It’s actually common for an adult to grieve for a loss that occurred in childhood, though most people aren’t aware of it. Since the Healing Power of Stories Book Group began meeting in September 2020, we’ve read more than two dozen books together, a combination of memoir, nonfiction/self-help, and fiction related to the topics of childhood loss and trauma in many forms, including my memoir, The Art of Reassembly.

Our most recent selection, What Looks Like Bravery by Laurel Braitman, tells the story of her father’s death from cancer when she was 17 (after being ill most of her life) and her deep engagement with grief starting two decades later. In addition to this one and my book, others we’ve read that center the story of early loss and healing in adulthood include Spare by Prince Harry, After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey, and Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey. I was inspired to define common elements that are often present in the adult journey of childhood grief to share with the discussion group.

The elements of this process are overlapping and recurring, not linear. The healing journey may involve:

  • Awakening to grief years after the death, often due to a sudden event or realization of recurrent experience/behavior
  • Pursuit of learning about grief
  • Excavation/reevaluation of past events, emotions, memories, understanding, decisions, including seeking information about the person who died
  • Actions/rituals/quests to integrate emerging adult perspective on the past, including recognition of younger self’s needs, limitations, and vulnerabilities
  • Forging adult connection to the person who died
  • Seeking community with other grievers
  • Finding meaning, honoring the person who died, carrying forward insights gained



[Photo by Marco Rickhoff on Unsplash]