Writing through grief

Journal writing as therapy has been long accepted and encouraged for dealing with grief, trauma, pain, depression, addictions and other challenges we face as human beings.  Psychotherapists use journal therapy as one of their tools, and specialists give workshops in self-reflective journaling.  The idea is for people overwhelmed by pain or grief to develop a personal writing habit, whereby they can explore their feelings privately, reflectively, without judgment.  Journal therapy has been recognized as being cathartic and effective in helping someone move towards the light again.  Journal writing can provide a voyage of self-discovery in a time of great need.

Bloggers have a head start in embracing writing as therapy.  People blog for many reasons, but with few exceptions they blog because they enjoy writing. They write to share their passion for what matters most to them, everything from travel, photography, and poetry to farming, running, and advocacy, to just whatever’s on their mind at the moment. But I will hazard a guess that above all bloggers write for personal fulfillment. And so it would not be a surprise to find that many bloggers use writing to work through personal tragedy.

One of the unanticipated rewards of blogging is forming “virtual” friendships with fellow bloggers around the world. We make personal connections through our writing: mutual appreciation of a topic, a similar sense of humour or turn of phrase, or perhaps by reading a description of an experience that evokes memories of a similar one you’ve had yourself. In the process of following individual bloggers for a few years, occasionally a blogger will experience and write about personal loss or trauma. This happens more often than one would hope, just as it does in our everyday world of family and friends. One of the blogs I follow, Waking up on the wrong side of 50, shared a post recently called “What can I say?”, where she wondered about whether to and/or how to respond or reach out to someone you only know through the blogosphere who has experienced a personal tragedy. This blog post engendered 85 comments, in which the general consensus was that it is always better to reach out to someone in pain, that reaching out is always appreciated and is far more important than worrying about finding the perfect words. Yes, just as is the case with all such painful situations in our lives.

Bloggers write about pain, disappointment and loss in their blogs and personal journals, and also in books they’ve had published. Among my favourite blogs and their authors, several are writers who have had books published relatively recently. In fact, some of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in the past several years have been those written by fellow bloggers. I have six such treats in my reading pile as we speak. One book that came in the mail last week (thanks, Amazon) is a small but mighty collection of poetry written by Carol Despeaux Fawcett. Carol writes a blog I’ve followed right from the beginning of my blogging journey, OneWildWord, along with fellow blogger and writer Carly Sandifer. Their tag line is “Write Wild. Write Now” and their posts provide useful advice on how to make your writing speak more powerfully to your readers, often just by finding that one perfect word. Through the past years I’ve appreciated many of their tips.

I hadn’t seen a post from OneWildWord for quite a while when Carol posted of how writing had been the one thing that had kept her going after the untimely death of her husband. I had had no idea. And I did reach out, as an instinctive response. As well, I could immediately imagine that writing – and words – would be one of the most potent means by which to endure such grief and find a way forward, a way to keep on living. [Cynthia Reyes, another blogger, writes beautifully of writing as salvation when dealing with extreme trauma in her book An Honest House, which is worth its own post.] Carol’s new book of poetry, The Dragon & the Dragonfly, is the culmination of the writing that helped her find her way forward in the aftermath of her husband’s death. Her poems speak to the small things in life that are what really bind us to each other. Seemingly insignificant details lend significance to each line in each poem. Her ability to find the right word is marvelous; her poems are accessible and very personal. This volume of poetry speaks to all of us who have experienced grief and loss, which sadly is an inevitable part of the human condition. And I found these gifts of writing thanks to the blogosphere.

The Dragon & the Dragonfly, book cover

From The Dragon & the Dragonfly, an excerpt from Lessons:

After your death, the lessons continue –
I tell you how much I miss your body next to mine,
how even the cats grieve, how they hide when I cry.
I tell you I’ve learned new ways to cry – loud
like an animal – a sound that really does heal.

You teach me you are still here.
No barriers or body to stop you,
you wrap me in a thousand suns.
Early mornings, late nights –
those times when the world is still –
I feel you. I hear you. I ask for signs.

You send me dragonflies and snow.
In dreams we walk hand in hand
through white poppies.
We sit in the sky
in a circle of shamans who allow me
to ask one question.
But each time I speak,
they shake their heads.
They tell me
I already know the answers.

By Carol Despeaux Fawcett. 2017

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11 Responses to Writing through grief

  1. Thank you, Jane, for this lovely post. The miracle of writing is not only the self-healing it can bring but the space it can hold for others going through a similarly painful experience. I am doubly blessed.

  2. Jane, what a powerful post about the relationships, learning and support we receive from blogging colleagues, some who become friends. Thanks for mentioning my book — I couldn’t have written it if I hadn’t kept written journals and blog-journals through those tough years. Almost all of the book came from those sources.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Cynthia. Having purchased and read your three books (ironically thanks to seeing Jo’s post about illustrating Myrtle), they’re all deserving of shout-outs. However, An Honest House is SOoo impactful in describing PTSD in a such a powerfully personal way; everyone should read it! You make an especially important point in reminding readers that by having written privately to reflect on life’s joys and challenges, you also provided yourself with a trail for coping and healing, and eventually used that recorded trail to write successful books! A gift to us all.

  3. Manuela says:

    Yes, definitely therapeutic for me! And true about the comments. I really appreciated yours today, thank you. And wow! That poem is beautiful.

  4. This is so crazy…I literally just posted a blog about missing my first love, who died five months ago. This poem was PERFECT. How weird. Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. DM says:

    Quote by CS Lewis came to mind as I was reading along…”We read to know we are not alone.” You touched on many of the reasons I blog, and why I continue to do so. Good words. DM

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Doug (and “virtual” friend!). And what an appropriate quote. Thanks for that. Your writing demonstrates that you value both connecting with others and nurturing those connections. And it works!! 🙂

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