grief and growth timeline

Crafting Your Personal Grief and Growth Timeline

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: January 29, 2024

Embracing our grief journey is like walking through a garden of memories—each step uncovers both the shadows of loss and the light of growth. In acknowledging every petal and thorn, we learn to hold our grief with gentle strength and find resilience in the most unexpected places.

Grief is a journey often marked by milestones of loss and transformation. While we wish these losses never occurred - and would give anything to reverse course - when we look back, there is an undeniable path of growth and learning.

I can refer to many moments in my life where significant life events - including the deaths of my loved ones, my divorce, financial infidelity, and illness- challenged my assumptive world. There is no denying that these periods in my life were excruciatingly hard. But when I look back at how I learned to cope and adapt to my new normal, I also see the growth. 

I now see my grief not as a series of disconnected events but as a continuous narrative of loss, resilience, and transformation.

Balancing grief and growth without denying your pain

It is important to me that I differentiate posttraumatic growth from the notion of grief as a gift. Growth through grief is not a present wrapped in tragedy. Who would want that? Instead, it is a testament to our resilience, the way we adapt and survive amidst our losses.

My life's work is one example of grief to growth. It is the death of my Uncle Doug by suicide that inspires me to serve others who are grieving. But I would give anything for my Uncle to be alive, for my mother to have her brother, for me to have grown up to be an astronaut or ballerina or something non-death related. 

But here I am, grateful to be on this journey with you and the members of my Awaken community.

Before I dive into this exercise, I want to acknowledge the idea of the right timing. If you are still swimming in a caldron of suffering, there is no need to force this kind of reflection. You could focus on your loss timeline today and then add the growth later.

Or you could dive in and work with both. Either way, simply acknowledging what you have lost is an act of self-care and validation. A compassionate nod to the part of you that hurts and the part of you that cares.

You can make space for all the feelings that arise and do not have to force those that do not.

What is a grief and growth timeline?

A Grief and Growth Timeline is a transformative tool that invites you to chart your journey through loss and discovery. It's a visual map that captures the pivotal moments of grief and the often unnoticed steps of personal growth that emerge from these experiences.

This timeline isn't just a record of events; it's a narrative of your resilience. As you plot each point of loss, you also mark the instances of strength and wisdom gained after. It's a powerful exercise in recognizing that your path through grief is not just about the losses endured but also about the subtle yet profound ways you've grown and adapted.

Mindfully recording your experience offers a unique perspective, allowing you to see your journey not as a series of isolated incidents but as an interconnected tapestry of life-changing moments, weaving together the dual threads of grief and growth.

Weaving in instances of disenfranchised grief

Disenfranchised grief refers to loss that is not acknowledged or supported by societal norms. This might include the loss of a pet, a job, or a relationship not recognized by others as significant. These losses, though often unseen, carry a profound impact. Sometimes we disenfranchise our own losses, and this timeline allows you to reflect on your truth.

Creating your grief and growth timeline

  1. Gather Your Materials: You'll need a large piece of paper, markers, and find a quiet space.
  2. Mark Your Timeline: Draw a long line across the paper. On one end, write the date of your first significant loss; on the other, today's date.
  3. Add Significant Losses: Along this line, mark and label the points of loss in your life. 
  4. Note Your Growth: For each loss, write down a change, lesson learned, or coping strategy you developed. 
  5. Reflect and Connect: Look at your timeline. Reflect on the patterns, the changes, and the growth. Connect these to how you've navigated your grief journey.

Conclusion and Invitation

Creating a Grief and Growth Timeline is a journey in itself. It's a process of acknowledging your losses and recognizing the strength and wisdom you have gained. If you find this exercise helpful or seeking more support in your grief journey, consider joining our Awaken Online Grief Support Program. Here, we explore these concepts deeper and support each other in our paths of resilience and growth.

Remember, your grief journey is uniquely yours. Each step, each loss, and each moment of growth is a part of your story. Embrace it, and let it guide you toward understanding and compassion.

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Living with Grief and the guided journal, From Grief To Peace. She is the creator of the Mindfulness & Grief System that is featured in the Handbook of Grief Therapies (2023) and is the founder of Awaken, a mindfulness-based online grief support group. Heather also hosts the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, and offers mindfulness-based grief support online through her organization, the Mindfulness & Grief Institute. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She currently lives in Falling Waters, WV.

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