I write on Lois Tonkin’s concept of growing around grief and how one learns to live with grief, focusing on a typical bereavement reaction where, although one may integrate the loss and the absence of the other, they still carry the grief. This is to say one does not finish with grief, rather that it is lived and an embodied experience that we may grow with.

Image Description: Growing Around Grief by Lois Tonkin, 1996 - circles depicting that although grief may not reduce in size we continue to grow so that the grief becomes comparatively smaller. the text in the circles reads, "people think that grief slowly gets smaller with time. in reality, grief stays the same size but slowly life begins to grow bigger around it"
End of Image Description

Tonkin’s concept of growing around grief is one that I knew of but had never quite seen so visually until today. It is just one depiction of a definitionally ambiguous concept, grief that is. It is a funny thing to try to define grief, an experience with such universality, and yet when it comes to its embodiment, grief as lived, felt, and truly known beyond its descriptive characteristics, we falter in expression and dialogue, decentred in the loss of the other, as if they buried our words with them. We come to know grief in as many ways as we come to know loss, there is this universality in the differences known to the pains we feel when the other leaves us. There is this commonality to the weight of our losses, to the different ways we come to know the terrible sadness and the bitter joys held in the waves of grief yet to come.

However, Tonkin’s conceptualisation of grief, it is an interesting one and one that holds a lot of truth insofar as grief will remain in that it is typically something that is lived with rather than a finished process, that is to say that one does not reach an end point in their bereavement. You never really finish grief, one may move past the initial bereavement reaction in a typical manner without complications, but grief remains like a shadow waxing and waning in the light of our days as we carry on. And we do carry on, carrying in more ways than one as we are set to carry our losses as we carry our love for the rest of our days. There are of course landmarks of a typical trajectory of grief, but even once things have steadied, once one has learnt to live in the absence of the other, the grief still resurfaces at points: typically this would be at anniversaries and reminders and so on, but life grows around it. The individual grows around the loss. It becomes easier to live without the other, even when their absence once seemed unbearable and unimaginable; life grows, you grow, and it becomes okay again. But yes, I just really like this visual representation because it is true, although the grief may be something one always bears, “slowly life begins to grow bigger around it“, one continues to live and grow and learns to be okay again because it will be okay again.

Live Long & Prosper


Growing Around Grief – Whats your Grief. Whats your Grief. (2021). Retrieved 22 November 2021, from https://whatsyourgrief.com/growing-around-grief/

Tonkin, L. (1996). Growing around grief—another way of looking at grief and recovery. Bereavement Care15(1), 10-10. https://doi.org/10.1080/02682629608657376


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