How to start a grief journal

In this article, we’ll take you through the benefits of keeping a grief journal and show you how to get started with your own. We’ll share prompts about what you might want to include or write about, and we’ll also tell you more about our own journal tool that’s free for you to start using today.

Journalling has long been viewed as an effective coping strategy for people dealing with grief. This is because privately filling a page with words, images or more can be a completely freeing exercise, allowing you to express your thoughts and emotions without fear of judgement from the outside world.

It can help with self-reflection, giving you a way to sort through any muddled or complicated feelings, and it can help you to understand your grief from a different perspective when you start to write things down.

Your journal can become your own private and safe place to let your thoughts out, and it's somewhere you can go whenever you need to. You are in control of what you write, how often you write and when you write. This can be really healing when life feels out of control.

What is a grief journal?

Your grief journal can be whatever you decide you want it to be: a space to hold memories, a notebook of your personal feelings or a conversation with the person you’re grieving for. It can be somewhere private for you to express your thoughts; both the ones you understand and the ones that don’t make sense just yet. And it can also be a place for you to reflect on your journey through grief over time, recognising progress and noticing change.

Ultimately though, it’s yours to create and use in any way that feels right for you.

The benefits of keeping a grief journal

The benefits that come with keeping a grief journal will depend on how you use it, but it’s common for journalling to help people:

  • become more aware of their emotions
  • make sense of their thoughts as they write them down
  • feel uncensored, unjudged and free to express whatever is on their mind
  • keep their memories safe
  • feel less stressed
  • find sleep more restful
  • reflect on their grief journey and notice how it is changing over time.

The process of journalling in itself helps us to slow down and be more reflective. As you transform your internal world of feelings into words or images on a page, you might find that your grief starts to feel more manageable.

“I still journal now 16 months on… mainly I write letters to Doug. I write about everything, the way I am feeling, missing him, about our family, even the latest gossip and what’s happening in the street where we live. I always read it out loud to his photo when I have finished. Sometimes there are lots of tears, sometimes I laugh and smile. I also keep a daily diary. It’s definitely helped me, and I often look back and read the early entries. Even if I didn't feel it at time, I can see that I have moved forward in my grief journey, and I have taken Doug with me every inch of the way.” - a member from our Online Community

What can you put in your grief journal?

There are no rules when it comes to what you can put in your grief journal. Three swear words might be enough for one entry, while another day might see you write three pages of thoughts instead. It’s your personal space to write, draw, scribble or stick down anything that you want.

Some things that come out might be unexpected or scary, but that’s OK. It's just part of the process of expressing yourself, and you may even feel a sense of relief when they are out on a page rather than just inside of you.

Grief journal prompts to help you get started

Although the freedom that comes with starting a grief journal may be exciting to some people, we also know that trying to fill a blank page with your thoughts or feelings can be intimidating too. That’s why, together with Bianca Neumann, our Head of Bereavement, we’ve pulled together a list of written prompts to help you get started.

Today, I am really missing…

You may want to write about the person you’re grieving for; what they look like, how you remember them, or what you’d want to say to them if they were here.

The hardest moment today was…

You could focus your journal entry on what you found difficult about your day, or spend some time exploring how you might be able to cope differently next time.

I have been feeling…

You might not always feel comfortable talking to the people in your life about how you feel, but your journal can be a safe space for you to express your emotions.

Something that helped me cope today was…

Keeping a record of what has helped you feel better can be useful to refer back to during the more difficult moments of your grief. You might want to note down conversations with friends, podcast series or anything that’s made you smile that day.

My favourite memory of you is…

Use your journal as a way to collect and reflect on the photographs, moments or stories you want to keep close.

I wish the people around me knew…

If you’re not sure how to say the things you want to say to the people around you, try writing your thoughts down first. This can give you the chance to make sense of them before you start your conversations.

Today, I’m going to practise self-care and try to…

It’s common for people to forget to take care of themselves when they’re grieving. That’s why taking the time to set out what self-care activity you’re going to try can be a helpful reminder to make your well-being a priority.

Getting started with grief journalling

If you feel ready to try journalling, here are some top tips to help you get started.

Pick your journal

Do you want lined paper in your journal, or would you prefer blank pages instead? Do you want a particular colour or size, or are you looking for a digital way to journal instead? The choices may seem overwhelming, but remember that you can always change your mind. Sometimes it’s better to start with what you have and figure out what’s right for you along the way.

Bianca says, “I worked with a client on this and they started to write on loose pieces of paper, keeping them safe in a metal box. On the last day of every month, they would look at them to see if they wanted to take any of those thoughts and feelings into the new month. What didn’t make it was burnt, and the rest was reviewed again a month later, alongside the newer additions. This way, the client could see and feel that things were changing and it helped them feel unstuck. It also made them feel like they had choice and control in a journey of mastering of their grief.”

Explore your thoughts

Remember not to be too strict about what you can or can’t put in your journal and don’t worry about making mistakes. Experimenting is all part of how you learn to make sense of your grief and what it means for your life moving forwards.

Try to stay consistent

Set achievable goals to help you stay motivated in the beginning. This might be trying to journal once a week or once a day if you feel like it, but don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t go to plan. Take the time you need and pick it back up when you feel ready. Sometimes having a particular place and routine to writing your journal can help, or, you may want to have it nearby you so you can react to your feelings in the moment and use it spontaneously.

Re-read what you’ve written

Don’t worry if you feel differently when looking back over previous entries. That’s all part of your grief journey, and taking the time to reflect on it can help you to realise just how far you’ve come.

It can also be a place to collect special memories of the person you have lost, and re-reading this over time can be healing and help you to feel close to them.

Introducing the Sue Ryder journal

As part of our Grief Self-Help Service, we’ve designed an online journalling tool that’s ready for you to try right now. All you need to do is sign up for a free account and you’ll have access to the exclusive feature: a digital journal that will be your own safe and private space, always there when you decide you need it.

Introducing our Grief Self-Help Service

Start your own digital grief journal today