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Some Ways To Make Sense Of Grief - An Offering.

If you are currently grieving I am sorry for your loss. You may find this post helpful. Equally you may not – you may find that it touches on feelings and concepts that are painful or just stir up too much difficult inside stuff. That’s fine. Leave it and come back; read it and ignore it; get halfway through and stop. You are in charge of using this post in the way that feels useful for you. Be mindful of yourself and be kind.

There are several theoretical “models” of grief. A model of grief is a theoretical way of visualizing an invisible, difficult to describe, unique to everyone experience.

An incredibly famous model of grief is the one known as the five stages of grief. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

This model was developed by a woman called Elisabeth Kubler Ross. And I think she is amazing. This is not the place for fangirling but she revolutionized the way we approach working with the dying; including things like being concerned about their feelings and telling them what’s going to happen to them.

These five stages are actually stages she observed in dying people coming to terms with their impending death. They were never intended to be a roadmap for grief. That’s not to say that these emotions and experiences definitely won’t be a part of one’s grief journey, and they also might even happen in that order.

There are other stages-of-grief type models. For example Freud spoke of “Grief work”, Worden identified four specific tasks, and Rando offers her wonderfully alliterative six R’s. These are all incredibly valuable contributions to the field.

But stage models get misunderstood. They have often been interpreted to mean that grieving is a linear progression from the initial acutely painful moment of loss back to happiness and a pre-bereaved state. But each bereaved person will be facing their own unique experience, and if their experience differs significantly from that set out in the stage-based models that could isolate them further. If well-meaning family or friends are looking for, even encouraging, the bereaved to progress to the next step of the model that can get in the way of simply supporting them in their grief.

So here are a couple of non-linear theories models for you to consider. They are simply ways that various people have developed to understand what may be happening to someone whilst they are grieving, they are loose frameworks not definitive rigid instructions.

They may make sense to, and be of use to, you; they may not. If not, feel free to discard and ignore – you are the person who is experiencing your grief journey and you are the person who is best placed to know what information may be helpful.

Lois Tonkin developed the concept of growing around grief. You may have seen this one before – it fits very neatly into a meme and I borrowed this image from This is the idea that when grief is fresh and new it completely fills up your world and your life – the grief is everywhere and there’s no avoiding it. A common conceptualization has often been that the grief will get smaller, less intrusive, fade away over time. But to Lois Tonkin it felt more true to say that the grief stays the same size but that our lives grow larger to accommodate the grief and to allow space for all the grief, as large and as painful as it was when it was new, and also the griever’s life and learning and experiences which will have carried on after the loss occurred.

Stroebe and Schut developed the Dual Process Model where a bereaved person, they say, moves between loss-focused and restoration-focused positions. Grief is not a linear progression from one step to the next, but a moving back and forth between these two positions. It is important and healthy to experience both positions and to move from one to the other, and then back again. The loss-focused position is where the griever looks back at what has been lost. This is a sad-feeling, remembering-and-honouring way of being. Stroebe and Schut suggest this helps the bereaved person to slow down, to heal from their pain and to accept and adapt to their new life without their loved one. The restoration-focused position is a more forward-looking, life-rebuilding and future-planning way of being. This can feel less painful, or painful in a different way. It is the position in which the bereaved person remembers that they still have their own life to live.

I would love to know, if you would like to share, what your thoughts are on these models? Do any of these fit with your own grief experience? Have you discovered your own way to make sense of grief?


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