Grief vs. Mourning
I think it was The Mourner’s Dance that first made the distinction (to me) between grief and mourning.
“Grief” is what we feel inside: sadness, anger, confusion, shock, denial … whatever those feelings might be.
“Mourning” is the expression of those feelings. The most obvious example is crying because we feel sad, but mourning can also be telling a funny story about a loved one who has died, or (as I did this week) signing up for a class because you know the person you loved would have wanted to learn that skill. Mourning is an action inspired by those internal emotions.
I find it helpful to distinguish between grief and mourning because it explains my own reaction to Brock’s death so well. There is huge sadness (along with many other feelings) inside me, but the shock and numbness I’ve been feeling make it almost impossible to let these feelings out. This hasn’t felt right or healthy to me, which is one of the reasons I signed up for a bereavement support group.
We read and discussed this grief vs. mourning distinction at the third meeting of my support group this week. We took the discussion further, thanks to our Understanding Your Grief workbook, as follows:
Grief is not a bad thing.
I know that there’s this big scary ball of sadness inside my chest, and it’s human nature to want to ignore it and (if possible) make it go away. Speaking of which, here are some quotes from our workbook, by Alan Wolfelt:
“You have probably been taught that pain is an indication that something is wrong and that you should find ways to alleviate the pain.”
“Far too many people view grief as something to be overcome, rather than experienced.”
But, according to this workbook, grief is not a bad thing: it’s a natural thing. Of course there’s sadness inside me: I just lost my life partner. It would be unnatural (and unhealthy) to deny that sadness.
You can actively help grief come out.
Since this grief will erupt out on its own, possibly in unexpected ways and at unexpected times, I/we can choose to be a “passive witness” to this grief or an “active participant.” I don’t know about you, but I like the word “active” better.
In other words: instead of trying to smother that sadness and get rid of it, a “healthy” way to deal with grief is to let it come out, maybe even in a controlled, intentional way.
One of the best sentences in our workbook this week (which I underlined) was:
“You will naturally grieve, but you will probably have to make a conscious effort to mourn.”
Yes! That’s a prescription I can follow. I can accept responsibility for letting my grief out. In fact, I can find ways to remember Brock that are happy and enjoyable, not just sad.
So here are some ideas I’ve come up with over the past few days, to help me mourn Brock (and therefore express this grief bottled up inside me):
- Make a “Brock and Heather” photo album of actual, hard copy photos, like what I made for Isaac.
- Encourage family and friends to celebrate Brock’s birthday on March 31 by sharing a list of potential ways to remember and honour him (e.g. watch his favourite movies, dance to specific songs, quit your day job to follow your dream, etc.).
- Find a way to commemorate our 12 year anniversary on April 2.
- Ensure there’s a place in our house plan for a “Brock Memory Corner” (in addition to having his photos around our home) where I can put special items to help us remember him daily.
- Once our new house is somewhat landscaped, sprinkle some of Brock’s remains in a safe spot, maybe with a chair or bench that we can sit on.
I also gave myself some credit because I already do proactive mourning things, including:
- writing on this website;
- sharing memories and Brock-meaningful moments on our In Memory of Brock McLeod Facebook page;
- write to Brock in a journal (especially when I need to make a decision and wish he were here to make it with me);
- keep photos of Brock around so I can see his sexy smile and smile back at him; and
- share memories with Isaac of his daddy, and tell him stories that include Brock.
A big thought to end on …
I’m glad you’re here with me, reading along, as I go through all this. I appreciate your support and love.
More importantly, I hope reading all this will help you in your own life, because death and loss will inevitably be part of your life if it isn’t already.
I started reading another book by Wolfelt yesterday, called Healing a Spouse’s Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas After Your Husband or Wife Dies, and there’s this horrible, excellent quote from C.S. Lewis at the beginning:
“Bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love. It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer. It is not a truncation of the process but one of the phases …”
-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
I don’t want to scare you or make you sad, but it’s a true statement that every love partnership will include a stage of bereavement (unless you’re lucky enough to die at the same time).
We’re all in this together.