Losing a Loved One: Prior Losses
Some of us may feel we have encountered more than our fair share of losses in life. The emotion of grief is not restricted to the reaction to the death of a relative or close friend. It can be experienced in many situations including divorce, miscarriage, severe injury, loss of a job or pet, or even when our youngest child leaves home. These experiences can compound our grieving and it is important to acknowledge them in order to understand our particular reaction to the circumstances we are faced with today.
A good way to do this is to draw a timeline of our life and the respective losses we have endured. This not only serves as a reminder of various events and people in our lives, but helps identify our various coping mechanisms. Take the example of a timeline of a 30 year old woman named Sue:
Age 5: Dog died. Had burial in backyard.
Age 20: Best friend Anna killed in a road accident. Keep photo of Anna.
Age 22: Retrenched from work. Mum and I had a holiday together.
Age 26: Had a miscarriage. Mum and dad were very supportive.
Sue’s timeline shows several experiences of loss beginning at the very young age of 5 when she lost her family dog. Sue goes on to describe other losses such as her job, having a miscarriage and the death of her best friend due to a road accident when she was aged 20.
Now she has lost her mother, who we can see has been a major support person to Sue. If we look closely, this exercise also helps us to identify other strategies used by Sue. For example, notice the rituals Sue talks about such as burials, keeping photographs and even taking a holiday which she remembers as being helpful. Perhaps Sue will apply these very same strategies to assist her grieve the loss of her mother.
On a large sheet of paper, draw a time line of your life. Take the time to record major events which caused you to feel pain and sorrow, or other feelings similar to those you are feeling now. Write down your age at the time of the loss, together with any details you remember about how you survived that time. This exercise will not only remind you of other events and people in your life, but you may begin to understand and remember how you got yourself through those intense periods.