Journaling Through Grief – Introduction 11

GRIEF IS as much a part of life as all other emotions. The opposite of joy, grief is a particular kind of sorrow; it’s an emotional anguish so deep that it can seem bottomless. And when you’re in the middle of that bottomless despair, it can feel like there is no way out.

There are many types of grief, all born from loss, including:

  • The breaking apart of an intact family through divorce
  • The death of a loved one
  • The loss of job or income
  • The loss of an important close relationship
  • The loss of a life dream
  • The loss of your home
  • The loss of health or mobility

In my own life, I have experienced many of these losses and the grief that came with them.

Just as there are endless ways to experience loss, there are endless ways to find yourself in the middle of grief. You may go into shock and not feel the full effects of your grief for days or weeks or even months as you concentrate on surviving. And this effect may intensify or be magnified when you experience multiple losses at once. 

And then one day it hits, and you find that you can’t stop crying. Or you can’t focus. You lose track of what you are doing and can’t complete simple tasks. On the other hand, you might feel unusually detached, numb, and emotionless. You begin to isolate yourself from others. You may experience physical symptoms, such as unusual irritability, headaches, chest pain, or fatigue.

[bctt tweet=”The first and most important part of handling grief is to be compassionate and to give yourself emotional space to be who you need to be in that moment.” username=”writingthrulife”]

As painful as the deep feelings of despair and all of these outward symptoms are, they are normal.

Let me say that again.

All of these emotions and symptoms are a normal part of grieving. And no two people will go through the grieving process in the same way.

There is no way to run away from grief, and — it’s true — the only way out is through.

So the first and most important part of handling grief — whether that grief is your own or someone else’s — is to be compassionate and to give yourself (or them) lots and lots of emotional space to be who you (they) need to be in that moment. In addition, it’s important to acknowledge that you are grieving and take advantage of tools that can help you move through it and come out the other side a stronger and more empathetic person.


Tools for helping to move through grief include:

  • Taking care of your health — eat healthy foods, exercise, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
  • Finding ways to laugh — watch comedies, get together with friends and family and tell funny stories about the person you lost, go to an amusement park and ride a roller coaster. Laughter may seem irreverent, but it’s not; laughter is an important part of the healing process.
  • Meditating — meditation can help calm and center you. It can help you let go and give your grief more space to express itself in your life without resistance.
  • Keeping yourself busy doing something you love to do — a hobby, such as knitting, sports, cooking, gardening, or art.
  • Avoiding self-medicating with alcohol, marijuana, or any other substance. In addition to the danger of becoming addicted, self-medicating will only dull and delay the grieving process. You will have to face your grief at some point; it’s best to be fully conscious through the process.
  • Finding a support group, where you can connect to other people who have gone through what you are going through. While you may want to isolate yourself at times, connecting with supportive people can be one of the most powerful ways to help yourself during this time.
  • Getting counseling or other professional help. Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help. Grief is a powerful force, and no one gets through it alone. A person who is trained and has experience dealing with grief in its many forms and facets can provide support and guidance you might not find elsewhere.
  • And finallythe reason for this series  journaling. Recording and processing your thoughts and feelings through journal writing has been confirmed by decades of studies to help the healing process. Your journal can be the one place where you can give voice to your grief without feeling inhibited by social norms. You can express your inner darkness, rage, denial, sadness — whatever — without anyone else knowing about it. It’s a completely private and safe space.

    Perhaps more importantly, journaling can help you make meaning of your grief. And when we can find meaning in our life events, we can find healing and a way to make that grief into a ladder to hope.


To Start

If you don’t currently keep a journal, go out and buy yourself an inexpensive notebook and a comfortable pen.

If you normally write on a computer as I do, I recommend journaling by hand when you are processing deep or intense emotions. There is something about handwriting that slows you down and allows you to become more reflective.

At least one or two days this week, write for at least ten minutes. You can write about whatever you want. Here are two prompts that can help you get started:

  • The best way to describe how I’m feeling right now is . . .
  • The hardest part of losing _________________ is . . .

And if it feels too painful to write about your loss right now, read my article on what to do when writing makes you feel worse for techniques to journal through the difficult times.


Next up

In each of the next articles in this monthly series on grief, I will offer a journaling prompt or technique that may help you or a loved one through the grieving process. I recognize that not every prompt will appeal to or work for every person. For this reason, I will present different options and ways to write about your emotions and experiences.

It is my intention to provide helpful suggestions for focused writing that will lead to healthier processing and return to a sense of wholeness for those who are suffering from grief.

Important note: I am not a therapist or licensed professional. I write from my own experience and from knowledge gained through reading and speaking with others. It’s important to trust and take care of yourself. If you are having persistent thoughts of suicide or harming yourself or prolonged grieving without relief, please reach out to a medical professional for help.

Read Journaling Through Grief, Part 2 – A Conversation with Grief next.


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11 thoughts on “Journaling Through Grief – Introduction

  • Suellen

    Thank you for a gentle beginning to a much needed process for me. I am a therapist so I should not have any problems, right? Wrong. I have the same problems as everyone else. I was at first lukewarm about a journaling series on grief. After reading your introduction, I realized that this is the perfect time to address my lingering issues. I have had the usual losses – parents, a child who moved thousands of miles away who used to be with me weekly or more, and pets who had been part of my life for 20+ years. The most recent loss however has been a very personal one due to chronic illness. The crisis stage is past but things will never be the same of course. I think this will help me continue pull some fragments of my life together, create new goals and intentions, and move forward in a positive way. I am looking forward to the process.

  • Sara Etgen-Baker

    your post helped me to quickly remember that I deal with small losses sometimes daily, it’s often the loss that comes from unexpected change or the loss that comes from letting go of my unrealistic expectation. Yes, those larger losses (jobs, friends, ideologies, family, etc.) are huge and overwhelming. Sometimes I don’t acknowledge the little losses until they built up, and I’m a whimpering idiot for a few hours. Compassion is the key. Thanks, Amber

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Sara, thank you for your thoughtful response. You are right about those small losses going unacknowledged and building up — we don’t typically let ourselves grieve for those, somehow thinking they’re not “big enough,” or that we “shouldn’t” feel bad about something that, in the big picture, we deem “inconsequential.” We feel that we should be grateful for what we have and judge ourselves for having feelings of loss in the first place.

      Yet loss is loss. Our minds, bodies, and emotions don’t differentiate between losses, except perhaps in their scale and depth. But losing anything that is important in any way, or that we have held as being a part of us, or that we tied to a hope or dream of some kind, can be very difficult.

      Compassion truly is the key. Without it, we can’t give ourselves and others the space to heal.

  • Stacy E Holden

    Amber. Three years ago I wrote and wrote and wrote in grief over the loss of a friend. As I wrote, I sought your outstanding editorial guidance, and it was a blessing. You cut to the chase and asked all the right (write) questions of my work. These essays have become the foundation for a larger project on transformation in mid life. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your professionalism and compassion.