Grief Timeline

Group size:  1 - 30

Purpose:  Explore grief in an expressive way, to create group cohesion, create a pathway for healing and to normalize the grieving process.

Props Needed:  art supplies, drawing paper. Grief Timeline Handout.

Activity Preparation:  Familiarize yourself with activity, and Stages of Grief.  Remain observant of participant’s expression of grief. Important for facilitator to remain supportive and non-judgmental of a participant’s expression of grief. With larger groups it may be helpful to have co-facilitators in the event someone needs some individual time.

Prep time needed:  10 minutes. Have art supplies and drawing paper and Grief Timeline Handout at each table for participants. Participants can gather into groups.

Time needed

  • Directions: 10 minutes
  • Activity: 20 – 25 minutes
  • Debrief: 15 - 20 minutes

Set Up:

  • This activity may be best sequenced after the group has developed some rapport.
  • The activity can be accomplished in any setting: individual or group setting.
  • Participants may be seated in a classroom or gathered around in a circle

Activity Directions:

  • Have enough supplies and Grief Timeline Handout for each member of the group.
  • Create a safe, supportive, and creative space for members to explore their grief.
  • Give members 20 – 30 minutes to do the activity.
  • Invite participants to share their timeline with one another and group.

Facilitator script:  “Lets gather around and take a look at the table. Before you are art supplies and drawing paper and a Grief Timeline handout. Today’s activity is doing a Grief Time Line. In the recovery / wellness journey, there may be many losses: loss of personal time, loss of trust, of one’s drug of choice, of one’s image of how life would be, the self-image created in addiction or in chaotic choices in life, of loss of one’s lifestyle. One may experience a loss of hopes and dreams, of one’s spiritual connection. We may have had Deaths occur.

It's important to acknowledge that in the reality of death, grief and loss, that grieving is a normal process. The response is a very personal and individual one. The renowned psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004) wrote extensively on death and dying and the grief process.” On Death and Dying” (1969). Lets explore the Five Stages of Grief developed by Kübler-Ross:

Stage 1: Denial - a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept the facts. “There is absolutely no way this could be happening!”

Stage 2: Anger – emotional expression; outward or inward; a person can be angry with self or others, the person who died. “How could they do this (to me) (to themselves)? I cannot believe I am even having to deal with this too!”

Stage 3: Bargaining – or seek to negotiate a compromise or different outcome. “I promise. I quit today. If you help me stay quit from these drugs/alcohol or behaviors, I will never  (fill in the blank) again.

Stage 4: Depression -  sadness over the loss; emotional acceptance without personal attachment. “I hate this disease – everyone around me has died or left me. I am all alone. My family has disowned me – they will never trust me or love me again. I don’t even know who I am anymore.”

Stage 5: Acceptance – emotional attachment to the loss and objectivity. “This disease is killing me.  I just don’t know what else to do. I have got to do something right now or I will be another statistic just like the others.”


For this next part, we are going to dig a little deeper of how grief and loss show up in our journey. There are times when grief or loss is not dealt with. Sometimes we just shove it to the inner recesses of our mind, block it out intentionally or unintentionally. However, if we leave it alone, never dealing with it, grief or loss has a funny way of coming to the surface in the most unexpected times of our life.

This activity is designed to explore grief in an expressive way, to normalize the grief process, and create a supportive pathway for healing.

On the Grief Timeline handout you have an arrow that faces to the top of the page. You are going to create a grief timeline from today as far back as you choose. I want you to think about your active addiction/illness and your recovery/wellness journey.

One the left side of the page you will write down the events that represent grief/loss, all that has been lost and when the loss occurred. Try to plot events in sequence from bottom (oldest events) to top (most recent). You can write the year, or month/year if multiple events in one year. Or you can also use your age to help you keep track of when the loss occurred. For example:  Best friend died, 5/2015.

Also be sure to enter on your timeline: Sobriety / Wellness date.

One the right side of the page write the Stage of Grief associated with each loss. This does not have to be exact. I encourage you to just think about the event, how you experienced the event or getting the news at that time, and how that experience is associated with a grief stage.

Lets take about 20 minutes to write out your timeline.

Now, I encourage you to share with your group members your timeline.

Now that you have shared with one another, is there anyone who would like to share their timeline with the class?



  • What was hard about this activity? What was easy?
  • What might it feel like to be free from grief?
  • What emotional sensations did you experience?
  • What physical sensations did you experience?
  • What is liberating about this activity?
  • What events did you identify ßwith the Acceptance Stage of Grief?
  • What tools / resources were important for you to achieve acceptance?
  • What have you learned about yourself as you identify the stages of grief and your events?
  • What do you need to move forward in your identified stage of grief to the next stage?
  • What one action step will you put in place to help you in your healing process?


Recovery / Wellness Metaphor: It is interesting that grief and loss is one area that can be universally uncomfortable or difficult for people to accept or manage. This activity is designed to normalize the grieving process, and encourage a supportive pathway for healing.

Role of Facilitator: Introduce and guide the activity. Remain observant of participant’s reaction or response to their timeline or that of others, and to participant’s expression of grief. Remain supportive and non-judgmental of a participant’s expression of grief.

Variations: Participants may clip pictures from magazines and make a collage of their timeline in the form of a vision board.

Where to Find It/How to Make it:

Source:  Adapted from Grief Cycle Model first published in On Death and Dying