This article takes root in a personal connection I recently forged with someone who lost their younger brother, leaving behind young children. In a heartfelt conversation, my friend voiced concerns about guiding and supporting these grieving children.
This resonated with my own childhood journey, navigating the loss of my mother. While the financial support from the community provided some relief, it was my journal that became a refuge—a place where healing unfolded, for the rest of my life.
Inspired by the transformative power of journaling, this article explores how creative expression through writing and art can bring solace, guidance, and healing to both children and adults grappling with the intricate complexities of grief.
Drawing from my own experiences, I'll talk about the therapeutic benefits, the art of commemoration, and the ways journaling serves as a comforting and empowering tool for those touched by loss, especially for children.
Navigating Grief and Healing
When I was 11 years old, my world was turned upside down by the sudden and unexpected passing of my mom. She was brutally murdered by a family friend.
In the aftermath, I grappled with feelings of isolation. I felt like the world was watching and yet unable to truly understand the depth of my grief.
The weight of this unique and devastating experience made it incredibly difficult to find solace and share my feelings with others, as the magnitude of the pain seemed almost incomprehensible to those around me.
Within the confines of my family, my father grappled with his own struggles to cope, and the therapist I was assigned to was a bad match.
Left to navigate the overwhelming weight of this huge loss on my own, I sought solace and support in two sacred realms that existed beyond the turbulent realm of my familial life: the sanctuary of the church and the solace of my journal.
In the midst of chaos and confusion, these two pillars became my refuge, offering me a sense of solace, understanding, and a much-needed outlet for self-expression.
A Place to Heal
As a child, especially growing up in the 90s, I didn't have the language to articulate my emotions beyond simple words like "sad" and "afraid." This left me feeling alone in a way I couldn't express.
However, within the pages of my journal, a remarkable transformation took place day by day.
It became a space where I could intimately understand and connect with a self who recognized me despite the weight of my despair—a despair so burdensome that it seemed to alter my very identity.
At that tender age, I lacked the vocabulary to comprehend and articulate these feelings, yet their weight was palpable.
I would wake up sobbing, endure prolonged bouts of depression, and experience a pervasive sense of isolation. I needed to embark on the journey of self-reflection, for there was no external force that could penetrate this darkness without my own deliberate effort.
Filling the Journal with Comfort
Within the journal, I found healing. I filled it with an array of things that brought me comfort and reminded me of the beauty of life. I wrote about the foods I enjoyed drawing little pictures for each, chronicled my daily activities, compiled lists of my favorite songs, and even sketched the spaces I inhabited. These simple acts became my way of collecting the tangible and real aspects of my world, preventing me from spiraling into despair.
Seeking Guidance from within
As I faced my grief head-on, I sought guidance and solace from God. I asked for signs and whispers of what to pay attention to, what to capture in my drawings and writings. The journal I kept became a sacred space where I could communicate with God, process the world through my unique lens, and where the pages held the essence of my journey.
A Simple Notebook:
When tragedy strikes our loved ones, one of the most meaningful gifts we can offer is a notebook filled with blank pages—a diary, journal, or sketchbook. Within those pages, they will find a space to heal, confront their pain, and rediscover their true selves amidst the turmoil. It becomes a sanctuary where they can express their deepest emotions, fears, and thoughts without judgment or restraint. Here are some ways journaling can help.
When grieving, it’s difficult to explain to others how you feel. It’s hard to even process in words to yourself the loss you’ve experienced. This is where drawing can really help us get an understanding of how we process our pain and who we are now, and how this pain has changed us.
Catharsis is the powerful release of pent-up emotions that provides immense relief. When we express what's inside us on paper, it offers a moment of respite and clarity amid the chaos of our minds. The act of getting our thoughts and feelings out into the open provides a much-needed breath and a sense of pause, allowing us to unburden ourselves and find solace in the liberation of expression.
When you engage in free drawing and writing during the grieving process, it may not immediately make sense or have a clear purpose but when you revisit your creations, you may start to notice connections and symbolism embedded within them. I recall drawing a black cat in various scenarios, and later realizing that the cat symbolized my own sense of emptiness in different situations. It represented my presence, yet a feeling of being disconnected and detached. It was a visual representation of my profound grief, where I often questioned if I had lost parts of myself or missed crucial details. In truth, during the depths of my sorrow, life seemed to pass by without my noticing the intricate nuances and intricacies of the world around me. Through artistic expression, I was able to explore these symbolic representations and gain a deeper understanding of my grief journey, ultimately finding meaning and healing within the layers of my creations.
Connection and Communication:
Art connects us with others because over time, it gives us the language, be it verbal or visual to explain to others what is happening inside us. Often people around us will relate on a profound level and bonds that would otherwise not be there are formed.
Distraction and Respite:
Sometimes, especially when grieving, it’s just nice to check-out. Journalling is a great place to do this. You can sit for hours and draw the room you’re sitting in, seeing the beauty in small details around you. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break from life to create something.
Personal Growth and Transformation:
Artistic endeavors during grief can lead to personal growth and transformation. Not only are you honing your drawing and writing skills, you’re creating a unique language. Not only are you day-by-day finding clarity and healing, you might find a new passion in your creative pursuits, just like me! One day I’m penciling a cemetery into my journal for my eyes only, then years later painting life size glittery landscape for the world to see, an embodiment of the story of my life which includes the despair, isolation and also the joy of living and connection. All of these things have been and are still a part of me.
While art therapy, guided by a trained professional, can be a powerful therapeutic approach to navigating grief, it may not be the right fit for everyone. Personally, I found that art therapy didn't resonate with me.
Whether it was due to the therapist or my discomfort with having my artwork analyzed and interpreted on my behalf, I cannot say. However, I discovered that journaling privately was a more preferred and effective method for me.
I believe that a grieving individual should have the freedom to develop their own language around grief through their art and share it when they feel ready, rather than having it picked apart by an expert. Journaling provides a safe and personal space for expression, reflection, and healing, allowing individuals to explore and process their emotions on their own terms. It becomes a sanctuary where one can develop a deeper understanding of their grief journey and find solace in the act of creation.
Ritual and Commemoration:
Art can be incorporated into rituals or commemorative practices to honor and remember the person we have lost, even if that person is a former self. In the privacy of our journals, we celebrate their life, express love, and maintain a connection with their memory. Art becomes a way to keep their spirit alive and create a lasting tribute. If someone passed away, it’s great to write down every memory you have of them, draw them as best you can. These memories can slip away and your journal is a great way to preserve and protect them.
Legacy and Meaning:
Journaling gives us a space to create a legacy through our pictures and stories. Through journaling, we can preserve the memory of our loved ones, share their stories, and engage in creative acts that honor their legacy. It becomes a way to ensure that their presence continues to resonate in the world.
Transformation of Grief into Beauty:
Art has the extraordinary power to transform grief into something beautiful and meaningful, a keepsake of our resilient effort to survive great pain. By embracing our creativity, we can find beauty, hope, and solace amidst the agony.
Begin Your Journaling Journey of Healing Through the Five Senses
If you are navigating the depths of grief, journaling can be a powerful tool to aid in your healing process. Here's how to get started:
- Embrace the Present: Begin by grounding yourself in the present moment. Observe your surroundings. Write down the specific details of what you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell in that very moment. Allow your senses to serve as the foundation of your journaling practice, connecting you to the present experience.
- Reflect on Love and Loss: As you delve deeper into your journaling practice, reflect on what you love and what you feel you are lacking. Explore your emotions and thoughts about the person or thing you have lost by asking your higher self or asking into the universe or asking (in your mind) the loved one you’ve lost to guide your writing. Create visual representations of your love, grief, the void you feel or advice you’re receiving from a higher power.
- Find Comfort in Expression: Remember that your journal is a safe space for self-expression. Let your words flow or your drawings take shape without judgment. Release your emotions onto the page and allow the act of journaling to be a cathartic release. This process can provide comfort and solace during your grieving journey.
- Make Journaling a Ritual by keeping your journal with you at all times. Establish a regular journaling practice as a ritual of self-care and healing. Set aside dedicated time each day to engage with your journal. Allow it to become a sanctuary where you can freely express your thoughts, feelings, and sensory experiences related to your grief.
In Joan Didion's poignant memoir "The Year of Magical Thinking," she beautifully captures the concept of "the shores against her ruins." These shores represent the rituals and habits that shape our identity, providing stability amidst the chaos of loss. Journaling can serve as your own shore against the ruins, guiding you back to yourself in a world that feels unrecognizable. It becomes a fortification, equipping you with the tools to weather life's challenges and remain connected to what you hold dear. Through the act of journaling, you create a sanctuary where you can find solace, make sense of your emotions, and rediscover the essence of who you are. It is a powerful means of reclaiming your identity and finding strength to navigate the tumultuous journey of grief.