Writing about death, grief, and loss

Many of you have probably heard of the deaths of John Cooksey and Ricky Boyd. The news story is here. John Cooksey was a 12-year-old at Oglethorpe Charter School, one of our Young Author Project sites, and Ricky Boyd used to ride the school bus with one of our Block by Block high school writers. Though neither of them were in Deep, their deaths are affecting the young people in our programs, and the people (young AND old) of Savannah. At Deep, we believe in being responsive to what’s happening in our young people’s lives. We’ve compiled a short list of ways we can respond to death and grief with writing. We encourage you to ask Deep staff to support you while planning/in a workshop like this to ensure we’re supporting our young people in trauma-informed ways. —Megan


Points to consider:

It is extremely important to emphasize self-care when writing about grief, death, and loss. Sometimes a burst of 15 minutes is all a writer can handle, and that is okay. This work is difficult and important for making something coherent out of the chaos. Cookies and decompression spaces (coloring, fidget toys, space to “just be”) are always welcome.

Often our narratives begin in chaos. They become healing, powerful narratives when we organize them.

Writers are observers. Writing allows us to get a little distance from the present moment. As we observe, we build resilience as we reframe and examine our story to begin making sense.

Below are example writing prompts:

  1. Write a letter. (to the person who died, the murderer, the victim’s mother, someone you’ve lost, someone you know)
  2. Describe the moment you heard the news, and how you felt then and feel now. What is the same; what is different? Link your feelings to the event, and use your five senses to describe this in detail. (Making the moment concrete helps the writer make sense of it. It’s okay if the feeling is one of nothingness. Write about that. There are no wrong answers for grief, shock, and loss.)
  3. What has kept you going (sustained you) through this time? (Though many of our feelings are negative during times of pain and grief, it is especially important to call out moments of positive emotion, however small, which can link us to hope. It could be as simple as “My friend shared her chips with me that day.”, an example of someone reaching out.)
  4. Using fiction, re-write the story in your own way. Anything is possible—Dumbledore, superheroes, time travel, advanced science, etc.
  5. Write an elegy. Get specific. (An elegy is a poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead. The three stages of an elegy are: 1) the speaker expresses grief and sorrow, then 2) praise and admiration of the idealized dead, and finally 3) consolation and solace.)


Other resources:

Contact Deep staff if any of your writers express intent to harm themselves or others, or exhibit symptoms of depression or anxiety. We can connect them to professional services to keep them safe and help them process their feelings

How to comment on writing re: death/grief and be supportive in workshop: Helpful/unhelpful things to say to the bereaved, active listening. Select resources gathered from bereavement services at Full Circle center for Grief and Loss, compiled by Megan

Further reading: Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives by Louise DeSalvo. Available at Live Oak Public Library and on Amazon.

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