What Does It Mean to Be ‘In Mourning’?

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When a person who's grieving accepts their loss and enters the next stage, they're known to be “in mourning.”

Mourning is considered the outward manifestation of those emotions related to grief. It includes participation in traditional rituals associated with mourning and the public display of sorrow, such as a funeral or a memorial ceremony. However, not everyone who mourns has suffered the loss of a loved one. 

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Other types of losses can also cause mourning. They may include those that are life-changing and oftentimes unexpected. People suffering from the loss of their home due to a tornado, for example, may also be in mourning. There are many ways that people express mourning across cultures and religions.

When dealing with the death of a loved one, tradition dictates certain rituals take place, while religion mandates others. Before beginning to understand what's expected during the mourning stage, you must first understand what mourning is, how long it lasts, and how to recognize when it ends.

What Does ‘Mourning’ Mean?

Mourning is when you outwardly display the emotions suffered during grief. It includes participating in traditions and rituals customary to honoring the dead, and those that offer support to the persons who have suffered a loss.

Part of the mourning process also includes grief work known as the tasks of mourning. There are four tasks of mourning that were identified by renowned grief therapist, J.W. Worden, that you should expect to go through as part of the healing process.

They include:

1. Acceptance

When you’ve suffered a significant loss in your life it’s sometimes difficult to accept it as true. You may go about your normal routine and push back any feelings or emotions. This is a typical reaction to your loss so that you don’t have to accept it.

It's a coping mechanism where if you don't accept it, then it isn't' real. You may find yourself hanging on to old habits, doing the things you used to do together before they died, or pretending that the loss didn’t affect you in any large part. 

Sometimes, the numbness that you feel leads you to believe that your loved one will return and that they're only temporarily away. This stage of the mourning process may take weeks or even months to resolve before you fully accept the reality of your loss.

2. Processing

As you process your loss, you may begin to feel an overwhelming yearning for your loved one who has died. When you yearn for someone you feel as if you can't go on without them. Your thoughts are consumed with how much you miss them and want them back. This can lead to an unhealthy obsession with their return.

The yearning stage sometimes follows the numbness stage related to failure to accept what is real. When you haven't accepted the loss, your mind tricks you into thinking that you can will your loved one back to life if you desire it intensely for enough time.

3. Adjusting

Adjusting to your loss may take a few months or even years for you to feel as if things are back to normal. You’ll most likely suffer through all the stages of grief and the tasks of mourning before you begin to feel that healing is taking place. Try to keep in mind that feeling pain and sorrow following a significant loss is normal, and you’ll need time to heal. 

When you've suffered a loss of someone close to you so many things change along with it. You should expect bouts of crying, anger, and numbing pain all of which are a necessary part of healing. In time, you’ll adjust to your new roles and your pain will lessen. 

4. Maintaining

When you let go of the emotional energy tying you to the pain of your loss is when you begin to move forward from your grief and mourning. You may feel confused at this stage and not understand why you're no longer feeling grasped by your anguish. A part of you may want to hang on to the pain and suffering as a way of proving your loyalty to your loved one who has died. 

When you begin to feel this way, remind yourself that it's normal and that it should be expected as you go through the tasks of mourning. Eventually, the wounds will heal and you’ll build a new life for yourself as you learn to let go.

ยป MORE: They might be gone, but they'll never be forgotten. Explore the next steps with this post-loss checklist.


Differences Between Grief and Mourning

Grief and mourning are often confused as the same thing, but they’re very different. Grief is what we feel as a result of a significant loss in our lives. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with the death of someone we love. It can also be related to a loss due to divorce, amputation, job termination, and such.

Grief is related to feelings and emotions connected to that loss. Mourning, on the other hand, is the outward manifestation of those emotions. It’s also representative of the death rituals and symbols of mourning associated with this stage. 

How Long Does Mourning Usually Last?

Mourning usually lasts between four months to four years following a significant loss. Some religious practices observe mourning periods lasting from three to 40 days, with some lasting longer.

When looking at mourning from a strictly religious perspective, the requirements of mourning are very clearly laid out. There are both a beginning and an end to this period where you are expected to behave in certain ways and abstain from participating in certain celebrations and events. 

Examples of Mourning

Mourning rituals vary across religions and cultures. It’s sometimes difficult to tell whether the custom stems from religion or culture because they’re sometimes so intertwined. Below is a brief overview of mourning across religions.

1. Sitting shiva

The Jewish mourning period known as sitting shiva is a week-long mourning tradition following the death of a loved one. There are five stages of mourning in Judaism with sitting shiva being the third.

The time period of sitting shiva begins immediately after the burial. It consists of the family who’s mourning receiving guests into their home to provide emotional and physical support. Guests sit with the family, feed them, and share stories to help ease their pain and sorrow. They’re also expected to sit in silence with the mourners as long as it is needed.

The goal is to keep the mourners from ever having to grieve and mourn in isolation. The community is expected to surround the mourning family with support until the end of the seven days. This is to allow the opportunity for mourners to express sorrow, talk about their deceased loved one, and transition back into society.

Where there isn’t a community already established to provide these services, professional mourners are often hired to fill these traditional roles. 

There are five stages of mourning in Judaism:

  • Between death and burial
  • First three days following burial
  • Shiva (sitting for 7 days): Custom and tradition calls for the men who are mourning to grow their hair out for seven days. They must also cut their clothing at the collar with a knife or scissors in a ritual known as keriah. This garment must be worn throughout the entirety of shiva as a symbol of mourning along with a black ribbon at the arm of their outer clothing for the entire seven days.
  • Shloshim (30-days following burial): The 30-day period where mourners are prohibited from cutting their hair, listening to music, shaving, trimming their nails, wearing new clothes, and attending parties. 
  • 12-month period (including shloshim) where life goes back to normal. The time period begins with the date of death and ends 12-months later. The mourner's Kaddish is recited for 11 months at the end of every prayer service.

2. Islamic 40-day mourning period

Islamic tradition calls for 40 days of mourning following the death and burial of a deceased loved one. During the first three days following the death, the Islamic community is expected to gather and provide food and support to the grieving family.

After the initial three-day period, guests are expected to visit with the family, sit and recite from the Quran, and pay their respects. A widow is expected to observe a four-month and ten-day mourning period where they are prohibited from interacting with men who may be potential suitors.

3. Catholic types of mourning 

The Catholic faith has three types of mourning that must be observed after the death of a loved one. The time period has shortened over the years from six years of mourning to a year and a day as it concerns widows. The three types of mourning consist of the following time periods:

  • Heavy mourning. This is the time period where a person who is mourning should dress in all black clothing and where the tradition of wearing black to funerals began. There should be no other adornments worn with the mourning outfit. This stage typically lasts for thirty days. 
  • Half mourning. A mourner can ease up on the wearing of all black and can now incorporate touches of white clothing. 
  • Second mourning. The final stage of mourning where a person can gradually begin to incorporate other colors into their wardrobe such as greys, mauves, and pastels. The duration of half and second morning consists of time remaining after heavy mourning equally divided between the two.

Mourning After Grief

Mourning is the process necessary for recovery from loss. Traditional mourning rituals help you heal and set a standard time-period to follow as guidance in your own journey toward healing.

The rules have been relaxed as modern times have made old traditions a bit more flexible. You can choose whether to follow these standard protocols of mourning or go about your own personal journey to healing.

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