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Helping People Deal with Loss
Through the Journaling Process
Journey of Hearts
A Healing Place in CyberSpaceTM
Helping Families Deal With Loss
Through the Journaling Process

by Katherine Dorn Zotovich

Today more and more American families are involved in the care of their loved ones.  Often that creates a change in family dynamics, routines, reassigning roles, economic hardships and demands on adult time and emotional stress for all family members involved.

Long term illness impacts family life, especially if the loved one is being cared for at home.  Illness can be sudden as with heart disease or it may creep into someoneís life in stages as with Alzheimerís disease.  Our loved one may be dealing with the loss of their health, independence and in some cases, the ultimate loss of life.  The family will be dealing with these losses as well. The changes associated with the disease impact our loved one, our children and us.

Change creates loss and loss creates grief. These changes can be frightening for children and teens. Children and teens may experience a wide range of emotions.  They need love and support to help them cope with the grief associated with change and loss. All too often, many caregivers are too overwhelmed by their own shock, sadness and grief to notice their children are grieving too.  For children, as adults, there is no magic wand in overcoming grief.  Grief is a process; it is as individual as the people going through it are.  The stages of grief are not linear.  There will be ups and downs, peaks and valleys and the inevitable bumps in the road.  Shock, denial, anger, regression, guilt, bargaining and finally acceptance are the myriad of emotions that are part of the healing process called grief.

A grieving child or teen needs reassurance that he/she will be cared for and is loved. It is important to take the time to discuss the disease with children so they can understand what is happening to their loved one.  It is extremely important to listen to your child verbalize their fears, anger, confusion and doubts.  Grief and the feelings it evokes are natural responses to loss. Children should be encouraged to let their sadness out by sharing their thoughts, feelings and memories with trusted listeners.  One can become a trusted listener by encouraging them to express themselves though drawing, writing and sharing their feelings and thoughts; this can be enhanced through the process of keeping a journal.

For some children keeping a journal is a wonderful way to facilitate the grieving process.  Encourage them to draw about their feelings, to create "heart art."  Young children think symbolically rather than with the use of written words.  Pictures help to reveal a childís thinking. Drawing actually helps children find their words as they describe what they have drawn, or tell a story about the art. In addition journal exercises can provide opportunities for gentle discussions and can offer insights into a childís fears and misconceptions. Keeping a journal allows children to creatively express themselves.  Their drawings can be used as a springboard for caring conversations.  For children and teens, writing in a journal can give them permission to record their feelings and emotions.  It allows them to feel close to their loved one and remember happier times.  It also provides an opportunity to say good-bye.  This is a very important step towards acceptance in the grieving process.

Adults may also want to work in their own journal.  Keeping a journal will provide an opportunity to record feelings, thoughts and memories of the loved one.  This simple technique is one of the most empowering and healing acts a person can do.  In the journal one can write about feelings of anger, guilt, confusion, resentment, the sadness, loss, fears, as well as feelings about the family and loved one.  Keeping a journal can create a tremendous modeling resource for children or teens: modeling desired behavior is a powerful teaching tool. Creating a journal also can create a connection to the loved one.  The journaling process, like grief, is not linear.  Revisiting entries at a later time is an important step in being able to accept and go forward with your life.  Keeping a journal provides adults children and teens with a cherished piece of memorabilia that may be helpful to revisit periodically within the grieving process.

Remember children are also experiencing life.  They are not in a "getting ready" phase.  They are "living it." Because disease, disability and death are a part of real life experiences they will inevitably touch children and families somewhere along the process of living.  Coping with the loss of a loved one can be one of the most difficult challenges adults and children will ever face.  To understand the grieving process and to be guided through the stages of grief by the loving gentle hands of a caring, compassionate adult empowers children and teens and helps them to cope with the process more effectively.  Teaching our children to cope with grief and loss provides them with important coping skills that will serve them well the rest of their lives.  Keeping a journal is simple, powerful tool for those facing difficult issues of the heart.

About the Author:
Katherine Dorn Zotovich has been involved in elementary school education for more than 23 years. She has a Masters Degree in Education from Point Loma University in Southern California, where she specialized in school counseling, earning a Pupil Personnel Services Credential. She has taught preschool and grade levels Kindergarten through sixth. In addition she has donated time as an elementary school counselor helping "at risk" youth.
Having a personal experience as a caregiver, as the primary caregiver for her elderly parents since 1993, Katherine realized there was little or no material available to help children and caregiving families manage their grief.  She developed the Journalkeepers memory books, combining a passion for art with twenty-five years of experience as in education and school counseling.  Writing her own journal as a member with a local Artistís Way group inspired her to create the My Memory Maker and Making Memories journal resources.

Journalkeepers provides creative journals for the young and the young at heart as well as other helpful resources. These journals are child-centered and easy to use. The goal for Journalkeepers is to facilitate the power of healing, to foster communication, intergenerational understanding and acceptance, and to promote positive self esteem. The Journalkeepers website, www.journalkeepers.com contains art and photo galleries, a scrawl wall to post messages and resource pages with extensive links to other caregiver sites.



Journey of Hearts receives no revenue from including this article.

Last updated July 30, 2000

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