Writing coach will help mourners write through grief during six-week course
What: Writing Through Grief with Debbie Leaman
When: 1:30-3:30 p.m. every Wednesday from Feb. 26 to April 1
Where: Jewish Family Service Park City Office, 1960 Sidewinder Dr. #103
Registration deadline: Friday, Feb. 21
Phone: Liz Anderson at 801-746-4334
Someone in the throes of loss, whether it’s the death of a loved one, a sickness or a divorce, may feel a jumble of emotions, says writing instructor Debbie Leaman.
To help people deal with these feelings, Leaman created Writing Through Grief, a six-week workshop that she will lead every Wednesday from Feb. 26 through April 1 at Jewish Family Services Park City Offices, 1960 Sidewinder Dr. Registration is open through Friday, Feb. 21. (See information box).
The nondenominational class is open to all writing levels, Leaman said.
Participants should attend the sessions with their writing tool of choice — journal, notebook or laptop.
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“My intention is to create a safe space to write out their complicated emotions that are swirling around their heads, and to share what they have written,” Leaman said. “I do want people to know that sharing is optional. No one has to read what they wrote, but there is something powerful about writing something and reading it out loud.”
Leaman emphasized that grief isn’t limited to death and illness.
“People come to these workshops for many different reasons,” she said. “Many are grieving the environment, and what is going on in the world and our country.”
Regardless of what people grieve, the emotions they experience are universal, according to Leaman.
“While everyone is there for their unique reason, once they start writing and have the option to share the work, they realize that we all feel anger, regret and guilt,” she said.
Writing Through Grief is also an expressive writing workshop that Leaman compares to streams of consciousness.
“There is no editing from brain to hand,” she said. “The writing gets all the jumbled feelings onto the page, and that helps provide new perspectives on the path of healing. Many of my past participants, including myself, have experienced the sensation of feeling lighter once you unload everything.”
Leaman will use short readings and writing prompts to spur the writers into action to start their healing.
“Writing is a therapeutic tool, but this isn’t group therapy,” she said. “The workshop is designed to complement other types of therapy that people are currently doing.”
Leaman, who has loved writing since she was a child, built the Writing Through Grief curriculum five years ago while she was teaching high school seniors how to write essays through a nonprofit called Art Access.
The organization uses arts as a means for people to tell their stories, according to its mission statement.
“Before I started teaching the class, my brother had unexpectedly died in a bicycle accident,” she said. “The Art Access director of programming suggested that we do a writing-through-grief class. I said, ‘No, thank you,’ because I wasn’t prepared to handle my own feelings of grief and bring people through the process.”
A few months later, the director approached Leaman again about creating the class, and Leaman agreed.
The experience was life changing for the participants, but also for Leaman.
“Often in our society, grief is something to ‘get over,’ and there’s some perceived notion of how much time you need to grieve and get over what you need to grieve,” she said. “What I’ve seen in my workshops is often a feeling of shame — shame that, ‘I should be over this by now,’ or shame that, ‘It’s ridiculous that I’m grieving the death of my dog.’”
That shame can result in decades of grieving, she said.
“But once we start writing, unpacking some of the complicated feelings, and share with others, we realize that we all carry around grief, often from losses years ago,” Leaman said. “One of the most powerful outcomes of my workshop was when a woman emailed me a few years later to tell me that because of this class, and how when she expressed her feelings and nobody criticized her, she was able to shed her feelings of shame and finally move on with her life.”
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