Personal tragedy makes pensivePersonal tragedy is different from the rest of our ups and downs. It’s the moment that life is divided into before and after. Events of personal tragedy—and I hope you don’t have them—are huge mile-markers on life’s journey. Sometimes they’re difficult to write about; other times they like the only thing about which you’re capable of writing.

Writing for family members and loved ones about your personal tragedy doesn’t have to be different from how you’d write for anyone else. On the other hand, it might be. Perhaps some family members watched it unfold, brought casseroles and wiped tears, but younger generations might just have a vague recollection of what happened.

Family dynamics are almost as individual as fingerprints. Some family members are so close they’ve practically lived your circumstances with you. Others  never truly “get” it. Some don’t understand how it affected you or why it’s changed you life. Regardless, these key events unquestionably belong in your legacy of memories.

The Facts of Personal Tragedy

Sometimes the details get fuzzy. What really happened? To get everyone on the same page, a simple review of the facts of what happened can be helpful. Were there newspaper articles? Court papers? If you’d rather not rehash the details, include these instead of writing about the tragedy. (Note: writing about it can be therapeutic. Only you can determine how you want to deal with it.)

The day before it all happened

Often personal tragedy forces you to re-define what “normal” is. It’s particularly poignant for family members to realize what was “normal” before the event happened. They may only know you in your “now” circumstances. They may have forgotten what your career plans were or the direction of your journey up until that point.

A friend was recently talking to me about the events that transpired between finding out that their 12-year-son had a brain tumor and his waking up blind five days later. It’s so poignant to know the little details. It puts me in her shoes. What would I do in a hospital the night before brain surgery knowing my son might not have any vision—or worse—the next day?

Did you bumble around in blissful ignorance before the shoe fell out of the sky? (See Premonition or not… as an example.) Did you have hours or days of foreboding?  Write about it.

Journal Entries

Did you keep a journal during the immediate aftermath? Draw from it. You don’t have to include every bitter thought you had, but a few quotes can help your loved ones to realize the depth of your personal tragedy. It also helps family members to know from whom and what your drew strength.

Quotes from journals also make great photo captions. You words don’t have to be elegant to move others. I’ve seen one journal that simply read, “I didn’t know it was possible to miss a person this much.” Words from your heart will touch those who love you.

Making Loss Matter

Did the circumstances inspire you in any way? Did your brush (or collision) with personal tragedy put you on more meaningful path? Did you become an advocate for a related cause? (See: Law Student’s Struggle to Cope with Personal Tragedy Inspires Others – ABA Journal ) How you cope not only reveals what type of person you are. It answers the question that all your loved ones have, but are afraid to ask. It opens up lines of dialogue.

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