DIY Grief Journal: Learn From My Mistakes

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Eleanor Haley

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Here are a few things I do well...

1. Remember the words to songs

2. Make children laugh

3. Forgive

4. Take photos

Here are a few things I do not do well...

1. Pay attention to detail

2. Finish things

3. Organize

4. Arts and crafts

I should carry this list everywhere I go to remind me of my shortcomings. And I should definitely pull this list out every time I find myself standing in front of the sliding glass doors of Michaels Arts and Crafts. And upon entering I should ask the craft store workers to hang my picture next to the OSHA poster in their break room with the caption 'Do not sell this woman adhesives of any kind'.

I should not be allowed to attempt arts and crafts.

There are other things I'm horrible at, like cooking and baking, but I've accepted my limitations in these areas. It's just crafting....when it comes to crafting....for some reason I just can't stop trying. This is important context for the following post which was mean to be a "how-to" on making your own unique and personalized grief journal. Instead, you will have to settle for a lesson 'how-not-to'.

One note, please don't let my shortcomings dissuade you from attempting this yourself. There are a thousand ways to create and customize your journal and many of these are easy to do given a minor amount of planning and patience. Also, provided you don't have 3- and 5-year-olds trying to Modge Podge your personal artifacts to their heads, like I do. In truth, if you stick with this post you'll see, once I learned from my initial mistakes I ended up with something fairly decent.

Lesson 1: Plan Ahead

A quick search on Google or Pinterest will bring you a mind-boggling number of results on customizing and making journals. Any reasonable person would take the time to search the internet and come up with a vague blueprint for their creation. Only an impulsive person would head straight for Target and frantically pinball from aisle to aisle throwing notebooks and paperclips and scrapbooking supplies in their cart. Here are the supplies I ultimately came home with:

grief journal supplies

(NOT PICTURED: Markers, file tabs, and scissors....and yes, that's three different types of adhesives)

Lesson 2: Understand Your Supplies

I didn't quite know what I needed so I bought everything that looked useful. I wasn't even sure what a few of these things were. For example, I'd never used Modge Podge before, I just felt I understood its glue-like properties because I once saw my college roomate Modge Podge a chair. Minus another 10 points: I bought the glittery kind.

I'm not sure how to accurately convey what a mess this was. Whatever you're thinking, it was way worse.

Here's another example, I probably shouldn't have picked the 'Sizzling Steakhouse' edition of Baltimore Magazine for my magazine cutouts. I don't find steak particularly inspiring, in fact, I'm a vegetarian.

Lesson 3: Unless your children are old enough to work independently, set aside separate time to work with children.

I decided I didn't want to use two of my four notebooks so I gave them to my daughters. This set off a flurry of excitement about decorating their own journals and ended in nerve grinding frustration when my hands were too covered in glue to help them when their fine motor skills failed.

That being said, this is a great activity to do with your child when you're able to focus on helping them. Plan ahead and gather photos, words, and decorations that are meaningful to them. As you're working, talk about the different items. Let them know the journal is their special place to draw pictures and write things down (if they're old enough). Tell them you would love to see what's in their journal from time to time.

Lesson 4: When all else fails, start over

In the end, I had to start over, so I guess it's good I bought all those supplies. Down to one last notebook, I took a deep breath, walked away from the chaos, and made a plan.

This time I decided to accept my artistic limitations and focus on creating a journal that will help foster creative and thoughtful writing...isn't that the point? Yeah yeah...I guess so.

Fortunately, my remaining journal had a nice moleskin cover in my favorite color. I decided to leave the customization to a minimum, but sprinkle a few prompts throughout; this way when I can't think of anything to journal about I can turn to a prompt. I marked the prompts with file tabs for easy access. Some of the prompts are related to emotion and grief...I was so mad when...a memory of my mother...write about the last thing that scared you..write about visiting a place where you feel close to mom...and some are more favorite words...write a story about this picture.

I would hardly call it a true DIY journal because basically, it's not; but I have to say I'm pretty happy with my end result. I hope all you non-crafters out there see making a journal personal is not so hard when you simplify the plan, and I hope all you crafty crafters out there find elaborate ways to put me to shame.

Bottom line I believe journaling is a great way to process and explore feelings and emotions and I encourage you to do it whether in a customized journal, an old notebook, or on a napkin.

For more journaling resources, check out the following articles:

For more artistic endeavors, check out these posts:

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6 Comments on "DIY Grief Journal: Learn From My Mistakes"

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  1. Joy  September 10, 2014 at 7:14 am Reply

    I have a blank journal. I didn’t want toe that already has contents. I really want to use it but been struggling to know where to start. I love what you’ve done. The prompts, pictures and file tabs. Its really inspired me to do something similar. This bit – ‘I probably shouldn’t have picked the ‘Sizzling Steakhouse’ edition of Baltimore Magazine for my magazine cutouts. I don’t find steak particularly inspiring, in fact I’m a vegetarian.’ That made me laugh out loud – thank you!

  2. Beth Marshall  June 15, 2013 at 10:33 pm Reply

    Thanks so much for the kid journal ideas, Eleanor. I will definitely check them out!

  3. Beth Marshall  June 14, 2013 at 3:27 pm Reply

    Eleanor- this is one of the coolest journal ideas ever. The fact that there’s no right or wrong way to create it will make people courageous get started. There’s something cathartic about glue, construction paper and for the truly crazy ones like me… glitter. 🙂
    I can’t wait to share this post with a friend who lost both parents – his mom, when he was 4 and his dad when he was 16. Talk about turning pain into purpose, his life work now is helping kids find creative ways to deal with grief.

    Keep ’em coming! I love your website.

    • Eleanor  June 14, 2013 at 4:52 pm Reply

      Thank you so much!!! Man as much as I wish I could create a super awesome journal from scratch I think in the end this one suits my needs pretty well. Like you said, there is no right or wrong way so people really can experiment and see what works for them.

      That’s amazing that your friend was able to turn his pain into something like helping kids deal with grief. If he doesn’t already know about the journals made by ‘Art With Heart’ he may want to check out their website. They have a journal called ‘Chill and Spill’ that we love for (older) kids dealing with grief. It focuses on transition more than anything else and it’s got a really cool looking aesthetic that I think would be appealing for tweens and teens.

      Anyway, thanks for your support!!!

  4. Jessie Gallo  June 14, 2013 at 2:35 pm Reply

    Random thoughts on journals……I was looking at your journal and realized this blog is probably one of the best journals you could ever have. We have inadvertent journals on our Facebook pages and email accounts. Every once in a while I go back through old emails or Facebook posts – things written in a different time and place. I always lose a breath when I come across an email from one of Mom’s doctors, and sigh when I see something that happened before she got sick. It’s a sea sick feeling that reminds me of how awful that time was, and how much I miss the days before the grief. My daughter has a journal called “Wreck this journal”. On every page there is an activity whereby you systematically wreck the journal. One page you stick in the freezer, one page you rip into tiny pieces, on you slather with mud. There is a great deal of frustration that comes through grief….wishing it could be better, or different, or that you had any power to change circumstances. I think “wreck this journal” is a cathartic idea…..when you feel frustrated or angry you can take it out on the journal instead of on your kids, husband, etc.

    • Eleanor  June 14, 2013 at 4:45 pm Reply

      Yeah Jessie your right, this blog has been like a big journal. It’s definitely cathartic in many ways. I can see how looking at old e-mails would be troublesome…are you still keeping them all??

      I’ve never read ‘Wreck this Journal’ but my co-author Litsa has said she thinks it’s amazing. Maybe I need to get my hands on a copy. That’s kind of an amazing idea to destroy the whole thing..I appreciate the idea because I’ve personally torn up many a journal page out of embarrassment over what I just wrote.

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