From Grief to Growth

10 - Can You Heal From a Sudden Death

Definition of healing

The concept of healing can be defined in so many ways.  To feel better, to feel stronger, to have less pain, to be more resilient, to hurt less, or to experience more peace.  There is no right or wrong way to define healing.  


In 1996 Dr. Lois Tonkin developed a model about how we grow around grief that is often referred to as the “fried egg model of grief.”  According to Dr. Tonkin, our grief does not really change in size, but our world does.  


Post traumatic Growth

In the mid 1990s Drs. Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun began researching and coined the term Post Traumatic Growth (“PTG”) which refers to a positive change that individuals experience in their life beyond recovering after a crisis or a traumatic event.  They found that individuals are most likely to experience positive changes or post traumatic growth in 5 domains in their lives.


  1.  New possibilities - individuals who experience PTG are more likely to be open to new possibilities such as trying new things, exploring new interests, hobbies, or activities.
  2. Relating to others in different ways - individuals who experience PTG also report that they experience closer relationships and increased connections with people in their lives because they now understand the importance of support.
  3. A greater appreciation for life - individuals who experience PTG in this area truly value what life has to offer.  They may be able to slow down their life pace and notice the small things in life that really matter.
  4. Increased personal strength - individuals who experience PTG here may exhibit increased self-confidence and feel resiliency for getting through something so traumatic.  Tedeschi and Calhoun also use the term psychological toughness.
  5. Deepening of spiritual life or religious belief - you do not need to have a religious belief system to experience PTG in this domain.  Individuals also experience growth by altering their belief systems in general and reflecting on existential questions and meaning in life, mortality, and interconnections with others.


It is hard to tell who is going to experience PTG after the loss of a loved one just as it is hard to tell who is going to develop post-traumatic stress disorder after a traumatic experience.  Tedeschi and Calhoun have identified various factors that may contribute to post traumatic growth.


  1. Education - you need to know what happened and the impact it has had on your world.  Examples include – knowing that traumatic grief is different, knowing how trauma impacts your body and how to regulate your emotions.  


  1. Emotional regulation - this is important because it gives you the ability to understand and manage your emotions and behaviors.   To be able to experience growth, you must be in a good state of mind and able utilize tools to help you regulate complex emotions associated with traumatic loss.


  1. Disclosure – being able to talk about your experiences with family, friends, mental health professionals or other people on your social support team.  Choosing people who can hear your struggles and your pain without the need to fix them is an important part of finding the right people to disclose to.


  1. Narrative development – produce an authentic narrative about the trauma and your life afterwards so you can accept the chapters already written and write the next one in a meaningful way.


  1. Service - most people do better in the aftermath of trauma if they engage in meaningful work that benefits others, especially if it is work in your community or work related to a similar trauma that you have experienced.


What can you do?

Depending on where you are in your healing process it may be so hard to envision that you will ever experience PTG.  Tedeschi and Calhoun also state that not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will experience PTG.  And that’s okay, but there are certain things that you can still do to facilitate moving towards healing and that’s also going to facilitate moving towards PTG.


I recommend a book The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook by Richard Tedeschi and Bret Moore for anyone who has any interest in this subject.  I really like this workbook because it has exercises that are targeted to each of the 5 domains that I explained above.


In addition to what has already been discussed, I recommend that you keep the 5 domains in mind when you think about your healing and your day to day living.  


  • Don’t be afraid to try new things and explore new interests.  You can’t go wrong.


  • Invest in your social support, and particularly focus on deepening relationships with a few good friends.  


  • Keep a gratitude journal.  


  • Talk about your experiences, disclose to others what you are feeling – you are not only helping yourself, but you might be helping others as well.

Podcast Review

Today’s podcast was about the ability to move towards healing from what you are experiencing after the sudden death of a loved one.  We looked at how to define healing and we explored the “fried egg model of grief” which states that grief does not get smaller, but instead we grow around our grief.  We also explored the concept of post traumatic growth, and I gave you 5 domains that you may experience growth in.  I also explored factors that may contribute to the development of PTG.



We’ve now had ten episodes of this podcast Untethered: Healing the Pain From a Sudden Loss, and these ten episodes have been designed to provide you with a foundation about sudden and unexpected loss.  Moving forward I am excited to announce I am going to be interviewing professionals and experts who work in the field of sudden loss about their experiences – what they do, what type of clients they work and what they have learned.  But I am also going to be interviewing individuals who have experienced a sudden loss as well so you can hear their stories and learn directly from their experiences.  I am really excited about this next phase of our podcast and excited to share this with you.  


Our next podcast will be Wednesday October 12, 2022.  I have a wonderful and an exciting guest lined up for you. Stay tuned for social media announcements about who this podcast guest is going to be.


Be sure to subscribe to my podcast so that you never miss an episode.  Don’t forget to leave a review and share this with someone you know who is living with a sudden and unexpected loss.  Visit my website for more information about my free mini course.


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