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Taking Time to Journal

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A blank journal page or computer screen can be intimidating. But this thought did not enter my head after my daughter and father-in-law died the same weekend. Journaling was the only way I could cope. It helped me cope and continued to help me when my brother died eight weeks later and when my former son-in-law died.

Four losses in nine months were overwhelming. That did not stop me from journaling. In fact, journaling became more important. Bob Deits discusses journaling in his book, “Life After Loss.” Over time, you will see the importance of daily entries, he notes, and the emotional progress you are making. “The journal helps you stay in charge of your grief experience,” writes Deits.

This sentence is reason enough for journaling. The benefits of journaling are amazing. I learned about grief, clarified ideas, identified problems, worked on solutions, found ways to heal, set new goals, and created a new life. Journals end and I decided to end mine on the first anniversary of my daughter’s death. To my surprise, I started a new journal about the 18-month, 20-month, and two year responses to grief.

Writing about grief made me aware of journaling excuses. Sure, there were times when I wanted to give in to these excuses, but I didn’t, and kept on writing. You may have used the same excuses.

1. There isn’t enough time. You must make time for journaling. Think of your journal as a gift to yourself, a real, and often raw account of your loss and grief. Therese A. Rando, PhD, author of “How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies,” thinks mourners need to “give some form of expression to all of your feelings.” Journaling can be that expression.

2. I have to be a professional writer to benefit. Everyone has a story to tell and you are no exception. Telling your story makes you a writer. If your experience is like mine, journal entries will help you set new goals and create a new life. Even better, regular entries help you discover yourself and tailor your life accordingly.

3. Occasional writing is okay. Some journaling is better than none. Christina Baldwin cites the benefits of journaling in “One to One: Self-Understanding Through Journal Writing.” Baldwin says you will not always be comfortable with your journaling. As she explains, “The level at which you ask yourself questions and the responses which come to you are determined by what you are currently ready to know and deal with in writing.” You need to make regular entries to reap the full benefits of journaling.

4. My writing has to be perfect. Scream if this idea pops into your head. Your journal can be messy, wrinkled, coffee-stained, illustrated with doodles, filled with lists, and language errors. This is your journal and if it has spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, so be it. You did the best you could during this stressful time.

5. Journaling threatens my privacy. According to Kathleen Adams, MA, author of “Journal to the Self,” privacy is a major issue. You worry about people reading your journal without permission. While this is a legitimate concern, Adams says you may hide your journal, ask others to respect your privacy, and put a privacy statement on the first page. Your journal is an historical document — a snapshot of a specific time in your life — and you may want to store it in a safe deposit box.

Do not let these excuses, or others, stop you from journaling. Years from now, you will read your journals and say, “I’ve come a long way. I’m a survivor. I wrote my way to a new life.”

Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson


Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30 years. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from Amazon.

Centering Corporation in Omaha, Nebraska has published her 26th book, “Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life.” The company has also published a companion resource, the “Writing to Recover Journal,” which contains 100 writing prompts. Log onto Harriet’s Website to learn more about this busy author and grandmother.

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