PROMPTS FOR WRITING THROUGH GRIEF
(and other ways of working through it)
In this series about writing through grief (and other ways of working through it), we will explore:
- Introduction to this series
- Grief in special seasons of memory, like winter holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions
- Some ideas and experiences of my own related to dealing with grief
- Prompts and ideas inspired by Crafting the Personal Essay by Dinty W. Moore
- Prompts and ideas inspired by Paulette Perhach’s “30 Days to the Personal Essay” course.
- Prompts and ideas especially suitable for young people (but also helpful for older folks, too)
- Ideas inspired by Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Date Book
Some of these postings are quite long, but I hope that in them you may find a few gems that will help you through your journey with grief. And please remember to add your own thoughts, ideas, and prompts in the comments. Thank you so much.
Prompts and ideas inspired by Crafting the Personal Essay by Dinty W. Moore
- Before writing about your grieving, make a list of all the common points (cliches, usual discussion) around the topic. Then write an essay using none of those common points.
- Related to the prompt above, what is unusual about the way you grieve? Begin with a list. Then choose one, the more unusual the better (but one you aren’t too ashamed to discuss freely) and try to bring your potential reader into your confidence.
- Who are you, really? What makes your grieving human?
- Pick one memory from long past, related to you and the person you are grieving. Something that may seem inconsequential but is fun to remember. Capture that memory as best you can on the page, but then ramble through your thicket of thoughts and pursue your own glimmer of truth, fuzzy as it may be, and different though it might be compared to others with the same moment of memory. Why do you retain that memory all this time later? What deep resonance is hidden in the story? What have you lost over time, and can you ever get it back? Dig deep, wander, observe, relate to surrounding memories of your own and the memories of others related to it.
- List and catalogue. Open a drawer in your memory, or an actual drawer where you keep mementos of the person you grieve for and make a list of, and describe, what you find. Try to write with language that is poetic or even sings.
- Write an essay of twelve short paragraphs, each one a different memory of the person you grieve for (or of the two of you together). Then roll a pair of dice to see which paragraph comes first, which comes second, and so on. Cut and paste them into the new order. What is the result? What new insights and/or memories does this develop for you?
- Start small. Don’t attempt to answer all the mysteries of your memories and relationship with the person you are grieving. Look instead for small pieces of the puzzle, and start exploring there.
- If you want to write about the person you are grieving, as in memoir or biography, choose specific stories and examples that illustrate the realizations or even confusions you are exploring. These scenes and stories will be far more convincing and compelling than abstract explanations.
- What is unsolved in your heart, about your relationship and/or understanding of the person you are grieving? What questions have you locked away? Why? What can you do (and write) to reach resolution?
- Can you remember a spiritually significant moment in your relationship with the person you are grieving? What happened between you, or what did the person say or do, that brought some transformation in your life? How did it feel physically—a tingling on your skin, a chill, etc.? Did your vision of life change in some way? How? Where were you when this happened? What objects surrounded you? What day was it, and what was memorable about it—the weather, a special event, or something else?
- Write about the faith of the person you are remembering. Was that person devout or maybe just going through the motions? Did their faith or beliefs change over time? Did their faith or beliefs have an impact on yours, or even change yours? What is sacred in the memories you have about that person? How did that person influence your beliefs and faith?
- Who are you in relation to the person you are remembering? Parent; son/daughter; husband/wife; friend; fellow student or work peer; what else? Why is that important? How did that form of relationship affect your personal relationship with the person? What might have been different in your relationship if you’d had a different relation to the person?
- What kinds of food—and other traditions, values, customs, economic realities—did you share with the person you are grieving for? What is precious about those memories? Do you wish you’d spent more time with the person sharing those traditions? What traditions did the person introduce you to, that changed your own traditions and values? Why? What difference did it make in your life?
- If the person you are grieving was a close friend in childhood, but then the two of you drifted apart, what caused that drifting? Do you wish you’d stayed closer? What difference might it have made in your life if you had stayed closer? Do you think your warm childhood memories have had an influence on how you remember the person and the way you are grieving?
- If you have positive memories of your relationship with the person you grieve for, at specific times, but negative memories from other times, how is that reflected in the way you grieve? Do you focus on positive memories and try to block the negative ones? (Or vice versa)? Do you think that your selective memories are fair to that person—or to yourself and your relationship? How open and honest do you think memories that you share with others should be?
- What, in the life of the person you are remembering, did you not really know very much about? (Jobs, hobbies, beliefs, experiences, other relationships, etc.)? Are you sorry about that? Do you feel the person was holding back from you, or do you think maybe you just weren’t interested enough at the time to ask those kinds of questions? Do you want to know more now? If so, how will knowing more help you deal with your grief? How can you find out more? What if what you find out only makes your grief stronger? Are you prepared for that?
- Did something happen between you and the person you are grieving, that the two of you never talked about afterwards? What was it? Why did you not share your thoughts and feelings about it? How did that change/affect your relationship?
- What if you could, right now, spend one week (or even one day or one hour) with the person you are missing? What would you do or say or ask? How would that make a difference in how you are feeling in your grief? Would it be worth it? For you? For that person? For your relationship?
- Write a thousand words about one very small aspect of the person you are grieving. Perhaps a favorite piece of clothing they wore, or a detail of their physical appearance (the color of their eyes, or the size of their nose, or the wrinkles around their eyes, for example). Notice how that one very small aspect is so important to your memory of the person, and even to the way they lived their life, and/or your relationship with the person. What makes that memory so special to you?
- Recall—and visit, if possible—a place that was really important to the person you are remembering, or to the both of you together. What made that place so important, so cared for, so special?
- What can you write about, from your journey through grief, that will help others who are struggling and need help with? Something that isn’t commonly found in google or books, but that you have worked through and someone else might really relate to?
Please feel free to share your thoughts about grief in the comments. Thank you.