The Four Elements of Grief

Posted By SK Reid  
19:00 PM

Following on from a theme introduced a few weeks back, I am sharing some blog posts from several years ago from my Blogger site.

This post was originally published in 2015 and follows some of the themes around grief and mourning I canvassed in my first book, After Life After You (2010).


For anyone who has experienced the death of someone close, I know you will relate to this!



Grief and it's Elements


When we think of theories of grief, many are aware of the five stages grief as defined by Elizabeth Kubler Ross. What is perhaps less well known is that Kubler Ross devised this framework for understanding grief and loss originally with end of life care in mind: what happens when one is facing, for example, a diagnosis of terminal illness.  For some reason, the five stages of grief model didn't sit easily with me at first. However when I learned that the original focus was end of life, her ground-breaking work and it's fundamental truths made more sense. 


By way of counterpoint, what I found in my own journey of loss and life after loss was more of an elemental quality defining my experience of grief. And so, in writing my first book, After Life After You, I set about encapsulating what these elements of grief were for me, and for others, in a way that simultaneously speaks to the universality of the grief experience whilst at the same time referencing what it is that makes grief individual. 


These Elements of Grief are broadly described in the book as the Dark Night of the Soul, the Emptiness, the Strange New World, and Awakenings


Dark Night of the Soul


For anyone who has ever experienced loss, you know what the Dark Night of the Soul is. This is an emotionally treacherous journey across wild, stormy seas; it is the passage through time during which we simply struggle to survive, and we are doing everything in our power just to stay afloat; doing everything we can not to drown. We are, literally, fighting for our lives. Losing someone we love shakes us to our core. We are forced into a great darkness, engulfed by unbearable pain, unable to see for the salty tears in our eyes. This place is hell on earth.


And we either make it out alive. 

Or we don't. 




If we do make it out alive, we find ourselves in a place of extreme emptiness. There may be busyness in our lives, noise, activity. Or there may be quiet. You know that quiet: there is a certain quality to it - peculiar, somehow 'loud' - and it descends after the busyness of the formalities of dying, death, funerals and wakes. This is the aftermath. Where you might hear a pin drop. And you can hear that pin drop. Because the person whose presence softened and absorbed the sound of that pin falling and landing nearby is no longer here. Our loved one is gone. The sheer physical presence of that living breathing person who was here on earth, with us, is now no longer. There is a vacuum. A negative space. A painful, cutting, silent, negative space. This is the negative space of extreme emptiness. An enormous big hollow, smack bang in the centre of our heart. 


Strange New World


When the emptiness shifts ever so slightly from centre stage, when it's harsh edges become ever so slightly softened, we have a moment to be able to look up, to look about us. Our gaze has shifted outward. Even if only momentarily. We are able to see beyond our immediate surroundings. And when we do, our world looks different. In some ways it may seem the same - same streets, houses, same news reader on the nightly news, but because our eyes have borne witness to the dark night of our soul,  the world about us appears different. As one of the contributors to my book observes, the streets where she once lived outwardly look similar but at the same time were different now, because her husband was not there. In this sense, the world take on a surreal quality. There is a strange juxtaposition between what was and what now is. This is the Strange New World we now find ourselves in. 




Only through the passage of time does the wounding of the dark night soften, and the strangeness of the world appear less strange. It stays with us, but ever so slowly, we begin to find the embryonic potential of new strength beginning to stir. It may start with the flicker of laughter, raw, spontaneous. Taking us by surprise. It is not that we don't hurt. It is not that we forget. It is not that we ever stop missing them. Ever.


It is that something new emerges from the ashes. Like new shoots of green growth appearing as tiny leaves stretch skyward looking for the warmth and sustenance of the sun's light, new possibilities emerge in our hearts. We find space for both. The space where they live. And the promise of new life. 


We rediscover the capacity to feel joy once again. This joy is conditional. Tentative. Our smile may have changed. Our laughter is perhaps different. Because we are different. We have changed. How can loss not change us? As things begin to shift and realign within our bruised selves, the framework for a 'new normal' begins to emerge, allowing at least the possibility of life after loss.



Shifting, Dynamic Elements

Notwithstanding observations in my recent post about the risks of complicated grief, and the impact multiple losses may have on the fragility of self, the intrinsic shape of the journey through grief in many respects, is the same. We don't "move on" and "get over" our loss. Rather, we learn to live with our loss, keeping the memory of our loved ones tucked away safe in our hearts. ' 

The elements of grief can be fluid to some extent. We may find ourselves revisiting the dark night. Perhaps there is depression or our grief becomes complicated or prolonged. But the possibility of the duality of the dark with the light is more evident. In my own case, I know I regularly find myself in a darkened landscape. But I also know that I have cultivated a small toolkit of support strategies I can implement to help me cope until I begin to feel lighter. Perhaps a walk in the bush. A visit to a familiar haunt. Some simple distraction. Something to distract my focus long enough for me to be able to catch my breath and quieten my spirit. 

The sadness is still there, but the sheer weight of the sadness is less crushing. And the world no longer appears as foreign. 



Your Journey


What has been your journey of loss? How did you survive the dark night of your soul? Were there things that made adjusting to your new normal in the strange new world a little easier? What does your life look like now? How have you honoured the memory of your loved one? We would love for you to share your story. If you would like to share your experience, I invite you to send an email and continue the conversation. I'd love to hear from you.

If you would like to purchase a copy of After Life, After You and share in the stories of others who have also made the pilgrimage through grief and bereavement, please visit my website at for more details, and you can join my mailing list for an occasional newsletter.



After Life After You book cover


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