There is a cupboard in my home office filled with journals dating back to my college days. If I were to randomly pull one out, I know I would read about the weather, books I was reading, quotes from things I’d seen and some things I wrote about which now seem unimportant. I might also discover if I were to do some serious mining of my journals, common themes that could offer me insight into who I was and who I am now.

I’m not really sure what inspired me to keep a journal. It wasn’t something my mother, aunts or grandmothers did. Although I had a poet-grandmother who loved to write for special family occasions, I didn’t have someone nearby who modeled the value of journaling for me. Still, journaling all these years has taught me many things—here are just a few:

  • Keeping a journal has proven to be an excellent resource for my emotional health. When I’m troubled by something, I write about it. Sometimes this means I write A LOT about it. I can be angry, hurt, sad, or joyful on the page. And, I don’t have to share any of these feelings with another until I get them sorted out.
  • Journaling is a bit like meditation in that I sit down at the page and wait in stillness. Sometimes nothing comes to me. Other times I find myself reminiscing, telling a story I’ve told on the page before, reflecting on my life, purpose or process.
  • Journaling is a way to observe. On the page I can take notice of things like how the green beans are coming up in the garden or what the weather has meant for my honeybees. I can write about the weekend’s events. I can observe my difficult feelings and sometimes, after doing so discover embedded in them a new story.
  • Journaling offers a rear-view-mirror perspective. I can look in the rear view mirror and see something with a tiny bit differently. Sometimes when I do this I discover that what seemed to be near and dear was really the background for something way more important. I might discover something I would have otherwise missed.

Getting to the page after a loss

In her book Writing Down the Bones Natalie Goldberg says, “I don’t think everyone wants to create the great American novel, but we all have a dream of telling our stories—of realizing what we think, feel, and see before we die. Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate with others. Think about it: Ants don’t do it. Trees don’t. Not even thoroughbred horse, mountain elk, house cats, grass, or rocks do it. Writing is a uniquely human activity. It might even be built into our DNA.”

Not only is it uniquely human, it has proven for me to be a source of self-care during times of loss and life transitions. Through writing I can see more clearly things that feel challenging or difficult. Writing helps me slow down and reflect; giving me an opportunity to discover something new.

Writing can be a way to wrap words around the entire experience. If you too are mourning, I encourage you to put pen to paper. Write about how your loved died. Did he or she experience a long illness? Did death arrive suddenly? Were there people who helped you and your loved one in their last days? Who were those people and what did their help mean to you?

Write about the days since your loved one’s death. Who has supported your journey? What has sustained you during the sorrow of your mourning? Where did you find unexpected encouragement? What has your grief been teaching you?

Or, follow your own spirit… write about what is moving you right now, in the moment. Putting pen to paper makes you a life observer of your own grief, loss and the discovery of wholehearted living again.