Who I am.

I write about the landscape of grief, nature, and the wisdom of fools. The author of four books, my essays, poems, and reviews have been published in over 50 journals, including in the Huffington Post and Colorado Review. I’ve won the River Teeth Nonfiction Book Award, the Chautauqua and Literal Latte’s essay prizes, and my work has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and named a notable by Best American Essays. My account of hiking in Yosemite to deal with my wife’s death, Mountains of Light, was published by the University of Nebraska Press. http://www.markliebenow.com.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Writing Grief Out

            All sorrows can be borne if they’re put into a story, Isak Dinesen said. Writing unties grief’s knots, and unhooks death’s claws from our flesh. 

            We begin to understand grief by recording all of our thoughts, feelings, memories, heartaches, and sorrows, writing until we can’t think of anything else to say. When something more shows up, we write that down, too.

            Don’t think about what you’re writing. Turn your inner editor off and just write. If something keeps showing up on the page, it’s probably something that you need to pay attention to. Spend time with that and go deeper into it.

            By writing about our grief, we face up to the trauma of death and deal with its thorny issues. Whether we simply write daily entries in a journal, or go further and shape them into stories, essays and poems, finding the words helps us identify feelings, put sorrow into context, and lead to insights. Until we face grief, it will rumble under our surface like a thousand earthquakes, tiny tectonic plates that push and shove against each other until all the pent-up tension releases one day and our emotions go flying and smash like dinner plates against the walls.

            Writing about our grief can be therapeutic.

            If we don’t deal with grief, we are also in danger of closing our emotions down, of putting up barriers to protect us, and not letting anyone get close so that we never lose anyone like this again. By writing, we take grief out of our lives and place it on paper where it can live instead of it moping around inside us where it keeps tipping over the furniture.

            Writing allows us to step back from sorrow for a moment and breathe. It also opens up space for something new to happen. By being creative with grief, we take control of the narrative. We take charge of our lives instead of letting death direct our actions. We move from being victims to being survivors.

            We can also take the raw material of grief and be creative through painting, music, sculpture, woodworking, and pottery. We can become artists of grief, expressing and interpreting its turmoil in physical ways so that others can see, touch, and hear what we have experienced and what we have discovered by facing up to our brokenness.

            As you write, you will probably come up against some matters that you don’t want to face right now because they are too painful. You don’t have to. Make notes and come back to them when you’re ready.

            Letting go of grief is not about forgetting the one who died. That won’t ever happen. Grief is about us going on a journey to a place where we will be able to celebrate and honor our loved ones again, and not just grieve their loss.

            If we don’t work with our grief, if we aren’t creative with it, then we risk being taken where we don’t want to go and abandoned in a land not of the living, but of the dead.


  1. I started a grief diary about 6 months after my partner Dave died. Part talking to him and part just expressing my feelings pain sorrow.
    Nearly 2 years now and I still write when I feel the need and it is also good to look back on what I wrote and where I am now.

    1. For me, looking back on my journal of grief, the hard, raw emotions, despair, it seems like a different time and I was a different person. I was, and this has become part of me. It was also good to see how far I've come since then. I'm still writing. You may feel the same way.

  2. Thank you for this...I have not been able to jounal through the grief process except for some posts on FaceBook, which seemed to help immensely. I have often felt I wanted a witness, someone or some people to get what I’m experiencing. I love this post as it has me thinking how writing can become part of my process of healing. I sent you page to Donna Marie Todd who created the Widow’s Recovery program creator. In her work, she encourages us to journal about our process.

    1. Thank you, Sue. I think we all need to have others understand what we are going through, even if they don't fully comprehend the depths to which it goes. Just having people accompany us in our grief helps. For me, and it sounds like for you, writing helps. Others might find expression in painting or music.