Life has its ups and downs. After a loved one dies it’s normal to feel down and depressed, but you may also be plagued by painful memories. You wish these memories would go away and leave you alone, yet they keep coming back. What can you do with painful memories?

I asked myself this question after four family memers died in 2007. When I reviewed my experiences with each of these people, painful memories came to mind, and I decided to learn from them.

First, I let the memories come. Clearly, my subconscious mind was processing information and I let it do its work. With the passage of time I was able to see these memories more clearly. If I was confronted by similar experiences today I would probably act differently. I would be more patient and better at give and take.

In an article titled, “Grief,” the Hospice World website explains that all human relationships involved positive and negative feelings and “it is important that these be brought into balance in grief.” Many humorous memories were mixed in with my painful ones, and I paid close attention to them. Remembering funny memories was healing for me, and I started to tell stories about them. Each painful memory had its good and bad parts and I filed them in my mind. 

Every time I had a negative memory I balanced it with a positive one. This conscious response is my bridge to recovery and hopefully yours. Six years have passed since I suffered multiple losses and I am doing better than I thought I would. Still, there are days when grief takes me backwards.

Larry M. Barber, a licensed counselor, Director of GriefWorks and Counseling Works, describes going backwards in a Grief Minister website article, “Grief Anniversary Dates: Milestones and Painful Memories.” Twenty years have passed since his wife and daughter died and, according to Barber, sometimes it feels like forever. “Many times when painful memories hit me and grief outbursts take place, it seems like the losses just happened yesterday,” he explains.

I’ve had times when my multiple losses seemed like yesterday. To be honest, I think this will happen again and again and have prepared myself for it. The good thing is that you and I don’t have to give up everything in your past. Earl A. Grollman, author of Living When a Loved One Has Died, thinks memories of the past can be a bridge to the future.

“Don’t try to destroy a beautful part of your life because remembering it hurts,” he advises. All of my memories, and all of yours, help make us who we are today — learning, growing, changing people who are grateful for the gift of life. So let the memories come. Sort them out and think about what they can teach you. Start building your bridge to the future now.

Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 43 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 42 books, including 10 grief resources. She is Assistant Editor of the Open to Hope website, a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Alliance of Independent Authors, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. She is well acquainted with grief. In 2007 four family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling) and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and healing. She has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at The Compassionate Friends national conference, Bereaved Parents of the USA national conference, and Zoom grief conferences. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy grandmother, great grandmother, author, and speaker please visit

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