"Smile, though your heart is aching, Smile,
even though it's breaking, When there are clouds in the sky, you'll
get by, If you smile through your fear and sorrow, Smile, You'll see
the sun come shining through." (Chaplin)
The process of grief follows a familiar pattern
(from Elizabeth Kubler Ross' the "Five Stages of Grief").
where we refuse to believe we have suffered a
loss... pretending that the loved one is still alive or doing what we
always did with them or keeping things just as they would have wanted.
The danger of the denial is people can remain in it... for the rest of
their lives. Until we recognize our loss, we cannot grieve it.
where we blame ourselves or others for our
loss... as in becoming easily upset, overly emotional, or "not like
ourselves". The danger of the anger stage is that anger can motivate
people to do things they cannot take back... as in injuring others or
themselves... which they would not have done ordinarily.
where we try to offer something to "take away"
the reality of what has happened... as in making a deal with God, doing
"good works" as "penance", doing a task our loved one wanted us to do,
or doing whatever will keep us connected. The danger of the bargaining
stage is that people can remain in it for a long time... for the rest
of their lives. Until we realize our loss was beyond our control, we
will keep on trying to bargain our way out of it.
where we realize that all we have done has
failed to bring our loved back and so we "give up"... as in feeling
helpless and hopeless, feeling guilty and "at fault", and feeling
there is no purpose or joy to life anymore. The danger of the
depression stage is that hopelessness can keep people from doing
things they need to do... as in failing to take care of others or
themselves and living their life as they used to do... which they
would not have done ordinarily.
where we realize that life must go on... Here
is where we finally accept the loss. Acceptance means the grieving
person is now be able to regain their energy and to pursue their goals
for the future. It may take some time to get here but most people
will... all it takes is time, patience, and love.
If you have not accepted your grief, then look
at the previous four steps. You are likely stuck in one of them.
Figure out where you are... and do your best to heal it... and then
"What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never
lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us." (Keller)
Insights into the mourning process are revealed
by common words of comfort given to the grieving.
"I cannot imagine what this is like for you":
For each individual, mourning is intensely
personal. While death ends a life and not the relationship, no one
outside it can know what one person meant to another. Only those
inside the relationship can know what it was truly about. Others who
wish to be kind to the grieving should always bear this in mind and
allow the grief stricken individual to express or withhold whatever
they choose to about the departed.
"Take all the time you need":
Each person is different. Some are resilient
and will express through their grief in a matter of weeks while others
will require months. A few will need years. The closer the individual
was to the departed, the longer their period of mourning will be.
There is no set time for mourning to pass.
"This must be very hard for you":
The hardest time for the grieving is not at
the funeral but afterwards. The first time they would have visited
the departed, the first time they want to share something with the
departed, the first holiday spent without the departed… these are
the times that are hardest on the grief stricken.
"Be gentle with yourself":
For (at least) a period of three months after
the grieving has lost their loved ones, they will be a mess. They will
forget about appointments. They will feel like doing nothing. They
will have bouts of crying. They will not be able to focus on routine
tasks. Those who grieve should be patient with the disruption to their
normal functioning which is inevitable. Those who are close to
the grieving should be patient with the mourning process.
"You both will be in my thoughts":
Thoughts are energy and sending positive,
loving thoughts to both the grief stricken and their lost loved one
helps them both. Energetically, it helps to sustain the grief stricken
through an emotionally and physically exhausting time. Energetically,
it helps to sustain the newly departed to make a smooth crossover.
That is why masses for the dead are so popular.
"Let me help you":
The grieving should control their interaction
with others while in mourning. If they want to cry, those supporting
them should hold them close while they do. If they want to be silent,
their supporters should sit near them and perhaps hold their hand. If
they want to have a one way conversation - where the grieving speaks
and the supporter just listens - that should happen. If they want to
have a two way conversation - where the grieving and the supporter have
a conversation about the departed - that should happen... whatever they
All these will help the mourning
process move forward and help the grieving regain their peace of
mind and their joyfulness of heart.
What you do not want to say to someone who is
Do not say anything that would
deflect the grief.
Do not say anything that projects
the griever into the future.
Do not say anything that projects
the griever's feelings.
Do not say anything to change
the griever's religion.
"You can clutch the past so tightly that it
leaves your arms too full to embrace the present." (Jan Glidewell)
Is grief crippling your life? Are you ready to
let go on the non-stop mourning? Here is how to do it.
From the Emailbag:
"I lost my [family member] years ago. I still
feel as if the grief is overwhelming. I feel like it is crippling my
life and I cannot move on. What can I do about it?"
The answer is
"Take active steps to heal your grief."
By leaning into the grief one time very deeply,
you have taken the first important step to letting the pain go. Pain
just wants to be acknowledged - and when it is - it can start going
away. That is why the Jewish custom of "sitting shiva" (the seven day
period of mourning beginning immediately after the funeral of a loved
one) is so powerful. Mourners lean into the pain of loss and they
focus on really letting it out and letting it go... so it does not
take root and grow.
Talk About It:
If others are missing the same person you are,
talk to them about it. Review photos of happy times. Share happy
memories of and uplifting stories about the lost loved one. Talk
about how the departed one contributed to your life and the lives
around you. Many times, grief stays with us because we keep our
thoughts and feelings about it bottled up inside. Talking is curative...
this is why loss support groups exist to facilitate the process of
Let It Out:
If you have never cried for your lost loved
one, now is the time. Crying - for a time - helps your emotions to
heal. If you have cried for your lost loved one for years, now is
the time to stop. Crying - too long - perpetuates itself. Once you
have let your grief out by crying, then you need to let it go… it is
Turn It Around:
If your lost loved one could speak to you
for a brief moment, what would they want you to do with your life?
Perhaps it is something that honors their memory. For example, John
Walsh turned his grief for his son into a career of helping other
missing, exploited, and abused children. Make your life count.
Did your tears bring pain to your loved one?
If so, know that they still do as your loved one looks down on your
life from the inner worlds. The best way you can honor the memory of
your lost loved one is to think about them with joy and happiness. Let
their memory enhance your life instead of crippling it.
"The pain of loss passes, but the beauty of
love remains." (Pierre Auguste Renoir)
When you grieve for another, what you are
really mourning is the loss of them from your life.
Part of life on Earth is losing those we love
along the way. Time will take the sharp edge off the pain but it is
not guaranteed to release our need to grieve. If you are finding it
hard to let go of your grief, something is standing in the way of you
releasing it... so you can move past the pain and into the beauty of
Mourning is most often prolonged because we
lack the feeling of being complete with our loved one. Perhaps we
said or did something we should not have -or- we failed to do or say
something that we should have. Whatever it was or it was not, we mourn
our lost opportunity. The good news is that if we say or do now what
we wanted to say or do then -or- if we apologize for what we said or
did (or failed to say or do)... our loved one will absolutely get it
because we are all connected at the level of Soul. So if you feel
incomplete, get complete now.
When we mourn those we have lost, our grief
helps us to still feel connected. For as long as we continue to grieve,
it makes us feel close to our lost love. We falsely believe that our
trail of tears is like a glistening leash that binds our hearts and our
minds to the one who is no longer alive. What we must remember is that
death ends a life but not a relationship... as long as our loved one
lives in our memories we are still connected by love and happiness
(instead of by tears).
If we feel complete with our loved one and if
we feel connected to them without the grief, then it is loyalty that
prolongs our mourning... and can cause it to last indefinitely.
Prolonged mourning is the hardest on the "lost" loved ones who "look
down" on us... and feel our grief more deeply than we feel it ourselves.
So if you want to show your lost loved one loyalty... then honor their
love by living a joyous life! No one wants you to grieve forever:
least of all your loved one.
"Where grief is fresh, any attempt to divert it
only irritates." (Samuel Johnson)
When someone is grieving, trying to deflect or
divert them from it only disrupts the grieving process.
When someone is grieving, they will cry, shout,
scream, and make other unpleasant noises. The natural reaction of
those around the griever is to calm them down and get them to be quiet…
but this can short circuit their grief.
"Be strong: do not cry, hold your feelings in…" Crying is
healing. The sooner the crying is done and the deeper the tears are,
the more powerfully the griever can release the emotions that arise
from the loss of their loved one.
look for the good in the situation…" While the
griever should be encouraged the share positive memories of their loved
one, they should not be told to paste a smile on their face. If they
want to cry, they should do so.
"You will feel better very soon…"
While time helps to heal all wounds, healing
takes time and each person's mourning process will be different.
Looking to the future does not help the griever to deal with
the pain in the present.
"Your loved one, at least, is past their
The problem is that the griever is not past
their pain. The problem is that their loved one's lack of pain does
not diminish the griever's pain over their loss… in the smallest
"Your loved one had a good life or a long
Whether that is true or not, the loved one's
life was not long enough for the griever. A baby who died at birth
can be as greatly mourned as an elderly parent who lived to old
"If you think this is bad, I know someone who…"
The griever is focused on the loss of their
loved one. They do not have the energy to focus on someone else's
loss. When a supporter tries to minimize the griever's loss by
comparing it to someone else's loss, it does not help to ease their
suffering... it only is a momentary diversion from their own... and
it only makes the sufferer's recovery harder.
"Let me tell you about my own loss…"
The griever needs support and should not be
providing support. Those who wish to support a griever should focus
on them. When a supporter relates their own story, it does not ease
the griever's pain. They are abandoning the griever and this makes
them feel even more alone.
"Grief cannot be shared. Everyone carries it
alone: his own burden in his own way." (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)
When someone is grieving, they are mired in the
present and they cannot think about the future.
When someone is grieving, they are overwhelmed
by their loss. They are locked in the past, remembering who and what
they lost. Trying to get them to look toward the future is not only
pointless, it is cruel.
"You are still young: you will meet someone
A new spouse can never, ever replace an old
one. Even if the surviving spouse marries again (which usually
happens, especially if they were happily married), they cannot even
think of even dating until they have fully mourned the loss of their
departed mate. They must let go of the vision of the future to be
shared with their mate.
"You can still have another child…"
A new child can never, ever replace an old
one. Each child is a unique expression of their soul's potential and,
even if they choose to reincarnate into the same family, (which happens
frequently) that uniqueness is lost. The parents need time to fully
mourn the loss of their child before they even start thinking about
having a new one.
"There are other fish in the sea…"
People - family, friends, and significant
others - are not fish: they are individuals and the griever does not
want another one, they want the one they lost. Those who mean the
most to us are those we have shared time, experiences, and intimacy
with… and all this history cannot be replaced and it must be mourned
before the griever can move forward.
"You can get a new pet…"
For those who truly loved their pets, the loss
of one can be felt as deeply as the loss of a human family member.
Just as a much loved child is not replaced by a new one, a new pet does
not displace the old one for its owner. The old pet must be fully
mourned before getting a new one.
"Everything will be okay/fine…"
When a griever is told that "all will be well",
they will feel like that person who says that is just dismissing their
grief. When someone is grieving, all is not well and it will not be
well for awhile.
"You have your whole life ahead of you…"
When a griever does not know if they can or
want to go on living with the pain of their loss… pointing out they
have a whole life to live without their loved one is pointless and
"Now you are the man/woman of the house…"
For a child (of any age) who has lost a parent
to be reminded of the increase in responsibilities caused by their
parent's death is cruel. This is an especially hard if the child is
less than twenty-one years old because they are forced to grow up
faster than they might have wanted.
"There is no grief like the grief that does
not speak." (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
When someone is grieving, trying to project
your own or the departed's point of view is bad karma.
mWhen someone is grieving, they do not need
someone else telling them what their lost loved one did or did not
want. Worse, they do not need another doling out opinions about
their grief and/or mourning process.
"I know exactly how you feel…"
No, you do not know this. No one ever really
knows how another else feels about their loss. Those who say this can
make the griever angry (as in "How dare you tell me what I am feeling,
"I don't know why this happened. I don't know
what to say…"
If this is true, then do not tell this to the
griever. Their mourning process is about them… they should be
receiving comfort rather than giving it to someone else!
"You are doing so well/taking this so well…"
This makes the griever feel that they have
no right to "fall apart" lest they "let down" those around them.
They do not need someone else giving them a "progress report" on
"Your loved one brought this on themself…"
When someone dies of substance abuse (smoking,
drinking, drug abuse, etc), their loved one does not need to be reminded
about their shortcomings. All this can do is to make the griever feel
guilty for not having stopped the loved one from destroying themselves
with substances in the first place (which they could not have done in
"Your loved one would not want you to cry…"
More often than not, the griever knows their
loved one better than anyone else. Someone telling them what their
loved one would or would not want them to do not only is inaccurate and
it is intrusive. Leave the griever to honor the wishes of their loved
"Do not cry as it will upset your surviving family
The griever's surviving family members are already
upset so a few more tears will not make a difference except to burden the
griever with guilt and undue responsibility.
"It is time to put this behind you…"
Even a professional therapist cannot predict how
long a particular individual's mourning process will be. Each person
grieves in their own way and for as long as they need to. So the griever
does not need a "buddin-sky" telling them to what they should or should
not be feeling.
"They have been dead for a while: are you over
This is a more pushy form of the phase "putting
this behind you": one that is lacking in tact and compassion and is
perhaps the worst thing to be said to a griever.
"Great grief does not of itself put an end to
itself." (Lucius Annaeus Seneca)
When someone is grieving, trying to impose your religious beliefs on
them is a big mistake.
When someone is grieving that is the worst possible
time to try and change their religious beliefs. Even if the good news of
karma and reincarnation would seem to ease their pain, most grievers cling
to their religion for comfort.
"It is not fair":
For those of us who believe in karma, being
told that a loss is unfair, strikes at the heart of our beliefs. Karma
is about justice and, when someone departs one life, it is because they
had nothing more to learn from it. For those who do not believe in karma,
all this statement does is increase the griever's bitterness.
"It was God's will":
Actually, karma teaches that individuals leave
a life when they choose to do so… so this is untrue. Worse, most
grievers already feel angry with God and blaming It will not help
decrease their mourning.
"Your loved one was so good, God wanted that
person to be with Him":
Since God is with everyone all the time, whether
they are living or dead, this statement is untrue. Worse, it makes God
seem selfish and greedy.
"Your loved one is in a better place":
For someone who has lost someone dear, there is
no better place for their loved one than with them. While the inner
worlds are blissful compared to Earth, this is no comfort to the
"There is a reason for everything and it all
happened for the best":
While this is true from a karmic standpoint,
it is not true from the human standpoint. This is horribly painful
especially when this is told to a spouse or a child.
"Your loved one did what they came here to do
and it was their time to go":
While this is true, it does nothing to ease the
griever's pain. Plus it can make the griever believe that their lost
loved one has somehow abandoned them.
"The Lord never gives us more than we can
A more true statement is that we are not given
more than we agreed to take on in any lifetime. Worse, that is not how
the griever feels while they are mourning their loved one.
"Something good will come of this":
While this is true from a karmic standpoint, most
grievers would not trade the good that flowed from their loss for the
loved one they lost. Worse, they cannot connect with it and do not want
to know about it. What the griever wants is to mourn their lost loved
one following their own comforting religious beliefs without interfering
or preaching from others.