Holidays such as Memorial Day lend themselves to thinking about the many expressions grief takes in our lives. For some, the holiday weekend has no personal connections beyond an opportunity for an extra vacation day and barbecue. For others, Memorial Day is a real connection to a loved one’s death through military action or war. Yet we see those connections to grief taking many forms; tears, talking, solemn speeches, silence, celebrating, and even laughter are all normal, healthy responses to the pain of loss, depending upon where you are in the grieving process.
Grief is a painful journey. I call it a journey or process, rather than an emotion, because it encompasses many emotions and each of us traverses it in our own way and time. And though there are many theories and ideas about what is “normal*,” we embark on a journey of grief blindly, without a map or compass.
Before 2005, I had never lost a loved one to death. Then, between 2005-2007, I lost six family members. As a result, grief surrounded and permeated me—for a while seeming like an environment in which I breathed and lived. I am still traveling the long road of grief, processing the loss of each of my family members in different ways depending on our relationships. And through my personal journey and experience, I have come to believe that there is no “normal” to grief, except that it is a common experience. After all, what is “normal” pain?
In honor of Memorial Day, just ended, this week’s journaling prompts explore the nature of grief and the ways in which we process and express it as we travel down its lonely path.
- Have you ever lost a loved one? If so, how would you characterize your journey thus far? If not, are you close with someone who has experienced such loss? What can you learn from supporting and observing that person’s process?
- What are some of the ways you have expressed grief? Have you memorialized through pictures, poems, or writing? Have you buried yourself in work to avoid feeling? How else?
- Freewrite for ten minutes: What have you learned by grieving?
- Create a cluster using the word Grief as the nucleus. (Use the instructions for Creative Clustering, and remember to write after you draw your cluster.)
- Draw a map of your grief journey, illustrating each stage you experienced along the way. Did you return (or have you returned) to some of those stages? Were there obstructions in your path? Include them in your drawing.
- Write about the kinds of support that was most meaningful to you while experiencing grief. Is there anyone in your life to whom you could give the gift of support in one of these ways?
- This last question may seem difficult at first: What is the most beautiful aspect of grief? For me, it was the resulting softening of heart and compassion toward others. What is it for you? Explore this topic further.
As always, I invite you to share your experiences and writing prompts with other Writing Through Life readers by leaving a comment below.
* Some well-known theories include the Kübler-Ross Five-Stages Model, Bonanno’s Four Trajectories, Jacob’s Four-Stage model, and the Continuing Bonds theory.