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Why You Should Write Your Grief

Writing your grief will help you, and it might also help someone else.

Key points

  • Writing can help with all kinds of grief.
  • Writing restores a bit of control in the midst of chaos.
  • Writing can be key to processing difficult experiences and emotions.
  • There are easy ways to get started.

I started writing about my grief way before I realized I was grieving.

My 5-year-old daughter had just been diagnosed with a rare degenerative disease, and I wrote an essay about how the news was affecting my family.

I didn’t know then that we can grieve for people who are still alive. I didn’t know about ambiguous grief or anticipatory grief or all the other flavors of grief that don’t have Hallmark cards associated with them. All I knew was that something life-changing was happening and that I needed to write about it in real time.

More than a decade later, I understand not only that I was experiencing profound grief in the face of the life-changing news of my daughter’s illness, but also that writing was a powerful way of integrating that grief.


Writing our grief takes us out of the passenger seat.

When our world is torn apart by grief, it can feel like we’re audience to our agony. We watch the life we once knew disappear and experience intense powerlessness to stop it from happening. Writing lets us regain some control, not of the ultimate outcome, but of the tsunami of emotions coming our way. With pen in hand, so to speak, we own our narrative. It’s not the story we’d choose to write, but we do get to decide how to express it.

Writing our grief helps us figure out how we’re feeling about it.

Trying to make sense of the jumble of thoughts that keeps us up at night can feel like an exercise in futility. But when we write those same thoughts down without self judgment or a need for perfect word choice and punctuation, we can begin to see patterns and themes emerge. Putting aside our ego and simply writing whatever comes up for us can offer surprising insights. I learned just how depleted I was when I saw how many synonyms for exhaustion popped up in my writing. (Eight, in case you’re wondering how many I found.)

Writing our grief allows us to share with others in a more vulnerable way than we may be comfortable doing in person.

I’m a fan of a good heart-to-heart, but conversation comes with inherent downsides. We might have limited time or parse our words or try to gauge what the other person is thinking based on their facial expressions. Writing removes all those things from the equation.

We also express things differently, often more truthfully, in writing. I probably wouldn’t tell someone, “I bargained with a god I wasn’t sure I believed in. I promised to be a better parent, a better person, a better human being. I didn’t know what any of that meant, but I promised to figure it out.” But that’s what I wrote in the face of my daughter’s illness, and those words say more than I ever would have been able to verbalize.

Writing our grief helps us confront and welcome it into our lives.

We know that the goal isn’t to “move on from” or “get over” our grief, but rather to begin to move forward with it. But integrating feelings that are stuck in our emotional avoidance file is tricky. Writing is a way to organize the chaos while gaining clarity and perspective.

Writing our grief becomes a record of our experience that can remind us of how we’re evolving alongside it.

Grief has no prescribed stages or road map to show us the way. So how do we know where we’ve been and where we might be headed? When we engage in a regular writing practice, we can begin to recognize patterns or shifts in our experience. It’s a tool for our own introspection, and should you choose to share it, it might also be a valuable resource for family or friends.

So how do you start writing your grief?

  • Identify a set time of day to write, and put it in your calendar as you would any other appointment.
  • Get a beautiful journal if you write with pen and paper. Make some tea, light a candle, snuggle under a cozy blanket…whatever you need to create an inviting space.
  • Don’t be judgy. Write what you feel. Remember that nobody else will see what you write unless you want them to.
  • Enlist a writing buddy. If going solo doesn’t work for you, invite a friend and hold each other accountable.
  • End each writing session with a question you’re going to respond to on the next go-round. That way you’re never faced with a blank page.

The good news is you can write for five minutes or five hours. It’s your story and you get to choose how, when, and for whom you tell it.

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