Patricia A. Merlo, M.P.M.


Original Source Unknown

It can be helpful to review all the significant losses you have ever had, in order to discover the early childhood patterns of grieving that you were taught and learned. Very likely, you are using those same patterns to deal with your most recent loss.

Begin by charting your earliest recollection of a death or a significant loss that occurred during your when you were young. It could be the death of a person or a pet, or the loss of something important, a move, etc. Continue with other losses such as a loss of a friendship, leaving home, divorce, illness, etc. Next, indicate the significance of each loss by drawing a line next to the event. In other words, the more difficult the loss, the longer the line. You may also include other significant events in your life, both happy and sad -- marriage, children, new job, etc.

Next to each loss, or significant event, list a few words that come to mind that remind you of how you felt at the time. Remember who was there to talk to you about the loss. Remember how members of your family dealt with their feelings. Recall if others around you understood your needs and gave you the necessary time to grieve. Think back to how and what you were told about the loss.

If you have an emotional response while doing this exercise, don’t hold your feelings back. It’s ok to cry, be sad, angry, etc.

There is no right or wrong way to do this exercise. No one will judge your work and no one’s approval is required. Just be honest and do it in your own way. Take your time. Let your thoughts and feelings flow freely.


Sample Loss History Graph


My Reaction

Sister Born

Jealous, displaced

Grandfather Died

Too young to understand

Father Died

Blocked Grief

Mom Remarried

Lots of change, turmoil

Failed Grade

Embarrassed,sad guilty

First Job

Pride, grown-up

Got Married

Joyful, hopeful, optimistic, beloved

First Child Born

Awe, wonder, gratitude

Job Promotion

Weight of additional responsibility




Grief is the conflicting group of human emotions caused by an end to or a change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” (p. 97)

  • End of Life care is a practice in unrelenting loss. We need to know what our pattern of loss is to avoid leaking our unacknowledged grief into the lives of vulnerable patients and families and to allow for healthy self-care.
  • The Loss History Graph (LHG) exercise is designed to help you discover what losses have occurred in your life and which of them are most restricting to your day-to-day living.
  • It is essential that we learn to be comfortable bringing our losses to the surface ... for that is what we will be facilitating with patients and families. How can we ask them to do what we avoid or are afraid of?
  • Completing a LHG will support you in the practice of being truthful with yourself. It aims to limit distortions and support you in constructing a map of your loss history that is congruent with your lived experience.

Source:  James, J. and Friedman, R. (1998). The grief recovery handbook: The action program for moving beyond death, divorce, and other losses. NY: HarperPerennial.


Page updated 2/19/2014


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