Which Do I Grieve First?

I received this question from a woman struggling with a tremendous amount of grief due to multiple deaths in her family over a short period of time:

“This week will be 3 years since my mother passed away, next week it will be 3 years since our son passed away, then November will mark 3 years since our grandson ended his life here on earth. Which do I grieve for?”

“Which do I grieve for?” 

“Which do I grieve for?”

After my 13-year-old son Rory died in 2005, I came upon definitions of grief and mourning that really resonated with me. By choosing to believe (attach to) these two definitions ... my grief journey changed. I finally knew what I could do to heal. I needed to mourn.

While there are many, many definitions of grief out there, the one that I use is this:

Grief is the internal, automatic response to loss.

If we attach to something - anything - be it a person, a possession, a dream, and we loose that “something” we will experience grief. Automatically. One the inside.  If you dare to love, you will experience grief. 

Grief is what is happening inside of me.

I view mourning as something very different from grief.. Again, there are many, many definitions of mourning. This is the definition I have chosen to attach to:

Mourning occurs when we go public with our grief. When we push grief up and out. Mourning is a path to healing.

So ~ everyone experiences grief. (It’s what happens to us on the inside.)

But not everyone mourns. Many of us have forgotten how to mourn, or we are told in many different ways that our mourning is not “appropriate,” or “acceptable,” or “welcome” after a few weeks.  The subtle or not-so-subtle message is "It's time to move on.  Try and be happy.  Just don't think about it.  Stay busy."

So, we stop mourning.  And we pretend that everything is "just fine."

And the grief continues to build and build and build on the inside. Until we feel like we are going to explode. Which we often do.

Or we shut down. Completely.

So, when someone asks me, “Which do I grieve for?” I explain that “you are currently grieving all of your losses. On the inside.” You can’t NOT grieve. Grief is automatic. Our body does not have a “Turn Grief Off” switch.

The task at hand, then, is to mourn. To find ways to identify, honor, express and release all the feelings and emotions that are swirling around inside of you. Mourning can be messy, and confusing, and surprising. It is not linear.

We do not first mourn one death, and then the next death, and then the next death. It’s not that neat and tidy. Grief explodes inside of us with seemingly no rhyme or reason or order. So we mourn it all. As it comes.

We identify all that is occurring inside of us and rather then deny, repress or pretend it away ... we push it up and out.

"Why bother at all?" you might ask. 

Because mourning is a path to healing.  And you wouldn't be reading these words unless a part of you (no matter how tiny) believes you can heal.

1 comment

  • Thank you Tom, I’ll do my part. and surely it will carry out into the universe.


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