Journaling and Drawing Your Grief Metaphor

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: March 25, 2024

Grief is a journey often difficult to navigate with words alone. Sometimes, the feelings and experiences are so profound that conventional language fails to capture them fully.

This is where the power of metaphors, combined with the therapeutic practices of journaling and drawing, comes into play. By engaging in these expressive activities, you're not just exploring your grief; you're externalizing something deeply held, and in putting your feelings on paper, you lighten some of the emotional load.

Much like an iceberg hiding most of its mass underwater, the grief experience is vast and complex, with its most significant parts often unseen. What we observe on the surface—tears, silence, or even moments of laughter—is just a small indication of the profound depth of emotions and memories that lie beneath. This hidden depth contains the true substance of our grief, encompassing the pain, love, and myriad emotions that aren't easily visible to the outside world.

See what I did there? I used a metaphor to describe grief. A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares one thing to another, shedding light on our feelings by linking them to more familiar images or concepts. Here is another one: coping with emotions is like navigating through a dense forest; it's not just about the trees you see but also the unseen paths between them. Metaphors offer a bridge, helping us to express those feelings that defy straightforward description.

The Power of Metaphors in Expressing Grief

Metaphors serve as bridges, connecting the tangible with the intangible, making the complex emotions of grief more accessible and understandable. They allow you to step outside the literal aspects of your loss, offering a new perspective on your experiences and emotions.

Think of grief as a landscape—sometimes it's a stormy sea, other times a barren desert. By identifying with a metaphor that resonates with you, you're laying the groundwork for deeper exploration and healing.

Blending Journaling and Drawing: A Dual Approach

Journaling and drawing can be powerful outlets for your grief, each offering distinct benefits. Journaling provides structure and clarity, helping you to articulate thoughts and feelings. Drawing, on the other hand, taps into the visual and intuitive aspects of your experience, often revealing emotions you might not have words for.

You don't have to choose between writing and drawing. Some days, words might flow freely, while on others, images might emerge more naturally. Consider your journal a safe space where both words and visuals can coexist, each adding depth to the other.

Categories of Metaphors for Grief

Choosing the right metaphor category to reflect your experience of grief is a deeply personal process, one that can illuminate your path through sorrow in unexpected ways. This choice is not just about finding a description that matches your feelings; it's about discovering a framework that resonates with your internal landscape, offering insights and avenues for exploration. There is no right or wrong choice, just choose what feels true to you:

Nature Metaphors

Nature metaphors for grief draw on the elements, seasons, and landscapes to describe the emotional journey. For example, grief can be likened to a storm that sweeps in unexpectedly, bringing turmoil but eventually passing to reveal clear skies. Alternatively, it might resemble the seasons—winter symbolizing the cold, barren periods of loss, and spring representing rebirth and new growth in the aftermath of sorrow. These metaphors emphasize the cyclical and ever-changing nature of grief, suggesting that just as the natural world evolves and adapts, so too can individuals navigate their way through grief.

Journey Metaphors

Journey metaphors depict grief as a path or voyage, filled with obstacles, crossroads, and destinations. This path might be winding, reflecting the unpredictable nature of grief, or it could be uphill, symbolizing the effort required to move forward. Such metaphors highlight the idea that grief is not a static state but a process—one that involves progression, setbacks, and eventual acceptance or adaptation. They encourage the bereaved to view themselves as travelers, bravely navigating through the landscape of loss toward healing.

Object Metaphors

Object metaphors for grief utilize everyday items or structures to symbolize the weight or presence of grief. A common example is comparing grief to a heavy cloak that one carries around—visible to some extent but primarily a personal burden. Another might be a locked box, representing the hidden or suppressed aspects of grief. These metaphors can be powerful in conveying the tangible and often overwhelming nature of grief, as well as the idea that it is something carried with us, shaping our experiences and interactions.

Personification Metaphors

Personification metaphors bring grief to life by attributing human characteristics or behaviors to it, or by embodying it in animals, mythical creatures, or archetypes. For instance, grief might be envisioned as a shadowy figure that follows you, a constant companion that changes form but never fully disappears. Alternatively, grief could be represented by an animal, such as a wolf, which signifies the wild, untamable nature of grief, or a phoenix, symbolizing rebirth and transformation following loss. Archetypal figures, such as the Wanderer, the Warrior, or the Healer, can also serve as metaphors for the roles individuals assume or the phases they go through in their grief journey. These personifications encourage a deeper engagement with grief, allowing individuals to recognize its dynamics and influences in a more relatable, vivid manner.

Taking Action: From Metaphor to Movement

Once you've identified a metaphor, use it as a starting point for exploration and action. Here are a few steps to guide you:

  1. Expand Your Metaphor: Write or draw more about this metaphor. If your grief is a stormy sea, what does the sky look like? Is there land in sight?
  2. Personal Reflection: How does this metaphor relate to your current feelings or situation? What insights does it offer about your grief journey?
  3. Set Intentions: With this metaphor in mind, consider small, tangible actions you can take. If you're navigating a storm, what tools do you need to weather it?

Why This Matters

Through journaling and drawing metaphors of grief, you're not just expressing your feelings; you're actively participating in your healing process. These creative practices offer a way to visualize and confront your grief, making the intangible more tangible and the unspeakable more speakable. As you continue to explore these metaphors, remember that your journey through grief is uniquely yours. It's not about moving on but moving forward, with your metaphor as a guide.

If this exploration has sparked something in you, consider joining the Awaken Online Grief Support Program. Here, you'll find a community that understands and supports your journey, offering tools and resources to help you navigate grief with mindfulness, meditation, and creativity. Let's explore this path together, finding strength in our shared experiences and resilience in our individual stories.

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Living with Grief and the guided journal, From Grief To Peace. She is the creator of the Mindfulness & Grief System that is featured in the Handbook of Grief Therapies (2023) and is the founder of Awaken, a mindfulness-based online grief support group. Heather also hosts the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, and offers mindfulness-based grief support online through her organization, the Mindfulness & Grief Institute. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She currently lives in Falling Waters, WV.

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