If you’re living in the middle of loss, you’d probably do anything to find a compassionate heart who really “gets it”. In our culture that avoids loss and intellectualizes it, people don't learn about grief. You can usually divide the support that people offer into thirds: one third of it is helpful support - these people are treasures, one third are neither helpful or unhelpful and the last third is well-intentioned but actually unhelpful. Now, in "The Mourner's Bill of Rights" you have a guide to affirm your needs and perhaps to pass on to your well-meaning friends.
I introduced it in my last blog and got such positive feedback! Support is so vital to mourners and so appreciated but there are moments that you need to sort out what is truly helpful and what is not. This Bill of Rights will help you do just that. Here it is again, then I will explain them more.
The Mourner's Bill of Rights:
1. I have the right to experience my own personal, unique grief.
2. I have the right to embrace my grief and heal.
3. I have the right to feel many different emotions including surges of grief.
4. I have the right to treasure my memories.
5. I have the right to respect my own physical and emotional limits.
6. I have the right to talk about my grief.
7. I have the right to embrace my spirituality.
8. I have the right to search for meaning.
1. You have the right to experience your own personal and unique grief.
No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. It is like a fingerprint, unique to you.
What makes it so personal? Your thousands of shared conversations and activities: the meals, the sunsets, the trips, the projects, the hugs, and the dreams. A young widow said, “We had been waiting for the kids to graduate, waiting to be empty-nesters and take those exotic dream trips and volunteer. He used to be a pro-football player, in great shape. We were stunned that his headaches were a brain tumor and suddenly he was gone. Our lives and our dreams were shattered."
It is also unique because you are you. Quiet or talkative, analytical, artistic, or visionary, all these traits will be part of how you grieve. The quiet “stiff upper lip” culture grieves differently then a talkative expressive culture. Your personal religious views make a difference too, they may give you comfort or perhaps discomfort, or leave you grappling with big questions.
Was your loss sudden or traumatic? Were goodbyes said? How, where and why your loved one died can all make a difference in your grief. If there is stigma around the death, it can be harder - suicide, Aids, drugs, relationships. One family was shocked to meet the “other woman” at the funeral and suddenly were too embarrassed to mention their loss. Many other factors such as medical questions, autopsies, crimes, trials, traveling to the funeral, conflicts over the will and finances or difficulties with relatives all can affect your grief and mourning.
Imagine the additional losses for the semi-invalid husband whose care-giving wife died. Suddenly, he had to move to a care facility, leave his house, neighborhood supports and comforting memories - compounding his grief.
No one is in a position to plot or schedule anyone else's mourning. Others mean well, but don't allow them to tell what you should or should not be feeling.
2. You have the right to embrace your grief and heal.
A new widow’s son told her, “Well, you had him for 50 years of marriage, you shouldn’t complain.” She said, “I wanted to slap him! I told him, “I met your father when we were 15 years old, I would have happily taken him for another 50 years. I have every right to complain and to my grief””.
Grief is not just a funeral event, it is the process of adjusting to an unwanted and permanent life change. You have been injured emotionally, physically and spiritually and your life has changed forever. The first months continue to uncover new ways you miss them: their jokes at the holiday table, their repair skills, their special gift on your birthday. Slowly, through the "year of the firsts", you face these new losses and in “doses” which is a good way - too much at once is overwhelming.
The emotions of grief must be gently embraced because otherwise they can stay inside you until you do. Journaling, talking it out, music and art all help to get them from the inside to the outside. Unfortunately, sometimes those around you want you to "get back to "normal". The trouble is that your normal is gone and you can never get it back. About two years after my son died, I woke up one morning and realized I had to live in this new normal, of a bereaved parent with only one living child now, whether I wanted it or not.
When you express and embrace your grief, you can release the pain and begin to reconcile yourself to it. Avoid by-standers who are impatient with the process.
We are happy to find love, which means most of us will face grief one day as a part of life, they are two sides of the same coin. I hope that understanding these “rights” as a mourner has affirmed that your grief is unique and that embracing it leads to acceptance, peace and integration. Being an authentic mourner will help you travel back to the find the spark and the light of life.
We are told “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”. The comfort comes with the remembering and mourning. My prayer for you is that you too will be deeply comforted and uncover your life light again.
Watch for my next blog, and more about The Mourner’s Bill of Rights.
If you are facing loss, get help for dramatic relief and rebuilding, get the support you deserve. Let's have a conversation about your situation, contact me for a phone or skype coaching chat about your situation, Helga Bender, MThS, click here.
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