Much research has been done about the therapeutic benefits of writing, something I can attest to from personal experience.
My interest in expressive writing began many years ago when I first started keeping an informal journal and wrote about some of my life’s more difficult experiences. While participating in a writing circle, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 41. Rather than dropping out of the group I continued, directing much of my time to writing about my journey. To my surprise, I discovered how much better I felt writing and then reading what I had written out loud. Building upon what I learned, I have facilitated numerous writing programs over the years, including several for grieving Hospicare family members.
The Value of Therapeutic Writing
Researchers James W. Pennebaker, Joshua Smyth, and others have shown that recording experiences involving traumatic events, such as illness, care giving, and loss, can help people restore their emotional and physical health. Some individuals report that even their blood pressure drops.
When referring to this type of narrative writing, various terms are used interchangeably: therapeutic writing, expressive writing, reflective writing, and writing to heal. What people mean when they use any of the terms is writing deep thoughts and feelings about stressful events.
Therapeutic writing allows us to process, understand, and resolve the traumatic experience — to gain insight into our feelings and emotions while gaining distance and perspective.
The most important thing to remember here is that participants do not need to be “writers.” The goal is to write, and it is perfectly acceptable to explore topics other than those I suggest. To be efficacious, participants should plan to attend all four sessions.
The sessions are structured so that each may include a short guided meditation; the reading of a story, poem, or essay; 20 to 45 minutes of writing; and 20 to 45 minutes of reading out loud. Writing by longhand or typing makes no difference in outcome, and participants should write in whatever mode they feel comfortable.
So that everyone feels safe and secure, everything that is said or done in the room stays in the room — complete confidentiality is mandatory. Participants may not comment on each other’s reading other than to say “thank you” to ensure that no one receives feedback that isn’t what he or she expects to hear and that there are no negative feelings. The sessions are not designed to offer counseling.
The goal is to begin to get your thoughts on paper not to end the workshop with finished pieces. It’s a beginning … a chance to start exploring your personal experience in a way that makes sense to you in a safe and supportive environment.
What is left when someone we love has gone from our sight? What remains when a beloved person has died? What will be left of us, after we are gone? Can beauty be found in what remains?
In his book The Beauty of What Remains, Rabbi Steve Leder offers a gentle meditation upon these questions. Drawing from the lessons he has gleaned from his years as the senior rabbi of one of the largest synagogues in the world, Leder’s many miles spent walking with people ‘through the valley of the shadow of death’ have led him to understand that it is actually death that can show us how to live and love more deeply. With great compassion, Leder approaches the loss and grief that visit us because of death, and asks us to consider what gifts and opportunities might also be found there.
Of course, it’s so understandable to wish for a life without the losses and griefs of death. But Leder suggests that if such a wish were granted, while we could gain time and safety to a degree that is almost incomprehensible, we would also paradoxically lose something urgent and precious that defines our very humanity and propels us to love. In the end, Leder proposes that it is precisely the urgency of love, and the preciousness of what and who we love about living, that are an indelible quality of being human, and of the beauty of what remains when death has taken someone we love from us.
All of the great spiritual traditions wrestle with the reality of our human finitude, and give voice to our many responses to the given-ness of our mortal condition. Many stories, songs, poems, faiths, philosophies, hypotheses, and cosmologies have been crafted by our spiritual ancestors and by our contemporaries, through the millennia and modernity, to grapple with our shared condition. Steve Leder’s book is another lovely offering in this long tradition. Please join us as we explore this gentle book, and use Leder’s reflections as our guide for creating and connecting with ‘the beauty of what remains.’
Book Discussion: The Beauty of What Remains, by Steve Leder
This event will include an interactive discussion of the book, The Beauty of What Remains. Rebecca Schillenback will lead us through an exploration of spirituality, grief and what can be learned from this book. Held via Zoom. Registration is required by September 20th. For more information contact the Bereavement staff via phone at 607-272-0212 or send an email. Login details will be provided after registration.
“When it’s really cold, the snow makes a lovely noise underfoot, and it’s like the air is full of stars.”
? Katherine May
The water is completely still under a brilliant sky, layers of light beneath a canopy of dark clouds. The moon shone brightly above us. Walking into the lake, I admire the tiny shards of shell glittering on the rocks below, each shard clear and defined in the calm water. As we swim, I can feel the cold reaching all the way to my center, reminding me to just be, to breathe deep. Walking away, I carry the lake within me, calm and shimmering.
I wrote this reflection after completing my second cold water swim in Cayuga lake with my co-worker Sara Worden, Assistant Director of Community Engagement. Cold water swimming has been shown to have numerous physical and mental health benefits and many people engage in the practice regularly.
I became interested in this practice after reading the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat During Difficult Times by Katherine May, which is the book featured in our upcoming community book discussion.
In the chapter “Cold Water Swimming”, Katherine talks about the mental health benefits and comradery of cold water swimming. Many people are using cold water swimming to help them cope with the many losses experienced during the pandemic. It’s a safe activity that can help swimmers feel connected to the healing powers of nature and other humans.
Then, while talking with Sara, I discovered that she had had just booked American ice, open water and endurance swimmer, Jaimie Monahan, to speak at an upcoming event for the Women Swimmin’ community. After marveling at the coincidence of our shared interest and the intersection of our upcoming events, we decided to give cold water swimming a try for ourselves and committed to six swims over a two-week period.
It has been an exhilarating experience and one that has reminded me that I need to continue to stretch out of my comfort zone and look for new ways to stay healthy and care for myself as we approach the year mark of the pandemic and social distancing. To many, this might sound like a rather extreme example of self-care and I agree.
However, we invite you to join us in reflecting on what you might need to keep going during these challenging times. We hope that you will be inspired by Katherine May or Jaimie Monahan as you contemplate how to answer this question for yourself.
Tools for Navigating Grief and the Holidays during COVID
At this point it’s clear, the pandemic will change many of the ways in which we celebrate the upcoming holiday season. We usually associate the holidays with being “joyful” or “merry,” gathering with family and friends, giving gifts, and engaging in festivities and traditions. This year we will need to consider how our celebrations will need to change in order to keep ourselves and our friends, family, and community safe.
We will naturally feel some grief as we reassess what parts of the holiday we can still create and what aspects we will need to modify significantly or discard all together. Grief can manifest in many ways, and it’s important to acknowledge its impact on our physical and emotional health as the holidays progress.
Hospicare is providing support to the community at this unusual time. Programs are free and all are welcome! To RSVP for programs or for questions call 607-272-0212 or email email@example.com. Held online via Zoom. Login details will be provided after registration. Register for programs at least 2 days before event.
Winter Solace Community Memorial: Sunday, December 6. Join us at 7pm for fellowship and conversation and stay for a memorial service. Or come at 7:30pm for the program of remembrance. All in our community who are grieving, regardless of whether your loved one died on Hospicare’s services, are welcome to stop by for a time of remembrance during the busy holiday season.
Coping with the Holidays: Wednesday, December 9, 5:30-7pm. Holiday time can be especially difficult after the death of a loved one. Learn about ways to take care of yourself and honor your feelings as we head into the holiday season. Includes a presentation followed by a discussion and support group.
Yoga for Grief: Thursday, January 7, 5-6:15pm. Start the new year with self-care! Enjoy a gentle and peaceful yoga practice with Jody Kessler. No experience necessary.
Enjoy the recording of our Virtual Community Memorial. As we navigate these uncertain times, how we define and feel grief is changing. We mourn the significant loss of loved ones in our lives, as well as the 114,000+ Americans who died as a result of the pandemic. We grieve for the turmoil in our country, the loss of “normal,” and the ways in which we have had to modify our ways of life and our interactions with one another.