Ep #225: Avoiding Grief on Purpose: The Dual Process Model Explained

The Widowed Mom Podcast Krista St-Germain | Avoiding Grief on Purpose: The Dual Process Model Explained

Grief is individual, unique, and impossible to mess up or get wrong. Contrary to what we’ve been taught, it also doesn’t come to an end.

That’s why I love the dual process model.

Join me this week to hear what the dual process model entails and how it provides a framework for avoiding grief on purpose.


Listen to the Full Episode:


Mementos & Memories is a three-day online event that will help you deal with your person’s stuff, happening from September 18th to the 20th 2023. Whether your person died recently or it’s been years and there’s stuff you’re holding on to that you’re struggling with, join me. Click here to grab your free spot now.


If you want to create a future you can truly get excited about even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to apply for Mom Goes On.


What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Why the five stages of grief theory is one of my biggest pet peeves.
  • What the dual process model entails and how it works.
  • How engaging in both grief-oriented activities and restoration-oriented activities are necessary for healing.


Featured on the Show:


Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 225, Avoiding Grief on Purpose: The Dual Process Model Explained.

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St-Germain.

Hey there, welcome to another episode of the podcast. Today, if you’re listening on Monday, September 18th, 2023, we are starting our mementos and memories online event. So if you haven’t already registered, go register. Even if you can’t make the live calls, we’ll send you the recordings, but go to coachingwithkrista.com/mementosandmemories. It’s all spelled out, mementos and memories, and register. It’s a free online event.

I don’t care if you feel completely unready and uninterested in dealing with whatever is left of your person’s stuff to be dealt with or you have been stressing and overwhelming and dreading about it for quite some time. It doesn’t matter. It’s going to be good either way. It’s going to be powerful. We don’t have to have such a miserable experience of dealing with our person’s stuff. And that’s what this three day online event is. And it’s not complicated, it’s super simple. I’m just going to go live for three days and I’m going to teach you one thing every day that you can use, easy, powerful, not stressful.

We’re going to record it. Each day has a worksheet. It is completely free. If you want to do the VIP version, you can upgrade, totally up to you, but go register and tell other widows about it too. This is the last day. I’ve never done this challenge before but listen, my experience of going through Hugo’s stuff would have been so much easier if I had had what I’m going to teach you in this event. So go do yourself a favor and register for it. It’s going to be good.

Okay, I wanted to share, I was thinking about sometimes how I open the podcast and thinking about typically what I’m doing is I’m giving you an update on my life, but also I want to share with you the things that are giving me joy, the things that are fun for me, the things that are lighting me up. And sometimes those are the smallest, most random things. So before I talk to you about the dual process model, which I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time, here are a couple of things that are bringing me joy, three things specifically.

One is I have this really silly collection of Halloween decorations that are little skeletons. you see them in the grocery store, in the craft stores and they’re little random skeletons of sometimes animals that don’t even have skeletons. So for instance, I have an octopus one and I have a unicorn one. Unicorns are, well, unicorns are real, darn it, but you know what I mean. So every year for the past, I don’t know, probably since Hugo died, it was kind of one of those things that I started doing that made me smile.

Every year I’ve been adding to this ridiculous collection of skeleton creatures. And my daughter and I went shopping and we found a goose skeleton, which is perfect because that’s what I call her is goose. That’s my nickname for her, goose or baby goose even though she’s 19, I still call her that. So we bought the goose, which is perfect. And then also we found the cutest little frog skeleton, ridiculous. It’s ridiculous, I know it is, but it brings me joy.

Also, I realized over the summer I forgot that I like cross stitching. I haven’t cross stitched since my 19 year old was a baby, maybe even before she was born, I don’t really remember. But I did a random cross stitch project over the summer when I was in Colorado visiting my parents and I really enjoyed it. And I forgot how enjoyable that was for me to just sit there and stitch. And so I found, did you know Etsy has a ton of cross stitch patterns that are hysterical and awesome and creative and not boring?

And so I got on Etsy and I downloaded a Stranger Things cross stitch pattern, which we love Stranger Things in my house, we’ve watched it all. And so it’s a little picture of the kids from Stranger Things riding their bike and then on the bottom is the upside down and so fun. So it’s going to be perfect for Halloween. These are the things.

And then the third thing and I really do feel like I’m a small child today is, have you ever seen Cotopaxi backpacks? They’re the cutest things. They’re very environmentally friendly because of the material that they use and they’re kind of like patchworked together. My daughter is very into Cotopaxi. She has several pieces. That was a big Christmas present for her last year, I guess. And so I decided to buy Cotopaxi backpacks for both my kids.

Well, the one that I ordered for my daughter came and she didn’t love it and I loved it. She didn’t love the colors. They kind of surprise you. They have an option where you can pick from the colors that are on or you can just be surprised and we chose the be surprised option. And she didn’t love the colors but more than that, she didn’t love the size. She wanted the bigger one that I got Cleo. And so I decided to take hers and get her a new one. And if you saw this backpack, you would think that I must be a kindergartner. I don’t care. It is so cute and fun.

And I texted her today and I said, “I’m just going to put my stuff in it and carry it around the house because that’s how happy it makes me to look at the bright colors on this backpack.” Cotopaxi, C-O-T-O-P-A-X-I. And their symbol is a llama, and their motto is ‘do good’, which is my personal life motto and the motto of delta gamma, which is my sorority. It just feels like the company I was meant to buy a backpack from even though I look like I’m in kindergarten, completely random.

But listen, what are the joys in your life? And I know it can be hard to find them when it feels like your whole world just exploded and maybe you’re super early and grief. But can you find joy in a silly, ridiculous backpack? Can you find joy in a silly, ridiculous Halloween costume and still honor all of the ick that you feel in grief? I think you can. I think we can. I think it’s possible. So I’m going to keep sharing my joys with you in hopes that they help you find your own because I think that’s really important in grief.

Okay, dual process model, let’s talk about it. If you have listened to me for any length of time or you hear me interview on other people’s podcasts. You know that one of my biggest pet peeves is that the only grief information people seem to have or grief theory that seems to be discussed is the five stages of grief. And as we know, the five stages of grief is many decades old now. It was amazing in its time. It started a very valuable conversation.

Nobody was really talking about what it was like to go through grief and also it wasn’t even about people who had experienced a loss. Really the first work that turned into the five stages of grief was on hospice patients. It was about people who are coming to terms with their own mortality, with their own terminal diagnosis. And the book that was written on those anecdotal studies was called On Death and Dying.

And then later Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler extended that work into, on grief and grieving and then we have the five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Those are the five stages. That was way back before, yeah, well I was born, I was four. So it was a long time ago, I’m 47. But that seems to be the only grief theory people are talking about. And unfortunately, that work was never meant to be used in the way that we have used it.

In her later years Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross really lamented how people had taken this work that was meant to start conversations and meant to expand our ideas of what we experienced in grief. And really people turned that into this linear staged thou shalt deny and then feel angry and then bargain and then get depressed. And then ultimately merrily end up in a place of acceptance which is fixed and finite and poof we’re done with grief. That wasn’t how that work was intended to be but that’s how we’ve interpreted it.

And you hear it all over. You hear it in pop culture, everywhere. When people talk about grief they will very often talk about the five stages. That is what most people know when they think about grief. That’s definitely what I know. But as you well know, that does not explain what grief is like? Grief doesn’t end, natural response to a perceived loss, can’t change the loss. Always going to have thoughts and feelings about it, always going to have a response. We can integrate that into our lives. We move forward with grief, but we don’t move on from it, it doesn’t end.

Acceptance isn’t some place that we reach and once we reach it, we get a medal or something. Grief is not golf. These are the kinds of things I’ve been saying on the podcast for a long, long time. And it’s one of the reasons I do the work I do because I know if I had known more about grief, if I had known what you’re going to learn on this episode, when Hugo died, I would have had a whole different experience. It would have been so much easier, not easy, easier because I wouldn’t have been expecting my grief to look like something it didn’t.

And I wouldn’t have been putting my energy in places I didn’t need to put it. I wouldn’t have been judging myself in ways that I did. I wouldn’t have been trying to get the A plus on grief. So as we go into this discussion, I want us to be reminded, there are many theories of grief. There are other things besides the dual process model. We’re going to focus on the dual process model today, but even that is just one framework that someone has come up with. There are many more.

So grief is unique. It is individual. You can’t do it wrong. You can’t mess it up. We don’t come to an end of it. However you are experiencing it is right for you, it is not wrong. And this is why I love the dual process model, because I think it meets us where we are. Also, I talk a lot on the podcast about the importance of feeling our feelings, thinking about our thinking, thinking about the loss, not avoiding it. So much so that sometimes people take that to an extreme and assume I mean something I don’t.

So I want to talk about the dual process model, what it is, how it works and how it aligns with what you’ve already heard me talk about so that you know how to support yourself even better than you already are. Not that anything you’re doing is wrong, not that anything you’re experiencing is wrong but because we always want to have ways to better support ourselves and meet ourselves where we are.

So dual process model is this idea that was developed in 1999 by two people, last names Stroebe and Schut. And they came up with the idea that there are essentially two buckets of activities, two types of activities in grief. There are loss oriented activities, which means feeling the feelings, thinking about our loss, dealing with the stuff, all the stuff that’s grief related, loss oriented. That can also include, by the way, ruminating, that can include counterfactual thinking, that can include crying, that can include, I mean all the things, processing, whatever. It’s a big bucket.

Then the other bucket is restoration activities, restoration oriented things, which means not loss related. It means respite, it means taking a break, it means doing things that are unrelated to the loss, living life. Now, we can’t really live life as though there was no loss. So I don’t mean that we can exist in this restoration oriented bucket in some fairyland world where the loss didn’t happen. We can’t separate the two. But the way we spend our time and where our focus is can be divided into these two buckets.

So are we focused and thinking about the loss, or are we focused and thinking about other things beside the loss? And sometimes what people hear when I say, “We need to learn to support ourselves and feel our feelings and think about our thinking and think about our loss and integrate the loss”, and all these things. They think that if they’re doing anything else other than something that is loss related that somehow they’re doing grief wrong. That they shouldn’t be taking a break from grief, that they shouldn’t be doing the restoration oriented activities or rejuvenative activities.

Somehow they don’t have permission to do that until they check off all the grief loss oriented activities. And then once we get done with those then we can move over to the restoration oriented activities. That is not true at all. So dual process model proposes that healing is found in the intentional oscillation, back and forth between both buckets. We think about the loss. We feel the feelings. We take a break. We think about the loss. We have all the thoughts, we deal with their stuff. We take a break.

And it can be back and forth, back and forth, meaning that restoration oriented activities are just as valuable as loss oriented activities. So allowing ourselves a break from thinking about the loss and feeling the impact of it and dealing with what that has created in our lives is helpful. It serves us. It’s useful in our healing. Meaning we don’t need to feel guilty about it. We also don’t want it to be a second thought.

We want it to be something we do on purpose with intention, which means Netflix binges are okay. Laughing is okay. Going to the movies, doing things out of the house, traveling, trying new activities, hobbies, things that take your mind off the loss actually help facilitate your healing. Beautiful.

And so also, sometimes I think because of the podcasts that I’ve done on buffering, which is when we use a behavior to avoid an emotion, people also make the assumption that buffering is bad, that it’s bad to avoid an emotion with the behavior. That is not what I’m saying. What I’m saying and what I want you to hear is that we just want to do it consciously. Everyone buffers.

We all use behaviors to get away from emotion, not a bad thing. It’s not right or wrong, it’s not good or bad. But do we do it in a way that helps us and moves us toward what we want? Or do we do it in a way that holds us back from the experience we want? So, for instance, for me, early days for me, buffering was a lot of eating, which yeah, it did buffer the emotion I was feeling in the moment. It did provide me comfort because it kind of numbed me a little bit.

But ultimately it actually moved me away from the larger experience that I wanted in that it then gave me extra weight on my body that I didn’t want. It then had me less able to support myself and feel my feelings because I was more in the habit of answering those feelings with food. So it wasn’t serving me, it wasn’t serving the result I wanted. I wanted to actually develop other ways to deal with emotions instead of trying to answer them with food and feel at home in my body.

So we all buffer. There’s nothing wrong with buffering. We just want to do it on purpose and ask ourselves, is trying to get away from this emotion via this behavior, moving me toward what I want or away from what I want? So when we think about the dual process model and restoration oriented processes, restoration oriented activities.

Now, we’ll go back to Netflix, if you’re using Netflix and it is restorative for you, but you’re using it so much that you’re not actually getting the things done in your life that matter to you, then we’re using it in an unhelpful way. It’s not useful to you because it’s blocking you from creating what you want. So if you are the authority on your life, which you are, if you are the one who knows what results she wants to create, which you do, you are, that might be a little blurry for you right now in grief. But you know what your values are.

You know what essentially is something you want versus something you don’t want. You get to ask yourself, am I using this for myself? Is this respite? Is this restoration, rejuvenation? That’s what dual process model teaches, where I am taking a break. I’m giving myself a much needed break and I’m doing other things unrelated to my loss. I’m creating that balance for myself and that opportunity to find distraction in a way that actually moves me toward the overall experience that I want as opposed to distraction in a way that keeps me from living the life that I want.

You get to be the one that makes that decision and you ask yourself, is that what I’m doing here? So no more of this, I have to spend all of my time thinking about my loss and feeling my loss and dealing with all of the deals of my loss. Get away from this idea that if you are not focused on your loss, you’re doing something wrong. And relax into the possibility that dual process model could be really helpful for you and that it’s okay to take breaks.

That we want to find the intentional oscillation, the back and forth, it’s not going to be linear, it’s not going to be staged. It’s going to be sometimes we’re thinking about it and feeling it, dealing with it. And sometimes we’re doing other things. And both are necessary and helpful for our healing. Alright, that’s the dual process model. Please use everything you hear on this podcast for yourself. Please decide you will never use something I teach against yourself as a weapon, as a should, you will only use this work for good. That’s what I really want for you.

We have enough shoulds. We have enough ideas of how we’re supposed to be doing life. Let’s not take what I teach on the podcast and make things harder on ourselves. Let’s use it in support of the life that we want. Let’s use it lovingly as a means of self-care.

If you have not registered for mementos and memories, get on it, coachingwithkrista.com/mementosandmemories. And listen, if you are not listening to this until Wednesday, it’s still okay, you can still register. We’ll send you all the replays, it’s fine. Great if you can attend live but we’ll still send you the replays if the event’s still going. Alright, that’s what I have for you this week. Remember, I love you, you’ve got this. Take care and I’ll see you next week. Bye bye.

If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence.

Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click work with me for details and the next steps. I can’t wait to meet you. 

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About your coach

I created a new life using small, manageable steps and techniques that made sense. The changes I experienced were so profound I became a Master Certified Life Coach and created a group coaching program for widows like us called Mom Goes On. It’s now my mission to show widowed moms exactly how to do what I’ve done and create a future they can look forward to.

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