to hold my stillborn child in my arms, but it was also the best day ever. It was the day we truly became parents and the day that we felt love that we never knew to be possible.

The days following have been anything short of easy, but they have been filled with so much overwhelming love for the son I loved, lost, and carry with me every day. I have learned so much about what it looks like to have hope and joy in every season and how it is oh so possible.

As we look to the future, we know that we are better equipped to help other parents who will walk through this unthinkable pain and instead of thinking ‘Why us?’ we think ‘What can we do?’ and we strive forward to make the tiny steps to help bereaved parents and families.

Michaela Taylor

You can connect with Michaela through her Instagram account here.

Creating new Christmas traditions

In this blog, Llinos reflects on Christmases past, present, and future, and describes the new traditions she has developed to enjoy Christmas again.

A few weeks ago we got our Christmas tree out of its box and began discussing how we would decorate it. My husband enthusiastically wrapped the branches with lights, while I nervously watched our cat for signs that she was about to attack the tree.  A thought crystallised in my mind, that my mum would never see this tree, as this year is the first time we’ve used it, and she died in June 2018.

Christmases past…

My parents gave me a series of idyllic Christmases, as I grew up in North Wales in the 1990s. We were a close-knit family, just the three of us and my paternal grandparents. Our Christmases were perfect, as far as I was concerned. From the tree, to the dinner, to the company, it didn’t get any better than this. Even as a little girl, I knew that most of this was orchestrated by my mum (with a helping hand from Santa, of course).

Things naturally changed as I grew up. My grandparents died, and we gained a new dinner guest in my husband, or we would spend Christmas with his family. If my parents spent Christmas alone together, they would send us photos of themselves in their Christmas jumpers, the tree from my childhood as their backdrop. As solid as the tree itself, my mum kept her childlike glee which had her racing to rip wrapping paper off the presents before any of us.

Even during her final Christmas, when she was in pain and struggling to walk, she never stopped smiling and couldn’t hand us presents quickly enough.

New traditions

This year, we’re spending Christmas just the two of us (plus cat) in our own home. It’s the first time we’ve ever done this, so it feels like it’s the perfect time to make our own, new traditions. Christmas and its rituals can be sacred to some. Indeed, in my mum’s death I feel I am grieving not just her but the Christmases we shared. Yet by creating new rituals, I feel I’m able to honour hers.

There’s going to be no card from my mum, her loopy handwriting forming a loving message from her and my dad. There won’t be a present wrapped in her trademark metallic paper. There won’t be the tinkle of her laugh as we read cracker jokes, or whispers over which chocolate to choose from the box as we watch the queen’s speech.

There have been moments when I wanted to shout “Screw you, Christmas!” when a festive advert comes on TV, or pledge not to celebrate Christmas at all in protest of my mum’s premature death, when she should have been celebrating Christmas for another two decades.

“Screw you, Christmas!”

Instead, we’ll play a game for the first time; a tradition that will be ‘ours’ from then onwards. We might even add a new vegetable onto the menu! Rather than settle down to watch a film, we’ll wrap up warm and take a long stroll through the park. The options are endless.

Christmas is the perfect time to remember the past, enjoy the present, and look to the future. If the rest of the year and build-up to Christmas is busy, Christmas Day itself is encouraged to be a time of relaxation. By creating new traditions, with an eye on yesterday, we’ll be grieving for my mum but also making a path through that grief.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Llinos Owen

Got a story to share? Talking about loss is a powerful, brave thing and helps us all feel less alone in our grief. If you want to tell your story, email us at blog@letstalkaboutloss.org.

Christmas may not be the same, but…

Heather discusses Christmas traditions old and new in this blog, and trying to find happiness and joy at this time of year, whilst grieving for loved ones.

A time of festive wonder and joy. Of spending time with family and loved ones. Great food, presents and parties galore, but what if you’ve been bereaved?

“A double whammy”

This year marks the second Christmas without my dad and the first without my sister. A double whammy. Two people are missing from our family and at a time when family is so important, this hurts on many levels.

The memories of opening presents with them and cooking Christmas dinner. The laughter that was always present in our house is going to be missed terribly.

Christmas was my Dad’s favourite time of year. He enjoyed everything about it and so did my sister. It’s hard knowing that they won’t be here to enjoy another one with us. It stings sometimes when I see a shop advertising Christmas gifts and playing Christmas songs because it doesn’t feel the same for me anymore.

When I think of this time of year though, I think back to my childhood. Memories of watching the Star Wars trilogy and everyone falling asleep. I think of playing monopoly and Dad always winning, and I think of last year, wrapping presents with my sister and mum. These memories make me happy so I hold onto them fiercely.

I know that Christmas day is going to be filled with sadness and watching families walk around the Christmas markets, smiling and talking. It is difficult when there are holes in your own family – but there is also happiness.

New traditions

I had the pleasure of knowing my dad for 28 years. He gave me my sense of humour, my stubbornness and my love of cheese boards. I also had my sister for 28 wonderful years; she was my best friend and I shared a bond with her like no other.

At a time when family is the centre of the occasion, I feel grateful that I knew them. The sad times remembering them are also matched with so much love for the people they were and still are to me.

I still love Christmas. It may not be the same and in some ways, I grieve for that as much as I grieve for my dad and sister, but I’m beyond lucky to have the memories I do have. It will never feel the way it used to and I will always feel like they are missing but I want to smile for them and try as much as I can to still feel some Christmas spirit because I know that is what they would want.

A new tradition for us will be lighting a candle in their memory and sharing stories of them. This is a new kind of Christmas but one that will still be filled with love.

Although we are used to Christmas being happy and joyful. You can cry, shout, or scream if you need to. Sit with the feelings, then let them pass, and most importantly; be kind to yourself. Talk to someone about your loved one(s) and Christmases past. Include them in what you do as much as you can because I truly believe that the ones we lose never really leave us.

Heather Coldwell

Would you like to share something on the blog? Email blog@letstalkaboutloss.org and we’d love to share your story.