There are plenty of theories that circulate through academia about how grief works but rather than start by introducing all the ones we think are okay, we’re going to start with the one we think gets it the most right, Stroebe and Schut’s “Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement” (DPM).
Now before you doze off at that completely clinical name, DPM is very practical, and in our opinion represents a lot of what grief looks like in everyday life.
The key idea around the Dual Process Model is that we don’t go one way through grief—following stages or tasks in a sequence over time—but instead that we oscillate (or bounce back and forth) between being “loss-oriented” and “restoration-oriented.”
So, some days you keep busy and attend to your life, putting the emotions of grief to the side. Those are the times when you’re restoration-oriented. You’re restoring a sense of normalcy even if it’s for a short time. If you go to a concert and distract yourself from bereavement, that is included in this model as being part of the grieving process.
Then on other days or in other moments you may be overwhelmed by your loved-one’s absence or have a pang of missing them. That is when you’re loss-oriented.
Those are examples of the two modes, but what is so smart about this explanation of grief is that it accounts for all people, in real life, to be bouncing back and forth between those modes at any time. Here’s an image of the model if that helps:
Have you ever been carrying on with your day, feeling fine and not thinking at all of your lost family member or friend then, seemingly out of nowhere, you hear a song, or see something that reminds you of them and suddenly you’re choking back tears and looking for a place to hide? That’s making a jump from restoration to loss-orientation and it’s perfectly normal.
Over time I think the jumps between modes become less intense and unpredictable and we all start to lean more heavily toward restoration. The intensity and duration of our visits to loss-orientation may lessen, but the Dual Process Model doesn’t ever expect that someone follows a checklist and “gets over” grief, we just incorporate it into our restored and renovated lives.