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Writing As a Way of Healing

Creative activities like drawing, painting, and listening to or performing music can help to reduce stress during difficult times. What you may not know is that writing can reduce anxiety and boost resilience, too. Writing your thoughts in a journal—for example, about how you’re feeling, what you’re hoping for, or any thoughts that you’re holding inside—can help relieve some of your worries.

When I sat by my thirteen-year-old daughter’s hospital bedside for nearly one year, I was overwhelmed by her multitude of diagnoses and life-threatening conditions. Seeing my daughter in pain and suffering from the aftereffects of chemotherapy, surgeries, and radiation treatments was devastating. Somehow, I had to stay strong for my daughter during the day, but when night approached, I couldn’t abate my fears.

So, I picked up my pen and wrote in a journal that a friend had given to me. I wrote of my anxiety, my trepidations, my hopes, and of her small victories. Writing allowed me to shed some of the unbearable burdens that I was carrying and mark some positive milestones. And after my child’s death, when I was in a maelstrom of grief, expressing my devastation through writing gave me a measure of relief and whispers of hope that I would recover one day.

I do understand that any activity when you are mourning can seem overwhelming, but it’s worth a try to write for even ten to fifteen minutes a day. Not only did writing lift some of my burdens, there is a growing body of evidence that writing about a medical trauma can improve a person’s physical and psychological outcomes.

If you are writing in a journal for the first time, you may want some guidance about how to begin. Writing prompts like these can help:

  • Just Write! Put pen to paper and write. Write anything. Don’t lift your hand off the paper. If you need to write “just write” over and over, do so. Before too long, your thoughts will emerge and you’ll write them down.
  • Who gives you comfort and support?
  • Have family, friends, and/or your community supported you in ways that you couldn’t have imagined before?
  • What do you do to find some comfort and strength? Examples to consider: write in a journal, walk with a friend, listen to music, go to a movie.
  • What new activities do you think will help you to cope? Examples might be attending support groups, therapy with pets, reading.
  • If you could have more support, what would it be?
  • If you have a few more free hours in a week, what would you do?
  • Have you grown (emotionally, creatively, spiritually) after your child’s death? If so, how?
  • What important life lessons have emerged after the death of your child?

Writing has the potential to help you to cope better during the most stressful times and during the grieving process. It should be noted, however, that writing is not a substitute for counseling; rather, it can be a valuable addition to counseling.

At the beginning of this new year, try something new. Pick up your pen and write—and help yourself at the same time, too.

Faith Fuller Wilcox

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Comments (1)

  • No one had advised me to write. I had purchased a journal for him but when he passed I found the journal with nothing in it. When I found it I knew I had to write and heal. The words just flowed as if he were guiding me. My son was a beautiful writer. I always thought he’d be a great journalist but took another path. He had the most incredible mind and the ability to have more empathy for others which eventually made things worse for him. He was born a unique individual . Grasped things so quickly. He knew he was different. When he walked in a room everyone looked and he loved the attention. He was handsome and had personality and he was truly a genus. He could speak on any topic and could fix anything.

    He wanted me to write a book. I thought my story wouldn’t be of help because my story is no different than any other parent. I wish now I had started this project with him. He felt the reason he was alive was because like some parents that weren’t there for their children, I was along with my supportive husband. He loved his family intensely. I hope by writing his story I might be able to help others and find time to volunteer later. It’s hard to find the time but I have make the time if it takes a year. I will never forget his kind, compassionate heart. I know he is with me watching over us and his sister when she walks down that aisle and in the future when she has her first child or possibly twins.

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