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Are Grieving and Mourning the Same?

Most people use the terms grief and mourning synonymously. But, there's a subtle (and often undiscussed) distinction between the two. If we apply this knowledge to our own experiences of loss, it can change the trajectory of our healing and help us better understand our grief.

The dictionary defines grief as “deep sorrow,” whereas mourning is defined as the “act of sorrowing.”

Grief refers to the internal thoughts and feelings (i.e., sorrow, fear, anger, exhaustion, regret…) we experience following a loss. But, mourning is the outward expression of those emotions.

It happens when we put our sorrow into action- moving our grief from the inside out.

Mourning represents one of the greatest paradoxes of loss and love. To reconcile and heal our grief, we must first provide ourselves the permission, time, space, and support necessary to acknowledge our losses and feel the painful emotions of grief.

In order to heal, we must first feel.

And, feeling pain is not an easy task. It's also not something we should expect to do all at once or completely alone (I'll talk more about this in a future post...).

The Difficulty of Mourning

As humans, our survival often depends on our ability to avoid situations that might cause us harm. So, it’s instinctual for us to steer clear of anything that will bring us pain.

While we usually can’t control or avoid a loss like death, unemployment, divorce, or pandemic, we often try to bypass its accompanying pain. It doesn't help that society sends us affirming messages to ignore, hide, or mask our feelings of grief.

I’ve been to more than one funeral where the person who appears to be “holding it together” is praised while the one “falling apart” receives critical remarks. We frequently applaud (and even encourage) stoicism following a loss, and we send messages that our friends should “get over” their grief, stifling mourning altogether.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it insinuates the most effective way to cope with our grief is to conceal our emotions.

The opposite is actually true.

Healing our Grief

Most modern models of grief counseling agree that acknowledging our loss and feeling its accompanying pain are two tasks that are essential to our healing.

I realize how contradictory it sounds for me to suggest that mourning- the process of expressing and feeling our grief- is actually the best way to treat and heal our losses.

In our culture, we rarely TALK about our feelings, let alone FEEL them. Yet, feelings have one primary objective - TO BE FELT!

I often remind people that “emotion,” has the word “motion” within it. This means that our feelings require movement.

It isn’t healthy for them to sit in isolation, tucked away inside the human heart.

Our emotions must move outside of our hearts.

And, the only way to move them, is to feel them…this is how we begin the work of mourning.

Preparing Ourselves for the Work of Mourning

Remember, loss is simply a result of love. And, grief is our expression of that love. So, mourning is a task for our hearts, prompted by the love of our souls.

We do not hide our love, so we need not hide our grief.

The choice to mourn a loss, to expose our grief, is a difficult one. We know the journey upon which we are embarking will be painful, exhausting, and may include an exploration into areas of our soul we have never before traversed.

So, we must extend ourselves care, compassion, time, and patience along the way.

We also cannot travel this road alone.

Many people seek grief counselors to provide safe spaces for them to process their feelings of loss. Others attend grief support groups online or in-person to find solace from those walking a parallel path. Some identify one or two trusted friends with whom they can be honest about their grief- people who will provide support without judgment.

There are many different ways to navigate the path ahead. Just as no two people experience loss in the same way, no two people mourn the same. But, there is one common thread.....

"The only way to the other side is through.” - Helen Keller

The same is true for our grief. We cannot avoid it or go around it. We must go through it. We must mourn it.

We’ll talk more about this in an upcoming post, and I’ll provide some practical strategies for taking care of yourselves and others along the way.

Until then...

If you're currently mourning a loss, think about who, where, or how you might seek support for yourself on this journey. If you're not in grief, identify one person in your life who could benefit from your kindness. Consider making a phone call, taking a meal, sending a text, or mailing a card.

My dear readers, no matter where you are in the process....Reach out. Make a connection.

Perhaps I'm being overly optimistic, but I genuinely believe we can change the way society views loss and mourning...and all emotion for that matter. But it's going to take each one of us.

And, it starts small- by extending a little empathy, compassion, grace, and love to ourselves and those around us, especially our friends in grief.

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