The Changing Face of Grief

Grieving Woman
Sunday, November 15, 2015

Many professionals, as well as grievers, have said that each person’s experience of grief is unique. There are commonalities experienced in grief, but our feelings for the person who has died and the way we experience the loss are as unique as each person and the relationship they shared.

How We Used to Describe Grief

In the late 1960s, a remarkable woman named Elizabeth Kübler-Ross became a household name when she published her research findings regarding children who were dying. The world grabbed onto the stages of grief she described and believed it was the road map we should follow. This was an era of “how to” books. Along with Jackie Kennedy as a role model, Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief became the gold standard of how grief should look. The general populace believed these stages were linear and assume people must follow them as a list. This meant once we reached acceptance, we were done with grief. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

How We Describe Grief Today

Many theorists have come along since Kübler-Ross, wisely disputing the general interpretation of grief. New theories are broad with more latitude to accommodate individual relationships and complexities of modern families. It would be unrealistic to expect everyone to go through an “anger stage“ as this just simply does not fit every situation.

Today’s research explains that how we cope with loss has many factors, including the cause of death, the age of the person who died, and our:

  • relationship to the person who died
  • personality
  • mental health history
  • resiliency skills
  • social support
  • gender (men and women grieve differently)
  • personal death history
  • cultural and religious background
  • financial and social position

Grief researchers also now know that time passing is not the only thing that leads grief to morph and change. Most of us can remember our initial grief and the intensity we felt. Our grief softens as adaptation to the loss of a loved one’s physical presence takes hold.

The old model of grief set an expectation to say good-bye and get over it. Thankfully we have changed the way we approach grief in this country allowing the theory of “continuing bonds” to penetrate our thinking. Many people who grieve are comforted by knowing their relationship with their loved one does not have to end. Instead, the way we relate to our loved one transforms through things like journaling, dreams, music, or having a sense our loved one is always near. 

How We Build Resilience

The “work” of grief can take place as we build our cache of “resiliency skills.” No one has all of these skills. It is helpful to reflect on the list and recognize which of these skills have worked for you in the past during times of challenge, tragedy, or achievement.  Developing one or two of these skills can bring you strength.

Resiliency Skills:

  • Forming positive relationships
  • Service, giving of yourself to others
  • Finding humor in life
  • Inner direction (listen to your gut)
  • Independence
  • Positive view of personal future
  • Flexibility
  • Love of learning
  • Self-motivation
  • Competence (find something you are good at)
  • Self-worth
  • Spirituality
  • Perseverance
  • Creativity
  • Patience
  • Gratitude
  • Ability to live with ambiguity (not having an answer to the burning question “why “)

As the holidays approach, these skills can help you through the coming months. Here is a link with ways to help you cope with holiday grief.

Wishing you blessings for your holiday season and in gratitude for you, our readers.

Linda Coughlin Brooks is the SUDEP Institute Bereavement Support Facilitator; she contributes regular articles as part of our bereavement support services. You can contact Linda at sudep@efa.org. Watch for future articles and learn more about our support for bereaved.

Authored by: Linda Coughlin Brooks RN | BSN | CT on 11/2015

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