Navigating Grief How Stories Can Heal

On Writing: Your Stories Can Heal Your Heart

You Don’t Need to Forget

Parent, child, sibling, spouse, partner or pet: Your life has changed since he or she died. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, morning coffee, daily walk, driving by familiar places: Your response to routine has changed. Will it never end? The pain and reminders of your grief and loss are everywhere and can go on for years.

We don’t forget, nor should we. In fact, acknowledging our loss and remembering is far more effective than burying our feelings with our loved one. Keeping this person or pet alive in a readable format allows you to visit anytime and remain close. Writing stories heals your heart paragraph by paragraph.

In the immediate days after a loss, family and friends gather and talk and perhaps even revel in the antics and personality of your loved one. Your pain was deep at this time and you may not even have understood how anyone could be telling stories, much less laughing. You were probably in a state of shock even if the death followed an illness; you could not absorb all that was happening around you. Now, though, you wish you could go back and hear those stories and remember what others said. You read the cards that were sent, and especially the ones that included a personal remembrance about your loved one. You take comfort in the written story. You feel better that someone else cared.

Why Writing?

Telling and sharing stories is good, but writing them is better. Writing provides permanence and safekeeping of precious memories. Writing helps you reflect on important moments. Writing ensures a safe distance for difficult subjects. Writing opens conversations with a purpose. Writing measures time passing and distance in your journey without forgetting.

Getting started on your stories about you loved one or about your grief journey takes desire and a little organization. Most of all, decide on a goal for your writing. By creating a definable task you will get the most of the process and lasting results. Recognize that writing solely for yourself and writing for an audience require different steps, and both are healing.

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Keep a journal. If you are already disciplined in writing, free writing for a few minutes regularly is very liberating. Consider rewriting and publishing special memories in a card or storybook for sharing with family and friends.
  • Start a notebook of questions and answers. Pose a question to yourself at each writing session, even if “how am I feeling today?” Or “Why can’t I remember…” Then answer it. If many questions pop into your head just write it out on top of a new page for answering later.
  • Think creatively. Draw (even use crayons!) your mood and describe it. Look around you, take a photo and write a memory, especially for those familiar activities you shared with your loved one. Each season brings about new memories, especially the first year after your loss.
  • Choose 10 to 20 photos and write a caption for each. Publish. Send. Frame. Enjoy.
  • Utilize Social Media. Facebook, blogs and other online networks can be an outlet for what you’ve learned, helping others, acknowledging your loss, and sharing stories. You need not be alone as you are an expert in your grief.
  • Interview friends and family for specific stories. Ask. You’ll be surprised by the answers. Record on tape then transcribe for your stories.
  • Ask for stories at gatherings: keep a guest book requesting a story; or have a notepad handy that friends or family can write on and leave in a memory box or jar.
  • Already written your story? Publish a family storybook through a beautiful, photo storybook you can make online easily. It’s comforting to keep your memories nearby for anytime you need to recall the life and love you shared.
  • Be proactive. Create custom photo cards and short story to send to family and friends on important dates – birthday, anniversary. Don’t wait for others to bring up the subject. They might not know how.
  • Seek out a bereavement writing groups or start your own on a platform like Meet up.  Seek out local workshops, self-guided and group programs specifically for overcoming grief and preserving the important stories of your loved one in a safe and healing environment.

Write to remember. Your loved one does matter. This person is part of you and who you’ve become and what you are to be. Embrace the memories as you adjust to this change in your life. As you write, you will find that stories can help heal your heart.

2 replies
  1. Susan @ Survive Your Grief
    Susan @ Survive Your Grief says:

    I’m going to share this post over at Survive Your Grief , and I would like to add that there is no place where the telling and retelling of story is more healing than when it comes to grief.

    For the purposes of healing, it doesn’t matter whether the storytelling is written or verbal, but you’re absolutely right about writing being a way to preserve the memories.

    The telling and retelling of stories is the way the grieving make sense out of their loss. As people heal the stories begin to change in some subtle and not so subtle ways. Sometimes it’s just a shift from past tense to future tense. Often it is a shift from focusing on the illness and death to beginning to talk about the person who died as they were before they got sick.

    I remember keeping a tape of a conversation I had with my mother shortly before she died. I wanted to preserve her voice but when I tried to listen to it a year later, I couldn’t do it. The voice on the tape was of my sick mother. The voice I remembered was my mother’s voice as I had always known it, and I didn’t even realize how far I had come until I tried to listen to that tape.

    It’s not uncommon for these shifts to occur without conscious awareness until there’s a moment of realization like that or someone points it out. Rereading what one wrote months before can also provide that moment of realization.

  2. Joan Hitchens
    Joan Hitchens says:

    Thanks Susan. That’s an important distinction about your mother’s voice and a great insight.

    I’ve heard from many bereaved that the fear of forgetting in grief is very common, so the more tangibles we have to remember -recordings, photos with captions, and the written story- the better we can be assured that our loved one is never forgotten. Unfortunately, memories do fade whether we want them to or not, so I am a strong advocate of recording them in whatever format is easiest for safekeeping. ~Joan, Storybook For Healing


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