Using creative writing to unlock grief

Carly is Founding Director of The Loss Project. Here, she shares how creative writing can help us process and understand our grief.

By Carly Attridge · April 1, 2021

At The Loss Project, creativity is a vital tool in our work of being alongside people who are experiencing grief and loss. We have seen it’s importance in holding space for people to process how they are feeling, unlocking memories and as a way to express feelings and emotion that can be hidden away under lock and key, or that we feel we can’t share in case we embarrass or upset anybody.

Creativity can evoke a lot of feelings for people; often there is resistance and a feeling of “oh I am not creative”, or that what we’ve made “isn’t not good enough”. There are many of us who do not think that we are creative and struggle to put pen to paper. Rather than focusing on enjoying the process we tend to think about the outcome. However, during the pandemic creativity and play seems to be becoming more popular as it has given us more space and time to unleash our playful side.

Personally, I really love to write (so maybe I’m a bit biased) I use Julia Cameron’s morning pages and free write every morning. Recently, I’ve found writing letters really helpful. I’m never going to send them but it helps me to organise my thoughts, discover things about myself I hadn’t realised and process difficult feelings that I find difficult to address. I find expressive writing a really helpful tool in my life. Creative writing can sometimes be a softer way into writing if our grief is feeling raw and painful, offering us a world of metaphors and imagination that can help us find new ways of expressing what we’re going through.

Writing can help us process and understand our grief

Last year The Loss Project ran a series of creative writing workshops with artist, writer and poet Joe Duggan. Joe is inspired by his own experiences of bereavement and uses writing to be with others experiencing bereavement. He used simple writing structures to encourage people to express themselves using poetry. A participant told us:

The way I think about my loss is less of a loss and more of a connection with an absence. This gave me a chance to catch on to memories and bring them to life again.

One of our participants

Finding outlets for our grief following a bereavement can be a powerful way of supporting ourselves, processing and finding meaning making. However, it also provides a way for us to connect with each other both through the process of creating something in a group setting but also by connecting with others who understand how difficult and painful grief can be. One participant told us:

I'd like to hold onto the fact that grief can be something that we share. Every story someone's told has made me think about my own situation. It's helpful to remember that other people share grief. It's very cathartic to actually speak those difficult things.

Another of our participants

We are told consistently just how difficult the bereaved find talking to the non-bereaved. A sense of the topic being avoided, of not being able to show emotions, or if you’re “fine” then people assume you’re over it and move on, let alone the avoidance tactics that many people experience because people don’t know what to do and say. This opportunity to find connection through creativity is really important.

Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.

Louis L’Amour

Getting started

The great thing about getting started with writing is that you do not need any fancy kit to do it. A paper and pen is enough to get you going and just try. Writing the first words can be really hard, but creating yourself a space where you feel comfortable and confident and just giving it a go. Like everything, these things take practice so it might take a little while until you feel confident. Whilst at The Loss Project a lot of our work is about encouraging connection with others, writing does not have to be something that’s done in a facilitated group workshop.

There are many options for journaling available via the internet, and sometimes just spending some time free writing can be just as powerful and illuminating in helping us to order what is going for us and noticing what we are thinking and how we are feeling. There are many methods and ways to do it, and you might need to try a few out to see what works for you. We’ve put together a few ideas to get you started, and you can download our Journaling Prompts from our website.

Another of our partners Well Versed Inc put together a structure to help you if you’d like to try something a bit more creative. An epistle poem is a poem in the form of a letter. They provide two structures for you to write a letter to your loved one, and to write a response from them to you. Perhaps you want to say something that was left unsaid, perhaps you want to thank them for something that inspired you, or some fond memories? Using simple structures and forms that are familiar to us can often be a really lovely way of helping us into the process. The key thing to remember is there is no judgement here, you don’t have to share them with others, although you can if you want to.

We’d love to hear from you if you’ve enjoyed writing, have created your own Epistle poem, or if you’d be interested in attending creative writing workshops with us in the future. You can find out more about The Loss Project on our website and sign up for our latest news and up and coming events. Download the Journal Prompts or Epistle Poem Structure.

You can also connect with us on most social media platforms @thelossproject1. We also host free monthly sessions called Spoon Rooms. They are spaces where you can come and connect with others around grief, loss and bereavement. The spoons are just a bit of fun that act as a talking stick, but really they are just safe, friendly and welcoming spaces to be alongside others.