Do you know your grieving style? I didn’t, until talking recently with our youngest son brought a new epiphany about how I experience grief. Yes, after decades of grappling with it, I uncovered still more. This actually delights me. Christian is a graduate student in social work and needed to interview someone about a loss experience for a class. He wanted to focus on my stepmother, who died in 2016 and presented challenges for me during her life, which of course is entwined with my mom’s death when I was a child. My memoir devotes a lot of space to this emotional terrain.

Instrumental and Intuitive Styles

If I felt able, Christian invited me to comment on my grieving style, instrumental or intuitive, terms that researchers Kenneth Doka and Terry Martin created. I’d heard them before but wasn’t well-versed in their meaning. Intuitive grievers show strong emotions and tend to express them to others. But the instrumental style reflects a more cognitive, problem-solving approach, with energy more directed into activities. Originally, instrumental was associated with men and intutive with women but that’s not necessarily the case. It’s more of a continuum based on personality and other factors.

Since the death of my friend several months ago, I’d been observing myself with curiosity, a bit confused about my (lack of?) grief. Certainly I shut down from emotion for a little while. But still, as weeks passed I thought I’d cry more, feel more than I did. I was equating grief with only the intutive style, but in reality I’m more instrumental. Soon after the conversation with my son, I led a writing circle in memory of my friend. The idea came to me strongly right after she died as I reflected on our earliest connection in writing groups. Thirteen others joined me for a most rewarding occasion. This was me, grieving — taking action — inviting people, booking a place, creating the agenda. A lightbulb moment.

Looking Back, Another Light Bulb

Other pieces fell into place relative to my stepmother’s death too: for example, my attention to clearing out their condo and disposing of her possessions in as caring a way as possible. Rather than just hauling all her leftover furntiture to Goodwill, I consigned or donated as much as I could to a charity shop that funds cancer support programs. I felt it was what she would have wanted. That was me, grieving. (This experience, described in my memoir, seeded the later process that has become the Making Space workshop on releasing stuff!)


I’ll be working with the concept of grieving styles for a long time to come. If the topic interests you, Grieving Beyond Gender: Understanding the Ways Men and Women Mourn presents Doka and Martin’s ideas. It was not available at my library, so I checked out Grief Is a Journey: Finding Your Path Through Loss by Kenneth Doka, which includes a questionnaire to assess one’s grieving style.



Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash