My best friend passed away at the age of 21. Like many who have lost a loved one due to mental health issues, I couldn’t bear the pain and was left feeling lost, blaming myself for not helping him enough through his tough times. As I grieved the loss of my friend, I decided to read over the letters he had written to me throughout high school. As I read his humorous words — he always made me laugh — it came to me: Writing back to him right now might help me heal.
Writing letters to each other was our thing, so I rekindled that ritual as a mechanism to help with my grief. We had many memories together I wasn’t ready to let go of, so it was both healing and heartbreaking to write them down. Like so many others, I had found that journaling when I was grieving ultimately helped me process my emotions.
So, here are three ways I used journaling as a tool to carry me through my period of mourning.
1. Write down your stream of consciousness:
Journaling your thoughts is also known as writing therapy — an intentional act of putting pen to paper and releasing whatever is going on inside your mind. Ever since I was a child, I found comfort in journaling, but never for therapeutic reasons until my best friend died. While I felt overwhelmed by my emotions, it felt natural to pick up a pen and write. The words rushed out of me just as the tears ran down my face. Since this grief journal was for my eyes only, it put my mind at ease. No structure, no planning, just writing. It was a way of making sense of how I felt, and when.
The grief journal became the first thing I did when I woke up and the last thing I did before going to sleep — the two times of day I struggled the most with settling my heartache. Getting my thoughts down on paper when I woke up helped, and now I see why — it’s been proven we write best first thing in the morning.
2. Write letters to yourself or the person you’re grieving:
Writing letters is good for your health, even when you’re not mourning. My best friend and I had a pen-pal ritual that kept me going when I initially moved to Germany from the UK at the age of 16. I found the transition to a new place with new friends, a new school, and a new culture hard to adjust to. So, my best friend and I wrote each other letters in addition to our regular phone calls (WhatsApp or Facebook chat weren’t popular yet!). Receiving snail mail was the best feeling, especially when I knew it was full of updates and gossip! Five years later, when he passed away, I had no idea the letters would hold so much value. I laughed and cried while reading through them, feeling soothed to hear his laughter in my head.
So I began to write letters to him like the old days. I wrote about how I felt and how much he mattered to me. Journaling in a letter format made writing more personal and precious; writing letters to the person I’m grieving allows me to feel gratitude for the time I had with him.
3. Write down memories you have together:
One way to cope while grieving is to reminisce and recognize how blessed you were to have experienced the love and laughter you had with that person. Nothing can take that away from you. Writing down memories in my grief journal was a tangible way of noting all the good times I had had with my best friend (not to mention, our memories were adventures I will never forget, including a spontaneous trip to Dublin for £1!).
The fear of forgetting about a loved one and the memories you’ve shared is real. It was real for me, that’s for sure. I was scared to forget, so I found a way to remember by looking back and letting go simultaneously. Writing down experiences from our school days, which for me will always be some of the best days of our lives, became a part of the healing process.
A grief journal can be a helpful tool for anyone at any life stage, and for me it helped preserve my friend’s memory and come to terms with my feelings about his passing. Due to the many stages of grief, journaling aids you along the way by reflecting and relieving troubled emotions. Write out thoughts, letters or memories to help create an everlasting connection with them.
Originally published on August 5, 2020.