The Journey Through Grief

Part Three

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This is "Part Three" of the required text for this course. After reading this section proceed to "Part Four".

Styles of Grieving


In our society we all lean toward a strong urge to stereotype various categories of people and situations. It is no different when it comes down to practicing grief care as a profession. Most grief caregivers tend to lump people experiencing grief into two primary categories.

The first group we will call the “Easy Grievers”. These are the ones who seem to be making a marked progress towards healing and restoration in somewhat of what we perceive is a normal pattern. This person typically tends to be a conservative thinker and less threatening in their display of emotion. Even though they may feel the pain and the stress of their grief, in reality they are steadily working their way through the process to recovery.

The second group we will call the “Hard Grievers”. These are the ones who keep fighting the concept of accepting the loss and getting on with their lives. This type of griever usually displays a higher level of emotional output with more spontaneity in their response to the discomfort experienced through their loss. They seem to have a natural ability to make everyone around them uncomfortable. They require much more attention and care and sometimes they show very little response or progress in their journey of grief.

That particular stereotype of “Easy” and “Hard” grievers should probably not be used by caregivers. When it is defined from the philosophical viewpoint, grief is neither easy nor hard. Grief is personal. It is actually a compilation of the emotions and feelings layered around the personal experience or sensation of a loss or losses. Bereavement is the actual a designated time frame in which the expression of that sensation is referred to as “being in grief” or “grieving”. The intensity level or quantity of bereavement is often figured by the complexity of the grief someone is experiencing. Because of the various personality make ups, the experience of grief can affect different people with different intensities and in many different ways and patterns. 

People who are in what is referred to as a fresh or initial grief experience, are not usually able to be pressed into these predictable molds of interpretation or categorization such as “Easy” or “Hard”. Examples of a fresh or initial grief experience would include; Parents in an emergency room finding out for the first time that their son was just killed in an accident. A husband who has just read the divorce papers filed against him by his wife. The mother of two young children who has just been told she has a terminal illness that will end her life in a few short months.

These fresh and intense situations of the grief experience will produce an array of initial reactions which can tend to diminish or become better articulated and controlled after a short period of time. Depending on the severity and circumstances surrounding these situations, this time frame may be anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. Much of this will depend on the condition of the griever’s mental, physical and spiritual health previous to the initiation of the loss that causes them to grieve.

Instead of referring to those experiencing grief as “Easy” or “Hard” grievers, let us use more applicable terms such as “Productive” and “Instinctive” grievers. As we adapt to these terms we must realize that neither is actually a preferred description of the grief experience, but that both are necessary to create a balance in both our society and in each other.

Productive grievers tend to progress steadily in and through the process of grief caused by loss. Some may move slower or faster than others, but at least there is a discernable positive progression. Many productive grievers find applicable tools in their life that will help them deal with the loss in a very effective method. The danger in identifying these tools is that their tools may become a method of self medication, and that they may become dependent on them as we discussed earlier. These grievers might repeat a therapeutic action that seemed to help them until it becomes habitual or even detrimental. 

       Some productive grievers may grow to become a stronger person as an end result of the grief process that they experienced. They may also develop a compassionate attitude through acceptance of their loss. This may include a more helpful attitude towards others who may be experiencing grief in a similar way to how they did. Some productive grievers may even progress into becoming grief caregivers themselves. 

       Instinctive grievers tend to be moved or disturbed by the processes of grief. They are regularly thrown about emotionally and mentally by the waves of pain and feelings that they feel. Their expressions tend to be helpful cathartic releases of temporarily pent up emotions. They rely strongly on others for the support and care they need to progress on their journey of grief. Instinctive grievers can become very dependent on caregivers and easily led astray by wrong influences in their lives. These issues may also lead them into the processes of “self-medication”. They may never see a complete resolution in their grief. Their journey through the grieving process may take years or even decades to make. Typically, instinctive grievers experience very slow or difficult changes in their attitude toward life in general during their grieving. It takes a very patient caregiver to love and work with an instinctive griever.

There are positive characteristics to both types of grievers. And, there are also very evident weaknesses in both types of grievers. Knowing these strengths and weaknesses will not only help us as caregivers to discern and define the style of grief they are inclined to yield, but it will also give us a foundation to design their care and support on.

The instinctive griever is more likely to accept care and help along the path of grief than the productive griever. The productive griever may be more cognitive and self directed and require less personal grief care. The productive griever may be able to fit back into a normal pattern of life quicker than an instinctive griever. Kit is generally easier for a productive griever to repeat a phase of grief than it is for an instinctive griever. When the instinctive griever does eventually fit back into life’s normal patterns, they can many times feel much more secure because of the longer journey and the more detailed experiences that journey has afforded them.      

Everyone experiencing a loss also experiences a deficit to their own contentedness and personal peace. The instinctive griever regains some of that sense of peace when they receive the expression of love, care and compassion from those around them. The productive griever finds their peace when they start to realize that they are beginning to return to the normal patterns in their life. As caregivers we should note that these lines between productive and instinctive grievers can blend together very closely, especially in the processes of how peace is re-established in their lives.

There are also “blended” versions of both productive and instinctive grievers. It is very rare that these two types of grievers make an equal blend. It is also rare that an individual is completely one type of griever or the other. However, that stereotype is somewhat more common than the equally blended version.  Blended grievers are those grievers within whom the mix is not as obviously polarized one way or the other. There is almost always more of one style of griever found in the blended griever. It is only to the trained practitioner, that under scrutiny it becomes blatantly obvious which style that is.

       One blended group we will call the “Image Projectors”. This group is more instinctive than productive. They have a unique ability to screen their behavior for specific reactions and content, so as to project an image of what they believe is appropriate for the situation they are involved in at any given time. They generally have the unique ability to temporarily contain their expressions if they sense that there is no help available for them, or if they sense that they would be looked down upon for such an emotional or verbal display of their grief. However, they can be very explosive and/or outwardly dynamic when they are trapped into certain high pressure circumstances.

The other major blended group we will call the “Desiring Duplicators” While they are mainly productive grievers in their core nature, they tend to have an unusual desire to appear or become more instinctive in their grieving processes. They may often come down on themselves because they don’t have the stronger emotions or feelings typically associated with people suffering loss. These grievers can be easily overcome with a temporary depression. Some may even go to the extreme of duplicating the more severe emotional responses of others in their grief. These duplicative expressions appear more sensitive or more connected with other more respected grievers in the same loss experience that they are in. 

It is important to remember that these various styles should not be preferred, but rather understood by the caregiver. We as caregivers should not be attempting to convert a productive griever into an instinctive griever, or a “Desiring Duplicator” into an “Image Projector”. We must simply understand the individual’s grieving style and be the compassionate caregiver and supporter we should be through their journey of grief.

Every person experiencing grief has obvious notions and preconceived ideas of what they are, or should be experiencing because of the encountered loss in their life. Identifying the particular style or blended style of grief that someone is inclined to project, will assist us as caregivers in knowing what their basic needs are, how they are perceiving their circumstance of loss and how we can best extend the appropriate care and support that will help them on their road to recovery and normalcy. As we are patient and consistent in our interactions with grievers not only their trust in us will grow, but their trust in a future quality of life will be rebuilt.       


Central Institute for Educational Advancement
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