Tonkin’s Model of Grief

Dr Tonkin’s model of growing around grief

Last updated: 16 March 2017

Dr Lois Tonkin has been teaching her model of growing around grief for over 20 years. This model of grief may be particularly helpful if you are wondering how you will ever get over or move on from your loss.

In essence, Tonkin’s model of grief challenges the idea that ‘time heals all wounds’ or that grief disappears with time. Indeed, if you have recently lost a loved one, you might feel as though it is impossible to ever move on from grief. Dr Tonkin suggests that this is because we do not move on from grief, but grow around it.

Growing around grief

Imagine drawing a circle to represent yourself. This is you, your life and everything you’re experiencing. Now you shade in the circle to represent your grief.

The result is a circle, almost entirely shaded. This is you and your grief; it may be entirely consuming your life. You may feel unable to eat or sleep, or find yourself struggling to think about anything else.

What happens in the following days, months and years is important. Rather than the shaded area growing smaller, the outer circle (representing you) begins to grow bigger. The result looks somewhat like a fried egg, with the white representing your life and the yolk representing your grief – this is why this model of grief is sometimes referred to as the fried egg model.

Tonkin’s theory of grief suggests that over time, your grief will stay much the same, but your life will begin to grow around it. You will have new experiences, meet new people, and begin to find moments of enjoyment. Slowly, these moments may grow more frequent and the outer circle will grow a little bigger.

Eventually, there will be a much larger circle, with the same size shaded area – but the grief is not as dominant overall. This is why Tonkin’s model of grief is called growing around grief.

This does not mean the grief disappears. It will probably always be there, and may even grow a little bigger at difficult times. But it no longer completely dominates the circle.

Understanding Tonkin’s model of grief

The idea of growing around grief acknowledges that grief doesn’t always disappear with time. It also shows that despite grief not going away, this doesn’t mean you will always feel as bad as you do right now, because your life will grow around the grief.

For many bereaved people, the idea of moving on or forgetting is one of the most problematic parts of grieving. Tonkin’s model suggests that it is okay for grief to always be part of your life.

However, you should bear in mind that this is only a theory of how grief works. There are many other models of grief which may more accurately represent how you experience grief. Everyone is unique in how they react to the death of a loved one and none of these models represent the ‘right’ way to grieve.