Tools and Resources - If Groups are Not for You


1. Set aside at least an hour in a place where you will not be disturbed.

2. Begin the letter in the typical format addressing this person by the name or title that best represents how you remember him/her. [Examples: "Dear Mom," "Dear Tommy," "My Dearest Sweetheart," "To My Best Friend."]

3. Follow the addressing with a sentence similar to this: "I have been examining our relationship lately and I have discovered that there are several things I need to say."

4. After the opening sentence, write about all the things for which you feel you need to apologize, the things you did and said for which you are feeling some regret. Have 2-5 sentences in this section.

5. After apologizing, write 2-5 sentences covering those things for which you want to offer forgiveness, the things your loved one did or said that made you sad or angry.

6. After offering forgiveness, write 2-5 sentences covering some of the positive feelings you had towards this person, feelings that you could have expressed more often during this person's life. Cover the various things you appreciated, admired, and loved about this person.

7. End the letter in a way that somehow summarizes the letter's contents, being sure to use the word "goodbye" somewhere in that closing.

Just writing this letter can be quite therapeutic. Its benefits can sometimes be enhanced by reading it to an empty chair, imagining your loved one in the chair. It could be posted in a place where you would see it often. You could read it before a mirror. You could put it in a photograph album that has pictures of your loved one.


When we heal we become able to participate in the activities and engage in the relationships that define an evolving life despite the scarring that has occurred. It is useful to make the commitment that this is your intention. Secondarily, confide in someone who cares about you that you have done so. Following is a suggested 'contract' with yourself. Fill in the blanks and don't forget to sign and date it.

My Contract With Life

I, _______________________, do solemnly promise myself and those I love to heal from the sorrow currently afflicting me. I agree to the following conditions to be commenced on the date given.

1. I will regain my physical strength and vigor to the level it was when I suffered this loss or to an even better state. I know I must take the following steps: (add more as appropriate)

a. _________________________________________ Date: ___________

b. _________________________________________ Date: ___________

c. _________________________________________ Date: ___________

2. I will refresh my mind by reengaging in a past interest such as: (list at least three)

a. _________________________________________ Date: ___________

b. _________________________________________ Date: ___________

c. _________________________________________ Date: ___________

3. I will set myself a couple of reasonable, achievable goals for learning something new that has always interested me:

a. _________________________________________ Date: ___________

b. _________________________________________ Date: ___________

4. I will actively reach out to three people in a social context, such as having dinner, going for a walk, watching an amusing video, going to an art opening.

List of folks and proposed activities:                                              Dates:

It is my intention to do the work necessary to have a fulfilling, worthy, and pleasant life.

Signed:                                                                                    Date:

Now share this contract with someone you trust and who has your best interests at heart. Being accountable is a great motivator when the task is challenging.


Buy a blank book to serve as your grief diary - something that looks nice. Whenever you have remembrances of your lost loved one or whenever you have some emotions related to grief, record your thoughts and feelings in your diary. Don't shy away from any thoughts - share the good and bad. Don't shy away from any emotions - share whatever you feel. Portray a complete picture of your loved one. Portray a complete picture of you.

This diary can be shared or kept private. It's your diary intended for your thoughts and feelings, your ups and downs: do with it what you like - just do it. It will help.


A person could make a "memory book" to remember and honor the deceased. This memory book is designed to be an ongoing, ever-expanding memorial.

1. The cover of the book could be made from some special material (a former article of clothing, a favorite pattern of the person who has died).

2. The book could hold several items:

A. Birth certificate.

B. Various photographs.

C. Menus from favorite restaurants.

D. Reminders of vacations taken.

E. Person's favorite passages from literature or scripture.

F. Newspaper announcements (birth, school events, marriage, retirement, etc.).

G. Letters sent and received.

H. Funeral service program.

I. Sympathy cards.

3. If an entire family is doing the project, each family member could be responsible for gathering materials from a particular time in the deceased person's life or from a particular role that person had (father, husband, businessman, golfer, community activist, etc.).

4. At first every other page could be blank. The blank pages would be used in the future to make comments (thoughts, feelings, additional remembrances) when reviewing the book.

5. The book could be placed in a special place.


A grieving person might want to set aside a memory jar to help in the grieving process.

1. A large jar is placed in a convenient place.

2. Whenever the survivor has a memory of the person who died, he/she writes that memory on a piece of paper and places it in the jar.

3. The survivor then periodically takes some time (perhaps the first day of each month) to sit down with the jar and review the memories that have been placed in the jar since the last review.

The Complete Book of Counseling the Dying and the Grieving by Doug Smith, MDiv, MA, MS (available through has over 100 tools and stories to help cope with grief in unique ways.

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