Using the Power of List-Making to Heal Grief


The book, 52 Lists for Happiness, was a gift from my granddaughter. When I first read the title, I questioned the author’s concept. But when I opened the book and saw that Moorea Seal had divided it into four sections—Reflect, Acknowledge, Invest, Transform—I thought she might be on to something.

I’m a dedicated list maker and make lists constantly: grocery lists, To Do lists, book marketing lists, decorating lists, and more. Seal’s book contains 52 list topics hat end with action steps. Reading her lists sparked my imagination. Could list-making help the bereaved heal their grief?

It was worth a try. I began with Seal’s four headings, typed them, and added one more—assess. Tempted as I was to use her list topics, I opted to write my own. Coming up with topic sentences was a learning experience, a look at my current and past life. Here’s what I wrote.


  • List some of Helen’s positive personality traits—things that still make me smile.
  • List the memorials I created in honor of Helen’s life.
  • List the things I did to help myself in the past.
  • List the things I’m doing now to help myself.


  • List things that make me feel guilty, whether guilt is warranted or not.
  • List some of the best decisions I made on my grief journey.
  • List some of the poor decisions I made on my grief journey.
  • List ways grief has changed me.


  • List the names of those who understand my grief and walk beside me.
  • List the action steps I took to survive and grow from loss.
  • List some things I hope to do to foster healing.
  • List the grief healing books I want to read.


  • List things I want to do before I die.
  • List my two top goals for the future.
  • List the steps I will take to reach these goals.
  • List ways I can help others who are grieving.


  • List what is working best for me.
  • List things I can do for myself because I deserve them.
  • List the when and where I spoke my loved one’s name.
  • List words that describe me in the past and words that describe me now.

Writing topic sentences can be challenging so give yourself plenty of time to do it. Put the list away for several days and read it again. If you’re satisfied with the topic sentences start making lists. Keep your lists in a journal, notebook or computer file.

List-making helped me see how far I’ve come in my life journey.  I thought I’d never be happy again, but I am happy, and living a fulfilling life. Why does list-making work? It requires introspection, honesty, and a clear self-concept.  Creating topic sentences and list-making are like writing a book about yourself.

Grab a pencil or pen and start writing topic sentences now. You have lots to say!


About the Author

Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 35+ years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Association for Death Education and Counseling, Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support, and World Speakers Association. Hodgson is a Forum Moderator/Writer for and author of eight grief resources.