13 Grief Journal Prompts from a Counsellor

Mar 29, 2024
journal prompts for grief

Takeaway: Losing someone or something is never an easy phase of life to navigate. Talking with a counsellor is one way to address the challenging psychological changes that happen after the loss of a family member (or something else), but sometimes, doing some behind-the-scenes self-reflection can lead to valuable insights for your recovery. That’s why we recommend using grief journaling as part of your healing process. By the time you finish this list of prompts, you’ll have everything you need to start journaling for personal growth in the grief process—straight from a counsellor. 


Think about a time you’ve lost something or someone. How did you feel? What thoughts went through your mind? You might have felt isolated, confused, angry, or even relieved. You and every other reader will likely answer that question differently.

Given that grief is a highly personal process, it manifests itself uniquely in each individual who experiences loss. This is also true about what people grieve; it’s not always about something tangible, like losing a loved one. You can mourn the loss of an “old” life or a life you never got to experience. 

Yet, despite the busy nature of our lives, grief has a way of leveling us and reminding us of how human the grieving process is. It’s okay not to have it all together during these emotional times, but it is important to seek support when needed. There’s strength in vulnerability, but getting to that point is difficult if you don’t have the right resources.

Whether you’re working with a counsellor like myself or the other grief therapists at Shelly Qualtieri & Associates, journaling is one of the most effective resources during the grief journey. This blog gives you some background information about grief journaling and a long list of writing prompts to begin healing your grief. 

How Do Journaling Prompts for Grief Help Your Mental Health? 

Identifying the beliefs and emotions that may hold you back from fully processing and experiencing your grief is the foundation of how we approach therapy. However, the primary therapeutic benefit of a journal entry about your grief is to allow you to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.

Journaling also has neurologic and psychological benefits because it involves parts of the brain that handle emotions, like the amygdala, which is why it’s so effective in processing grief. By writing about your feelings of loss, your amygdala regulates itself. In turn, it calms you and allows you more room to control your emotions rather than them controlling you.

13 Grief Journaling Prompts from a Counsellor 

Grief journaling is a powerful tool that helps you better understand your state of mind as you mourn loss. Your journal is a place for you to take honest steps forward toward genuine healing, allowing your future self the opportunity to live free of pain – celebrating your loved one’s memory (or the memory of whatever you’re grieving) instead of living your daily life in agony.

Plus, when you feel overwhelmed, turning to pen and paper in place of other, more harmful coping mechanisms is a more useful tool to process your grief. While a guided journal is an option, sometimes, finding prompts on your own can help you find answers to your unanswered questions more quickly.

Although there is no right or wrong way to journal (or grieve), these thirteen different prompts from a counsellor can help you get started.

1. How has your grief changed over time? 

Tracking the evolution of your grief is a helpful tool that allows you to see the shifts in frequency and intensity of your emotional responses. Like a diary meant to keep track of your life events, this prompt creates a visual trail of how you’re processing grief, which also serves as a map to help you navigate future challenges and loss. 

2. How does your grief impact your relationships with others? 

Grief permeates every inch of your life, from your ability to do your job to your relationships with others. Some people isolate themselves from friends and family after a loss, which may feel beneficial in the immediate but can be detrimental to them in the long run.

Writing about how your grief is impacting your relationship with others allows you to identify, set, and maintain, boundaries, effectively communicate your needs, and help remedy connections damaged by the grief.  

3. Write about a comforting memory of who or what you’re grieving. 

After a loved one’s death, it’s hard not to remember all the bad moments that led up to their final moments. However, ruminating on the negative may do more harm than good. Instead, spend time thinking about your favorite memories. Pretend you’re back in that moment, and write about a time in a descriptive journal page about it. 

4. Identify the emotions you’re feeling. If you can’t think of the exact name, describe what your brain feels like. 

During grief, the brain produces dozens of complex emotions, but it can be challenging to identify them. Start this journal prompt by engaging with your emotional landscape, reflecting on your feelings' intensity, breadth, and depth.

Describe the physical sensations in your brain and thoughts (positive and negative) in your mind. Ask yourself: Where is my grief trauma being stored in my body? This empowers you to move forward with your grief in a positive manner. 

5. What are you having a hard time with today? Keep a daily log of your thoughts. 

Sometimes, you have to take grief day by day. If you’re having a rough day, validate your struggle by writing out what you’re having a hard time with. This prompt uses mindfulness techniques, the act of being present in the moment, to calm you emotionally and physically. Examples of things to write about with this prompt are: 

  • Something you miss about your loved one

  • Feelings of resentment of things you missed out on 

  • What the hardest time of the day is for you 

  • Feelings of sadness after an anniversary date or missed event due to the loss 

6. Brain dump. 

Brain dumping is a journal technique used with all types of mental health conditions, but it is especially useful for grief because of its ability to help immediately reduce stress. When your mind is full of negative thoughts, trying to sift through and make sense of them is confusing. For the most effective brain-dumping session, set aside 5-10 minutes daily dedicated to getting your thoughts about grief on paper.

7. Draw what your grief looks like. 

Writing about your grief isn’t always easy. If you tend to be more artistic, try painting or drawing your grief emotions in an art journal. Whether you get in touch with your creative side once a day or occasionally, a colorful and detailed picture serves as a useful outlet for processing your emotions about the loss. 

8. Describe when you felt most connected to who or what you’ve lost. 

While the big milestones like graduations or marriages are often some of the most difficult moments after losing someone, the little ones matter too. Focus a journal entry on when you felt most connected to the person you lost or the significant change you experienced.

For example, someone who has lost their spouse or partner may write, “I felt most connected to my lost loved one when we shared quiet and intimate moments, where we could feel each other’s presence without the need for words.” Someone who lost a job might say, “I felt most connected to my work when I was able to help my patients recover after an injury. I miss that.” 

9. How can you celebrate the memory of what you’ve lost? 

Celebrating the memory of who or what you lost is one of the most essential parts of healing grief. How can you reflect on the positive moments? This question can offer a powerful reminder of how your loved one might want you to feel instead of dwelling on the negative parts of their death.

If you’re at a loss of what to write, list ways other people have celebrated people’s memories. Even that can bring more comfort in a dark time.  

10. Write down a few affirmations you can use to calm yourself when your grief consumes you. 

Affirmations are one of the most widely used tools to heal from grief. Traditionally, these are short statements used to counter negative thoughts and create a sense of resilience and self-compassion within yourself. Gradually, after exposing yourself to these affirmations for so long, your mindset can shift, allowing for emotional growth and acceptance during grief.

Some examples of affirmations are:

  • I acknowledge my pain, but I am not defined by it. I am resilient and capable of navigating through this storm.

  • I give myself permission to feel my emotions fully. 

  • I am surrounded by love and support, and it's okay to lean on others when needed. I am not alone in my grief.

11. What are your unresolved feelings? What can you forgive yourself for, and how can you start? 

Maya Angelou once said, “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.” It’s normal to have unresolved feelings, regrets, and resentments during grief; in fact, it’s actually one of the five stages of grief.

However, forgiving yourself and others is an important part of healing. Self-compassion is one of the first steps toward forgiveness. Ask questions like these to help you benign process this part of grief: 

  • How can I be more compassionate to myself? 

  • What’s my self-care plan? 

  • When can I incorporate self-care into my day?

12. Pick a song, movie, quote, or anything else representing your feelings.   

If coming up with the words to express your feelings isn’t your strong suit, look at what others say about their grief. Connecting to music, movies, or even quotes from others who have healed after losing someone or something is a popular way to facilitate your healing journey. It’s also a way to help clarify your thoughts and emotions and allow you to have better self-awareness.  Write about what you connect with most and how it relates to your grief. 

13. Write a letter to your loved one. What did you want to tell them that you didn’t get the chance to? 

Writing a letter to your lost loved one is an opportunity to express unspoken sentiments and unresolved emotions you may have written about earlier in your journal. Whether it takes a sad, angry form or a cheerful one, this letter is a safe space to express all the emotions about how you feel about the person’s life and legacy. It can even be a love letter if you've lost a partner or spouse. You can either keep the letter or dispose of it to release the feelings from your mind. 

Combine Grief Journaling with Counselling 

While grief journaling can help you heal from your loss, know that loss is a significant life event, and you deserve support. Working with a grief counselor at Shelly Qualtieri & Associates can give you the compassionate counselling you're looking for.

We use a holistic approach that combines evidence-based interventions and an empathetic, personalised approach to help those dealing with pregnancy loss, infertility, and stillbirth, among other types of grief and loss. Schedule a consultation with one of our grief counsellors to learn more. We'd be honoured to be a part of your support system through this difficult time.

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