A grief journal is a tool to understand your feelings and emotions after a significant death or loss. Grief experts say that writing can be like therapy in that it helps you understand yourself and your grief, share your experiences, and reconnect with the world.1 There are useful guidelines and journaling prompts for grief that will help you get the maximum benefit from grief journaling.
Benefits of a Grief Journal
Journaling for mental health is a good way to cope with grief and feel some sense of control over emotions like depression, sadness, and anxiety that are linked to grief. A principle in grief counseling is that reconstructing your personal narrative is critical for the healing process, and journaling will provide a venue for expression without fear of judgement.2
Here are benefits associated with keeping a grief journal:3
- Grief journaling is a comforting, safe grief ritual used to communicate with the person you lost
- It’s an effective way to record and reflect on important memories and thoughts
- Writing and rereading a grief journal allows to you track and reflect on how you’ve coped
- Grief journaling can have a calming effect that helps manage and reduce stress
- Grief journaling improves your clarity and ability to problem-solve and develop new perspective
“A grief journal provides an immediate opportunity for a person to express their feelings, experiences, and reflections, but provides a record over time as well. As time goes by, a person may find it comforting to look back to see how their immediate, raw feelings of loss changed and evolved over days, weeks, and months. The journal also provides a record of the importance of a loss. The magnitude of someone’s grief is directly correlated with the anguish of their loss and this is a very private issue. Grief is never completely solved and it is not something to “get over” in a prescribed time frame. A grief journal can help a person make meaning of a loss and can provide insights on how to live with a loss, moving forward one day at a time.” – Jolynn Gardner, Ph.D.
25 Grief Journal Prompts
There is no right or wrong way to write a grief journal. It’s a tool that can be used to mourn and cope with the death of a parent, grandparent, friend, child, or even a pet. The most meaningful way to create a grief journal will vary from person to person. Don’t judge or edit yourself as you write. Unedited self-narration is the most effective way to help begin your healing.
People frequently turn to journaling prompts for grief to help create a starting place or structure to use as they write. Some people even believe that goal-directed writing offers greater personal fulfillment.3
Here are 25 journal prompts for grief to get you started:4
1. “Today I am really missing…”
Prompts like these have a calming effect on the person writing it because sometimes it is hard to recall good memories in the midst of grief. Reminiscing fond memories can have a calming effect both physically and emotionally.
2. “The hardest time of day is…”
This prompt helps you begin to analyze the times that are most challenging and why. For example, perhaps this is an unstructured time and you have too much time to think about your loss. Once you’re aware of these dynamics, you can begin to use coping techniques to offset the intensity of the feelings of loss.
3. “I have been feeling a lot of…”
The act of identifying feelings and allowing yourself to be aware of and vulnerable to them is the first step in healing. This prompt allows you to begin to initiate this process and move forward.
4. “A comforting memory of my loved one is…”
Recalling a memory that brings comfort can help you feel closer to a loved one who has died. It also has psychological benefits as the act of recalling these memories can reduce blood pressure and alleviate stress.
5. “Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed by pain, regret, guilt, or despair, I will…”
This prompt is helpful because it helps to ground you and think about what you do have control over. Remembering that you have agency when you have these big feelings can help to reduce the load and weight of these feelings.
6. “To be more compassionate toward myself, I am willing to try…”
Prompts like these help you identify techniques that help manage painful, negative emotions. They can also help you regain a sense of control over your emotions which can be an empowering experience.
7. “I wish I knew how…”
Reflecting on this prompt can help to identify specific tasks or goals that need to be developed in order to move forward in the grief process. It also helps to increase self-awareness, and can help you understand how you can help yourself.
8. “I need more of…”
This is very helpful because you need to know what you need in order to access it. It can be hard to know what you need more or less of, and a lot of us live on autopilot, but this prompt makes you think about your needs more precisely and with intention.
9. “I need less of…”
Prompts like these are helpful to organize your thoughts and efforts and prioritize your needs. It can help you identify people, tasks, or resources (internal and external) that can help facilitate your healing. This is another example of gaining some control over your healing process.
10. “If I could forgive myself for something it would be…”
This is a really good way to work through your unresolved feelings after the death of a loved one. If you didn’t get an opportunity to be with them or tell them you loved them, it can feel impossible to move forward, but you can still heal and move forward without that opportunity.
11. “If I could forgive you for something it would be…”
Guilt and regret are powerful emotions that are often experienced in the midst of grief. We can’t change things that have happened in the past. This exercise helps us to recognize this, and can help you better understand this concept. This type of reflection can result in much needed self compassion and understanding and compassion for the person that has died.
12. “My best time with you was when…”
This is a great prompt because recalling positive memories can help you process the grief and help even out any of the negative feelings. It can remind you that there was so much to be grateful for and continue to be grateful for because those memories can last a lifetime.
13. “My hardest time with you was when…”
These prompts can provide important insights regarding the nature of your relationship with the loved one who has died. People can sometimes romanticize a past relationship with someone who has died, making the loss feel greater and more painful. Remembering good and bad times can lend a more realistic perspective.
14. “When I feel most overwhelmed with grief, the thing that helps the most is when I tell myself…”
Putting these thoughts on paper is a helpful tool for identifying self-help techniques to manage grief when it becomes debilitating. It can remind you that you have internal resources that you can tap into to begin to manage the intensity of grief.
15. “The thing that brings me the most comfort is…”
This is a wonderful prompt to reflect on because it can be hard to remember in the moment what helps but taking time to think and write about what actually brings you comfort can make it pretty clear and simple to identify.
16. “The things I can do to help celebrate your memory are…”
These prompts are a wonderful way to tap into good times and memories, which can be lost in the midst of grief. They can offer powerful insights about tangible things you can do to honor the memory of a lost loved one and simultaneously bring comfort to yourself.
17. “I know I am feeling better because…”
One of the most valuable aspects of grief journaling is that it is a way to chart progress and challenges as grief is experienced. People find it very helpful to look back and read what they have written. It can offer clear reminders of where you were emotionally at different points along the way while grieving. For many people, it shows how far they’ve come over a period of time that can be hard to recognize otherwise.
18. Write a message to your loved one.
This is helpful because it gives you the chance to share your words with your loved one. A lot of things can happen with this prompt. It can feel hard at first because you may feel like your loved one doesn’t hear it, but making this into a moment for closure for you can be helpful.
19. Write down something your loved one said to you or did for you and why it meant/means so much.
One of the hardest aspects of loss and grief is not having a person we loved and counted on for support there to talk physically. These exercises are means of having a conversation and creating a sense of closeness again. The act of writing and bringing back these memories can also have a calming effect.
20. Select a word that best describes how you feel today.
Why does it describe what you are feeling? What does it mean? If you are uncomfortable with it how can you change it to feel better? What happened to make you feel this way?This is another exercise that can help you, in the midst of grief, clarify your thoughts and feelings. Rereading these entries can create a deeper understanding of your journey through grief and what you did to try to cope with and manage it. It helps identify techniques that worked and did not work. These are skills that can be used in the future to face painful moments related to grief.
21. Make a list of things you can do to honor your loved one’s memory
This is great because it allows you to create a legacy for your loved one, and in doing that, you are able to find ways to keep the spirit of your loved one alive.
22. Create a mantra you can return to when grief becomes overwhelming
This is helpful because you can come up with words that are grounding for you. There is no wrong thing you can say if it helps to calm your emotions, and you can get creative with developing your own mantra.
23. Make a list of songs that remind you of your loved one.
Music is healing so creating a special playlist of songs that remind you of your loved one is a great way to process grief yourself and also feel close to your loved one.
24. Describe your loved one’s personality, likes, dislikes, and character traits
This is a good prompt because it helps to make them human again. We can get wrapped up in our emotions but remembering the person they were when they were alive is helpful as it can take them off the pedestal you may have put them on.
25. If you know someone else who is grieving, brainstorm ways you could help them
Normalizing the experience of grief is important. Sometimes it can be a silent presence that can be the most healing, so helping someone else normalize their process is helpful.
“Any type of creative expression, whether through art, movement, music, or writing, is one healthy way to allow our emotions to move and flow. Narrative work allows grieving individuals to work through their feelings, a series of often traumatic events related to the loss as they unfolded, and gives articulation to very painful emotional states. With this said, there are many good prompts for grief journaling. Some of my favorites include: ‘What do you most miss about your beloved at this moment?’ and ‘If you could send a direct message to him/her/them, what would it be?’” – Joanne Cacciatore, Ph.D.
Tips For Journaling Regularly
Pick a journal that you like that will feel welcoming when you see it, touch it, or write in it. Some people may prefer to write on a computer. If writing is too intimidating, you may want to at least start with an audio journal. Some authors recommend creating rituals to facilitate their writing.
The frequency of writing is important to help create a routine. The more regularly you write, the more comfortable it becomes as an exercise. Don’t tell yourself you have to write a certain amount of daily content, but even if you write a couple of sentences, that’s something you can look back on and reflect on.
Here are a few tips to help you stay on track with journaling:5, 6
- Determine the best time of day for you to journal
- Create a space for journaling whether that’s in your favorite chair, your office, or in front of your fireplace
- Decide if you want to use a computer or pen and paper
- Once you decide to journal, do it in the same way and place every time
- Limit distractions like music, radio, or TV
- Put your electronic devices away so you can give your full attention
Other Ways to Cope With Grief
There are other ways to cope with grief, including:
- Individual therapy: This can be helpful if your grief is getting in the way of living your day-to-day life. Therapy can help you find ways to cope and process unresolved emotions.
- Attend a grief counseling group: Groups help you feel like you are not the only one dealing with these feelings, and can be helpful to normalize the experience.
- Lean on your support system: Family and friends can be a great source of support, and talking to them about how you feel can make things feel lighter.
- Accept and embrace all of your feelings: Feelings are messages and each one can tell you something you may not have known. Consider your feelings as visitors—they don’t need to stay forever, but when it’s time for them to come or go, let them move freely.
How to Find a Therapist
If you’re struggling to cope with grief or if you believe you may have persistent complex bereavement disorder, it may be time to employ ways to find a therapist. To start, explore an online directory where you can narrow your search by different criteria like cost, location, and expertise.
Final Thoughts on Journaling Through Grief
Grief journaling is an effective way to begin to process your feelings after the loss of a loved one.7 This process can give you a greater understanding of what you need as you learn to cope with grief. Using grief writing prompts can also give you a sense of control, which can help you begin to move forward after a major loss.