Grief Literacy – What is it?

Grief Literacy – What is it?

When I was asked to write this blog post, I didn’t know much about the term ‘grief literacy’! I was given a few research article, but other than that, I hadn’t really come across it that often. After I did a bunch of reading, I have a much better grasp on the subject. I will define ‘grief literacy’ simply, and if you would like to read a more full definition, you can read it down at the bottom of this post.

Grief literacy is the idea that we, as a society, should be more understanding and more able to help and support people who are experiencing grief in their lives. As healthcare providers for people near death, I believe we have a slightly better understanding of grief than the average person in our society. For example, there are some people who still believe that there are 5 stages of grief and that grief is a linear process – that someone who is grieving will (and should) go through denial, then anger, then bargaining, then depression, and finally, acceptance. I like this image of grief that shows that there are many feelings associated with grief, and that it can be very messy and all over the place.

As health care providers, we know that Hollywood does not provide a fully accurate picture of what grief looks like. We know that it does not always appear in the same way in every person. Some people may cry, or express anger. Others may become quiet or withdrawn. Still others may work to suppress feelings of grief, and outsiders will not “see” their grief. However, in wider society, this is not a universal understanding. And therefore, our society is considered to be grief illiterate.

Also, the idea that grief comes and goes in waves is not well understood or accommodated. People understand if you want to take time immediately after a death in the family, but don’t quite understand if you require time to grieve weeks or even months later. People may not realize that grief occurs following the deaths of pets, or close friends. Our society may value and understand death for close family members more than death of a friend/pet. There may be judgement if you try to take time off for a non-nuclear family member’s death.

So, this is where the idea of becoming grief literate comes from. It would be wonderful if our society better understood grief and how it affects us! And, if people understood that there is no ‘right’ way to experience grief, and grief can present in a hundred different ways at a hundred different times.

I think it would be helpful for our community for us (as people who have a deeper understanding of grief) to share our knowledge and hopefully that knowledge and understanding will grow and slowly become a part of normal life. I’m sure you already do share your knowledge! What I can suggest is that you become mindful and share more often or explain a bit more! I hope that spreading understanding of grief can slowly lead us to have a grief literate society.

The definition of grief literacy is as follows (Breen et al., 2022):

  • “The capacity to access, process, and use knowledge regarding the experience of loss.
  • This capacity is multidimensional: it comprises knowledge to facilitate understanding and reflection, skills to enable action, and values to inspire compassion and care.
  • These dimensions connect and integrate via the interdependence of individuals within socio-cultural contexts.”

Here are a few favorite and helpful resources to help increase grief literacy and provide support:

Refuge in Grief – Megan Devine – provides resources and trainings to help you find support & connection.

What’s Your Grief? Web resources to create a community that provides hope, creative expression, support, and education to anyone wishing to understand the complicated experience of life after loss.

Canada Virtual Hospice – My Grief – a resource to support you and help you through grief.

Andrea Warnick Helping families, professionals, volunteers, and communities support grieving children, youth and adults. Education, resources, counselling support, kids grief camps.

Canadian Grief Alliance – Working to help Canada become more grief literate – excellent handouts and resources.

Breen, L. J., Kawashima, D., Joy, K., Cadell, S., Roth, D., Chow, A., & Macdonald, M. E. (2022). Grief literacy: A call to action for compassionate communities. Death Studies, 46(2), 425–433.

Stroebe, M., Schut, H., & Boerner, K. (2017). Cautioning Health-Care Professionals: Bereaved Persons Are Misguided Through the Stages of Grief. Http://, 74(4), 455–473.

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Courtney Murrell is a PSW who works in hospice palliative care.

When she is not at work, she is spending time with her family, going on hikes or writing. Courtney is a lifelong learner and loves to share her passion for writing as a wellness practice.

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