While grief is the group of reactions we have to being bereaved, mourning is the processing of the loss and working through our reactions to that loss. By processing the loss and our reactions to it, I mean how we adapt, adjust, learn to live with, and incorporate the loss into our daily lives.
Mourning is not an easy task - it is emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, and social work; and it can take months or years to get through the worst parts. Mourning never really ends. For the rest of our lives, we will always carry the memories of the one we love who is no longer with us physically. When we experience special events or days in our lives, we might have a brief twinge of sadness remembering that loved one, but that quickly fades. Through mourning, we learn to re-integrate our loved one into our being. Our love becomes different, not gone, and there is a new place for that loved one in a new place in our heart where it exists forever. We can and do love again, not by displacing our deceased loved one, but by finding that our hearts have the capacity to love many at the same time.
Mourning can also force us to confront the essence of who we are, what our place in the world is, what our lives will be, and what it means to be alive. Accepting and pursuing this quest is the transforming power of mourning. We can emerge from the throes of mourning sadder, but wiser, indeed!
Obviously, reaching these results takes not just time, but effort. Sitting and waiting for time to heal the pain of death just means that time has passed. The old adage that time heals all wounds is wrong. It’s what you DO with time that makes the difference!
So what is the most effective way to mourn? Most experienced mourners would agree that it is to oscillate between two activities: an immersion in our grief work and a distancing from our grief work to learn new ways of being – attending to the requirements of daily life, doing new things, taking on new roles, addressing life changes, etc.