Building Bridges of Reconnection When People Mourn Differently

I recently received this message from a mother who is feeling disconnected from her daughter one year after the suicide of her son. 

Hello Tom. I have a question for you and your readers. My 27-year old son passed one year ago, and I find that my daughter (29) and I are grieving VERY differently. SO differently, in fact, that it is damaging our once-close relationship. This feels like another terrible loss to me. She has been primarily angry (he took his own life), and wants to 'move on'---and she thinks I am not. From my perspective, this is a long process - one that I feel that I am dealing with actively - feeling my feelings, journaling, praying, talking, reading, and leaning into hope and strength. But obviously - we are grieving in very different ways. I have tried to accept that, and respect her wishes of how much to talk about it, but she is avoiding me now, and it breaks my heart. Again. My questions are: How has everybody else dealt with this - be it spouse, or sibling, or parent, or child? ... I would like to find a way to help heal this relationship before it goes too far, instead of just being upset and letting the feelings get worse.

I think it is very, very common for the death of a beloved to cause stress and strain in the relationships of those “left behind.”  Very often, huge, seemingly insurmountable walls are built that seem to forever threaten the once-close-relationships we had with family members and/or friends.  I don’t believe that this temporary separation has to become permanent.  With intention and focused action we can build bridges of connection back to the people we love.


After my 13-year-old son Rory died in 2005, I made a conscious decision to define grief as the internal, automatic response to loss.  When someone we love dies, we all experience grief.  It’s automatic.  It’s internal.  Grief is what happens inside of us.  

And much to our surprise, grief expresses itself in many, many often confusing and even conflicting ways.  

We may feel numb, dazed, stunned, dizzy, confused, queasy, nauseous, disorganized, disconnected and impatient.

We might experience disbelief, heart palpitations, stomach pains, uncontrolled laughter, angry outbursts, memory loss, an increase or decrease in sexual desire, appetite, and/or the amount of sleep we need.

We might feel like we’re in a dream and ask – “When will I wake up?”  We could feel like we are going to faint and/or lose our balance.

It’s very common to wonder, “Am I going crazy?”

And these are examples of just a handful of ways that grief expresses itself.  It is any wonder the journey can be so confusing and overwhelming?


I see mourning as something very different from grief because of the way I have chosen to define mourning.  I define mourning as the external expression of grief.  We mourn when we identify what is occurring inside of us and push it up and out.  Mourning is going public with our grief.  Mourning is not pretending away, repressing, denying, suppressing or stuffing our feelings and emotions.

Mourning is a path to healing.

Sadly, there are very few safe places where we can really mourn.

So ~ with my definition of grief and mourning in mind, I would suggest that both mother and daughter are grieving.  Both women are experiencing many, many feelings and emotions on the inside.  

Where they differ is what, how and even if the choose to do with those feelings and emotions. 

At this point, the mother says the daughter is primarily angry and feels it’s time for both of them to “move on.”  The mom feels that “this is a long process - one that I feel that I am dealing with actively - feeling my feelings, journaling, praying, talking, reading, and leaning into hope and strength.”


In order for any of us to heal, we must find a safe, sacred space.  Often it is up to us to create that space for ourself, and then for anyone else we carefully decide to let enter that space with us.

In that safe, sacred space:

  1. We get to feel exactly what we are feeling with no judgement whatsoever ... even if what we are feeling is intense anger, and the need to “move on.”

  2. We get to feel loved and lovable.  First, by ourself, and then by anyone and everyone we allow into that space.

  3. We get to be seen, heard and honored.  Exactly as we are.  Right now.

So, what I would ask this mother, as she sets the intention to “heal this relationship before it goes too far,” is “Are you able to create a safe, sacred space for your daughter?”

Are you able to allow her to feel every single feeling and emotion that comes up around her brother’s suicide?  Not to fix her, or heal her because you can’t.  But to accompany her.  To be by her side on this leg of her journey.

And are you able to love all of her?  “The good, the bad, and the ugly.”  Can you love the parts of her that even she may feel are unloveable?

And can you see her?

Can you hear her?

Can you honor her exactly where she is right now?  Today?  In this moment?

If you can ... you are both on a path to healing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic and hope you will share in the comment section below.

If you’d like to explore this issue, or any other facet of your grief journey, I work with people one-on-one.  If you’re in the Rockford, IL area, we can do that in person.  If you’re out of the local area, we can Skype or schedule a phone call.  If you'd like to work with me, please email me at and we can schedule a session and discuss cost.

I also want to make sure you aware of my Video Program “Transforming the Way We Do Grief.”  The intention I set when I created this 3-part Video Program, is to help you heal ... to help make the unbearable, more bearable.   Through this program, I share with you much of what I've learned about healing during my 20+ year journey with grief.  To learn more click:  "Transforming the Way We Do Grief.”



  • What a wonderful pathway you are opening up for us. It is such a challenge to keep our hearts open when someone else is angry. But that anger lets us know they are in pain; it is no fun to feel that way. And letting our hearts close over it is not good for ourselves or the relationship; that just leads to more pain and non-understanding.

    Judy Rae
  • Wow, Tom. Amazing, wonderful questions that point me in the direction I want to go with this. Thank you so much!

    Judy Rae
  • I wish there was a way that you could work with my estranged son. He & I were discussing grief on the phone the night everything came to a head after his brother’s death. His wife was listening in & threw a fit, saying that our other son’s death was supposed to be “done & over with by Christmas.” She was also upset because we told her husband that it would be nice to see him sometime. She was 19 & pregnant, had never had a child, much less struggle to raise one & then lose him. The rest is history.

    Jane Fontenot
  • I would begin by making certain she reads this blog and whatever wisdom people share. Mailing a copy of it might be a good idea. When nobody is watching, few people can resist the urge to see what another person wants us to read. At the very least, she would know that her mother loves her and sincerely wants to find a way to restore their relationship. I would hope she would also find a way to educate her daughter about clinical depression, and how brain chemicals can make us choose to do things that are hurtful to those who love us, even though we don’t want to hurt them. If the daughter can understand that her brother never intentionally set out to hurt them, perhaps she could let go of some of her anger.

    Becky Loer

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