December 17, 2018

A Breviary on Grief and Mourning

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.

Comments

  1. Rick Ro. says:

    –> “No more songs of innocence. Songs of experience must now be sung.”

    U2!

  2. Robert F says:

    Words of deep wisdom. Thank you, CM.

    • Robert F says:

      But for those who lack the resources or skill to mourn in a way that will integrate their grief, to adapt to their new situation of loss and “become able to face the world again as a ‘new’ person”, there is still grace. There is always grace.

  3. Robert F says:

    Each day and moment
    the creek is changed forever
    and so am I

  4. “No more songs of innocence. Songs of experience must now be sung.”

    IOW, laments.

    “(W)e 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.”

    Because we don’t know how to lament.

  5. Richard says:

    When I came to grieving, I wandered alone for a long time. Eventually I happened across Megan Devine and her RefugeInGrief website, writing course, and now a book full of lived experience of survival amidst the platitudes coming from all directions.

    And I have grown, I’m mostly functional again, but in completely different ways, as the love has gone out of my life. I was in a choir once working on a concert centered around settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, with other psalms and more along the same lines (the seeking and not finding lines from the Song of Songs, for example). When I had learned the notes, putting the emotions into the music was nearly impossible, since I was singing my pain.

    It feels like a thousand years have passed in the last eight.

  6. I don’t think there is ever “a new normal” — the original is what was normal, and whatever replaced it is an abnormal that must be either embraced or endured.

    It occurs to me that under that definition, being a Christian is abnormal.

    • That’s why I put it in quotes — a “new normal” — because it may forever feel abnormal. Otherwise grief would end. But it doesn’t.

  7. StuartB says:

    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.

    This goes hand in hand with CM’s comment last.

    …it took a long time to break free.

    I’m still breaking free.

    Amen.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      “Sing it if you know it
      Scream it if you feel it
      There’s nothing standing in your way
      Follow along with me
      Scream and be free”

      • StuartB says:

        We are people borne of sound
        The songs are in our eyes
        Gonna wear them like a crown

        Walk out, into the sunburst street
        Sing your heart out, sing my heart out
        I’ve found grace inside a sound
        I found grace, it’s all that I found
        And I can breathe
        Breathe now

    • Christiane says:

      but grieving and mourning are at least a ‘connection’ to the loved one who is gone . . . .

      is it possible that one reason we grieve and mourn ‘for life’ is that we don’t want to give up that ‘connection’?

      that there is a blessing for those who mourn tells me that the basis for grief and for deep mourning has to do with ‘love’ even more than with the loss of the one who has ‘gone on ahead’

      and the Comforter comes near and we CAN bear the pain of loss and sometimes, only then, not be consumed by it, but yes, forever changed

  8. Ronald Avra says:

    Anyone have some thoughts on grief and mourning in a group context, such as a family unit? The importance of the lost relationship may vary among the members of the group; how does one grieve internally but flow in the perhaps ambiguous environment of family and friends?

    • Great question, Ron. Grief is a deeply personal wound, but like anyone who is wounded, we must live among those who aren’t grieving or who have not experienced loss to the same degree. This is one of those experiences in which it is most difficult to relate to one another. In the best situations, we give each other loads of grace, don’t talk too much except when appropriate (much less often than we think), and try to carry on as “normally” as possible with each other. Everyone grieves differently. If it were me, I would definitely need more space and solitude, but others need to be with others and actively engaged with them. Unfortunately, there’s no “right” way — the way is made by walking.

      • Christiane says:

        look at the effect of the deep grief felt by the Florida school massacre survivors . . . . they took their pain and changed the ‘gun laws’ of the state in spite of the NRA . . . . . they did it for their dead friends AND they did it so no one else would have to be sacrificed for the gun lobby who stands for ‘no change’and ‘status quo’, even if a few massacres of young people every month is the price of ‘doing nothing’

        it took the children to stand up against the NRA . . . . grief is a catylist for a more powerful lobby when an entire nation is broken-hearted to the point of saying ‘ENOUGH’ and that ‘ENOUGH’ comes out of the mouths of babes and echoes in all those homes where the lack of action has taken a beloved child’s life

        like the martyrs whose blood cried ‘how long, O Lord, how long?’ . . . . the surviving children took up the cry when the adults of our land did not or would not

        today, I lived to see the governor of Florida sign in opposition to the NRA . . . . how sweet it is, this little victory against an obscenity grown too strident and too smug

        God keep the children free from political corruption . . . . they acted out of love for those they lost and they have faced the worst and they are not afraid of something as wrong-headed and corrupt as the NRA

        • Rick Ro. says:

          What I like about what’s going on is that people are saying, “Okay, we won’t touch the Second Amendment, we’ll just do the right thing on our own.” Like Dick’s Sporting Goods and others deciding not to sell to certain ages.

        • When you speak of “a few massacres of young people every month” I believe it’s called hyperbole and exaggeration for effect. Basically it is disingenuous, but your point of view, distorted as it is, is quite clear.

          I’m not trying to be mean, just observant.

          • Also, the obscenity-grown-too-strident-and-too-smug road runs in both directions.

            The Liberal Left does not have the moral high ground and neither does the Conservative Right. In our society and today’s world, there is only adaptation to the currently group in power and temporary setbacks to the group out of power, whichever group those happen to be. There is no individual responsibility, only adherence, voluntary or otherwise, to groupthink.

            I really must remember to have my morning coffee before I come here.

            • Robert F says:

              In our society and today’s world, there is only adaptation to the currently group in power and temporary setbacks to the group out of power, whichever group those happen to be. There is no individual responsibility, only adherence, voluntary or otherwise, to groupthink.

              In our society and today’s world? When has this ever not been the general condition of things? What era do you believe rose above this dynamic?

      • john barry says:

        Chaplin Mike, thanks for your article and I take your advice to heart. You and input of some of the commenters here have made a difference in not so much what I think or feel when trying about grief and mourning but how to articulate or not articulate to support and emotions to those grieving or in mourning.

        Chaplin Mike , I live in a area where they are a lot of retirees (aka old people). I attend a lot of funerals and services as many people have services that are sparsely attended for a variety of reasons. I am blessed to have the time and means to make my own schedule and for some reason I find this worthwhile. I go for the family and loved ones and hope just by being there I give some small measure of comfort. You have helped me handle my awkward moments when I do not know what to say. Like a lot of things in life , I have learned and received far more from going to services then I have given in time and effort.
        I just appreciate and think your writings on this topic ring true and they have helped me grow, you have changed my perspective for the better, Thanks

        Just to be clear, I go to services for people I know, that I do have some connection and affinity for , I do not look at the paper and attend random services.

  9. Crazy Chester says:

    I lost my wife a few months ago. Well meaning people have shared their own stories and given me unwanted advice and booklets. Yours is the first message I’ve connected with. Thank you.

  10. Robert F says:

    When I allow myself to be open to the grief of another human being, the grief I felt a few years or decades ago at my own loss can rush in on me and make me feel as if it’s happening now. This is why it’s so difficult to respond to another person’s grief in a helpful way, rather than merely falling back into my own. It’s also one reason why it’s important to try to mourn in such a way that I integrate my grief and loss into the changed world it has left me with: if I can manage this, I’m not only in a better place myself, but, perhaps as important, I’m in a better place to be with, respond to and help others who are suffering their own grief.

  11. Susan Dumbrell says:

    Christ teach us to sing
    our hearts cry for your support
    waves of love wash us

    May all who grieve find peace.

  12. Having lost my beloved mother 16 months ago, I deeply resonate with this article. Thank you.

  13. The more grief I got from my husband and children about smoking in the kitchen the more I smoked. writers help