The Mourner’s Bill of Rights

Grief is an intimate expression and a journey that is unique to each person who has experienced a loss.   Most people do not know what to expect or how they will cope.  Frequently we are surrounded by both well wishers (with lots of “helpful” advice) and critics who think we should get over it and move on.  I appreciate the following article by Dr.Alan Wolfelt the director of the Center for Loss & Life Transition.

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 you 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 “griefbursts.”

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 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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6 Comments

  1. It was about a month after my mom passed. A very dear friend told me to “Get over it”. I was stunned, shocked and hurt. She meant well but she had no reference point when she said this and her comment cut through my being like a hot knife cutting through butter. I took it in stride…and continued my “journey through loss”…grieving in my own way. My way. The only way. I still grieve at times after 15 years and when this happens I trigger memories of good times spent with her…and I smile. I am fine.
    Yes, we have “rights”. Thank you for validating my experience.

    • My mum died 3 months ago of a very aggressive cancer and she suffered a lot. It feels like a very short time ago. I still cry most nights, and more intensely than I did at first. If a “very dear friend” told me to “get over it” they would not be a very dear friend for very long; I would disown them without a second thought. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

  2. A friend tell another to advise me to pick myself up & move on. I will loose my friends if I get into any emotional state @ social gathering. I am too tired to explain about my personal sorrow & grief since it is only less then 3 months since my 4 year old BB Duane passed away tragically and I am expected to recharge & move on. They are no perfect days when grief takes over our soul.

    • Irene, You are so right!! THere are no perfect days when grief takes our soul. But, please know u are not alone and I’m learning that our departed is still with us. My dad passed 2 years ago, and
      I’ve been suffering a freat mount of pain and loss. I still havent
      completely processed his death. I am considered complicated grief.
      WE need to be kind to ourselves!!! Don’t be harsh on yourself!!!
      Others need to ne patient with u. Hope you are doing better.
      Brendab

  3. I have lost both of my parents, numerous Aunts and Uncles, my only Sister and 13 years ago I lost my Son. I have never paid attention to others, including my own Brother when being told how to grieve or the hardest to get over it. It happened to be my youngest , precious son Chris who passed away at 19 after accidentially drowning on his college campus.
    I have been to councelling several times over the 13 years. I go to different counsellors and I have learned so many different ways to handle my grief from reaching out to others who have lost their children to giving out scholarships at my son’s high school. We also had a golf tournament in Chris’
    memory.

  4. This is a great article. When my grief was it’s worst i was taught there are 7 stages of grief and we must go through them. We do not all go at the same rate or in the same order. Sometimes years later something will trigger the hurt and we repeat where we were. 12years later I still miss my husband. But in time you put your pain in a place that allows you to function.

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