When my kids were toddlers and learning to talk, I used to tell them to “use your words” when they wanted to express something. Though those years are now long behind us, I recently found myself encouraging one to “use your words”, when a frustrating situation was spinning in the wrong direction. Then, I heard myself give the same advice today, this time to strangers asking my advice on how to cope with ambiguous grief.
As it turns out, ambiguous grief impacts a lot of people.
Two years ago, I surely didn’t.
In fact, I didn’t even know it existed.
But not anymore.
Now, I know it well, and I am honored to hear from others who are finding themselves seeking to understand their “different” grief, too. Just today alone I was contacted by three people who heard of my story and writings on “AG”, and wanted to connect. They too, were looking for is an understanding of what they were experiencing, and finding that few (if anyone) in their circles seemed to understand, much less feel comfortable wanting to listen and discuss.
Their stories were varied, but all held the commonality of heart-aching loss and deep grief over losing a loved one, but not to death. One to the diagnosis of addiction, one to an unwanted divorce, and another to the discovery of deep intimate betrayal. Though each “entered” into ambiguous grief from a different starting point, all were working to reframe (if possible) their relationships with their living loved one.
When asked what tools help me the most, I always talk about writing. Which can take many forms: journaling, blogging, scratches on paper, or typing notes on your phone.
So, today I suggested they each try writing out their stories so as to seek to find words to express their pain. But none of them thought they could.
“No, It’s too late, I should have started when this first happened.”
“I wouldn’t know where to start, it’s so painful and I’m not a writer.”
“I don’t know if I even have the words to describe this.”
While I understand that not everyone enjoys writing, or believes they are capable (they are!), I invited them to consider doing so for a few reasons:
1) It helps one articulate and process difficult emotions and experiences
2) If shared, it can be a powerful tool for helping – oneself and others. (and you all know how much it’s helped me!) Check out this article that speaks to writing as a healing tool for both mind and body!
3) I reminded them that this isn’t a submission for a Pulitzer Prize – it’s writing FOR THEM! It’s available for public consumption only if they so choose.
I assured them that their story could be theirs and theirs alone. Or when ready, maybe shared with a friend or two, so that they can better understand the experience. Or perhaps they may feel brave enough to share it with their networks on social media, or submit it for publishing in hopes that it may resonate and be of service to someone in need. But for now, just.start.writing.
Recently, a friend wrote about, and bravely publicly shared a candid account of a difficult day. As her mother transitions into residential care for Alzheimer’s Disease, their roles are shifting and the relationship taking a new form. Her story is a beautiful testament to the power of love and the willingness to face, and not run from, ambiguous grief. I invite you to read it and share it, too. We never know who our stories will inspire.
Then, I hope you’ll consider writing your own story. My hope is that the more we share our truths – the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the hideous piles of pain – the more we will be able to heal, see our shared humanity in one another, and help feel well-able to move through the difficult days when they arise.
So pick up a pen, or plunk on your laptop – whatever modality helps you “write”.
Start by writing just for you, without the pressure of sharing it. Don’t worry about structure or punctuation, just do what my kiddos would do, and
use your words.
I know you can.