This is part two on understanding grief and mourning. To read the first post, click here.
We mentioned that grief is the natural response to losing something of value. Mourning is the task of processing through the grief.
In other words – grief is what we feel when we lose something. Mourning is the work we do to come out on the other side of the pain.
Mourning is a task. It requires work. And it does not happen on its own.
So what is mourning, how do you do it well, and what does it look like on the other side? Let’s break it down.
The goal of mourning is not to “get over” the grief. (If you’ve ever gotten the advice to “just get over it”, you’re well aware that there’s no such thing.) No, the goal of mourning is to process through the grief and to arrive in a place of understanding, to accept that the grief is a part of your story, and write a new future, one that embraces your new reality while still maintaining a connection to what was lost.
Let’s take an example from this past year. Picture a kindergarten teacher whose class suddenly, without warning, became virtual. Students went home for Spring Break and never came back to the classroom. The teacher, who spent so much time and money decorating the classroom and making it a safe and inviting space, was suddenly teaching from her guest bedroom with a few poster boards behind her. This teacher may have been experiencing grief. Grief at the loss of the classroom environment, a place she knew was a safe space for so many of her students. Grief at the loss of end-of-year traditions, such as field day and the spring musical. And grief at the loss of what she really loves about teaching, which is not sitting in front of a screen all day, but really spending time with young kids, being playful, and watching their faces light up when they finally string together all those sounds into words and really begin to read.
Through the process of mourning, this teacher won’t just “get over it”. And through the process of mourning, this teacher won’t get around it, either. What happened happened. There’s no re-writing the story. So instead, this teacher can use the process of mourning to work through the grief, to acknowledge the pain and adjust to life after the loss in a new way.
Think of a rocket ship being launched into outer space. Standing on Earth, you see this rocket shrink and shrink smaller and smaller until it disappears into darkness. This is the grief. The pain of grief can feel almost unbearable at times, and in many cases, it feels as though you’re propelling rapidly into dark, unfamiliar territory. This journey is necessary. These emotions – often intense – are part of the process. Feeling them, rather than diminishing them or trying to escape them, takes courage. And yet, we can’t stop there. We can’t allow ourselves to get stuck on this one-way rocket away from Earth. Through a healthy mourning process, we can stay on that rocket as it continues its path through the darkness and eventually emerges back into view, coming back to Earth until it is planted firmly on the ground. The world may never look the same again to someone who has left Earth’s atmosphere and seen it from another viewpoint, and the world may never look the same again after the pain of loss. But if we allow ourselves to feel the sadness and mourn what was lost, we too can once again stand on solid footing as we walk into the next, new chapter of our lives.