With people worrying over us or tiptoeing around us, we can feel pressure to grieve a certain way. Is it too soon to laugh or wear bright colors? Am I allowed to feel anger or even relief after losing someone I loved? When am I allowed to enjoy a TV show again, or have fun on a night out? Am I supposed to be crying myself to sleep a year or more after my loss?
Popular theories about grief suggest that after going through some “stages” a mourner will be able to face their emotions and move on with their lives. But in reality, grieving isn’t so cut and dried. In addition to dealing with a wild array of fluctuating internal emotions, a mourner is also immediately faced with the necessary practical tasks that life requires. We still have to get out of bed in the morning, eat meals, pay bills, care for children and maintain relationships with remaining friends and family, even while actively dealing with a great personal loss. We might be in the “depression” stage one day, feeling hopeful and accepting the next, then crash back into depression when the holidays approach. And for many, this up and down battle can go on for years.
This is where the Dual Processing Model (DPM) by Stroebe and Schut comes in. The DPM of grieving suggests that mourners experience two different kind of stressors simultaneously: loss-oriented stressors and restoration-oriented stressors. Or, in simpler terms, we experience challenges related to the loss of our loved one, and challenges related to rebuilding our lives. We spend half of our time grieving our loved one, missing them, reminiscing about them, resisting “the new normal”. But we spend the other half of our time attending to life: paying bills, trying to distract ourselves with new things, moving into our new roles as single parents or heads of households, finding joy.
Both loss-oriented stressors and restoration-oriented stressors come with their own sets of emotions, both positive and negative, and we bounce between them constantly. The DPM allows a mourner to be both happy and sad; devastated and hopeful; frozen and functioning; living in the past and looking toward the future. The DPM allows us to take a break from our suffocating grief and rebuild; it also allows us to take a break from rebuilding and just be sad. This is the beauty of the DPM model- it allows for a wide, healthy range of fluctuating emotions and behaviors that are all necessary as we move through our grief.
Remember, your grief is unique and normal. Don’t be surprised or ashamed by the crazy emotions you might feel. Even relief, anger and guilt are all very normal. I hope the DPM theory encourages you to follow your own process and take breaks from your grief as you see fit. It’s an ongoing process! Acknowledge your grief, and acknowledge your life as you rebuild, moving between the two as frequently as you need. Allow yourself to feel it all and experience life in a way and at a speed that makes sense for you.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. And it’s worth noting that this model can apply to all sorts of significant losses in life, not just the death of a loved one.
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