In preparation for our mother’s 90th birthday, my sister requested that each of Mother’s children photograph the quilts mother had, over the years, given to us, our children and grandchildren. My sister was designing a “quilt book.”

Clipping and snipping, she was fashioning a chapter for each of Mother’s children. Our individual stories were being braided into the story of Mother’s life, symbolically depicting her sharing of each of our journeys as we moved through the hills and valleys of our own experiences.

While Mother did not live to view the final product, the overall goal for designing the quilt book had been achieved. For it was the process, the very undertaking of its creation, that achieved the outcome. The process unlocked memories and stimulated the telling and retelling of stories – of narratives that needed to be shared and reexamined in order to ease past hurt, and thereby weld generational bonds.

While my mother had not been ill when the idea for the quilt book formulated, I recognized that for about two years previous, she had been actively engaged in a process of life review. I initially observed little notes inside some of her teacups and tags attached to some of her other “treasures.” She shared that the tags named the person she desired the object to be bequeathed to.

I was also very much aware that during this period, Mother spoke much of her relationship with her own mother. I had never before heard her speak of most of the things she discussed. And most significantly, during these conversations, she “dared” to say things that had been less than positive about her childhood and her early life.

My mother lived the motto: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  Yet, this unaccustomed behavior and her descriptions of events the ways she saw them, and the sharing of her emotions around these circumstances, were an important part of her process of sorting and then of reframing the aspects of her life that had not been the way she would have liked them to be.

What is Life Review?

A number of decades ago Eric Erickson and Robin Butler 1, 2 described the process of “life review.” These theorists characterized life review as a time of “sorting.” Erickson viewed the process as a time of “determining if the gods are pleased with the life that has been led.”

Butler perceived the life review to be a time of doing a “balance sheet.” According to these theorists, in doing a life review, we examine the life we have led and conclude with feelings of integrity – feelings that we have done the best we could, or feelings of despair that our life had not turned out the way we would have liked it to.

And therein lies a great opportunity for those of us who walk beside another in their time of processing the events and circumstances of their life.

Stimulating the Process

I have come to recognize that the life review is a process that is stimulated bit by bit. The pace of the stimulation appears to be directly related to the urgency as well as to the length of time the process will require relative to the circumstances. While the life review is naturally stimulated by a crisis event, it can also be stimulated naturally and therapeutically by visits, photographs, history books, news reels, music, song, art, etc.

Once memories have been stimulated, they can be reviewed. Happy memories can be relived and re-enjoyed, and ways can be found to release the emotional load of the difficult memories. In most cases, all that is required in the releasing of difficult memories is the sharing of a painful story with a trusted other.

Portions of this article were previously published in Humane Health Care International (2001). Permission to reprint is granted.


1). Erickson, E. (1963). Childhood and Society, 2nd ed. Horton.

2). Butler, RN (1982). Aging and Mental Health: Positive Psychosocial and Biomedical Approaches, 3rd ed. Mosby.

Jane A. Simington, Ph.D. 2011

Jane Simington

Dr. Jane A. Simington, Ph. D., is a bereaved mother, a grief and trauma management specialist. She is the owner of Taking Flight International Corporation and the developer of both the Trauma Recovery Certification Program and the Grief Support Certification Program. She is the president of the Canadian Association of Trauma Recovery Providers. Therapist and professor, she combines her background in both Nursing and Psychology, with her own experiences of grief, trauma, growth and transformation, with an extensive knowledge of complimentary healing methods. A frequent media guest she has been featured on hundreds of radio programs and print features as well as a number of television appearances. Dr. Simington is a frequent keynote and conference presenter. Jane’s work is featured in her internationally sold books, Journey to the Sacred: Mending a Fractured Soul, and soon to be released Through Souls Eyes,(endorsed by Dr. Bernie Siegel and Dr. Joan Borysenko, the booklet, Responding Soul to Soul, the award winning films, Listening to Soul Pain and Healing Soul Pain and on the CD’s, Journey to Healing, Releasing Ties That Bind, and Retrieving Lost Soul Parts. Dr. Jane A. Simington has been awarded the YWCA Woman of Distinction for Health & Medicine, Global Television’s Woman of Vision. She has been profiled as the “Nurse to Know” in The Canadian Nurse Journal, and as an Alumnus Acknowledge in the Green and White, The University of Saskatchewan Alumni News. In June, 2012, Jane was honored by CARNA and presented the prestigious Life-Time Achievement Award

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