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More on How to Write to Help Yourself Cope with Grief

16 December 2014

Allison did the experiment she wrote about in last week’s blog post, Write to Help Yourself Cope with Grief, and decided that it’s definitely worth recommending to others.

Tags: allison read, balance, courage, grief, happiness, optimism, self-compassion, writing

Last Tuesday, I wrote about Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries’ article, To Get Over Something, Write About It, and then I tried the reflective writing experiment he recommended. For three nights in a row, I wrote for 20 minutes about some sadness I’ve been struggling with.

Prior to doing this exercise, I had made some pretty good strides on making peace with a loss in my life. I had given myself a lot of time and space to grieve and talked regularly with my therapist about my heartbreak in an attempt to make sense of what had happened so abruptly. I’d explored what I did to contribute to the situation and searched for lessons that might help me in the future. I leaned on family and friends who shared my disappointment. They could believe in some good times ahead for me even when I couldn’t believe in them for myself.

Every day I wanted to do something that would help me to find my way back to my general sense of optimism and cheerfulness. Some days I could do that. Others I had to be patient with the grieving process and did the main thing you can do in these situations – hold my head up, keep moving (unless I needed to lie down), and wait for time to pass.

While I certainly wouldn’t say the three nights of writing last week got me “over” this particular loss, I do think that it helped me move to a different place in the grieving process, and for that, I’m grateful. While the sadness can still make a sudden appearance, it visits less often and for shorter periods of time. I can feel myself feeling better for longer periods of time and I know that’s a very good sign.

I write every morning to help me plan my day. I often write throughout the day to prepare for important conversations, communicate with clients and colleagues, write proposals and reports, blog every Tuesday, and more. However, writing for 20 straight minutes at the end of a tiring day for three days in a row about an unpleasant topic was more of a chore than I had anticipated. (The suggested number of nights was three to four and I was definitely ready to stop after three.)

In many ways, it was even sadder to dredge up all the stuff I mostly wish I didn’t think about anymore. But I know that’s all part of why it’s a good exercise. I could also see myself trying to process things on the page and come to terms with what cannot be changed. I trust the research and brain science Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries sited in his article and I can feel something interesting happening even though I’m not exactly sure what the writing did or will do for me.

I’m teaching our Choosing Balance and Leadership course this week and we spend some time talking about how to manage loss and disappointment. You can have a pretty good plan for achieving balance in your life and then something bad happens and you find yourself struggling to hold onto all your good intentions. Part of the balance equation is being able to allow some things to slide when grief demands your attention.

Pushing down the grief and trying to avoid it is a pretty good recipe for disaster. You often numb yourself to all feelings to avoid the pain and that's no way to live. And the grief will often show up later (with reinforcements) leaving you with an even deeper hole to dig out of. As I wrap up class tomorrow, I’ll be telling the participants about this new tool. I’ll also be recommending these books.

  • Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach
  • When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön
  • Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott
  • On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. and David Kessler

Two of them (Kübler-Ross and Lamott) are authors I know well. The other two (Brach and Chödrön) are ones I’ve heard about from others who have suffered loss and found the books to be helpful.

Sunset on Bald Head Island, NC, 11 August 2014

Loss is a part of life. I know this. I’ll experience it again. I know I can’t just have the joy and satisfaction I’ve enjoyed throughout so much of my life. I hope that each time sadness comes my way that I’ll trust the grieving process and the healing power of time just a little more.


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Wendy Wallace
Dec 17, 2014

Thank you. I needed this. I will start writing and will read on some of your choices above. I find that my grief is intensifying this season and it’s hard to tamp it down to accomplish my goals for the holiday season. Watched Zack’s first bball game last night and thought so much of Brent, wishing he were there to enjoy with us, the pride of his son playing his favorite sport.


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