Seven days after my daughter and father-in-law died on the same weekend, I started my 2007 journal. Putting my thoughts into words was helpful. Eight weeks later, when my brother died, I continued to write. Six months later, when my former son-in-law died, I realized I was writing to survive.
I found hope in my journal pages and they eventually became a book. Life is stressful and confusing after you have suffered multiple losses. You may not think you have time to keep a journal, but I encourage you to do it. Journaling will help you do your grief work and reconcile your losses. These journaling tips worked for me and I hope they work for you.
1. Feelings first. Multiple losses create dozens of feelings. Your journal is an ideal place to ventilate, name your feelings, and see where they lead. Feelings are messages from your subconscious and conscious mind and you need to listen to them. Recovery is possible only after you have faced your feelings and the pain that comes with them.
2. Focus on one. Multiple losses force you to examine your relationship with each of the deceased. This emotional task can take years, especially if you have suffered multiple losses. My daughter’s death was the most shocking so most of my journal entries were about her. I wrote about her strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments. After I reconciled this loss I wrote about my other three losses.
3. Record events. Each loss creates secondary losses and they can be as big a burden as death itself. Listing these losses in your journal will help you cope with them. Pay attention to your secondary losses because they are far-reaching. Make sure you date every journal entry.
4. Write without thinking. This tip, called stream of consciousness writing, comes from Kathleen Adams, MA, author of “Journal to the Self.” She compares journal writing to emptying a purse, a process that allows you to “sift through and see what has been forgotten, what has been overlooked, what can be discarded.” You discover new things about yourself when you write without thinking.
5. Track grief work. Recovering from multiple losses takes longer than recovering from one. But the stress of multiple losses may obscure your progress. I did not realize the extent of my progress until I read my journal entries. Instead of being stuck in grief, I was moving forward, and I made a list of the proactive steps I had taken. Your journal will help you make a similar list.
6. Transform yourself. Multiple losses, especially the death of a child, changes you forever. You are a different person. Judy Tatelbam writes about this transformation in her book, “The Courage to Grieve.” “So deeply are we moved by the impact of severing a love relationship,” she writes, “that we are bound to change in some way.” Tatelbaum thinks mourners can be “creative survivors.” I am a creative survivor and my journal helped me become one. Your journal can lead you to a new life.
Journaling about multiple losses is not easy. You will cry, get your feelings under control, and cry again. Still, journaling is worth the time, pain, and self-examination. Months from now, your words will reveal a new and stronger you.
Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson