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 especially suitable for young people (but also helpful for older folks)
This list of prompts has many ideas especially suited for young people. If you have a middle-school or high-school aged child (or are one), you may find some inspiration among the prompts listed here: https://education.yourdictionary.com/for-teachers/activities-lesson-plans/100-creative-writing-prompts-for-middle-school.html (You’ll also find some very practical ideas–graphic writing, video games, music and lyrics, photography, painting, etc. in the second part of this post). Some examples from this first list, from which I have drawn inspiration related to loss and grief, include:
- Describe a memorable holiday or other event in your family or other parts of your life, in which you and the person you have lost were involved, and include how you felt and why it was memorable for both of you.
- Write about a time you felt afraid and the person you are missing helped you overcome your fear. Or choose another emotion (love, excitement, anger, disappointment, joy, etc.) and how that person helped you work through it, or enjoyed it with you.
- How did the person you are missing help you overcome a challenge in your life? What did you learn from them? How has that understanding changed your life?
- Write in detail about particular smell, taste, sound, texture, or taste reminds you of the person you have lost? How does it bring the person into your memory? Can you describe an event you encountered together that made that sense so strong in your memory of the person?
- Describe a special event in your life with the person you are missing—perhaps a week at camp together; or something you built together; or a concert you attended together; or a class at school where you worked on a project together, for example. Why was this event so special to you? What was special about the person involved—personality, skills, emotions, or something else? Do you like remembering it? Why (or why not)? Has it had a lasting impact on your life?
- Write out a conversation you remember with the person you are missing, as if it were dialogue in a story? What was special about it? What parts of it do you remember fondly? Are there any parts of it you would change if you could go through it again? Can you use what you learned from that in conversations in your present life?
- Describe your favorite things about the person you have lost. What made them unique? How did the person belong to you? To your family? Friends? Community? How has that person improved your life, the life of others around you, and the world in general (including things like nature, animals, etc.).
- Do you wear certain clothes styles or enjoy certain foods or do certain activities that the person you miss introduced you to? Do you do it in memory of the person, or has it become a special part of your own identity, or what?
- Would you consider the person you have lost to be a role model in your life? If so, tell why, and give specific examples of what you learned from the person and how it continues to influence your life. (If you feel that person had a negative influence, you may also want to think about and discuss that, though you might find it more difficult to think through.)
- If you could have one hour to talk to the person you have lost, what would you tell them? Ask them? Thank them for? Ask them to explain?
- Do you have a favorite song that makes you think of the person you are missing? What is it about the song (including the lyrics and music, both) that reminds you of them? Are there particular lyrics that reach out to you? What about a special poem, or picture, or movie, or story? Be specific. Go into detail.
- Is there a character in a movie or book or music group (etc.) that reminds you of the person you have lost? How do they remind you? Do you like to watch or listen to that movie or book or music group often because of the memories? What special memories do you have, related to them?
- Do you feel that the person you have lost was a “good friend”? In what way? Describe how they were a special friend for you, giving specific examples. Write about or record (on audio or video) memorable moments in your friendship. Share those stories with someone you know who would appreciate and feel comforted by those memories.
- Write about how the person you are missing was an important part of your family, or school, or other group you both were part of? How did they contribute? Now that they are gone, is there something you can do to carry on some of their part in the group?
- Who do you know that is also missing the person you have lost? Can you think of ways you can help to comfort them? Ways you can share memories? Ways you can together continue to make that person’s legacy alive to others?
- Was the person you have lost passionate about a certain topic, for example, climate change or peace? Write down what they taught you about the topic and how they lived out that passion. Share with others what you learned, and find ways to do your share to carry on their passion.
- Did the person you miss have a funny habit, or do or say things that made you laugh? Write them down and share them with others who are also grieving. Laugh and encourage each other together through these positive memories. Or did the person have a special “super power” or way of helping or encouraging (etc.) that made your life or the world a better place? Why not share that with someone close to them who would appreciate knowing the difference they made in your life and/or the lives of others?
- Are there memories that you struggle with and maybe want to bury or deny or escape from? Every person is human, and no doubt there are aspects of the person you are grieving that are difficult for you. If you are finding those memories difficult to handle, be sure to ask for help from a counselor or a special friend you trust who can help you work through those memories, or through any guilt or anger you feel.
- Use the name of the person you are missing to create an acrostic poem (each line starting with the next letter in their name), that lists their traits you want to remember, or lists events and moments in their life that are important memories of them for you.
- Choose a song and replace the lyrics with lines about the person you have lost, and/or about your relationship with that person. Try singing the new lyrics. Perhaps share them with others.
- Go to a natural outdoor location that you and the person you miss enjoyed together. Sit there for at least an hour or two, quietly observe it carefully, using all your senses. Then write about it in a letter to the person you miss. (You can also do this for any place you both enjoyed together).
- Create a graphic novel or comic style story about the person you miss. Choose a specific event from your memory or create a fictional story the person would have liked to be part of.
- If you, and the person you miss, had a favorite group activity you liked to do together (watching a particular movie or TV series; watching or participating in a sport; eating at a particular restaurant; spending time at the beach together; and so on), gather together some of the people you both hung around with, and do that activity together in memory of the person. At the end, spend some time (perhaps around a campfire or another place where people enjoy sitting and sharing memories) sharing your memories of the person you’ve lost.
Here are some more prompts especially for young people—but could be helpful and interesting to people of any age who are dealing with loss and grief. Many of these are very “practical” ways of remembering and of dealing with loss. They are inspired by prompts in https://wheredmysanitygo.com/15-writing-prompts-for-middle-school-that-arent-boring-and-lame/ and https://smallworldathome.blogspot.com/2014/12/100-not-boring-writing-prompts-for.html
- If you could invent a new holiday in memory of the person you have lost, what would you call it? How would you celebrate the holiday?
- List 4 true stories that start with “I will always remember…” or “I will never forget the time when…”
- What did the person you miss hope to accomplish in life? Have any of their goals, and the way they worked toward fulfilling them, influenced you? How? Be specific.
- If you started a restaurant in memory of the person you are missing, what would be on the menu? Why?
- If you and the person you miss were stuck inside a video game, which game would it be? Why? Or would you make up a new game with the two of you inside it? What would it be like?
- Go through photos from your life with the person you miss. Create a photo essay, choosing photos that are special memories for you, and write captions of two or three sentences for each photo.
- Imagine that children 50 years from now, when you are an elderly person, ask you about your memories of your life with your lost friend. What would you tell them? Think about how the world may have changed over those 50 years. What would surprise the children you are sharing your memories with. Write out at least 2 or 3 events you would like to share with them, and their reactions to your stories, in story or interview form.
- Your memories of the person you have lost may be fresh right now—but someday some of them may become “family legends.” Can you think of a memory or two that might turn out that way? Write it as a story being told 50 or 100 years or more hence by descendants of the family.
- Or perhaps some of the things the person you miss may someday be seen as important in history and end up in historical stories or textbooks (or even in a biography of the person). What events, places, words, accomplishments of the person you are missing might end up being of historical significance someday? Remember, it’s not always the “big things” that are important later on; some “small details” can end up being seen as very important events in history. Imagine you are writing an historical document in the future, that includes some small but historical significant event or aspect of the life of the person you miss. Write it either as a formal historical document or as a chapter of an historical novel.
- Write—in specific detail–favorite memories of things you did with the person you miss. Then write about a memory you both would rather be forgotten (perhaps something that was embarrassing). Write about a memory you both would laugh about (something silly) or would boast about (something you did together that was brave, or surprising, or admirable). Write about a time you got in trouble together, and the consequences. Write about a time you helped each other through a difficult situation.
- Do you sometimes lay awake at night, tossing and turning, as you think about the person you have lost? Keep a notebook, pen, and flashlight beside your bed, and jot down the thoughts that are keeping you awake and worried or sad or upset. Often just writing them down will help you relax; if they stick with you and keep bothering you, write about them in greater detail, or talk them over with a counselor or someone you trust.
- Think about your strongest emotions related to the person you are grieving over. Get a book of quotations from the library (or online) and for each emotion, find and write down 5 quotations that relate to that emotion and to how you, in particular, are feeling in relation to that person. If one or more of the quotations are really helpful to you, write them on sticky notes and post them where you’ll see them often—on the mirror, or the fridge door, or the inside of your school locker door, etc.
- Write and draw portraits of yourself and the person you are missing. Surround the portraits with sketches of items and/or places or events or symbols that represent your life together.
- Write about the best advice you ever received from the person you miss. What about the best compliment? Or the best assistance?
- Ernest Hemingway advised authors to “write hard and clear about what hurts.” Write about memories of the person you have lost—including the difficult memories that continue to hurt you (not just the happy memories). All relationships have difficult as well as pleasant parts to them. As you strive to heal from your grief, it is important to remember both good and bad in order to achieve balance in your healing.
- Choose five symbols or objects that in some way represent your memories of the person who you miss. Why have you chosen those items? Give specific examples of events or memories that those symbols bring to you.
- What is the very first memory you have of the person you are grieving for? Write about it. What triggers that memory? (Perhaps a smell, for example. Smells are one of the strongest memory triggers there are! Or a photo? An object? A sound?)
- What if you could create your own movie or documentary or video game that features the person you have lost (in either fictional or non-fictional form) as one of the main characters? What would the character be like? What characteristics (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, etc.) of the person you’ve lost would you focus on and why would you choose those particular characteristics? Is there an actor you would choose to play that character’s part? Why would you choose that person? Are there other people from that person’s life who you would also represent in the movie or game? How real or fictional would you make it? Why?
- Describe the person you have lost with as many physical details as possible and as many similes or metaphors as possible. Perhaps use those similes and metaphors to create a poem about the person.
- Write about the name of the person for whom you are grieving. Do you know why they were given that name (or perhaps a nickname)? Or what that name traditionally means? Does their name describe them in some way? When you meet someone with that name, do you immediately associate them with characteristics of the person you have lost? What associations do you make with that name. Is there another name (or names) that you think would be good names for the person you are missing? Why do you think that name(s) suits them? Would you name your child or pet after that person? Why (or why not)?
- Obituaries are often written in a common format (summary history of the person’s life, significant life dates, family members, career and accomplishments). If you had the opportunity to write an obituary for the person you have lost, where would you want the obituary to be published and why? What would you include in the obituary that a standard one might not include at all? Would there be a concluding phrase or quote that you would like to have engraved on their grave marker as well? Sit down right now and write an obituary that comes from the depths of your heart. Share it with others if you wish.
- Make a soundtrack of songs that meant a lot to the person you miss, or of songs that the two of you enjoyed listening to (or singing and/or playing) together.
- Or make a soundtrack of songs that you feel represent the life of the person whose loss you are grieving. You may make it as an audio or a video recording, or even, if you wish, perform the songs for an audience (and/or sign the songs together with others who were in your family or friendship or other significant group).
- Make a picture and/or word collage of images and/or words that express how you feel about the person you have lost.
(Note: The picture with this post was taken in the closing moments of the Celebration of Life for my daughter, held at a favorite beach of hers. It made me feel as if she was looking down on us and sharing in our love and memories).
Please feel free to add your own ideas, thoughts, and prompts in the comments.