The Mourner’s Bill of Rights
by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
Though you should reach out to others as you do the work of mourning, you should not feel obligated to accept the unhelpful responses you may receive from some people. You are the one who is grieving, and as such, you have certain “rights” no one should try to take away from you. The following list is intended both to empower you to heal and to decide how others can and cannot help. This is not to discourage you from reaching out to others for help, but rather to assist you in distinguishing useful responses from hurtful ones.
1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief: No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don’t allow them to tell what you should or should not be feeling.
2. You have the right to talk about your grief: Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don’t feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.
3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions: Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.
4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits: Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel ready to do.
5. You have the right to experience “grief bursts”: Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.
6. You have the right to make use of ritual: The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don’t listen.
7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality: If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.
8. You have the right to search for meaning: You may find yourself asking, “Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?” Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for the clichéd responses some people may give you. Comments like, “It was God’s will” or “Think of what you have to be thankful for” are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.
9. You have the right to right to treasure your memories: Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.
10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal: Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.
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Amazing and insightful. Thank you for sharing. My husband and I both experience grief bursts and it’s nice to know they are normal.
They are normal. They don’t feel normal, but yes they are very normal.
It’s been 21 months and 15 days and I don’t feel behind at all. If anyone gives me grief over grieving I simply walk away. They cannot understand…
Thank you for this.
Don’t worry. I was told some a month some ten years, maybe always. I went feeling the same for 6 years felt alittle better for a year and then my other son died. No one can ever understand us unless they have been in our shoes. You’ll always get advise but only you know how to deal with it.
This is very helpful–especially today. I thought I’d be doing better at the one-year mark.
Megan – I am sorry you are having such a bad day. When I was in my depths of grief, I remember I would keep thinking “ok, it’s been 8 months, hang in there you only have another 4 months before this grief process is over”. Many grief experts say “it takes about a year to get through grief”, whatever. When I got to the 1 year mark, I remember asking my counselor, “why am I not feeling better, it’s been a year?”. Her response to me really helped, she said “take it one day (second, minute hour) at a time and let it be what it is”. We spent many more sessions talking about “let it be what it is”. I kept trying to rush it for obvious reasons, I hated feeling the pain I was feeling. I started to tell myself to “let it be what it is” and it helped me. My background is engineering, so I wanted an answer when I asked the questions “How long will this take?”. There are no answers but there is hope that it will get better, I wish I could tell you when. Just try to cling to the hope that it will get better and “let it be what it is”. I started to log my feelings every day (1-10 scale) so when I was having a bad day and I was thinking I wasn’t getting better, I would look back at my log and find the day I ranked myself a 7 out of 10. It gave me hope that tomorrow is a new day and it could be a better one.
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