10 reasons to start a bereavement journal

You are probably looking at this article because you have lost someone and you are trying to make sense of the whirlwind of emotions that you have. Or perhaps you feel numb or frozen and you’re looking for something to help. So firstly, I’m sorry for your loss and I hope that this article on starting a bereavement journal helps. 


Maybe you’ve kept diaries and journals all your life or maybe you haven’t. Either way, it’s important to remember that a bereavement journal is your space. There are no rules or right answers and, unless you make the choice to share it, it is a private, confidential outlet for you to grieve, to document your emotions, thoughts, memories, and experiences related to the death of your loved one and to your 'new normal'. 

In this article, I will outline ten good reasons to keep a bereavement journal. After that, I will offer some ideas of how you might make a start and some things you might write about. 

10 good reasons to start a bereavement journal

Journaling can have a number of benefits for mental health and for people who are bereaved. Whether your loved one died recently or perhaps a long time ago, keeping a journal offers a therapeutic way to process and heal from your experience. 

Here are ten benefits: 

  1. Emotional outlet: Grief can be overwhelming, involving a range of emotions such as intense sadness, confusion, anger and guilt. All of these are natural reactions to loss, and journaling provides a safe and private space to express these emotions without fear of judgment. Writing down your feelings can be cathartic and can help you to process your grief.
  2. Self-reflection: Journaling allows you to explore your thoughts and feelings more deeply. It can help you gain an understanding of your emotions and the grieving process and allow you to write about this at a pace that suits you. 
  3. Order and structure: Grief can feel chaotic and disorienting. Journaling can provide a sense of order and structure to your thoughts and experiences. Creating a chronological record of your bereavement journey can help you make sense of what you're going through.
  4. Preserving memories: Journaling can help to preserve memories of your loved one. You can write about your precious moments together, the things you loved about them, and the impact they had on your life. This can be a meaningful way to keep their memory alive.
  5. Self-compassion: Writing in a journal allows you to acknowledge your experiences and feelings, helping you to be kind and compassionate toward yourself as you navigate your grief. You can acknowledge the challenges you're facing and offer yourself support and encouragement.
  6. Communication: Sometimes, it can be difficult to talk to others about your grief or express certain emotions. Journaling provides an alternative means of communication. You can address your thoughts and feelings directly, which can be especially helpful if you're struggling to articulate them verbally or you are worried about how others might react.
  7. An outlet for things that went unsaid: Journaling can be a way to say things to your loved one that you may not have had a chance to say before they died. You can write letters or messages to them as a way of processing your feelings and continuing your connection.
  8. Emotional expression: Journaling provides a safe and private space to express your emotions, whether they are positive or negative. It can help you process and release pent-up feelings, reducing emotional distress.
  9. Stress reduction: Writing about stressful events or emotions can help you make sense of them and reduce their impact on your mental well-being. This can be particularly helpful before going to bed as you can use the journal to clear your mind. It can also help identify stress triggers, allowing you to manage them more effectively.
  10. Reduced rumination: Rumination is the repetitive and often negative thinking about the same problem or emotion. Journaling can help break the cycle of rumination by externalizing your thoughts and this can bring relief. 

Some ideas to get started

So, just to remind you, there is no right or wrong way to keep a journal. You can write as frequently or infrequently as you like, and you can choose the approach that works best for you. The goal is to use journaling as a tool for self-expression, healing, and understanding as you navigate the complex emotions of grief.

Writing about your loss can bring up strong emotions so don’t put pressure on yourself to write every day or on topics that you don’t feel ready for. Try keeping the writing time short and plan something afterwards that helps you to relax and focus on something else. Do try and write freely, without lots of planning, checking or editing. Allow your thoughts and emotions to flow. Don’t worry about spelling and grammar or false starts. Just write. 

The ideas below may be useful if you are struggling to know where to start. If an idea feels too overwhelming, leave it for now, you can always come back to it when you feel stronger:

  • Memories and stories: Write about your favourite memories with your loved one.
  • Emotions: Describe how you feel and how your emotions are changing. Be honest and open about your feelings, whether it's sadness, anger, guilt, or even moments of joy and gratitude.
  • Regrets and forgiveness: Explore any regrets or unresolved issues you may have with the person who passed away. Reflect on the idea of forgiveness.
  • Coping strategies: Write about the strategies and activities that help you cope with grief. This might include meditation, talking to friends and family, or seeking professional counselling.
  • Daily reflections: Record your thoughts and feelings each day, documenting the ups and downs of your grieving process. 
  • The impact of the loss: Explore how the loss has affected different aspects of your life, such as your relationships, work, and daily routines.
  • Unfinished business: Write about any unfinished business you feel you have with your loved one. Are there things you wanted to do together or conversations you wish you had?
  • Write a letter to your loved one: Address your journal entry directly to the person who has died. Share your thoughts, feelings, and things you wish you could have said to them.
  • Self-care: Reflect on how you're taking care of yourself during this difficult time. Are you eating well, getting enough rest, and engaging in activities that bring peace
  • Legacy and impact: Explore the legacy of your loved one and how they influenced your life and the lives of others. How might you honour their memory?
  • Hope and healing: Write about your hopes for the future and your journey toward healing. What steps are you taking to move forward, and what goals do you have for yourself?

More creative approaches

A bereavement journal can also be a space for creative forms of expression. Here are some creative approaches you can incorporate into a bereavement journal:

  • Poetry: Write poems dedicated to your loved one, your feelings of grief, or your memories together. Poetry can be a beautiful way to express complex emotions.
  • Quotes and excerpts: Incorporate meaningful quotes, song lyrics, or excerpts from literature that resonate with your grief or reflect your loved one's personality. 
  • Journal prompts: Find some creative writing prompts online that are specific to grief and bereavement, exploring emotions and memories from different angles. For example, 'Today I really miss…', 'My favourite memory is…', 'If you could see me now…', 'Every time I see…, I think of you.'
  • Creative nonfiction: Write personal essays or memoir-style pieces about your journey through grief. 
  • Short stories: Write short stories inspired by your loved one's life or your experiences with them. These stories can be fictionalised or based on real events and help to keep memories alive.
  • Grief rituals: Describe any personal grief rituals or traditions you've developed to honour your loved one, e.g., lighting candles or visiting special places.
  • Art journaling: Create visual collages in your journal using images, photographs, and words that represent your feelings and memories. Drawing and painting can also be powerful ways to express emotions when words alone are not enough.

Remember that grief is very individual and the way you use your journal only needs to work for you. You can choose how you write and how often and whether you prefer to write in a physical notebook, type at your computer or engage in creative forms of expression like art journaling. The important thing is to find an approach that helps you to express your emotions, process your grief, honour the memory of the person you have lost and find comfort during the times you feel overwhelmed or alone.

If writing a bereavement journal works well for you that is great, however, if you feel you need some additional support then please do get in touch and we can arrange a time to talk about your needs.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Abergele, Conwy, LL22
Written by Michaela Borg, MBACP, Bereavement and Loss Counsellor - Online/Phone
Abergele, Conwy, LL22

My name is Michaela (she/her) and I specialise in supporting people through bereavement, grief and loss.  Having experienced the traumatic death of someone close to me, I understand that grief can feel life-changing. You may be feeling stuck, like you can’t move forward with your life or...

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