Writing: A Kind of Therapy?

In this blog, Clinical Psychologist Dr Laura Williams talks about how rediscovering her love of writing was a kind of therapy and helped her through her sudden loss experience.

This week, which happens to be National Grief Awareness Week, I will begin writing for Sudden, a bereavement charity set up earlier this year, to respond to the desperate circumstances facing many bereaved by the pandemic. I am honoured and hope to help advocate for and touch the lives of families like us, who were bereaved suddenly, without warning or preparation. My experience was that there was nothing out there to assist us in our particular situation at the very beginning. Or, if there was, we were unaware of it. I am quite sure we are not the only family who have felt out on a limb, unsure which direction to point the rudder, that would steer us to the exact support we needed. Indeed, in the shock of the early weeks of our loss, I’m not sure I would have had the presence of mind or sufficient perspective to articulate what I thought we did in fact require. This is why I believe that Sudden is an invaluable addition to bereavement services in the UK. Providing early support will ensure better outcomes for those suddenly bereaved. 

In recent days, this shift in focus in my work has given me cause to reflect on my journey into writing. As a child, I loved writing. I was strangely obsessed with buying stationery. Any new, blank hardbound book was a draw to me. I would imagine writing a story that would become ‘my book’. It was such an exciting idea even then, young as I was. I recall mentally spending my holiday money, before I had even crossed the threshold of the local John Menzies. As I got older, I would begin diaries which were predictably uninspiring in their story-telling. Nonetheless, I would strive for neatness and nice sounding sentences. If what I had written fell short, I would begin again, often buying another blank book to start afresh. Eventually, I realised the books I bought were only ever perfect before they had been written in. And one day, I just stopped writing in them. 

There is such a strong analogy in there for me, aligned with both life and sudden death. Life is anything but perfect. However, any ideas you may have harboured of living a charmed life is destroyed the moment you learn of your loved one’s sudden and untimely death. In the mire of it, you then have a choice to make. Do you stop living as you had, because of the unfairness and imperfection of it all? Or do you pick yourself up and continue your life’s journey? Ultimately, I have chosen to live life and continue to write the chapters of our story. I have derived new meaning and purpose from within the experience itself. Matty’s death has encouraged me to reignite my love of the written word and to know that our imperfect story is one worth telling. I doubt I will ever stop writing now. Not only that, but writing itself has been a kind of therapy for me. It has helped me process not just the trauma of the event, but the grief that ensued. It has helped me make sense of a situation that made no sense at all. And crucially, it has helped me come to a place of acceptance that this is how life is now. We cannot control everything that comes our way. Though we can control how we respond.   

My hope is that Sudden can be the rudder, steering the ship of families suddenly bereaved.  Pointing them in the direction of the support they need, at the time that they need it. To play even a small part in that and to know that his death and our life without him may help others, is truly humbling. 

About the author

Dr Laura Williams is a Clinical Psychologist and Director of Insight Psychology and  Consultancy. You can read more of her experiences of sudden death here on Facebook or on her website.

If you, or someone you know, has experienced sudden bereavement, Sudden can help. Call us on 0800 2600 400 or contact us at help@sudden.org and we’ll arrange for a dedicated caseworker to call you back. We help from day one, onwards, for the first ten weeks of bereavement, when people are often in extreme need of care and support, suffering from shock and huge change in their lives.

Sudden is reliant on donations. We are a charity-run service. If you’d like to contribute to our crucial work, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, then please donate to Sudden. Sudden is run and hosted by Brake, the road safety charity.