I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Coping with Grief Without Saying a Word

I may be betraying my trade as a mental health professional to admit that, personally, I’m not much for counseling and support groups. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an avid believer in the potential efficacy of these types of experiences. I’m the first to recommend them to anyone who needs a little extra objective and confidential support. Also, I’ve gone whenever the proverbial ‘you-know-what’ has hit the fan in my life, so I hope this is a testament to my faith in the process.

All I mean to say is that talk-focused support isn’t my personal preference. Outside of my closest family and friends, I generally don’t want to talk about ‘it’. ‘It’ being things like grief, personal woes, existential dread…you get the picture. I’m an introvert, I hate having the floor, meeting new people makes me anxious, and I always feel like I’ve said too much too awkwardly. For all these reasons (and more), I gravitate towards coping that allows me to process my experiences without having to say much.

I’m definitely not alone in this.  Many people prefer outlets that allow them to remain taciturn about their grief. What I’m here to say, is this is A-OK! Although it seems like talk-type-coping is commonly recommended for grief, it is by no means the right way or the only way.  It’s important to remember, there are many healthy ways to cope with grief. Though people may assume otherwise, silent or independent coping is not synonymous with bottling things up, withdrawing, or isolating. Actually, many times the opposite is true, as outlets like writing and art allow people to express themselves, connect, and share in different ways.

Below we are going to discuss a few ways a person can cope without talking-it-out. This is only a start, we could spend all day trying to make an exhaustive list and still not be done, so whenever possible we’ll link to further articles and resources. Also, if you would like to share your go-to coping tools in the comments below, please do!

Journaling and Writing:

In our work, we often connect with grieving people who are struggling to get a handle on certain grief-related emotions and experiences.  When a person feels stuck, overwhelmed, or confused, we often suggest journaling (or other forms of writing).

Research has shown that journaling has benefits related to physical health, mental health, sleep, grief-coping, etc. Anecdotally we know this practice helps to…

  • combat avoidance
  • process experiences and emotions
  • connect with positive memories
  • organize thoughts
  • calm down and de-stress
  • shift perspective
  • relieve anxiety

Best of all, journaling is a low barrier coping option; it’s private, confidential (if you keep it that way), cost-effective, and accessible. Though people will often create a barrier for themselves by saying “I’d like to journal, but I’m not a good writer” the truth is that one need not be a good writer to journal.

In case you need the reminder, journaling is for your eyes only. Journal entries don’t have to be a certain length, they don’t have to follow rules related to structure, spelling or grammar, and, unless you’re writing your memoirs, the end product is irrelevant.  It’s the doing of the thing that matters.

If you’re interested in journaling, we have some articles with journaling prompts here and here and here and here and here. We also have a self-guided 30-Day Grief Journaling e-Course.

Reading:

Aside from the general benefits of reading and connecting with stories, I can think of three ways that reading helps people cope with grief. (1) Reading informative and educational blogs, books, and articles can help a person to learn, conceptualize, and intellectualize their experiences. (2) Reading other people’s experiences through memoirs and fictional stories helps to normalize grief, put experiences into perspective, creates a sense of universality (i.e. I’m not the only one), and instills hope. (3) Reading offers escape and respite.

Looking for a good grief book? Check out our list of 32 books about grief and 32 more after that.

Photography, Drawing, and Other Artistic Expression:

It’s no secret that we love photography as a tool for coping with grief.  We’ve created photo challenges, e-course, articles, and an entire website dedicated to sharing photography around grief.  As we said in our very first article about Exploring Grief Through Photography,

If you have a camera, you can photograph symbols, abstract images, and literal interpretations of people, places, and things regardless of your skill level. The process of creating the images will force you to spend time reflecting on your emotions and will allow you to feel closer to your loved one. The results may not be perfect, but they will tell the world something about how you’re feeling.”

If you have other creative talents, we’re jealous. Use them!  Though, it isn’t really necessary to be “good” or “talented” to use a certain art form in a therapeutic way. As an example, I love drawing as a way to get my thoughts out on paper, but I’m terrible at it. Mostly what I wind up doing is a journal/doodle hybrid and it’s a mess, but it still feels good!

If you’re a creative person who doesn’t have a go-to creative tool for coping with grief, or if you’re just looking for new coping tools, you may want to check out our upcoming webinar.

Register

Continuing Bonds:

Many people find rituals and reminders that maintain an ongoing connection with the person who died to be extremely healing in their grief. Though connecting with others can certainly be a part of honoring and remembering a loved one, people often find their most meaningful rituals to be those that are personal and private.

Well-being

Coping that falls under this heading, whether directly or indirectly connected to grief, helps to promote a person’s sense of well-being and may provide a brief respite from grief.  We love the PERMA model of well-being described by postive psychologist, Martin Seligman.  This model encourages people to choose behaviors and activities that increase positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. For more on well-being coping and how it relates to grief coping, head here.

Share your go-to coping tools in the comments below.  Also, subscribe.

April 18, 2018

17 responses on "I Don't Want to Talk About It: Coping with Grief Without Saying a Word"

  1. Hiking and walking outside, in nature, in the hills, on the trails, by the ocean, etc., is my go-to for coping with grief and everything related to emotional health (trauma, depression…).

  2. I’m an introvert and not a group person. I don’t care for free writing and journaling either. My brain insists on proper sentences and punctuation. However, I sew, these days mostly quilts but I’m also making memory bears with chef clothes (my son was a chef) for my other son, daughter, hubby, 2 grands and myself. I also make kids smocked and embroidered clothes. I’m finding that doing shorter term things helps more at the moment. Finishing is important. The one thing I’m stressing myself about is what do I do with the quilt I started 5 years ago for my son before he relapsed. I stopped making it because he wasn’t going to need it soon. He started asking about it in the last 4-5 months and I was going to work on it to finish for him. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to. That makes me very sad.

  3. I remember i LOVE to take photos. Dad passed in January – awful time just horrendous – I have decided to buy myself a camera (not a wow expensive camera and not the cheapest one either – some mid range one) and then get snapping. I would like to host a photographic exhibition to mark/remember/celebrate his life and mark the loss as another part of my tapestry of grief. So if I am up for it – next January I will exhibit the work (title – yet undecided – camera yet un-bought). My kids and close friends will be invited and I plan at this stage to have it open to the local community – but may well change my mind – depending on how I feel closer to the time. I am feeling passionate about this and so was thrilled to read this post that referred to ‘photography and grief’. Perfect timing. My dad also loved photography so there is that lovely connection for me too. thank you.

  4. Thank you – thank you – thank you!!

    Having already journalled like 25,000 words (which was a great opportunity for me to start opening up about my loss) – just yesterday I decided to make a photographic memorial/grief narrative following my dad’s recent death. He died in January after suffering a lot with cancer. After lots of umming and ahhing about what and how to next step through this grief jungle – I remember i LOVE to take photos. He has opted to leave me a small bit of money and I have decided to buy myself a camera (not a wow expensive camera and not the cheapest one either – some mid range one) and then get snapping. I would like to host a photographic exhibition to mark/remember/celebrate his life and mark the loss as another part of my tapestry of grief. So if I am up for it – next January I will exhibit the work (title – yet undecided – camera yet un-bought). My kids and close friends will be invited and I plan at this stage to have it open to the local community – but may well change my mind – depending on how I feel closer to the time. I am feeling passionate about this and so was thrilled to read this post that referred to ‘photography and grief’. Perfect timing. My dad also loved photography so there is that lovely connection for me too. thanks again. Perfect!!

  5. I am so very thankful to have found your site!! This is the very first article I have received via email and it was SO ON TARGET for me (an introvert!!) THANK YOU. My go-to coping activity has been journaling for many years now and in recent years I have ventured into the art journaling world. It is a wonderful way to process life and work through healing.

  6. Thank you for this today. I have n interest in therapy or joining a support group-and am so tired of people telling me to. This is validation of how I am feeling is appropriate for my journey. I choose to sew, garden and bake. I have made so many baby toys, quilts ( and I have no grandchildren but there is the hope of them someday) Being creative has helped me more than anything else. Its much cheaper too!

  7. Is this webinar worth CEU, if so how many please?

    • Hey Monica, I’m afraid it’s not approved for CEU’s. We are working through the process to get approval for online offerings, but it is lengthy and were still not there. So sorry!

  8. My husband used to do drawings of the musicians during our monthly chamber music outings. Then I would would stand proudly by when got the signatures of the surprised and pleased performers.
    After he died, the director of the music series made a slide show of many of the drawings, and presented it at the beginning of the next performance. It was a great honor and very comforting.
    After that, I took up the mantle and become the unofficial artist of the Jewel Box series. Perhaps this is continuing bonds. Our styles are very different and I never wanted to “compete” with him, but it feels good to share this with him now. And it’s a great conversation starter with the musicians too!
    Perhaps they’ll do a slide show if my work one day.

  9. As an introvert, I also would never have considered talking in a group. But in my immediate grief, I joined a grief group at the suggestion of my Pastor. And it was surprising how much I “enjoyed” it. There had been a real need inside of me to talk about it and it ended up being an incredibly positive experience. From a decidedly non-group person!!

    There were / are situations in which I definitely do not want to talk about it, for sure. But the group thing helped in my case, which still shocks me now!

  10. These are wonderful suggestions. As the director of grief support at a funeral home, I always tell people that they are the only ones who know how they should mourn their loved one. My experience is that often (definitely not always) the introverts gain by just be being present. The knowledge that they are not alone, has a big impact, as does hearing that what they are experiencing is normal. Another thing I do is to give people lots of handouts to give them information, inspire them, offer other options such as you suggest. Sometimes 1:1 support is best. No matter one’s particular style, it is always important for them to know that others care and are there for them in whatever way they need.

  11. Breathing – just simple deep breathing like that I do in my Yoga practice.

    Breathing helps sooth me, it calms me from the inside and warms my body from my lungs outward.
    When i’m experiencing an anxious moment in life, to settle myself and breath is the most simple and best way for me to dissolve all that has washed over me.

  12. My Dad and I shared a luv of nature and gardening. When he died, I enrolled and completed my Master Gardener training. During this intense and long study period, I kept my connection with my late Dad and imagined telling him all that I learned and discovered from this fascinating course. With my focus redirected to studying, memorizing, and research, I had little time for despair. My graduation was a huge accomplishment for me, not only for completing this grueling curriculum, but also for seeing me through a very sad time, the devastating loss of my Dad. I had always wanted to get this certification; with Dad’s death, the opportunity became clearer – don’t wait, just do it. Finding the silver-lining among the clouds isn’t easy, but it can be located, if we bravely open our hearts and minds.

  13. Kate: I had the same experience. I wasn’t embarrassed because I liked being anonymous and people just listened. What I did find is that I felt better a day or two later. I am not going back, but that experience was a step in my healing. I see Cathy had a different experience. So there may be some differences in the way the counselors conduct the group experience. The bottom line is that this is not a good fit for me. I would recommend one session for everyone. I found it painful that some people had been going for a couple of years, and they were still deeply grieving. That interfered with my hope to move forward.

  14. Writing a journal may be helpful to some. I have chosen to write in blogs that may be helpful and encouraging to others. I find this to be therapeutic to me the giver and hopefully to the message receiver. As I reread my message, I learn from it myself as I assess how I am doing. I went to one counseling group and used up half a box of tissue. What I learned about myself is that there are others in the same stage of grief, and there is only so much that the body and soul can give to the grieving experience. It’s almost like the body can only cry a bucket of tears, and then it will not cry again. It’s almost like there is a limit to emotional pain, and then you heal emotionally. The one thing you need to never lose is hope. Hope that you will be better someday. Hope that there will be others in your life that will fill the emptiness. Hope that your religion gives you more comfort. Never give up on hope. Do activities that make you hopeful. Get out of the house. Take the opportunity to talk to complete strangers. I am an introvert, but I take this step forward, too. Bless you!

  15. Have an in-house hospice visit on 4/23. Found the groups to be too overwhelming. Hearing others losses was very sad indeed. Hoping help will come soon.

  16. A nearby hospice offers a meditation group. It has been amazing for me. The facilitator does some guiding with statements about loss, regret, fear, etc for the first part, then we are silent for 10-15 minutes at the end.

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