Is it possible, on the cobbled path of grieving, to one day imagine that you will feel strong enough to hold your grief and reach out to others in need? If you had asked me this question a decade ago after the death of my fourteen-year-old daughter Elizabeth from a rare bone cancer, I would have said no. How could I possibly carry the heavy weight of grief and be strong enough to help others who are suffering or needing help on their life’s journey?
And yet, there were moments when I saw a mother pushing a teenager in a wheelchair, and my instinct was to help them by holding open the doors to a store so they could get in easily, or when a bald child and his father walked by and I gave them my biggest smile trying to brighten their day.
In time, when my grief lessened its debilitating grip, I thought about how I could help parents and their children who are hospitalized. I returned to the children’s hospital where Elizabeth received her treatments to lead a journal writing program for parents, caregivers, and adolescent patients. From personal experience and from many research studies that I read, I learned that writing in a journal for even fifteen minutes a day can lead to improved wellbeing.
Now, I bring journals to the children’s hospital floors and speak with parents and teenage children about how writing can help to reduce stress, honor grief, and celebrate victories. I’ve received overwhelmingly positive responses to this program. And, the writing program has expanded into the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and the Pediatric Oncology Radiation clinic, with nurses, social workers, and spiritual care providers leading the journal writing program in these areas.
I believe that the instinct to help others is within each and every one of us. Many who are bereaved choose a cause to support like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Alex’s Lemonade Stands to raise money for children’s cancer, or bereaved parents whose child has died from a drug overdose talking with other parents about the opioid epidemic.
And by offering our kindness to others, we are not only honoring our loved one who has died, but we are helping ourselves too. Studies have shown that acts of kindness can:
improve emotional wellbeing;
reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol;
reduce loneliness by the connection to others;
help decrease anxiety and depression;
lower blood pressure; and
boost optimism and self-esteem.
Our lives have been forever changed by the loss of a loved person, but we have ways to honor who we have loved and help ourselves along our life’s journey.
Author the Author
Faith Fuller Wilcox believes that self-expression through writing leads to healing. Her writing is reflective of a growing body of medical research about “narrative identity,” which illuminates that how we make sense of what happens to us and the meaning we give to experiences beyond our control directly impact our physical and psychological outcomes.
Faith learned these truths firsthand when her fourteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer that took her life. Faith’s journey from grief and despair to moments of comfort and peace taught her life-affirming lessons, which she shares today through her writing. Faith is the author of Hope Is A Bright Star: A Mother’s Memoir of Love, Loss, and Learning to Live Again, published in June 2021. Faith is also the author of Facing Into The Wind: A Mother’s Healing After the Death of Her Child, a book of poetry.
A longtime resident of Massachusetts, Faith leads a journal writing program at MassGeneral Hospital for Children for patients and their families designed to give participants the opportunity to express themselves, alleviate stress, celebrate victories, and honor their grief. As co-chair of Mass General Hospital for Children’s Family Advisory Council, she works with parents and medical staff to improve the lives of patients and their families.