Mourning a loved one's death is one of the most painful experiences a human being can go through. The pain involved in the mourning process is the same whether the death of your loved one was sudden or anticipated. Each loss brings with it its own shocking and disorienting approach.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What's Mourning?
- How to Mourn After a Death or Tragic Loss of a Loved One
- Frequently Asked Questions About Mourning
Whenever someone you love dies suddenly, you mourn their loss and deal with how they died. For some, this means having to deal with survivor's guilt on top of all the other emotions associated with grief and mourning. When their death is anticipated, you're allowed an opportunity to make sense of their health condition and to brace yourself for the aftermath emotionally.
The following are a few tips that may help you mourn healthily following a significant loss.
Mourning is the process of expressing your grief on the outside. On its own, suffering is the combination of what you're thinking and feeling on the inside. Mourning is what's shown on the outside. Crying, weeping, lamenting, and other outward acts of bereavement are all considered mourning. When you open up to others to talk about your loss, that is considered mourning.
Every outward manifestation of grief is an act of mourning. Things that may be considered a part of the mourning process can include writing in a journal or sending thank-you notes to people who've expressed their condolences.
Everyone grieves to some extent over the death of a loved one or some other type of significant loss. But not everyone mourns. One of the differences between grief and mourning lies in the mourning process that allows you to heal from your pain and sorrow associated with grief.
How to Mourn After a Death or Tragic Loss of a Loved One
Generally, no one ever teaches us how to mourn after a death or other significant loss. In Western society, people regard death and mourning as taboo subjects that should be avoided in conversation in both private and social settings.
As children, we learn how to handle loss from what we see the adults around us doing. That includes whether they choose to display their mourning and grief publicly. In essence, we learn as we grow and live through these experiences. Adults sometimes learn to say the right words from others' experiences, reading books, or suffering through their setbacks.
1. Allow yourself to express emotion
One of the first acts of mourning is allowing yourself to express the feelings and emotions bottled up inside of you. Sometimes, you can’t help but suffer through an emotional breakdown. Most people fall apart emotionally immediately upon hearing the devastating news that their loved one has died.
It is important to remember that this is an expected and natural part of mourning the loss of someone you know and love. Beyond this initial period of mourning, some people tend to suppress their feelings for several reasons. It’s not only normal to break down and cry after a loss, but it’s a healthy way of dealing with your grief.
2. Take part in death rituals
Funerals, memorial services, candlelight vigils - they’re all death rituals we participate in to some degree in Western society. Taking part in them is a healthy way to mourn the loss of your loved one. At these events, you can anticipate your friends and family to come together to love and support you through one of the most challenging times in your life.
Allow others to give you the help you’ll need to make it through your grief. The first few days following a loss are when most people make themselves available to you before returning to their everyday lives and routines.
3. Take care of yourself
Whenever you’re in mourning, it’s easy to forget to follow through on taking care of your most basic needs. It’s not unusual for your appetite to go away for a few days, to go through several sleepless nights, and to forget to bathe and dress each day.
Consider making several notes for yourself and posting them throughout the house to remind you of what to do next and when. You may need this extra support, especially during the first few days after the death of a loved one. Post your notes in conspicuous places to help you remember what to do throughout the day. It’s natural to forget what to do with yourself when faced with a traumatic experience.
4. Ask for help
Some people consider asking for help as a sign of weakness and an inability to handle a loss. In reality, asking for help is a sign of strength and a commitment to your overall well-being. Your friends and loved ones will anticipate that you’ll need the extra help and support when you’re in mourning.
However, they may not know precisely how to help you or with what. One of the last things you may be concerned with is tending to your everyday needs and daily chores. Try to make a list of all the tasks that must be done. Consider if you need help with any of the following:
- Taking care of children or pets
- Household chores
- Meal prep
- Bill paying
5. Find ways to honor your loss
Honoring your loss while in mourning can include arranging for and attending a memorial service or funeral in the remembrance of your loved one who’s died. It can also include other, more subtle ways of honoring their life and their impact on yours.
Some creative ways to honor your loved one can include making a donation in their name, planting a memorial garden, or spending a day volunteering at their favorite charity. You may not feel up to task immediately following their death, but in time, you’ll start to feel better and look for ways to add new meaning to your life without them.
Frequently Asked Questions About Mourning
The mourning process is distinct from that of grieving. Although they're both a natural response to loss, grief and mourning are different from the other in significant ways. Mourning is the outward manifestation of the grieving process. It's the public display of grief. Hence this is where the term public mourning derives.
According to what is customary in their culture, a person who's grieving will publicly mourn their loss as part of a death ritual. Public mourning allows for the community to come together to give love and support to those who are grieving a loss.
On the other hand, grief is more of internal processing of feelings and emotions associated with that loss. Not everyone who's suffering will mourn in public. Some choose to mourn their loss more privately and away from others. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Every approach should be validated accordingly so long as it's done in a healthy, non-destructive way. Here are a few things to know about what mourning is and how long it can be expected to last.
How long does mourning typically last?
An initial period of mourning may last for several weeks following the death of a loved one or another significant loss. Mourning is the public display of grief and helps a bereaved person process their feelings and emotions following a tragic event. As mourning turns into grieving, the process shifts from an outward manifestation of loss, to a more internal feeling of sadness and mourning.
Altogether, grief and mourning can ebb and flow for several months before a person gets through their grief. In some instances, a more prolonged period of mourning develops when grief complications arise.
How do people mourn pets or other animals?
For some people, pets are regarded as an extension of the family. Their deaths create a similar experience to that of any other loved one dying. A person who has suffered the loss of a beloved pet or other animal may find that they experience mourning in much the same ways. They’ll go through the different stages of grief and experience all the pains and emotions of sorrow.
Unfortunately, society doesn’t always see a pet’s death as having the same or similar effect of a significant loss. People whose pet has died sometimes find it challenging to get support for their pet-loss grief and sink into prolonged mourning that sometimes leads to chronic depression.
How can you comfort someone who’s mourning?
Even the most well-intentioned person will struggle at times over how to comfort someone experiencing the death of a loved one or another traumatic event. We assume that we’ll know what to say and do whenever we’re tasked to the occasion.
The reality is that most of us aren’t prepared for helping others deal with their loss. We stumble over our words and sometimes withdraw out of fear of saying the wrong thing. One of the best approaches to comforting someone who’s grieving is to simply tell them how sorry you are that they’ve experienced this loss. Afterward, you can do all or some of the following to help them through the most challenging days ahead:
- Be present and available to them.
- Listen to them tell you about their loss.
- Step in to help make phone calls and make arrangements.
- Prepare some nutritious meals and snacks for the next few days.
- Offer your shoulder to lean on.
Learning the Mourning Process
Grief and mourning are two separate but intertwined physical, mental, and emotional processes a bereaved person will go through after suffering a profound loss. These experiences will occur naturally, yet many people may not understand what’s happening and why. Learning what it means to mourn can give you the power to help yourself and others suffering through a major loss or setback in life.