Grief Journaling Tips & Writing Prompts

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: July 29, 2013

Updated: April 19, 2020

Grief journaling can help you record and process your experience of grief. As you begin to reconnect with your body, you may start to hear whispers (or even shouts) of wisdom coming from within. You may wish to take note of these signals, quite literally, for it is easy for the mind to forget insights almost as quickly as they arise when you are working through grief. This is why it is a great idea to keep a grief journal.

Grief Journaling Has Therapeutic Value

In the book Lessons of loss: A Guide to Coping Dr. Robert Niemeyer explains “Especially when losses are traumatic, they may be difficult to discuss or even disclose to another. And yet the psychological and physical burden of harboring painful memories without the release of sharing can prove far more destructive in the long run.”

There is plenty of research to suggest that grief journaling after a significant loss has therapeutic value. According to grief experts, the task of reconstructing your personal self-narrative is critical in the healing process. A grief journal will provide you with a venue for expression without fear of being judged, as well as a record of your experience that will reveal recurring patterns and dramatic growth.

Preparation: Choose a grief journal and a pen or pencil that is easy to write with.

Let Yourself Write Fearlessly

Grief journaling is not about writing perfectly. Natalie Goldberg offers these tips in Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within:

  1. Keep your hands moving. (Don’t pause to reread the line you have just written. That is stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying.)
  2. Don’t cross out. (That’s editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.)
  3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the martins and lines on the page.)
  4. Lose control.
  5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
  6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.

Formal and Informal Grief Journaling

“Revisiting the loss seems to promote meaning making in a way that a single telling does not,” writes Dr. Niemeyer, so schedule at least fifteen minutes a day four times a week to write in your grief journal (formal practice).

Keep your journal handy, for you never know when insight or something else you wish to record will arise.

It can be helpful to practice any or all of the previous week’s body-based exercises prior to writing in your grief journal. Even spending 5 minutes breathing mindfully will help you transition out of your head and into your body, where real wisdom resides.

Get Unstuck: Grief Journal Writing Prompts

If you have trouble starting, try a “jumping off sentence.” Suggestions include:

  • I remember when….
  • This is what I have to say to you….
  • The first time I….
  • My happiest memory of you is…
  • The greatest lesson I have learned is…

Extra Credit

Write your story of loss, but in the third person. Imagine you are on the outside looking in. What new insights do you have about the “main character,” yourself?

grief journaling

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Mindfulness & Grief. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She is on the Advisory Board for the highly regarded military family survivor organization Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and is a faculty member of the Portland Institute of Loss & Transition, founded by Dr. Robert A. Neimeyer. She is also the host of the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, founder of the Mindfulness & Grief Institute and the Frederick Meditation Center in Maryland.

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