This blog is the fourth in a series of five in-depth blogs looking at the experience of grief and loss. As a therapist, I’ve supported many people who want to benefit from bereavement counselling, or who are looking for space to find a sense of freedom from the pain of loss. Many people face issues of loss without necessarily initially considering that grief could be part of their processing – for example, when people are facing retirement and unsure about the future, when important plans have had to change or even when a house move leaves someone suddenly overcome with difficult feelings. These experiences are common to many of us, and – as we have seen in previous blogs – loss is a universal given, part of life for each and every one of us.
In the first blog in the series, 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 often used to help explain grief and loss. The third blog explored two mode models of grief: the Tasks of Mourning Model and the Dual Process Model. This blog will consider two more theoretical models of grief, before we turn our attention in the final blog to considering support for the experience of loss and grief. As with all of our blogs, please do take care of yourself as you read. Consider what you may need, and what feelings and thoughts arise for you as you read. Above all, be compassionate with yourself in response to the content of the blog.
Continuing Bonds Model:
Like the other theoretical frameworks we’ve considered here and here, the Continuing Bonds Model provides a structure designed to support people to make meaning of their loss and grief. The Continuing Bonds Model was developed by Dennis Klass, Phyllis Silverman and Steven Nickman. Their book, Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief, published in 1996, challenges the ideas that the grieving process is about cutting links with that which has been lost. Instead, they proposed a new way to think about and approach loss – one in which the emphasis is upon the ways in which a deceased person “stays with” the person grieving. They note that for many people, promoting a continued bond with a deceased loved one provides comfort and support in coping with loss and adjustment. In this way, it is possible to carry the person with us throughout our lives.
Forms of Continuing Bonds.
Behaviours and rituals which seem to be instinctive to so many people who experience loss are seen as ways in which a person can continue to feel a bond and connection with the person or even situation they are grieving. This can take the form of physically holding onto items, such as a piece of clothing or a photo of a loved one. Private rituals and conversations with your loved one can also be a way that bonds are continued. Many people report speaking to their deceased loved one, and find this to be helpful and therapeutic. They may also visit places where they feel close to them. These are all ways people continue bonds with deceased loved ones. Whilst these types of behaviours are in fact, common to those who grieve, some people do not tell others about these rituals and forms of comfort as they may feel pressure from others to “move on”. The Continuing Bonds Model reframes these rituals and behaviours as a helpful part of the grief process.
The “Growing around Grief” Model.
One final model we will consider that offers a framework for thinking about the process of grief and loss, developed by Grief Counsellor, Lois Tonkin, in 1996, is known as the “Growing around Grief” Model.
This model challenges the idea that our grief or sense of loss will shrink and disappear. Tonkin’s model recognizes that significant losses initially consume most or all areas of our life. There is little life space left initially for anything other than the feelings of loss. You may feel the loses you’ve experienced consume you just now. Grief can feel as it is suffocating or robbing us of any form of life. It can be hard to feel anything other than our raw pain of loss. That’s certainly true for many, many people when they first experience grief, and is visually represented to good effect in the haunting, spectre like image, with ghostly, staring eyes in Munch’s painting, Death in the Sickroom.
An expansion of life:
However, according to this model, in time, it is possible to experience an expansion of life, so that the grieving person gradually grows around their grief. The bereaved person adjusts to their grief by encompassing it into their lives. They can even grow from their grief. This process may take some time, or even a very long time, and everyone’s journey through loss is different. However, according to Tonkin – it is possible to experience a sense in which life has grown around the grief.
It’s not necessary for grief to “go away”:
Some people believe this model is a helpful challenge to the idea that grief is something we should put behind us, that we should “get over” or no longer feel. In this model, grief does not have to “go away” for a life to develop and grow around the grief. This can feel comforting and offer hope to anyone who feels any sense of guilt about the idea that, one day, they will be able to “get on” with life.
Pause and reflect for a moment:
So, take a moment to consider what meaning you make of your own grief, your own loss? Or, whether indeed, you feel there is any meaning to be made at all amidst the confusion and difficulty of loss. As we acknowledged in a previous blog, models of grief can feel helpful in making sense of grief and providing a structure. Equally, they can feel far too abstract, and removed from the 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, even when these are messy and seemingly without sense or meaning, is one of the ways that counselling can be helpful for anyone experiencing loss, bereavement or grief. In our final blog of this series, we take a look 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.