girl grow flower on green field

Finding ways to make meaning out of loss

There are many ways to experience grief and there are few right or wrong ways to cope, aside from destructive behavior like taking drugs or harming ourselves or others. One way many people cope is by finding some activity or task that will ease the pain and help to make meaning out of their loss. Dr. Phil Carverhill, a Saskatchewan psychologist, talked about this at his session during the Western Canada Family Forum last fall.

Dr. Carverhill referred to it as “instrumental” coping:
ways of actively responding to grief, of coping by “doing”. Another way of coping, he said, is called “intuitive” or “emotional” coping and focuses more on feeling and expressing emotions. Most people will slide back and forth along a continuum between these two.

Instrumental coping, he suggested, might include walking or other types of exercise, taking part in a hobby or activity that feels therapeutic, or getting involved in an activity that the loved one was passionate about.

Some examples:

  • Building a garden or other memorial (read Lynda Kolly’s column about the garden she created for her son, in the spring issue of our newsletter).
  • Establishing a trophy related to a loved one’s favourite activity (baseball, hockey, motocross) or an award or scholarship in his or her name.
  • Getting a tattoo
  • Digging for the facts about what happened
  • Volunteering or raising money for a cause like a cancer association, or Threads of Life
  • Assembling a quilt using the loved one’s t-shirts or other clothes
  • Going on a journey

It’s important, Dr. Carverhill added, to realize that every loss and every grief is different, and “you may not have any reference points for this”.

“Forget society’s unhelpful saying and expectations. Take what is helpful and leave the rest,” he said. “Do things in your own timeframe.”

Have you found a way to cope by “doing”? Was it a garden? A sport? A craft project? Share what worked for you, with other family members – write out your comments in the space below.


Are you interested in writing for the Threads of Life blog? We welcome guest bloggers. Please read our blog guidelines.  

Susan Haldane