The concept of 'growing around grief' can be a helpful way to think of how to live your life going forward while still carrying your grief.
In this article, Claire Mann one of our student counsellors at Strathcarron explains the theory.

When we have lost someone who we really love, it can be hard to accept the idea of ‘moving on’. Even if we know that the person who has died would want us to be happy, feelings of guilt and anxiety can stop us from moving forward.

A wonderful lady called Lois Tonkin first wrote about the idea of growing around grief, back in the 1990’s. Instead of diminishing our grief and trying to make it smaller, Lois suggested that we accept our grief is there and instead, gently begin to grow around it.

Tonkin came up with the model after speaking to a mother about the death of their child. The woman told Tonkin that at first grief filled every part of her life. She drew a picture with a circle to represent her life and shading to indicate her grief. It was all consuming.

She had thought that as time went by the grief would shrink and become a much smaller part of her life. But what happened was different. The grief stayed just as big, but her life grew around it. There were times where she felt the grief as intensely as when her child first died. But there were other times where she felt she lived her life in the space outside the circle.

A simple visual of this is to imagine our grief contained in a small jar. When we are newly bereaved, the jar is absolutely jam packed with our grief, disbelief and raw emotions.  At this stage all we can think of is the person we have lost and the painful feelings that this can bring can feel overwhelming.

Using Lois Tonkin’s model, we see that as time goes by the jars get bigger, but the grief remains the same size. These bigger jars leave space for new memories, people and adventures. You can add these new experiences to your jar without diminishing the size of your grief or love that you felt for the person who has died.

Many people find they manage their grief best by leaning on their support network of family and friends and engaging in the activities they know make them feel more peaceful such as walking or gardening. There's no right or wrong way to express yourself or your grief and your distress is not something that needs to be fixed or taken away, but as time passes it will feel more manageable.

It is important therefore, to accept your feelings for what they are, but also to feel able to seek help from a healthcare professional or Counsellor, if you are really struggling or stuck in your grief.

It may sound strange, but it can feel comforting knowing that your grief is still with you, or visible in your ‘jar’. The feelings which you experience may change in time, perhaps allowing more happy memories or acceptance into your awareness, but your experience of bereavement is an important part of you and should be acknowledged. Simply knowing that you can carry your grief and love for the person who died, alongside you on your new journey, can help to allow you to move forward.

If your loved one received support from any of Strathcarron teams during their illness and you now feel you need some extra support on your grief journey, why not start by having a conversation with our Bereavement Support Team.  Please just call 01324 826222 and leave a message for Bereavement Support with your name, loved one's name and contact number. Click below for more information on our Bereavement Support Team.

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