Making More Meaning of Grief

This blog is the third of a series of five blogs looking at the experience of grief and loss.  Many people seek out counselling for grief, or look to access bereavement counselling after the death of a loved one – including after pregnancy loss.  Others find speaking with a therapist to be helpful after experiencing other forms of loss, such as the feelings and challenges associated with loss of a job, retirement, children leaving home, or the loss of health or even hope.

In the first blog, we considered some of the forms grief can take, as well as the impact and effects of loss for many people.  In the second blog of the series, we looked closely at the Kübler-Ross model or  framework often used to help explain grief and loss.  In this blog, we look a couple of other models of grief that are often used to help provide some structure to making meaning of the grieving process.  We’ll explore the Tasks of Mourning Model proposed by William Worden and also take a look at the Dual Process Model of Grief was developed by Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut.

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Tasks of Mourning Model.

Let’s consider the model of grief proposed by William Worden, professor of Psychology at Biola University California.  This model was put forward by Worden in 2008, and suggests that there are four tasks to accomplish during the process of mourning.  Completion of these tasks of mourning can lead to a sense of equilibrium.  Worden is clear there is no set order in which the tasks are to be completed in and that revisiting certain tasks many times may be part of the grief process for some people. 

Task 1 – To accept the reality of the loss.

Accepting that a loss has happened is a task of mourning.  Rituals such as funerals can be helpful in acknowledging the reality of the loss. With other forms of loss this could be to recognize that losing our job, losing our status, losing our income, losing contact with family is a significant loss in our life.  It may even be to recognize a past loss that happened years ago that you have not yet acknowledged. 

Task 2: To process the pain of grief.

This task asks us to find space and ways for the pain associated with loss.  This may involve speaking with others and crying.  Processing pain may also include the expression of other difficult emotions such as anger and guilt. 

Task 3:  To adjust to a world without.

This task requires adaptation as we adjust to the change we experience as a result of our loss.  To live without our loved one.  To live without the sense of identity we once had.  To live without whatever person or cherished thing that we have now lost.  It may mean taking on different roles within our family, conducting a myriad of practical arrangements including financial decisions and also adapting socially. 

Task 4: To find an enduring connection. 

In this task, we consider how to stay emotionally connected with whatever or whoever we have lost without the loss preventing us moving on in our own life.  In this task, memories, thoughts and feelings connected with what or whom we have lost can become significant.  In this task, we remember, rather than forget.  This allows us to connect with other aspects of our life.  

The importance of time to process and self-compassion. 

Before we move onto consider one more model of grief, let’s take a pause at this point in the blog.  Take a moment to consider how you are?  How do you feel just now? And what questions or thoughts have arisen for you as you’ve read about the Tasks of Mourning Model.  Aim to notice your thoughts and feelings without judgements or self-reproach.  This is important.  Whilst learning about theories and models of grief can be helpful, they can also throw up feelings and sensations we hadn’t expected or anticipated.  Take a moment to be compassionate, kind and gentle with yourself.  What do you need just now?  Give yourself the time and the space, with kindness, to allow yourself to feel your feelings, and to find comfort in ways that feel right for you.  If that means abandoning the blog for now, so be it.

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But, if you do feel ready to read on, then, let’s take a look at the final model for making meaning of grief that we are going to cover in this blog – the Dual Process Model of Grief. 

The Dual Process Model of grief. 

Another model for making sense of the loss and grief process is known as the Dual Process Model, developed by Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut in 1999.  It helps to convey a sense of fluctuation and change that many people who experience grief describe – the sense that you feel distraught one day, and then more hopeful the next, only to find yourself sobbing and consumed with emptiness the next.  The Dual Process Model describes grief as a process of moving between two different ‘orientations’:  loss orientation and restoration orientation.

Grief is seen as a process of shuttling back and forth between these loss and restoration orientations.  In this model, grief is not understood as a linear or a one-way journey through a series of stages.  The Dual Process Model considers that people move in and out of different forms of grief, often over many years, almost as if they are zig-zagging back and forth between moving forwards and looking back. With this model, it is important to recognise that both orientations are important pats of the grieving process.

Grief can feel as if we are zig-zagging between looking forward and looking back. The path through grief rarely feels straight forward.

Loss orientation.

Loss orientation refers to a focus upon painful emotions connected with loss, and a focus on what or who has been lost.  We may yearn for the person or thing we have lost. We may find ourselves remembering and reminiscing. We may imagine what the person would say if they were still here.  We may yearn for things to be as they were “before”.  We are likely to experience a range of emotions including loneliness, sadness, fear, pain and anger.

Restoration orientation

Restoration orientation refers to a focus upon the changes and practical challenges you need to face to continue with life.   It can provide a state where we gain some respite from the loss-oriented work.  That might mean finding distraction that takes our focus away from our grief, or even living in denial of our grief.  Restoration orientation may also include doing new things, and trying out new roles and relationships. 

Your grief experience? 

And so, as we come to the end of this blog, consider what grief feels like for you?  How do you make meaning or sense of your experience of loss?  Does it help to have some sort of theoretical framework to provide a structure that gives meaning? Or does this feel far too abstract, and a world away from your visceral raw pain of grief.  There are no right or wrongs here, no best way to approach or navigate grief.  Your grief is unique to you.  Finding ways to give voice and expression to your own feelings of loss is one of the ways that counselling can be helpful for anyone experiencing loss, bereavement or grief.  In future blogs, we will look at two more theoretical frameworks for making meaning of grief, before considering support for the experience of loss and grief.

If you have been impacted by any of the themes or topics in this blog, please reach out for support.  One of the ways you can do this is by speaking to a bereavement counsellor via the free webchat service provided by Cruse.   You may also like to consider speaking to a counsellor face-to-face. 

Published by Claire Law

Qualified Preston-based Counsellor and Psychotherapist offering space for you to find freedom from what holds you back.

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