by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
Someone you have given love to and received love from has died. You are grieving. You are “bereaved” which literally means you have been “torn apart” and have “special needs.” You are beginning, or are in the midst of, a journey that is painful, often lonely and naturally frightening.
Among your most special needs right now is to have the courage to grieve and mourn in a culture that doesn’t always invite you to feel safe to do so. That said, I have written this article to help you draw forth your courage—the courage that already exists within you—to accept grief and mourning as they come.
There is a difference between grieving and mourning. Grief is the constellation of internal thoughts and feelings we have when someone we love dies. Mourning is when you take the grief you have on the inside and express it outside yourself. In other words, mourning is grief in action.
I encourage you to take grief’s hand and let it lead you through the darkness and toward the light. You may not see the light at first, but forge ahead with courage, and with the faith that the light of hope and happiness does exist. Feel your pain, sorrow, sadness, disbelief, agony, heartbreak, fear, anxiety, and loneliness as much as you can.
This may seem odd, as these emotions could well be the ones you most want to avoid. You might fall into the common thinking of our society that denying these feelings will make them go away. You might have the urge to “keep your chin up” and stay busy and wait to “get over” your grief. Yet, ironically, the only way to help these hard feelings pass is to wade in the muck of them. To get in, and get dirty. Grief isn’t clean, tidy, or convenient. Yet feeling it and expressing it is the only way to feel whole, once again. Unresolved grief can leave you feeling “stuck” or empty. Your ability to engage in life could be inhibited and you might feel like you’ve shut down.
Instead, choose grief. And as you walk with your grief, actively mourn. Cry when you need to, call a friend when you feel overwhelmed, join a grief support group, express yourself through writing, music, dance, or sports. By taking action, you will eventually integrate the death of your loved one into your life. In exchange, you will find the hope, courage, and desire to once again live a full and rewarding life. While walking with grief, remember two important things: 1) Grief and mourning have no timeline. Your grief journey is unique and will take as little or as much time as needed, depending on the unique circumstances of your loss. 2) Taking breaks along the way is needed and necessary. I like to use the word “dosing” when referring to grieving and mourning.
Grief is not something you can do all at once. Feeling so many feelings often leads to overwhelm. Instead, take in “doses” of grief and mourn in bits and pieces. Retreat and welcome respite as needed. Grief may never leave your side, but it will allow you to let go and venture forth on your own more and more as days, weeks, months, and years pass. Tap into your innate courage and accept the hand held out by grief.