Lucy Hone: What Abi Taught Us author on learning how to grieve

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Lucy Hone began to research grief after her daughter was killed in a car accident. Photo / Supplied
Lucy Hone began to research grief after her daughter was killed in a car accident. Photo / Supplied

When our 12-year-old daughter was so tragically killed in an accident on Queen's Birthday weekend in 2014, I drowned my sorrows in research.

I am one of a growing field of academics focused on the factors that have been shown to assist with recovery among people facing trauma, stress and adversity.

I'd been active helping ordinary people get back on their feet in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, but I wasn't sure how useful the strategies I frequently advocated in my work would be now that my world was turned upside down.

Funeral service card for Abi Hone. Photo / Supplied
Funeral service card for Abi Hone. Photo / Supplied

Combining my skills as an academic researcher with my personal experience of profound loss, I discovered a wealth of information and strategies that helped.

My reading also surprised me by unearthing a new - but as yet little known outside the hallowed turf of academia - science of "resilient grieving".

I wrote What Abi Taught Us to provide those grieving like me with some tools that they could actively employ to support them during bereavement.

Resilient grieving doesn't mean putting on a brave face, hardening up and pretending it's okay. Far from it.

Resilient grieving involves accepting that the pain and on-going misery is a necessary bi-product of losing someone we love, while simultaneously working out our own personal processes enabling us to continue to live even while we grieve.

Resilient grieving doesn't mean putting on a brave face, hardening up and pretending it's okay. Far from it.
Lucy Hone

In essence, it involves a myriad of processes, ways of acting and thinking, that help. Take writing, for example.

Writing down what's happened is recognised as an effective way of ordering our thoughts - working out the impact an event has on us and exploring the array of emotions it invokes.

I'm not talking writing for publication, just any type of free-rein, pouring your heart out kind of writing, can really help.

Of all the grief theories I pored over, Dutch psychologists, Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut's "oscillation theory" struck me as particularly helpful.

Stroebe and Schut's research suggests that bereavement requires two processes: confrontation and avoidance, and that we recover most effectively when we oscillate back and forth between these two.

Sometimes I can confront my grief - walk right into the physical and emotional pain - but at others I simply know I'm not up to the task.
Lucy Hone

This really resonates with me. Sometimes I can confront my grief - walk right into the physical and emotional pain - but at others I simply know I'm not up to the task.

Reading their research, published in esteemed academic journals, made me feel better about tackling my grief when I can, and shelving it when I can't. I now feel it's okay to curl up on the sofa or hide in bed some days, but also to shut grief out and get on and face the world when I want to. Up and down, back and forth I go.

It helps to know this is quite normal.

The most astonishing finding to emerge from recent research is that most people are resilient in the face of grief. By that I mean that despite their sadness they are able to maintain relatively stable, healthy levels of psychological and physical functioning.

Far from being some elusive, heroic quality, resilient grieving requires very ordinary processes and, what's more, these processes can be learned.

- Lucy Hone is the author of What Abi Taught Us (Allen & Unwin, 2016).

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