This month my mind has been filled with loss—the idea of loss as I read memoirs chronicling other people's losses, the memory of loss as I push myself to write about the death of my own parents, and the immediacy of loss as an old family friend died of heart failure. It's an uncomfortable place, this realm of loss. I don't come here or stay here often, but I know there is value in visiting the deep recesses of my mind where personal loss resides.
There is certainly value in the healing that comes from writing about loss. Research shows that short, intense bursts of writing about a recent loss—fifteen minutes a day, for four days in a row—can increase your immune system function for up to several weeks. I believe this type of writing works for past losses as well. We all process loss differently, and at different times. It doesn't matter if our grief is old or new—writing can help us process the loss. Here are some techniques I've found helpful in my own process of writing through loss:
Free-write. This kind of stream-of-consciousness writing allows you to be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to write whatever comes. You don't have to spell the words right, worry about grammar, or even use punctuation.
Write in short bursts. When pain is raw or close to the surface, writing for a short amount of time, say fifteen minutes to a half-hour at a time, is less likely to overwhelm you.
Write in longhand. The simple act of writing in longhand rather than typing on a computer allows for the words to flow more easily. The organic physical expression of words flowing out in a seamless stream is more effective than the more distant act of typing.
Create a mood through music. Soft, soothing music can create an ambiance that's more inviting for writing. Your emotional intensity will naturally mirror the music, and even if this kind of music isn't your favorite, it will help you connect with the emotions of loss.
Write a letter. By writing a letter to the person you've lost, you can say the things that were left unsaid. Or maybe from the distance of time, you see things with new understanding and would like to share that. A letter is a very powerful ways to say the things you still need to say.
Journal your dreams. Your dreaming mind can be especially active after a loss. Your subconscious is working to deal with your grief and loss even while you sleep and healing can take place in your dreams. Keep a notepad by your bed to write your dream so you can remember it in the morning.
Write brief vignettes. Memories will come to you in flashes—in odd times, in odd places. When they do, capture the moments by writing quick, vivid descriptions; the sight, smell, touch, taste and feel of the memory. Collect these captured moments over time.
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