Tuesday, 25 September 2012

We're Going on a Bear Hunt - a new way to look at grief!

There are many models of the grieving process thought up by lots of learned people with letters after their name.

Well I have a B.A.(Hons) in Library and Information Studies and some experience in this matter now so here are my own theories first posted last year based on a favourite book!

from Textbook Grief and Other Helpful Models? (originally posted 23rd Sept 2011)

I have come up with my own model based on the popular children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen, beautifully illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. 

I apologise at the start to anyone who hasn’t read this classic, maybe you would like to pop to the library now and get a copy because there will be SPOILERS to the plot…

This book was a favourite of the boys when they were small and more importantly one Andrew loved to read to them and often quoted when we were out for a walk.

The basic plot is that a family are out on a bear hunt and on the way they encounter a series of obstacles.

We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!

That’s grieving in a nutshell.  You can’t go over it!  You can’t go under it!  You can’t even go round it!


It’s something I am constantly learning.  There is no quick fix.  Tick all five stages, you’ve passed the test and can move on as good as new.  You can read all the theory and understand all the models but you have to experience the day to day living without your loved one.  All the inevitable ups and downs of dual process or swirling whirlpool however you wish to label it.

Let me tell you the hurdles that have to be faced in the bear hunt story because they conjure up some great images that also help describe the bereavement process.

Long wavy grass that goes swishy swashy as they sweep through.  It marks like thin paper cuts, niggling and painful to touch leaving tender scars that may fade but are a constant reminder of the journey.

There’s the splosh splash of the deep cold river.  It’s difficult to walk through normally.  All of a sudden your life has a surreal quality about it and when you have negotiated the river you are left feeling uncomfortable and weighed down by too much excess baggage.

You dry out from the water and find thick oozy mud as the next challenge.  It clings and squelches and my favourite word of the book squerches .  Like the water it is hard to get through and slows you down.  You can’t run or hurry in squerchy thick mud.  Each step is an ordeal.

Then there’s the big dark forest that causes you to stumble and trip.  It’s the unseen branches that snag your clothes and pull you back.  Great tree roots that hamper your progress and make you fall down.  With every tumble you have to get back up however hard it may be or you become lost.

A snow storm closes in, sounds to me like last winter all over again.  It batters you from all sides, howling tormenting wind.  Memories, regrets, swirling “what ifs”.

Finally there’s the cave and inside you find the bear but once you confront your fears you don’t really want to be there so you rush back home and hide under the duvet.

These are the many stages or obstacles you have to face in grief but feel free to mix and match and because this is a children’s story not a textbook this model is not to be taken too seriously!

Right at the end of the book on the final page is the bear plodding slowly back to his cave along a moonlit beach.  He had chased the children back home and when they wouldn’t let him in he wanders home alone.

That’s when I always felt most sad.  I remember reading the story to my youngest son and when we got to that page I said, “Aww, poor bear he only wanted to play.”

Eventually my young son would be repeating my words and we both had sympathy for this much maligned character.  I wonder how the author and the artist saw him?

And maybe that’s what’s grief’s about too, wandering on your own, feeling lost and alone, thinking no one understands. 

In the end you just have to "go through it" and hope when you get to the other side you are in a better place to cheer on the next person and encourage them to carry on.

(or as someone commented last time I posted this, we don't ever get "through it" to the other side but we learn to live with the bear. On reflection - that's a great way to look at it!)

1 comment:

  1. My husband has had to go on this "bear hunt", not once but three times in his adult life, first with the passing of his beloved mother, a second time when his wife died instantly of an aneurysm, and yet a third time when his next wife Sheila died of cancer, as told in my blog. He would agree with all that you have written here, and add that the love and understanding of those who care about you is immeasurable in helping you to heal. We do not replace love and memories with new ones, we add to them, we reach out and we go on living, because we must, that is what we are here for. Blessings to you as you travel your own journey of healing.