LESSONS FROM GRIEF WRITING: A Candle to Light Our Way in the Darkness

Writing is another way art can help us heal.

I’ve been leading group writing workshops for people who are grieving–grieving the loss of their mom, their dad, their wife or husband, their child, their sister or brother or best friend.

For this project, I’m ‘on loan’ to the bereavement section of the hospice team. A social worker runs the group management part, and I handle the writing part.

It’s scary space for me. I was terrified I would delve too deep in my prodding, and drive someone into a frenzy of grief. I ran to my hospice supervisor for help. She reassured me. “People are pretty tough,” she said. “You’re not going to break them!”

She’s right. Yes, sometimes the writing assignments bring tears. But tears are good in the grieving process. And people are amazed at the places their writing is taking them.

There’s something about the actual physical act of writing that is very different than speaking, or even typing or texting. It accesses a different part of the brain, thus allowing the brain to process grief in a different way. Many assignments start off on one foot and firm ground. About halfway through, something else comes through, and the writing enters new territory.

It’s startling and new. It’s powerful. It doesn’t ‘fix’ grief–nothing can do that–but it seems to set the healing process in motion. It’s like having an injury that hurts and hurts, persisting through time, until a physical therapist shows you what muscles to soften and what muscles to strengthen. The cycle of inflammation and pain is broken, and true healing can begin. That’s what grief writing can do.

Of course, social workers know the group thing is important, too. Sharing loss with others who are in the same boat is hugely helpful. No matter how shy or reserved we are, we are all still social animals. We suffer in our own unique way, and we feel so alone.

We may suffer in solitude, but we need not suffer in isolation. Being able to connect with others who empathize, connects us to our human condition.

I still believe the writing is the match that starts the candle burning. It’s a flare of energy and insight, making the light that lets us see into the darkness.

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4 Comments

Filed under art, craft, grief journaling, lessons from hospice, writing

4 responses to “LESSONS FROM GRIEF WRITING: A Candle to Light Our Way in the Darkness

  1. Suki

    I didnt know you did this Luann. (I sort of feel on first name basis as I attended your open studio). I have been a writer for years, published several bks, journal writer and poet etc. I went to a few sessions of the hospice grieving group in charlestown. The deaths I am grieving happened a few years ago so not as intense as some. I have done at home a journal section (visual) for which I wrote my grief thoughts on the pages then painted over them. I am also writing a few poems for my brother who is in the process of dying. I agree that writing is a wonderful way to process the grief, along with talking and listening to others. I admire you for doing this group. be well, Suki

  2. What a great program. Congratulations and best wishes for continued success!

  3. Jeanne

    this is a wonderful piece Luann. We do not know the effects of something until we have tried it. I found it very helpful.

  4. Luann, recently I lost my dog to cancer. After he was diagnosed, I was already grieving knowing the outcome. So I joined a Facebook group called caninecancer.com. Moving toward the inevitable day, the group is so kind to anyone who is suffering, let alone their pets. Afterward (its only 2 weeks for me) one can hop online and for sure after one has written a small post, there will be a host of arms reaching across the ether. We have all written small pieces to illustrate our losses and it is healing and therapeutic… you are so right.

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