Writing for relief

Categories: Care and People & Places.

After her partner died suddenly in 2017, author and lecturer Sam Shakes established a writers’ group at St Joseph’s Hospice in east London to help bereaved people process their grief through writing. Here she tells us why this form of expression is so beneficial.

Author Sam specialises in books that combine autobiography, fiction and self-help, as well as stories that use narrative-based medicine. She explains: “Narrative-based medicine allows the person to tell their story so you can find out what triggered their illness or to behave in a particular way, and start to make sense of it. My first book was published in 2010 and it’s actually 70 per cent my journal.”

When her partner died she used writing as a way to come to terms with her own grief. “Sometimes you’re not able to process your thoughts as they just keep wandering around. But often if you write down the thoughts that keep racing around in your mind it helps you to see what’s really going on.”

“I wrote everything down as soon as he passed away, that was the only way I could channel some of what was going on” she explains. “I then went and had bereavement counselling at St Joseph’s Hospice, but for four months I was wandering around with my notepad writing things down.”

“When I got to the hospice I realised there were support groups for art therapy, tai chi and all sorts of other things, but there wasn’t a writers’ group. So I asked if I could establish one, and they said yes.”

The group started in September 2017. “After the first two months we realised we were gaining a lot from writing. We would write for 45 minutes in silence, and then we would share it if we felt like it. Some of what was being shared we’d discuss, and talk about the anger or the shock, or whatever the feelings might have been.”

“Then we thought it was a bit selfish that we were keeping this to ourselves, because we thought there may be others that could benefit from the poems and the conversations we were writing. We decided to publish a book. It was titled Good Grief and it became a fundraiser for the hospice. It sold about 180 copies and raised over £400.”

In terms of what’s in the book, there’s a whole range of styles and content. “Some of what people write are conversations, like ‘Hi, how are you? Where are you? Are you okay?’ Sometimes people imagine what their lost one might be saying. And there are poems, prose, letters. There are various subjects there – there’s shock, there’s anger, sadness, questioning and spirituality.”

She says one of the reasons writing can be so beneficial to someone who is bereaved is that people lose their inhibitions. “We can almost hide behind it. There is something about it not being me – it’s the writing. There are no inhibitions about what you’re exposing and we can go under the guise of it being creative, even though it is actually us speaking.”

The next Writing for Relief workshop runs from Sep 30 – Nov 4 at St Joseph’s Hospice. For more information and to find out more about Sam’s facilitator training events visit Sam Shakes or email her on samshakes1@gmail.com