Grief has no rules: the importance of telling 'river stories'

In Grief Awareness Month, Seasons for Growth Co-ordinator in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, Benita Tait, shares some wisdom drawn from experience.

Grief has no rules: the importance of telling 'river stories'

In life we are guided by rules which govern standards for certain activities. From an early age, rules are a part of school life and they are important in playing sport. In adulthood, we are governed by the law.


When it comes to grief however, there are no rules.


There are no rules to govern how we must grieve; there is no judge to determine if our sentence will be short or prolonged. But while grief has no rules to tell us how we must grieve, we have the freedom to choose our own rules and to grieve in a way that is unique to our own experience (NALAG 2013).


During Grief Awareness Month we are encouraged to consider what our personal ‘Grief Rules’ are.  Our rituals, cultures, stories and ideas of remembrance surrounding grief and loss are unique and need to be acknowledged and honoured. Reflecting on our stories of loss and expressing them in creative ways, individually and with others, is an important way of understanding and owning our grief rules. Author Dawna Markova says people tell “rut stories” or “river stories.” Rut stories, she says, are negative and keep us stuck. River stories are positive and life-giving and they keep us moving forward. It is through the sharing of “river stories” rather than “rut stories” that our own grief rules can be developed.


Unfortunately, society often has its own grief rules and offers individuals many opportunities to avoid the intense pain loss can bring. Eventually this avoidance impacts on people’s ability to engage with others and many find themselves struggling to live life as fully as they could. It is from this place of avoidance that ‘rut’ stories can take hold.


Having ‘permission’ instead to process the pain of grief (William Worden 1996) helps prevent individuals from carrying pain into the future, where it might be more difficult to work through. As individuals take this journey through grief, it is important that they be with supportive people who will validate their feelings, assist them in addressing their pain and encourage them to move forward with their own grief rules. These rules will empower them to live with hope as they continue to adjust to the reality of their loss.


This month the National Association for Loss and Grief (NALAG) is encouraging individuals to share their grief rules. If you have a story of remembrance or ritual surrounding loss and grief that could offer hope to others, you are invited to send your story to or post to NALAG Centre for Loss and Grief, PO Box 379, Dubbo NSW 2830. These stories will feature in the next edition of their newsletter and on their website. It is hoped that these stories will help others develop their own ideas for remembering and commemorating losses in hopeful ways.


In the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, grieving children, young people and adults are regularly offered the opportunity to share river stories through the Seasons for Growth® program. It is through the many activities and discussions in the program that an individual’s story is acknowledged and honoured and one’s own grief rules are written. With these rules in hand, river stories can continue to be told allowing the individual to be carried forward with hope.


For more information about NALAG visit


For more information about the Seasons for Growth program visit and



NALAG Grief Awareness Month flyer

Seasons for Growth Winter newsletter 2013

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