Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thursday's Therapy - Writing and Grief - The Healing Power of the Pen ~by Alice J. Wisler

Thursday's Therapy

Writing and Grief

The Healing Power of the Pen

~by Alice J. Wisler

She? She lost her innocence,

And I? I lost my life.

She? She lost her life,

And I? I lost my innocence.

~Angie Bennett Prince 4/22/10

It's revealing that the titles of Fraser's and Want's books and Hendy's film all end in interrogation marks. The genre of grief memoir is by definition questioning: trying to come to terms with what happened and whether anything else might have been done.

~Mark Lawson, Writing a Way Through Grief

Grief changes you. No matter how purposeful you are or become it impacts you in ways you can never work out. One of the reasons I started writing again was because I suddenly needed a voice to record the things that were happening, and people couldn't necessarily handle what I had to say.

Even I, a few years on, cannot fully appreciate the state of mind I was in when I wrote. It's just something that happens.

The brain has its bleeding and it must flow somewhere.

~Comment to Lawson's article by "disordered"

Spiritual equanimity is so finely worked that all wild, wounding, or awesome events fire the brain but briefly.

~Robert Dash, Notes from Madoo

My groaning has worn me out. At night my bed and pillow are soaked with tears.

~Psalm 6:6

Pain can be exhausting. Feelings of sorrow, depression, grief, and fear can eat away at us internally to the point that we feel our bodies will waste away. We lose strength. We forfeit any sense of balance and control over our emotions. We’re reduced to groaning, powerless, grief-stricken creatures.

Emotions are very fragile things. When you’re working through old hurts or new struggles, your emotions can help you deal with them in a healthy way. Stuffing them, pretending you don’t feel grief or fear, won’t help at all. In fact, it will hurt you in the long run.

~Peter Wallace, What the Psalmist Is Saying to You Today

Keep a journal. You will be surprised how much relief you will find through writing down your thoughts, questions, memories, fears, letters to your child, or anything else that comes to mind each day.

~Carol A. Ranney, Family Grief & Bereavement Examiner


Often our child-loss grief, even as complicated and traumatic as it may be, is not always grief that needs to go through therapy, especially if that therapist is not extremely understanding of grief, even more especially if that therapist is not seasoned, with a few tragedies of his or her own under their belt.

As you read the following quote from a study of grievers (some of whom had bad experiences in going through therapy with their grief), you will see why I as a psychotherapist am somewhat protective of my fellow child-loss grievers. This dynamic that exists of the possibility that therapy, if poorly done, can also add to our grief also prompts me to find self-help ways that we can utilize to better process our grief on our own. Today's article is one of those self-help ways to enable our grief to flow out in as healthy a way as possible. As I have said to my clients,

Grief cannot be cured, but it does need to flow, and we CAN receive comfort in the process of our grieving. There is a lot to be said for that!


...(D)iagnostic decisions ought to be conservative in the circumstances of bereavement to avoid interference in a normal human process and iatrogenic complications with the associated introduction of professional interventions and their accompanying side effects. [Belitsky & Jacobs, 1986, p. 280]

~from Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy by J. William Worden


Writing through the heartache of losing a child is some of the best therapy I have found on this journey.

~Alice J. Wisler


The Healing Power of the Pen

~by Alice J. Wisler

(Grieving Mother and Writing Workshop Leader)

The first year after a death of a child is like having the (worst) noise possible running through your head each day and night. There is no way to turn the horrendous sounds off because there is no off button.

I wrote through that noise. I wrote from the heavy bag of emotions bereaved parents must carry—anger, guilt, sorrow and confusion, all the "what ifs" and "how comes" and "whys."

I wrote of longing for a blond-haired boy with blue eyes (whose) laughter brightened hospital rooms. A quiet spot under weeping willows at a local park is where I carried my pen, journal and pain. As I wrote over the course of many months, I was, although I didn’t realize it at the time, providing therapy for myself.

Some days when the weather did not permit a trip to the park and my body and mind harbored excruciating pain, I shut myself in a room, away from my other children and husband. I’d grab my journal and let the experiences of the day and my feelings freely emerge onto each white page. Grammar didn’t matter, penmanship went out the window. These aren’t a concern when you are writing to survive.

Writing the heartache, complete and honest, is a way of healing.

Our cry is, "Help me with this pain!"

We find ourselves lamenting as King David did in Psalm 13:2, "How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?"

David wrote many of his psalms starting with anger and agony and gradually, ending with hope.

Writing can do that for us. We enter into our devastation, get a good grip on what our struggles are and something about seeing them on paper causes us to realize the pain is not only within us anymore. It is shared, even if only on a sheet of notebook paper. It is documented and the more we write, the better we are able to understand and deal with our intense sorrow.

Some people think only the creative types write, when in reality, writing through the pain is available to anyone who has suffered the loss of a child. "I don’t have time," many say. "What will I write?" others wonder. The blank page scares some because they think they have to fill it with something profound.

But just writing a memory of your child or a few lines about how you felt after he died is a notable start. If we think of writing as a private endeavor and an effective tool, not a paper to be graded by a high school English teacher, we will conquer many of the doubts about our ability. In time, we will see that writing helps us become better in tune with our feelings and thoughts. It clarifies our lives and gives us understanding.

Other reasons to take the time to write are:

• To experience personal growth.

• To leave a legacy or a keepsake so that there will be recordings of what and who our child was.

• To demonstrate a way of cherishing our child.

• To feel a connection to our child as we remember the things we shared here on earth.

We also are honoring our grief, our pain and what has happened to us. We are validating its existence. As studies have shown, writing is healthy for our minds and bodies.

Professor James Pennebaker claims that writing actually helps the physical body when the writer is able to open up, by sharing deep feelings on paper over a period of time. In his study, half a group of students at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, wrote their heartfelt thoughts and feelings about a stressful event from their lives; the other half wrote about superficial topics. Each group wrote for twenty minutes a day, for four consecutive days.

Before writing and immediately after writing, blood pressure and heart rates were tested and a galvanic skin response was done. Six weeks later, the students had their blood tested again.

The group that had written about trivial topics showed no sign of changes. But the group that had poured their pain onto paper, claimed writing had actually calmed them. Their skin was drier after writing and both heart rate and blood pressure had decreased. Their blood work even showed an increase in lymphocytes, the white blood cells that work to keep the immune system healthy.

Writing through the heartache of losing a child is some of the best therapy I have found on this journey.

I didn’t know how helpful it was. I just knew I needed to organize any thoughts and get them out on paper. Now, four years since my four-year-old son Daniel’s death, I see that when all the evidence is presented, there is no reason not to write. It causes dim skies to light up when not only the pain, but also the love and cherished memories, are recorded.

~ Alice J. Wisler

(Published in the Durham Herald-Sun in April, 2002)


Poem - Aftermath - Angie B. Prince - 4/22/10


Commenter to Lawson:

Alice J. Wisler's blog:

Wisler's article:


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