This past July, one of my good friends that I attended high school and university with suddenly passed away. Our friend group was in shock. Looking back in retrospect, we all responded to her passing in a multitude of unique ways. Some people responded by writing memorial pieces. Others found healing in supporting others. And some people turned to poetry and music to comfort them. Regardless of what we did to heal, the two patterns of grieving styles were made manifest in our response. 

The patterns of grieving styles are made up of instrumental grief and intuitive grief. The patterns were identified by psychiatrists, Terry Martin and Kenneth Doka. They exist among a continuum, where the two grieving styles are the extremes. 


People who experience qualities related to the instrumental grieving pattern are less likely to express emotions outwardly. They are characterized by seeking a more cognitive, problem-solving approach to healing and will direct their energy into activities. Instrumental grievers focus on thinking rather than feeling in their grief journey and may ask many questions. Instrumental grief may manifest itself through a bereaved person cleaning up around the house, going to the gym to work out or playing the guitar. To support an instrumental griever, providing “distractions” for them such as giving them a list of household tasks to do is helpful. Using logical analysis, break down problems into less-overwhelming, manageable steps to provide an outlet for them to heal. 


Intuitive grievers primarily express their grief through affect. They develop more extreme emotional symptoms and heal through sharing their thoughts and feelings with others. Often, their expressions and behaviour will mirror their feelings. Moving forward involves exploring their feelings and progressing through the pain in order to heal.

You can help intuitive grievers by being there for them, to listen and walk with them through their grief journey. Or you could direct them towards support systems such as group therapy or one-on-one sessions with a social worker or peer support.


Since instrumental and intuitive grieving styles are on opposite ends of a continuum and since people are unique, one-of-a-kind individuals, everyone expresses grief differently. Most people exhibit grief in both cognitive and affective ways, but there is always one grieving style that is more dominant than the other. Being aware of this continuum can greatly help you in supporting a bereaved family member or friend.


BFO-Toronto recognizes that people grief in all manners. As a result, we strive to support all kinds of grievers in their grief journey. For intuitive grievers, support groups held by BFO-Toronto may be of benefit. Facilitated by peer volunteers who have experienced similar loss, people may find it helpful to express your thoughts and feelings to someone who can relate. For instrumental grievers, we hold events that encourage you to do activities that encourage healing. In early September, BFO-Toronto will be hosting our Annual Butterfly Release. Through the act of releasing a butterfly, one may find it a beautiful and personal way to honour their loved one. Regardless of your grieving style, we are here to support you in your path to healing!