“…I found myself needing to put down in my journals all sorts of things — to try to understand them, and, I think, to try to remember them.”
— Meghan O’Rourke, American author of The Long Goodbye
When assisting families with the funeral arrangements of a loved one, funeral directors often wear many hats. Not only do funeral home professionals coordinate a multitude of tasks regarding the preparations for the body and service arrangements, but they are often called upon to use their skills as caregivers and grief counselors.
There are many tips, techniques and products funeral directors use to help comfort the bereaved. Each individual handles grief and loss in different ways, and an experienced director is sensitive to the needs of each individual he or she serves.
One helpful suggestion for dealing with loss is journal writing. Jotting down thoughts, impressions, emotions and memories after experiencing a death may help with the grieving process. Often the surviving spouse, children or siblings feel compelled to write about a loved one, carefully documenting memories about the deceased. This is done for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes the writer wants to record intimate details for personal reference and to revisit memories in the future. A relative may wish to describe the deceased individual’s presence in the family history, capture their personality and relate unique stories so there is a written record to pass down to future generations. Or, it may be that the survivor simply needs an outlet to release sorrow and emotional pain.
In fact, there is a branch of psychotherapy dedicated to “expressive writing,” which encourages the grieving person to write down impressions, memories and emotions without paying attention to grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. This type of “stream of consciousness” writing helps to release deep-seated intense feelings and inconsolable grief. Research in the 1990’s conducted by James Pennebaker, a University of Texas at Austin psychology professor, showed not only a marked improvement in the emotional health of experimental participants who employed expressive writing, but the subjects also developed stronger immune systems and improved physical health over a shorter time than those who did not write.
Writing may also help in situations where unresolved issues are so private and emotionally wrenching that the grieving person finds it difficult to express feelings vocally to another person. A journal is a resource to help deal with and compartmentalize the grief in a healthy manner.
In all the myriad ways funeral directors guide the surviving family members through the painful and inevitable experience of a loved one’s passing, journal writing may be one simple, healing tool that offers some emotional comfort and relief in those times when one feels alone and bereft. FBA
Rick Gentry is the Manager of Operations at Lamcraft, Inc., based in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. He can be reached at 800-821-1333 or by email at [email protected] You may also visit their website at www.lamcraft.com.