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Growing Around Grief

Before we experience a life-changing event occasioned by grief, we probably harboured an expectation about how grief behaves over time. Proverbs and quotes like "time is a healer", "better in time" and so forth fan our belief that time possesses some magically alleviating quality when it comes to trauma and grief. While this may be true in essence, the process by which time acts as a healer might come to pass via a mechanism that is slightly at odds with what we initially expected.

Dr. Lois Tonkin, in her 1996 article "Growing Around Grief: another way of looking at grief and recovery", tells the story of being in a workshop with a mother whose child died years before. The woman made a sketch to express to the group how she expected her grief to progress contrasted with how it actually unfolded.

In this figure, her grief is exactly the same size as it was to start. But her life around it is larger. The grief and loss never felt smaller, but her life slowly felt bigger. It grew around her loss. Her grief was always there, as large as ever, and she still spent time within it. As her life had slowly expanded around her loss, she was now able to experience life in the larger part of the circle as well. With this, the ‘Growth Around Grief’ concept was born.

If you have ever felt that your grief was not shrinking, but rather you were just learning to live with it, this may be just the theory you have been looking for. You go to new places, meet new people, try new things. You may not want to, but life gives you little choice. That grief is still there, with life expanding around it.

As Robert Frost famously said, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on”.

Re-posted from What's Your Grief

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