As a freelance writer and someone who has felt compelled to write for as long as I can remember, it’s perhaps no surprise that I’ve turned to writing to help me with my grief every time I’ve lost a beloved pet (or person, for that matter).
Like the animals we’re mourning, I find writing to be a non-judgemental outlet for my feelings. I don’t have to share it with an audience unless I want to. All I know is that writing makes my feelings tangible. The very act of putting pen to paper or even tapping away on the keyboard gives me something that I can touch and feel, which makes my grief feel more manageable than when it’s raging away inside of me with no outlet.
For this reason, I asked Shailen if I could share an exercise for grief writing that those of you who express yourselves through the written word might find helpful:
- Write every day, even on the days you don’t feel like it
Some writers suggest writing for 15 minutes every single day. In her famous book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggested that everyone should write ‘morning pages’, i.e. three long-hand, stream of consciousness pages first thing every morning.
Either way, the idea is to let the words fall out of you, almost without thought. Whatever is on your mind, however you want to express your feelings, whatever you need to say about your loss, this daily writing commitment can stop you bottling things up.
- Use a pen and paper
As I mentioned above, there’s something more tangible about writing long-hand on paper. Evidence suggests that we better retain what we physically write compared to what we type, so long-hand can be a great way of actually connecting with your grief and acknowledging the truth of the words you write.
Grief writing isn’t about creating a work of art for others. Your handwriting can be furious, untidy, hurried, slow or careful, whatever reflects your current mood; it may even change from one line to the next – there’s no right or wrong, only what you feel in that moment.
But, if you’re like me and you spend a lot of time in front of the computer or you don’t have the patience for writing these days, typing your words is fine too. The key is to just give shape to what’s in your heart without overthinking it.
- Forget about spelling and grammar
I am well-known for worrying about good grammar and accurate spelling – after all, it’s part of my job. My children joke about me being the ‘Grammar Police’, but I also know that writing that comes from the heart doesn’t have to adhere to grammar rules or be perfectly spelt.
Grief writing exercises are about the words you want to say to and about your lost pet. They are for your eyes only, not to pass an exam. Your pet certainly wouldn’t care about missing commas or spelling mistakes!
- “I remember” and “I feel”
I once read some great advice about grief writing that said to begin each new section with the words, “I remember” or “I feel”. This will encourage you to put your feelings and memories – the good and the bad – into words.
If you run out of things to say before the end of the 15 minutes or three pages suggested above, write “I remember” or “I feel” again and see what springs to mind.
- Anything goes
My experience with pet bereavement is that some people find it hard to understand how the loss of an animal can leave such a massive hole in your life or be the source of so much grief. This means that pet carers often find themselves censoring what they feel or hiding their emotions about the depth of their loss.
With this grief writing exercise, I want you to know that anything goes. You can say whatever words come into your mind from the smallest or lightest of memories to the darkest of despair.
Write about the happy days, the memories of a thousand wonderful hours together. Write about the bad days too, including the times your pet was poorly or did something mortifyingly embarrassing! You might even find yourself writing about their death.
Nothing is off limits. There are no rules. It’s OK to cry as you write but it’s also OK if you don’t feel like crying. The exercise is to just let your feelings come, whatever they may be.
Don’t stop before you hit your target of writing for at least 15 minutes or three pages. It’s important that you keep going, even when you don’t want to, because in many ways this reflects the journey of grief where we have no choice but to continue.
Remember, you don’t need to share your grief writing with anyone. There is no audience. You may not even want to read what you’ve written right now. That’s OK. There’s no pressure, no judgement, no expectations.
And please know that through The Ralph Site and all of the wonderful resources and people in this community of animal lovers, you are not alone.