By: Rachel Gaffin, Full Circle Intern

When I was seventeen, one of my best friends died in a car crash. Two years older than me, Julia was someone I always looked up to; we bonded in a French class and quickly discovered a shared love for Chipotle, a really good belly laugh, and long conversations about the meaning of life. When I was looking for colleges, Julia invited me to shadow her at the University of Virginia, where I followed her like a puppy across campus (“The Grounds” to all my fellow Hoos out there): eating in the dining hall, going to class, and hanging out with her friends. She was generous, warm, and funny, never once hinting that my presence with her was any kind of burden. This is how I remember her.

Her college roommate and I spent hours together the terrible summer she died—the summer before my senior year—driving around our neighborhoods at night, listening to sad music and pausing in random parking lots to stare at the moon through the sunroof of the car. There was nothing to say. We just wanted to sit, be, and let the music wash over us. 

Since Julia’s death, my vocabulary for grief has expanded. The grieving process can feel very strange and very circular, enough to leave anyone disoriented. One second, you’re weeping into your pillow in your bedroom, crushed by the weight of loss; then, you’re writing a poem or making a memorial in honor of your loved one; before you know it, you’re at school or work, interacting with classmates or coworkers, sometimes like nothing happened; without warning, you’re back to crying in the grocery store line. When I caught myself “living normally,” a wave of guilt would wash over me. But Julia’s dead. What right do I have to go on like normal? 

Since then, I have learned the name for this kind of back-and-forth, the ebb-and-flow of grief. We call it the Dual Process Model, a framework for understanding grief first introduced in the 1990s. This model makes room for the “loss-oriented” and “restoration-oriented” tasks or stressors of grief, both which can be exhausting.

Loss-oriented tasks involve what we may typically think of as grief, reflecting on what has been lost: 

  • Feeling sad/crying 
  • Mourning the loss with community
  • Taking time off from work 
  • Experiencing physical changes like headaches, exhaustion, or fatigue
  • Experiencing mental shifts like increased symptoms of anxiety or depression

Meanwhile, restoration-oriented tasks help the griever adapt to life after a death of a loved one: 

  • Learning to do the things your loved one used to always take care of
  • Incorporating their memory into your lived experience
  • Developing and understanding a new identity in light of their death, such as “widow,” “orphan,” or simply, “the bereaved”
  • Doing things on your own that you used to do with them

The most important thing my high school self needed to hear? The Dual Process model acknowledges that grievers need to take a break. 

Take a break? I remember feeling so guilty whenever I would plan for my college career or hang out with friends instead of actively participating in some task of grief in Julia’s honor. In hindsight, I know that my high school self, reeling as she was, needed space to just be a teenager, and that this space did not mean I did not still love and care for my friend who had died. 

The Dual Process model acknowledges that grief is not neat, it does not follow a timeline, and it looks differently for everyone. It also acknowledges how exhausting it is to mourn and rebuild in the wake of loss. It makes room for the griever to “just be.” 

Ten years later, I carry Julia with me. Ten years later, I know that honoring her can look like reflecting on her memory, eating Chipotle on her death date, and writing poems for and to her. I also know that it can look like committing myself to the everyday tasks of life. All of these things, whether they may look like grief or not, can honor her and be a part of the love I still carry for her today.