Can Grief be Good?

A Facebook post that struck a chord with me recently was one written by a friend that began “Today, I outlived my Dad at the age of 42”.  Given that this is a ‘milestone’ I will also reach in the next couple of years, his words made me reflect on the nature of grief and the grieving that we go through – or perhaps more specifically that I have gone through.

Some Stuff I’ve Learned About Grief

  • It can smash you across the face and leave you struggling for breath
  • It can fill you with an energy that will enable you to perform feats of superhuman strength.  Anyone who has seen a man act as pallbearer to his wife or a child follow the coffin of their parent will know what that strength looks like
  • It will cause you to run from town centres in tears with nothing but sobs to offer the strangers who stop to ask you what has happened
  • It can also cause you to take incredibly large risks that will make you look back at those times and want to protect the person that you were
  • You end up finding milestones or markers that you hadn’t expected – for me this includes when my son reached the age of my youngest brother when our dad died.  Or when I reached the age of my mother when she was widowed.  It has helped me to empathise more with how things must have been for her and thank my lucky stars for all I currently have.
  • The person who has died will crop up in all sorts of places.  I thought the registrar at our wedding was going to insist on a seance, so adamant was she that I needed to recall precisely the job my dead father had before he became terminally ill despite the fact that I had a living, breathing mother in the very next room.  Hopefully that kind of ‘awkward’ moment will become a thing of the past soon with #mothersonmarriagecerts (read here for more).
  • It can send shock waves through families that ripple on for decades and for some the waves never recede
  • The people who put up with all of the tears, snot, puffy-eyes, irrational fears, panicking and maudlin moments are keepers
  • We know it happens to us all in the end, but it doesn’t make it any easier

But it is not all bad.  It can’t be all bad.

The experience of loved ones dying and the continual process of grief reminds us that our life can be short.  It helps us to try to remember the things that are important, to put things in perspective or to notice moments of beauty and joy and remember them.

And so I sit here; 26 years almost to the day that my dad died and whilst I am sad, I am happy for the life that he and my mum gave me, and the life that I now have.  If grief has taught me one thing, it is that life is good.


If you want a more scientific view on grief, you might like to take a look at the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle.  I’ve come across it twice in my life – once when studying for a psychology A-level (when it came in very bloody handy for helping me understand what the hell was going on) and secondly during an exercise discussing change in teams in a corporate setting (less useful). You can read more here:

kubler-ross grief cycle


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  1. Sue Holden

    Hi Toni,
    I am so glad that you were helped by counselling, with no mention of a model or stages! It is amazing that this concept is still around with some people after so many years.

  2. Sue Holden

    Thank you Toni for your poignant article. As a grief councillor I am always touched when writers and journalists share their feelings of grief and I’m sure many people will relate to what you’ve said.
    I would just like to comment about the scientific studies on grief you mention.
    In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a book called On Death & Dying, in which she postulated 5 stages of dying that a person might go through on learning that they themselves or a loved one have a terminal illness. (Her work became a focal point for the Hospice movement). She repeatedly stipulated that a dying person might not go through all 5 stages or necessarily experience them in sequence. Yet somehow over the years her ‘stages of dying’ morphed into ‘stages of grief’, mostly due to their prominence in college level courses.
    To clarify the distinction she wrote a final book Grief and Grieving in which she says:-
    ‘The stages have evolved since their introduction, and they have been very misunderstood over the past three decades. They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages…Our grief is as individual as our lives. Not everyone goes through all of them or goes in a prescribed order.’
    We all want the pain and sadness associated with loss and grief to end quickly. The idea of a sequence of stages gives one the hope that there is a structure and foreseeable end to grief and we can plot our journey through the stages. Stages imply normality but we are all individual humans and will respond to each loss differently as grief is unique.
    Unfortunately time alone cannot heal emotional wounds. A suggestion to grievers that they are in a ‘stage’ can freeze them into inaction. They bury their feelings waiting for time alone to make that stage pass on. Additionally, they may feel that there is something wrong with them or that they are being disrespectful to the dead person for not feeling the emotions of each stage.
    Sue Holden
    Grief Recovery Specialist

    • Thank you for taking the time to respond Sue – really appreciate it. It’s very interesting to read and understand the original purpose of the model and to hear about Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s clarification of how it should be used, as well as your insights on grief – I will take some time to look at your website. One thing not mentioned in my article is that I did receive some grief counselling in my early twenties which was enormously beneficial – and they didn’t mention a model once 🙂

      Best wishes

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