Exploring the Pioneer Grief Archetype

This is part three of a four-part series on the grief archetypes. Read part one, Exploring the Villager Archetype, and part two, Exploring the Pilgrim Archetype.

I created the grief archetype quiz as a tool to help my grieving clientele take their first steps into what I call the wilderness of grief – a vast, enormous landscape that demands our entrance after loss pushes its way into our world. What’s important to remember about this wilderness is that its a perpetually occurring journey. It’s a place that every culture, every generation, and every creature capable of love and connection has entered before us, and in doing so, has creates in-roads of wisdom that we can follow. These are the footpaths we’re exploring in this series.

The Pioneer Archetype

Pioneers are defined by their need to move, quite literally, through their grief. For this energetic, typically optimistic, and adventurous type, grief feels like a literal load to bear. When they feel its heavy cloak fall down around their life, their instinct is to move, shake, and do. 

I first met Joanie when she came to a course I was teaching about grief and loss. She had lost her husband of thirty years and she was trying to put the broken pieces of her life back together as neatly and expediently as she could. She sat in the front row and was an earnest and eager student. After class, she approached me with wise and insightful questions. 

Her questions and our conversation told me that she was deeply feeling her grief, but when she began to describe how she had coped over the preceding months, it sounded like a whirlwind itinerary. Shortly after her husband’s death, she began attending a grief support group. She found it so helpful and inspiring that she decided to start her own grief support group, which she was still successfully running each week. She had taken up yoga and found it so beneficial and enjoyable that she decided to pursue becoming a certified yoga teacher, which she did. Next on her list of to do’s was to become a certified hypnotherapist, a program that took considerable time and effort to complete and a process she was well into when I met her. She also sold her home, bought a smaller condo, and got a part time job (she hadn’t worked in years.) By asking just a few questions, I was able to ascertain that the last two items on her “‘recently conquered” list (selling her home and getting a job) were not the knee-jerk reactions to loss that they may have looked like from the outside. Her husband had been sick for quite some time and it had long been planned between them that after he passed, she would sell their home and move into a smaller place – not because she was trying to leave old memories behind, but instead because it made good sense. The part-time job was another thing they had both agreed would be therapeutic for her, to help occupy the empty hours they both knew she would struggle with.

From the outside, it may have looked like Joanie was moving on in her life without missing a beat, but in fact she was very much involved in the process of grieving. She was just doing it in the way that Pioneers find most comfortable. In the traditional grief therapy world, this might be called instrumental grieving – but to the eyes of those unaware of grief styles, it can look like anything from denial to outright betrayal of the deceased loved one.

Of all the archetypes, it is the Pioneers who are the most misunderstood by those around them. This misunderstanding and commentary from others can become one more layer of grief that they need to move through. It is not uncommon for the loved ones of Pioneers to come and see me, looking for validation that their loved one is moving on too quickly in their life, even lamenting that they are skipping “the stages of grief.”

In helping them to understand their pioneer,I will often liken grief to a ball of string, explaining that unlike the more methodical and intuitive grief archetypes that tend to sit still with the tightly wadded ball of string (grief), the Pioneer tends to give the ball a shove and follow where its unwinding leads. The point of my metaphor is this – whether one is sitting with the ball of string in their lap thoughtfully pondering their loss, or chasing the ball of string around the globe while stopping every so often to have a good cry, it’s still the same ball of string. There are no shortcuts or free passes with grief. I always assure those who question the tactics of a pioneer to trust in the organic nature of grief. For if a Pioneer is indeed moving too quickly or bypassing necessary milestones, grief has the patience to wait – sometimes years if it has to – and the work of grief will get done. 

Sometimes Pioneers just need to know that they aren’t doing anything wrong with their “grief in motion” approach to healing. Pioneers are also a great reminder that although understanding our own grief archetype is helpful, understanding the grief archetypes of those around us may be just as important.

Click here to learn more about my grief kit.