I am a strong proponent of keeping a journal when grieving. Paper or digital is not important, convenience and accessibility is. I hope to convince you to journal the journey through grief that brought you to this book.
Months ago I was writing what became this post, alone at dawn by a quiet poolside on vacation, on an iPad using the Notes app. I can access it anytime, from anywhere. It is convenient, secure, available, free and accessible. I can email the notes to myself for inclusion in this blog or the eBook I am writing, or cut and paste a small part of it to offer to someone who is struggling with grief. In twenty-three years I have written hundreds of thousands of words. Some of the better collected thoughts will be in this blog or eBook, the ones that stick to people’s ribs and are requested again and again.
A well used journal that documents your feelings and emotions as you travel the paths of grief will give you points of reference that can help you judge progress. Keep a to do list on a note, another note could be questions you can’t answer but want to, a sort of spiritual to-do list as well as the mechanics of the process of grief like funerals, estate issues, etc.
If my experience is a benchmark, most of what you write will never be read, but it will remain a wealth of knowledge and experience that is available if and when needed. Expect the early days to be full of darkness and despair, and a gradual lightening of the load and mood over time would be a normal expectation. Sometimes, reading the old dark stuff is uplifting as it highlights how far you have come back towards life. One the other side, a journal can highlight getting stuck in grief and the need to consider professional help before it causes serious harm.
Date your entries, we tend to lose track of time in grief. Days can seem to take weeks to pass and weeks or years later an event can seem like it happened yesterday. Write the latest entry on top of yesterday’s entry, so you can read present to past when you want to review your thoughts or progress.
My late father used to say “You don’t find time, you make it”. The discipline of a daily time to write is important. It might help to set aside specific daily time to journal, more on that later, but a defined time when you are usually alone works best. I am naturally an early riser, so first cup of coffee journaling works well. This will likely be a new behaviour for you , so it may take a few weeks to take root and seem natural. At some point you may naturally stop journaling on a schedule, and that is a positive sign in managing the lessons of grief because you have fewer unanswered or unresolved questions.
Some structure or a template helps get you started. Date the entry and start with “Yesterday was “ and then expand on how yesterday was. Was yesterday hard, was it fulfilling, did something inspire you, was somebody kind to you, or did someone anger or hurt you, did you answer a question or did a new question pop up?
Then “I want today to be “ to begin the next paragraph. With practice it will become natural and the habitual structure will help constructively guide your day’s journey through grief.
If you’re prone to get lost in writing you may need to limit your time writing, but journaling provides a most important safe and private place for you to record a timeline of your thoughts and feelings.
Keep your To Do List (another post coming) separate from your journal. Your journal is for thoughts and emotions, the To Do List is for actions.
It’s never too late to start a journal on grief, and if a death is foreseeable you might consider starting your journal as soon as the inevitable becomes unavoidable.