Alice J. Wisler was born in Osaka, Japan in the sixties. Her parents were Presbyterian career missionaries. Her experience in Japan shows up in her novels, but it is the loss of her beautiful son, Daniel, that fuels her desire to help others write through their grief. Alice presents online writing courses—-Writing the Heartache—and workshops across the country. She also has a line of remembrance cards. She is a contributing writer at Open to Hope and at the Raleigh Examiner where she writes on grief and loss. To learn more, check out her video at the end of her post.
The Healing Power of the Pen
The first year after a death of a child is like having the
worse noise possible running through your head each
day and night. There is no way to turn the horrendous
sounds off because there is no off button.
I wrote through that noise. I wrote from the heavy bag of
emotions bereaved parents must carry–anger, guilt,
sorrow and confusion, all the “what ifs” and “how comes”
I wrote of longing for a blond-haired boy with blue eyes
who laughter brightened hospital rooms. A quiet spot
under weeping willows at a local park is where I carried
my pen, journal and pain. As I wrote over the course of
many months, I was, although I didn’t realize it at the
time, providing therapy for myself.
Some days when the weather did not permit a trip to the
park and my body and mind harbored excruciating pain,
I shut myself in a room, away from my other children
and husband. I’d grab my journal and let the
experiences of the day and my feelings freely emerge
onto each white page. Grammar didn’t matter,
penmanship went out the window. These aren’t a
concern when you are writing to survive.
Writing the heartache, complete and honest, is a way of
healing. Our cry is, “Help me with this pain!” We find
ourselves lamenting as King David did in Psalm 13:2,
“How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every
day have sorrow in my heart?” David wrote many of his
psalms starting with anger and agony and gradually,
ending with hope.
Writing can do that for us. We enter into our
devastation, get a good grip on what our struggles are
and something about seeing them on paper causes us to
realize the pain is not only within us anymore. It is
shared, even if only on a sheet of notebook paper. It is
documented and the more we write, the better we are
able to understand and deal with our intense sorrow.
Some people think only the creative types write, when in
reality, writing through the pain is available to anyone
who has suffered the loss of a child. “I don’t have time,”
many say. “What will I write?” others wonder. The blank
page scares some because they think they have to fill it
with something profound.
But just writing a memory of your child or a few lines
about how you felt after he died is a notable start. If we
think of writing as a private endeavor and an effective
tool, not a paper to be graded by a high school English
teacher, we will conquer many of the doubts about our
ability. In time, we will see that writing helps us become
better in tune with our feelings and thoughts. It clarifies
our lives and gives us understanding.
Other reasons to take the time to write are:
• To experience personal growth.
• To leave a legacy or a keepsake so that there
will be recordings of what and who our child
• To demonstrate a way of cherishing our child.
• To feel a connection to our child as we
remember the things we shared here on earth.
We also are honoring our grief, our pain and what has
happened to us. We are validating its existence. As
studies have shown, writing is healthy for our minds and
Professor James Pennebaker claims that writing
actually helps the physical body when the writer is able
to open up, by sharing deep feelings on paper over a
period of time. In his study, half a group of students at
Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, wrote
their heartfelt thoughts and feelings about a stressful
event from their lives; the other half wrote about
superficial topics. Each group wrote for twenty minutes a
day, for four consecutive days.
Before writing and immediately after writing, blood
pressure and heart rates were tested and a galvanic skin
response was done. Six weeks later, the students had
their blood tested again.
The group that had written about trivial topics showed no
sign of changes. But the group that had poured their
pain onto paper, claimed writing had actually calmed
them. Their skin was drier after writing and both heart
rate and blood pressure had decreased. Their blood
work even showed an increase in lymphocytes, the
white blood cells that work to keep the immune system
Writing through the heartache of losing a child is some
of the best therapy I have found on this journey. I didn’t
know how helpful it was. I just knew I needed to
organize any thoughts and get them out on paper. Now,
four years since my four-year-old son Daniel’s death, I
see that when all the evidence is presented, there is no
reason not to write. It causes dim skies to light up when
not only the pain, but also the love and cherished
memories, are recorded.
~ Alice J. Wisler,
(First published in the Durham Herald-Sun in April, 2002).