A Breviary on Grief and Mourning
What we grieve, we must mourn.
Grief is one’s complex inner response to loss.
Mourning consists of the outward expressions by which we acknowledge our grief and work through it until it becomes more and more integrated into our lives.
In addition, in the aftermath of loss we need to recuperate, heal, and embrace change.
We never stop grieving. Never.
However, our losses can become part of our lives in such a way that we can carry them with us through practices of mourning (lamenting our loss) and recovery (healing and changing) so that we can move forward onto a “new normal” path. We can forge a renewed identity, find more peace in the midst of life’s uncertainties, and discover a broader and deeper sense of meaning than we ever thought possible.
My favorite illustration of this is losing a limb.
Let’s say that through some terrible accident I were to lose my arm. I will never “get over” that. I will forever be a person who has lost an arm, with lifelong consequences.
However, I can adapt to a new normal over time. For this to happen, I will have to work through a complex maze of feelings and thoughts, participate in various recuperation and rehabilitation activities, and learn new ways of doing things — perhaps with the assistance of a prosthetic. Through such recovery efforts, by which I come to accept the reality of my loss and adapt to the new situation, I can become able to face the world again as a “new” person — someone whose life has been dramatically altered.
This is no small task, and we do the bereaved no favor when we wittingly or unwittingly encourage them to “get over” or “move on” past their grief. That usually says more about our own discomfort with their loss, their new situation, and our inability to adapt than it does about them.
To lose a loved one is to be forever changed.
To lose a loved one is to enter a new and dramatically different part of our story. And where will it lead?
No more songs of innocence. Songs of experience must now be sung.