In 2014, four weeks after our beautiful girl was killed in a tragic road accident, I sat down to write my first blog expressing my grief. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what I was hoping writing would achieve. I just felt compelled to write, to consider, to observe, and to share.
“No more Abi. No more bouncing in to our office after school, all blonde hair, big smile, tales of her day. No more snuggling in bed, smooth warm skin and sticky-out shoulder blades. No more nothing” I wrote in that first blog. Later posts explored why it was taking my brain so long to accept and grow accustomed to her loss, how I could use Abi’s bravery to help me go forward without her, the pain of first holidays with a whopping hole at the centre of our family. One described me finding the relics of her life: “I find you everywhere. A lip balm in the key bowl by the front door. An instamatic photograph tucked in the glove compartment of my truck. A single sock at the bottom of the sock bag, desperately seeking its twin; longing for the warmth of a foot. Ribbons fallen under your bed. A half-eaten box of Shapes still in the pantry. Crumpled togs forgotten by the spa. Your name scrawled across your phone charger taunts me.” It all comes flooding back to me as I read them again now.
Writing helped me address my thoughts and feelings. Underpinning it all was some kind of purpose - sharing my experiences in the vague hope it would encourage others to “get the most out of their one wild and precious life”. Reading back through those early blog entries (that later became the bones of my first grief book) I am transported right back. In all honesty, I’d quite forgotten the words to describe the enormity of the pain, the intensity of the conflicting emotions, the confusing incessant ruminating about her and her death.
With the benefit of hindsight, however, it’s also possible to detect the cathartic process sharing my story provided, the immense empowerment through narrative. As researchers we have long known the power of writing as a constructive outlet for expressing emotions, clarifying our thinking, viewing events from different perspectives, helping us build a narrative around events, maybe growing our understanding.
If you, right now, find yourself trying to make sense of what’s happened in your life, to gain some clarity in your jumbled thoughts, then please do try writing. There is something almost magical in taking up pen and paper (or hitting the keyboard) and letting the thoughts flow from your troubled mind onto the page. The beauty of writing is that it gives you a smidgen of distance from your thoughts; allowing you a little distance and perspective. For many people, that’s just enough distance to help put things in a different perspective and gain some new insights or even just a brief sense of release.
For me, years on, these musings also provide reminders of how far I’ve come and, frankly, how awful I felt back then. While you might think I wouldn’t want to remember, it kind of feels good to read them – somehow it makes it all feel more real, and takes me back closer to her life, the days when she was here, to the time when she had so recently actually existed.
This is the power of sharing grief stories, something we see again and again in our work. Whether it’s stories people write to us who have been prompted to journal after reading my book, or observations they want to share after responding to the self-reflection activities in one of our self-directed courses. I love getting these emails and messages detailing how reflecting has impacted their grief experience.
But nowhere does the impact of connecting through storytelling become more apparent than in our live group programmes. We might only run these courses a few times a year, but the transformational effect they have is nothing short of staggering.
“I haven't felt this connected with a group of people before” is the typical response. One participant, Debbie who had suffered multiple losses, commented how amazing it was “to hear others stories and to be able to share with everyone”. Lisa, who joined us to process the devastating loss of her only child, shared how “there is something magical in the power of a group of people going through the grief experience...just knowing that I am not alone”. Sue described how she was anxious about joining the group forum but that disappeared quickly after our first session. “It was a very safe and comforting environment. To be able to share something so very personal and devastating with others who totally get it was uplifting and has given me strength. I don't feel as lonely as I did and I have gained some valuable insights into how I can move forward with my grief.”
All these people, coping with such different forms of loss, speak to the empowerment that comes from sharing their challenges, bravely exploring their narrative together.
Your grief narrative is uniquely yours. It doesn’t matter how you do so, but finding ways to get your story out can really help. Whether it’s writing it out, dictating your thoughts and experiences into your phone, having a conversation with a friend, crafting poetry or creating music or art. All of these outpourings serve a purpose in whatever form works best for you: they help you process what’s happened, somehow - slowly gradually over time - making a bit more sense of the senseless.
Find what works for you, don’t worry about form, spelling or punctuation, just get it all out. Discover the empowerment that comes from sharing your story with others. Every story can help you take that critical step forward. Every attentive listener can provide a glimmer of hope. As we start a new year, find power in sharing your grief with others, whether in words, one of our groups, some form of art, or a courageous conversation.
To help you find a way in, try any of these reflection questions:
You will learn practical tools and techniques to ensure you are as empowered and prepared as possible to get your life back on track, and work towards a greater sense of control and calm.