We each have a story to tell, and sharing it is vital to our emotional wellbeing. Some of us choose to express our stories through art, music, dance. I chose writing through my grief. I wanted to capture the maelstrom of emotions that swirled within me each time I remembered when my 13-year-old daughter Elizabeth was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer.

Writing Through Grief

I began to write one day following her first surgery. I wrote of my shock, fear of the unknown future, and feeling like an alien in a medical world that I didn’t understand. Slowly, I began to feel a whisper of relief.

I also wrote about the plethora of chemotherapy treatments, complicated procedures, and plans for future surgeries. By writing down what was happening in detail, I had the opportunity to reread this information and ask questions of the nurses and doctors later . In time, this helped me to become more familiar with our new medical world.

Writing through grief also gave me the opportunity to remember my daughter’s wisdom. Once, she said to me, “Mommy, I want you to remarry one day and be happy. I want you to go back to read to children again like you did in my first grade.”

Writing Helped Me Mourn

Elizabeth expressed what she hoped for me if she didn’t survive. And after my daughter’s death, when I was in a tunnel of grief, I wrote about my feelings that I would never recover, that my meager strength was not enough to get me through each day, and how could I be a good parent to my surviving teenage daughter, Olivia?

And slowly, ever so slowly, I began to recognize and capture moments when I found peace. It might be walking along a woodland trail or on a beach by the sea. I felt “lighter” after having lunch with a close friend, or when I smiled watching children playing on a playground.

Impact of Writing on Mental Health

As I wrote myself out of my nightmares and into a world of acceptance, hope, and possibilities, I wondered how this simple act of putting pen to paper could make such a significant impact on my mental health. I began to read research studies, especially those by James Pennebaker, MD, who links writing for at least 15 minutes a day to improved wellbeing.

In one such study, a group of renal cancer patients wrote for 15  minutes a day for several months, and a different group of renal cancer patients didn’t write. Pennebaker discovered that the group of patients who wrote about their experiences had better psychological outcomes.

Also during my research, I discovered a new term: “narrative identity,” which means that the stories we tell about ourselves and the meaning we give to a life after adversity will shape our future wellbeing. This realization of personal growth and change doesn’t happen in the moment but only after reflecting upon how we recorded our life stories during adversity or after trauma.

Our Grief Stories Propel Us

Writing about my traumatic experiences and realizing how much this helped me to process my grief propelled me to reach out to others who are suffering. Each week, I bring journals to the children’s hospital where Elizabeth received her treatments. I speak about the healing power of writing with parents and their adolescent children. The responses have been overwhelmingly positive.

My story may be different from yours because of the specifics of my daughter’s illness. But in terms of a story of love, loss, and learning to live again, it is reflective of the stories of millions who have loved deeply, suffered greatly, and discovered new understandings and even gratitude for the gift of life again.

How We Tell Our Stories

We are the captains of our stories, and how we tell them will affect our psychological wellbeing. When we can write down the high points, the low points, and the turning points, we build a foundation upon which we will add more stories telling of our life’s experiences. In time, we will build a healthier and better understanding of ourselves.

Author Bio

Faith Wilcox is the author of Hope Is A Bright Star: A Mother’s Memoir of Love, Loss, and Learning to Live Again, published in June 2021. Faith is also the author of Facing Into The Wind: A Mother’s Healing After the Death of Her Child, a book of poetry.

Read more by Faith Wilcox on Open to Hope: https://www.opentohope.com/8-ways-to-find-c…rt-when-grieving/


Faith Wilcox

I had a journey from shock and fear at my young daughter’s cancer diagnosis to anguish and despair at her death just a year later, and finally to peace and acceptance of my new life. When my thirteen-year-old Elizabeth was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, I was in awe of my courageous child, who faced her plight straight on and inspired all who met her. Despite an army of medical professionals who provided innovative care for Elizabeth, she died, and I and my surviving daughter, Olivia, were thrown into a maelstrom of grief, yet we found unexpected comfort in the arms of our family, friends, and community. I faced another shock when I had my own cancer diagnosis while navigating the uncharted waters of a life I never expected. In time, I discovered moments and places of comfort and peace, and I slowly changed from a mother in despair to a woman with hope for the future. At turns, heartbreaking and heartwarming, my story reveals how abiding love can heal a family. To learn more about my story go to www.faithwilcoxnarratives.com.

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