Recalling now my first real and acknowledged experience of grief, I sense that these two ways of working within the pain restore our resilience, and even help with paving a stronger path for us.
What is described below is known as the Dual Process Model for Coping with Bereavement (Stroebe & Schut). We can extend the term ‘bereavement’ to loss, not simply of death, but of critical losses, like in relationships, finances, and employment.
With grief we can work in two directions with positive effect. We can work with a view on the past, just as we can work with a view on the future.
On different days we have different capacities and different viewpoints. Sometimes we are strong and other times we are weak.
Working in the past goes two ways. When we are strong we work on relinquishing our bonds and ties—those that were precious to us but are now gone. We work in the pain zone of our grief through tears of reflection.
Here, we feel strongly enough to languish in the lament of the truth.
When we are not so strong we can be comforted in a sense of denial and avoidance of restorative changes. Some days we cannot hack this grief work, so we don’t force ourselves. Forcing matters only brings distress. Some days the pain is too great and being gentle with ourselves is the best thing to achieve.
Working with grief involves negotiating a maze; we are destined to reach many dead ends, but eventually, having done all our work, we find ourselves in the land of restoration.
Working in the future also goes two ways. When we are feeling strong and we are looking to our future we begin to explore concepts for change and visualise how it might look. We envisage new roles and a newer, face-lifted identity. Such newness we begin to find is a new challenge to be explored; we are excited.
We are doing new things, and parts of us we never knew existed begin to emerge.
When we are feeling not so strong, on the other hand, looking forward from where we are is an opportunity to deny the pain, when, for that day, the pain is too great. Grief is like this sometimes. It reminds us we cannot control life all the time. Looking to the future becomes a distraction from our grief.
The dual process model works via oscillation: we move between the two. Some days we work in the past and other days we work in the future. Some days we are weak and we deny and avoid. Some days we are stronger and we venture a little into our grief, or we plan for our future.
God has blessed us with options when working through the maze of our grief. We can work in the past or on the future. We can flourish or languish. All of this is allowed. Grief encompasses all corners of human emotion, including many that may be new.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.