You Need to Know Why Grief and
Mourning Are Very, Very Different
By Lou LaGrand
Do you think grief and mourning are the same experience?
Do you use the two terms interchangeably? In reality,
most authorities on the grief process point out a very
important and major difference between the two.
Grief is commonly defined as the process of experiencing
a variety of physical, psychological, social, and
behavioral reactions from some type of loss. Loss comes
in two categories: psychosocial loss (divorce, death of
a loved one, loss of meaning, etc.) and physical loss
(wallet, body part, automobile, etc.). Looked at another
way, we grieve changes of all types.
On the other hand, mourning is the critical expression
of grief to the outside world. It is grief publicly
exposed, that has been externalized from within the
heart to without. And, that is a highly therapeutic
process for everyone to examine.
What can you do with this seemingly insignificant piece
of information if you are coping with the death of a
loved one or providing support for someone else
suffering through a loss? Consider the following
1. It is critical to go public with your grief to the
people of your choosing and to mourn according to your
timetable. This action will reduce feelings of
isolation, provide emotional release, and begin needed
movement to actively adapt to the loss. This single
factor of sharing grief has long been known and
practiced, though it is still not fully taken advantage
of by most.
2. Search for alternative methods to find relief for the
tension and anxiety that is the normal response to the
anxiety of grief. Write it out. Draw it. Paint it out.
Walk it out. Play it out (yes, it is entirely normal to
periodically break away from the stranglehold of grief).
Most important, don't miss an opportunity to cry.
3. Accept the inescapable fact that grief is the ransom
you pay for loving well. So tell others of your love and
the pain of your loss. Remember that it is normal for
those internal feelings to persist and there is nothing
wrong with feeling the way you do for weeks, months or
longer. Allow the process to naturally unfold and don't
try to cut it short.
4. If after a considerable period of time you feel you
are "stuck" in your mourning--which is not uncommon--go
to someone who understands the grief process or join a
grief support group. You will learn much about yourself
and the normalcy of what feels incredibly abnormal. Once
more, you will find hope in the midst of your dark
5. Although mourning is the root to healing, it is only
part of the healing equation. The mourner must actively
work at adapting to the new conditions of life. In
short, he or she will have to change in order to
accommodate the loss. This is often the most difficult
challenge for the mourner to accept.
6. By going public with your grief, you can find help to
accomplish the most demanding part of the process of
adaptation: facing the pain head on. Here is where your
friends and family can join you in the process of
working (crying) through the painful thoughts and
feelings of loss and despair, and releasing the deep
psychosocial ties to the deceased loved one.
7. Mourning also implies that in facing your pain it is
essential to plan specific times when you attempt to
recharge your energy levels by temporarily focusing
attention away from your great loss. It is perfectly
okay to back away from mourning to rest and give
yourself a treat.
Each day do something just for yourself that you enjoy.
Do not take this suggestion lightly: It is essential for
your emotional and physical health. By placing your
attention on supporting yourself, you will be loosening
the all consuming grip of grief
In summary, there is much to learn about the process of
adapting to loss and change, especially because grief
and mourning are both demanding and call for the
bereaved to do what they dislike doing. Yet, doing the
distasteful is inescapable, if the mourner is to
reinvest in life and move into the new world without the
physical presence of the deceased.