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Grieving the “Right Way”

Grieving the “Right Way”

“Aren’t you over it yet?”  “Are you still crying?”  “Why aren’t you crying, didn’t you love him?”  “How long are you going to tell that story?”  “When are you going to move on with your life?”   “Haven’t you let them go yet?”  These questions of well-intentioned family and friends are often hurtful and close the bereaved off from sharing further.  Why?  Because we all grieve in our own way and grief is deeply personal.   That being said, patterns of grief have been identified, and when understood, can assist those who are supporting the bereaved.


In the book, Grieving Beyond Gender, Ken Doka and Terry Martin offer a new understanding of different patterns of grief which allow for adaptive strategies to be developed by the bereaved.  It is helpful for the supporter to understand a person’s grieving style so that they will have a better understanding of  how they might be of support to them them.  The two patterns of grief identified by Doka and Martin are intuitive and instrumental grievers which vary in two general ways “(1) by the griever’s internal experience of his loss, (2) by the individual’s outward expressions of that experience.”


The Intuitive and The Instrumental Griever

  • The Intuitive griever tends to express their energy in the affective domain, grief is most often expressed in profoundly painful feelings.  This griever spontaneously expresses their painful feelings through crying and desires to share their inner experiences with others.
  • The instrumental griever tends to convert their instinctual energy, that results from their bereavement, into the cognitive domain, and grief is more an intellectual experience.  This is often expressed by channeling energy into activity, and they may prefer discussing problems rather than feelings.

The difference between the degree to which the griever’s thoughts and feelings are affected provides a better understanding for the differences between the patterns.


However, what a griever is experiencing can never be directly observed; it only can be inferred by observing how the individual expresses his or her experience.  In particular, the griever’s desire for social support, the need to discuss feelings, and the intensity and scope of activities are varying ways of expressing grief and are often important in distinguishing between patterns.  These expressions of grief usually (but not always) reflect choices, both past and present, that the griever has made or is making to adapt to losses.  These choices are the grievers adaptive strategies.


Whether family, friend, co-worker, or partner, it is important to recognize that we do not all grieve the same, some of us are intuitive grievers while others are instrumental grievers.  Many of us are a blend of each, though most tend to lean toward one pattern or the other.  The way we express our grief and assimilate and adapt to our loss identifies our adaptive strategies (some helpful, some not), to cope with our loss.    As supporters, one of the best ways to assist the bereaved, is simply to be present to them.   Allow them to grieve in the way they need, choosing the adaptive strategies that will best help them.   The supporter may consider offering specific help to the bereaved,  i.e.  “I will listen – and not give advice, I will shovel, I can help put up or take down the holiday decorations, I can bake with you, I would like to pick you up for supper, etc.”   Recognize that grieving the “right way” is determined by the griever, not by anyone else.  Allow the bereaved the space and support to grieve as they need, so long as in healthy and not destructive ways, and support them the “right way” through your presence, listening ear or helping hand.

  1. Doka, Kenneth J., Martin, Terry L.   “Grieving Beyond Gender, Understanding the Ways that Men and Women Mourn, Revised Edition New York, 2010, p. 52
  2. Ibid, p. 53


Grieving Beyond Gender, Understanding the Ways Men and Women Mourn, Revised Edition, Kenneth J. Doka, Terry L. Martin, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, New York, New York, 2010.

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