Home > What you might experience > Bereavement models

Bereavement models

Differing models have been developed by people working in the field to describe a common core of experience for people who’ve been bereaved. All models are descriptive rather than proscriptive – though they may be useful as tools to think about grief you shouldn’t feel they can accurately tell you what you will feel next. Different people find different models useful – have a look at the ones below and see which ones you find useful.

The Dual Process Model (Margaret Stroebe & Henk Schut, 1995)

This model shows the coping process involved in coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. It is not a model of ‘symptoms’ or of ‘problems,’ but merely a map of the elements involved in the coping process. It is based on the belief that feelings and activities following a bereavement can be divided into two categories: loss and restoration. Both kinds of activities are important for recovery, and the bereaved move back and forth between the two during the grieving process.

Continuing Bonds (Phyllis Silverman, Dennis Klass and Steven Nickman, 1996)

This theory argues that bereaved people remain connected to the deceased, and that dynamic ‘continuing bonds’ are created. The authors state that bereavement is not about letting go, but renegotiating the meaning of the loss over time. 

“Bereaved people remain involved and connected to the deceased and are changed by the process of bereavement; they do not ‘get over it’. Healthy resolution of grief enables people to maintain a continuing bond with the person who has died. Continuing bonds are not denial but are dynamic and developmental, changing and maturing over time in a way that parallels the development of relationships with others who are alive.”

Growing around grief (Lois Tonkin)

This model presents an alternative to the idea of ‘phases’ of grief, and challenges the belief we have that grief will become smaller over time, although never going away completely. According to this theory, grief starts off as all-consuming and, in fact, stays the same size and intensity, but the bereaved person grows ‘around’ their grief.

Meaning Reconstruction and the Experience of Loss (Robert Neimeyer)

This model asserts that it is a mistake to assume there is a standard emotional sequence in grieving, that the aim of bereavement is to detach from the person who has died or that grief will necessarily end. Grieving encompasses not only our emotions and thinking, but also our sense of ourselves and our place in the world. Following a bereavement, individuals must relearn their place in the world and reconstruct their identity, discover new purpose or meaning in life and re-order their sense of the world. According to Neimeyer, the way we do this is through retelling events and perceptions, and if we recount this narrative with a supportive person, we can reconstruct our place in the world more thoroughly. 

Disenfranchised Grief (Kenneth Doka)

This is less a model of bereavement and more a characterisation of a certain experience of grief. Doka defines disenfranchised grief as ‘grief that is not acknowledged by society.’ Losses may be disenfranchised when there is a failure to recognise that the death had been experienced as a significant loss e.g. abortion or people with Alzheimer’s. The circumstances of the death may be disenfranchised where the death itself is stigmatised, something which is experienced by many people who’ve lost loved ones to alcohol or drug misuse, but can also be felt by those whose family members have died from AIDS or suicide.