(Based on Threads of Life Resource Guide for Volunteer Family Guides, from Joanne Overbeck, Dallas TX)

Writing, in any form, can provide a powerful catharsis. It brings up memories and rekindles feelings. Writing helps you revisit emotions that are important for healing, and express and release those feelings on paper.  One very helpful tool for those dealing with a loss is detailing a personal loss history. A loss history highlights how you and your loved ones have dealt with past losses.

The information included in the loss history is an indicator for how you will deal with your current loss. Understanding what is normal for you, your loved ones and relatives can be invaluable to your healing.

First, list the losses that have affected you. Include not only deaths, but also divorces, injuries, job losses, illnesses (mental and physical), major moves, etc. Some people find it helpful to plot these on a timeline with your approximate age or the year they happened. Then, look at how you handled each loss. Questions that you could consider include:

  • Do you make family visits to the cemetery? How often?
  • Do you remember deceased relatives on their birthdays or the anniversary of their deaths?
  • Do you ever talk about deceased relatives?
  • Are you ashamed of an illness or deformity or do you talk about it openly?
  • Is it okay for family members to be sad? Or is that considered a weakness?
  • Did you discuss the details of a divorce or did you know not to ask?
  • What are your family mottos (e.g. “That’s in the past,” “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” “It’s important to remember the dead”)?

By examining the information that comes from the answers, you become aware of and begin thinking about how you view loss. This awareness will help you understand your coping mechanisms. There are no right or wrong ways to grieve – as long as your actions are not destructive – but it may be helpful to know what to expect from yourself and from others. Most of us have blind spots in dealing with our losses.


This article was first printed in Threads newsletter, Spring 2016.

Susan Haldane