Grief is a dynamic process.

Grief is a dynamic process.

By Lene Larsen, Psychologist and Grief Researcher, Aliasoqatit, The National Grief Center

How does one learn to live with grief?

Learning to live with grief after losing someone important can be difficult and take a long time. It is a complex and dynamic process, which we now understand quite well thanks to many years of research and studies.

Evidence suggests that when one has experienced a loss, one fundamentally needs to address 1) the difficult emotions and personal consequences of grief, also known as the Loss-oriented adjustment process, and 2) the changes that the loss brings about in one’s life and relationships, also known as the Restoration-oriented adjustment process. This is described in the theoretical dual process model, which we illustrate below.

(Stroebe & Schut, 1999)

The loss-oriented adjustment process involves experiencing and allowing space for the difficult emotions of grief. One reminisces and misses the deceased. At the same time, one begins to figure out how to transform the relationship with the deceased, who is no longer part of one’s life in a physical sense but can still play a role in a spiritual or symbolic way. Additionally, one tries to reflect on one’s new identity, which no longer includes the deceased— for example, one might now be a widow, an orphan, or a parent without a living child.

The restoration-oriented adjustment process involves settling into a new daily routine. One may need to learn to do things, enjoy activities, and take on new responsibilities that the deceased previously managed. One might need to find others who can offer support. Relationships with family members and friends may change, and one must find their new place among them.

Typically, one oscillates between these two adjustment processes. That is, one might go from feeling very sad and missing the deceased to trying to focus on getting back into the routine of everyday life. In the early stages of a grieving process, in the often chaotic period immediately following the loss, the two processes may not feel so distinct, but over time it will become clear that they involve different stages in the grieving process. Grief usually does not disappear completely, but over time it becomes less dominant and more manageable.

For some, it may take some time before they truly understand and accept the death as a reality. It is difficult to adapt to the loss if one has not fully accepted what has happened. Having the opportunity to talk about one’s loss and express one’s feelings (e.g., sadness, anger, fear) in safe and supportive settings, rather than avoiding or trying to ignore them, can help with acceptance.

Small Steps Back to a New Everyday Life

It’s also important, in terms of adapting to loss, to find confidence in the fact that you will manage, even though it’s tough, and that life can be good again. It’s not unusual to feel lost, powerless, and hopeless at the beginning, and to see life as overwhelming and meaningless. It helps when you begin to see that you are actually capable of managing—such as handling daily chores, taking care of your family, and making everyday life work. It’s important to allow yourself to enjoy and be happy—like seeing friends and doing things you enjoy whenever possible. As you gradually begin to see that you can manage, and that life can still have good moments, and that other relationships continue to be significant, you can start to regain trust in yourself and life again. You also experience that it’s possible to miss, mourn, and remember while finding your way in a new life filled with meaning and joy.

Another thing that can help in grieving and adapting to loss is to slowly try to return to something resembling the everyday life you had before the loss. This involves seeking out previous communities and re-engaging in activities. For example, after taking a break, you might start attending your knitting club again, or sign up for choir. You don’t necessarily have to wait until you feel “well again.” Starting to engage in positive activities again can be just what’s needed to start feeling better. Begin by taking small steps to see how you feel about getting started again. Over time, you can reach a point where you have established a new normal daily life.

Overcome Loneliness – Talk About the Grief

Feeling lonely is often a significant part of grief associated with a meaningful loss. Many people carry their grief alone for a long time without talking to anyone about how they feel and without feeling understood and supported by others. It can seem difficult, overwhelming, and perhaps even boundary-crossing to talk about how one is feeling during this difficult time, but talking about one’s grief and emotions is often a great relief and can help combat loneliness.

There may be family members or friends you can talk to. If you feel you cannot talk to them, perhaps to protect them and not make them sad, you might consider talking to your priest or doctor. You can also reach out to Tusaannga or the local municipality to see if there is someone available to talk to. Finally, you can seek out Alisaoqatit, a community of volunteers who have also experienced loss, and other bereaved individuals who meet in Nuuk or online to talk and support each other. Meeting others who have also experienced loss can be very rewarding and offer new perspectives and hope.


Stroebe, M. S., & Schut, H. (1999). The dual process model of coping with bereavement: Rationale and   description. 23(3), 197–224.