The Healing Power of the Pen

Alice J. Wisler, Novelist & Writing Coach

 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

by Alice J. Wisler

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”

and “whys.”


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).

Visit Alice at Writing the Heartache and Alice’s Patchwork Quilt.

Comments Welcome.

5 thoughts on “The Healing Power of the Pen

  1. Alice,
    What you have written could have been wrenched from the heart of my own daughter after the lose of her own child. I was deeply touched by what you have written. In her case, she later went on to become a Consultant for bereaved parents.


  2. Thanks, TIna, for having me as a guest on your blog today—a very significant day—the day my Daniel died fifteen years ago.

    And to the reader with the comment above, thanks for reading and for sharing! So glad writing has helped you!


  3. Thank you for your post. I have one beautiful son, and I don’t know what I would do without him. I wrote a short piece about something my husband and I experienced not long after our son’s birth. My husband’s mother died, and she never met her youngest grandson. Writing the story gave me a sense of peace I would not have otherwise.


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