Giving Grief a Voice: How Journaling Helped Me Process Grief

Giving Grief a Voice: How Journaling Helped Me Process Grief
3 minute read

Marina Morgan

Growing up, I had always felt that I wasn’t worthy of writing. It had seemed like a complete waste of paper due to my poor penmanship and constant spelling mistakes — which I’m still guilty of.

At 11 years old, I flew to British Columbia for six weeks to spend nearly the entire summer with my Grandparents. Upon my arrival, I was given a beautiful dark purple scrapbook, along with it a little blue notebook in which I was supposed to document each day. I immediately groaned at the prospect of writing in this journal on a daily basis, mostly because it felt like being assigned homework. But my Grandmother insisted.

Each night she and I would sit at the kitchen table while she filled my journal with the many things we had done that day. Her perfect cursive flowed effortlessly from line to line, with memories that I wouldn’t come to appreciate for another 12 years.

Somehow, despite my constant concerns about whether or not I was worthy of writing, my appreciation for journaling grew as I got older. There was something about writing for myself that felt good, freeing even. When you finally force yourself to sit down and put pen to paper, it provides a certain kind of introspection. The kind that feels safe, and most importantly, honest. There was also something beautiful about the permanence of it. Being able to look back at exactly how you felt on February 8th of x year, a way of documenting your growth for yourself.

In December of 2020, my Grandmother got sick. Type of sickness that leaves you too tired to speak, let alone pick up a pen. I was devastated. Mostly because my grief brought me back to the exact moment where I had groaned about the expectation that I keep a journal. In the weeks that followed, there was a noticeable shift in my desire to write. Every night, before bed, I started my journal entries with “Hi Grandma.”

Admittedly, there were moments where after I had written those two words at the top of the page, I’d freeze. Not because I didn’t know what to say, but because connecting to her in this way felt like an acknowledgment of the inevitable. When you write things down, especially for yourself, it forces you, very literally, to have all of your thoughts and feelings staring back at you.

It’s daunting to be honest with yourself, especially after losing or dealing with the impending loss of someone you love. Culturally, ignoring the prospect of death and the feelings associated with losing a loved one is something many of us have grown accustomed to. In my experience, the denial of grief makes it that much more unbearable. But there is something about giving grief a voice, a name, or even a blank page to explore all of the associated feelings that makes the weight of losing the people we love feel less like an anchor that keeps us from moving forward.

In retrospect, giving my grief a voice helped me make sense of the tidal wave of emotions that would hit me upon regaining consciousness each morning. In the weeks that followed my Grandmother's passing, I was moody, short-tempered, and generally speaking, lacked the capacity to connect with myself and others. While journaling each evening, I’d experience several of those “ah-ha” moments, everyone hopes for. Many of them concerning what I was feeling and why. As it turns out, acknowledging grief—as it was spelled out in front of me, provided an entirely different perspective.

Just like putting together pieces of a puzzle, I made connections between how I was feeling and how I was acting. In a sort of ritualistic way, giving my grief a time and place to exist made it so that I didn’t experience nearly as many sudden upsurges of grief throughout the day. It allowed me to close my journal each evening and feel as though I was leaving the parts of my grief that were the most difficult to bear on the pages on which they were written. Setting aside the time to let myself feel allowed my mind to do less wandering throughout the day and helped me better support those around me who were also grieving the loss of my Grandmother.  

All that to say, write. Even if only for 5 minutes a day, write. Even if you get stuck and have to google prompts to get you started, even if (like me) you hate your penmanship, I still encourage you to write.

As I’ve learned and grown throughout my own personal journey and experience with grief, the most important lesson was this: writing is the greatest weapon we have in the emotional war we wage on ourselves, in the days, weeks, months, even years after losing someone we love.