Grief vs. Mourning

We often use the words GRIEF and MOURNING interchangeably but they don’t mean the same thing.

Grief is the normal, natural and innate response to disappointment and loss; everyone grieves. Mourning is going public with our grief or sharing our grief with others; not everyone mourns.

Here are 3 reasons that may contribute to the difficulty grievers have in MOURNING the death of someone precious.

  1. Grievers discover that friends and family don’t know what to say or do so they feel unsupported. Or, friends and family members say insensitive things like “she’s in a better place” or “he’s not in pain any longer”. Grievers tend to isolate themselves ~ a self-protective move.
  2. Grievers feel they need to be strong for others. Their “Academy Award Winning Recovery” {I’m fine!} is welcomed by friends and family! He is back to himself; she is back to “normal”.
  3. Grievers are influenced by cultural and familial messages such as: Give it time. Keep busy. Be strong. Though these familiar adages turn out to be UNHELPFUL, the messages imbedded in them are practiced and habituated.

Mourning ~ sharing our grief with others ~ used to happen in our homes; now there is a business that shepherds us through tasks of mourning.

Alan Wolfelt, PhD, suggests that there are 6 NEEDS of Mourning which go beyond the actual funeral or memorial events:

  1. Acknowledge the reality of the loss.
  2. Embrace the pain of the loss.
  3. Remember the person who is gone.
  4. Develop a new self-identify.
  5. Search for meaning.
  6. Receive ongoing support from others.

Visit to search for The Mourner’s Bill of Rights. Use Dr. Wolfelt’s book and accompanying journal Understanding Your Grief as a mourning guide.

Mourning is the path to healing.

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” – William Shakespeare


Grief and the Holidays

Grief and the Holidays: Navigating the Season on Your Own Terms

Please listen to this recently-recorded Webinar created to focus on Grief and the Holidays. It involves the use of EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or TAPPING. If you are unfamiliar with TAPPING, visit

To listen to the Webinar, click on this link:

I am a Grief Recovery Specialist; I’ve been a companion to grievers since 2002. I facilitate The Grief Recovery Method™ Outreach Program in groups or individual sessions. I am a Life After Loss Coach and EFT Practitioner; I work with people who want to create the next chapter of their life ~ after loss.


“Our tears are precious, necessary, and part of what make us such endearing creatures.” – David Richo, The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them

WGN radio acts as my alarm, each morning.

Today, I heard, “he needs to ‘man up’!

Mary Van De Velde ~ traffic reporter ~ repeated this phrase several times as the morning team of the Steve Cochran show talked about the emotions of Bubba Watson, Masters champion.

“He needs to ‘man up’ ”, she repeated.

Wow. What decade are we in where a man’s tears are something to ridicule?

“Watson had tears streaming down his face when he scooped (his 2 year-old son, Caleb) up, a prize as great as the green jacket”. (Daily Herald, Monday, April 14, 2014)

Tears are healthy and cleansing yet there are still many who shame a child (or a man!) for expressing emotion through tears.

A study published in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity found that “football players who cried about game outcomes reported higher levels of self-esteem. They felt secure enough to shed tears in front of their teammates and seemed less concerned about peer pressure. Social scientists have found correlations between men’s crying and their mental health.”

Tears are part of our feelings vocabulary and should be encouraged not avoided. What a model for Caleb that his dad expresses joy in this way.

What Now?

From Ann Patchett‘s “What Now?“~
“What now? is not just a panic-stricken question tossed out into a dark unknown. What now? can also be our joy. It is a declaration of possibility, of promise, of chance. It acknowledges that our future is open, that we may well do more than anyone expected of us, that at every point in our development we are still striving to grow. There’s a time in our lives when we crave the answers. It seems terrifying not to know what’s coming next. But there is another time, a better time, when we see our lives as a series of choices, and What now? represents our excitement and our future, the very vitality of life. It’s up to you to choose a life that will keep expanding…

If you’re trying to find out what’s coming next, turn off everything you own that has an OFF switch and listen. Make up some plans and change them. Identify your heart’s truest desire and don’t change that for anything. Be proud of yourself for the work you’ve done.”

This is an excerpt from a commencement speech that author Ann Patchett gave at her alma mater ~ Sarah Lawrence College. But as I read this less-than-a hundred-pages book, I heard a message for anyone who is puzzling through what life-after-loss looks like …


“Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. And you have to do it no matter what is true. No matter what is true. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you. Self pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out. ” – Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Healing Grief, Finding Peace

“… monitoring the types of thought patterns you allow to dominate your daily inner monologue will either enhance or destroy your efforts to face difficult changes. Influence the unconscious by always communicating with it through the use of the powerful ‘I am,’ as in:

I am determined to persist.
I am doing difficult tasks every day without fail.
I am a committed and powerful human being.
I am making it.
I am good.
I am divinely guided and assisted.
I am getting it done.

Use whatever words are authoritative for you; they are powerful ways to dispel fear.”

Dr. Louis E. LaGrand, Healing Grief, Finding Peace: 101 Ways to Cope with the Death of Your Loved One

To read more about the work of Dr. LaGrand, visit

Rainbows for All Children

The founder of Rainbows for All Children ~ Suzy Marta Yehl ~ died this week. Rainbows’ mission is “Giving Children and teens the guidance to grieve and grow after loss.” She wrote the book “Healing the Hurt, Restoring the Hope”.

Here is a summary of the Rainbows for All Children mission: “Rainbows is the largest international children’s charity dedicated solely to helping youth successfully navigate the very difficult grief process. Every day, children are touched by emotional suffering caused by a death, divorce, deployment of a family member, incarceration of a loved one, or any of a multitude of significant event traumas including natural or manmade disasters. And, while a few children are resilient, we know that most do not bounce back without help.

Children need guidance and compassion to prevent a loss event from literally defining their lives through later destructive choices. In fact, research proves that unresolved grief leaves kids vulnerable to major at-risk behaviors.

Since our founding in 1983, over 2.7 million children and teens throughout 50 United States and 18 other countries have been helped and supported by Rainbows programs.”

Visit to see if there is a Rainbows program in your area.

Living without mom …

“So who am I to feel alone, utterly sad, as if no one has ever gone through this?”
– Amy Joyce, The Washington Post Column, “Living without mom”

Amy Joyce writes:
Early last fall, my husband and I were driving into Washington after visiting family in Virginia. Our two small boys were in the back seat, already lulled to sleep after hours of playing with cousins. “You take Sam, I’ll get Jonah,” I sort of absent-mindedly whispered to Steven, making our car-to-bed getaway plans. I looked back, and the boys’ cheeks were glowing with the soft green light from the dashboard, both kids cozy in their coats, safe with their mom sitting right there in front of them.

It dawned on me then: I remember being them so very clearly. I remember hearing my mother’s voice in the front seat: “I’ll get the key and open the house.” Even though I couldn’t open my eyes, so tired from an evening of fun with cousins, I could picture her turtleneck, clip-on earrings and glasses reflecting the light from the dashboard.

My mom’s life and mine have finally dovetailed. Now, a mother of a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, I truly understand her.

But this was also the first year I had to live without her.

I’m a late-30s woman who has lost her mother. A mom who made it just past the age of 70, who actually got to meet and be a big part of all four of her grandchildren’s lives. That’s not tragic. That’s a life well lived. So who am I to feel alone, utterly sad, as if no one has ever gone through this?

There’s just something about moms, particularly when one becomes a mom herself.

This cancer thing had gone on so long, I felt as if the past eight years held a thundercloud of fear for me. What was I afraid of, exactly? I discovered this year — the year I had been dreading since her cancer was diagnosed — that without her I could be a mother, an employee, a daughter to my father and a wife to my husband just fine without her advice. But I couldn’t phone and tell her that Sam created a backyard fort today with his friend Claire out of garden stakes and the baseball blanket she had made him.

Shortly after Steven and I got married, I got a call from my dad. I was looking out the upstairs window of our newly purchased Adams Morgan house, sitting on the new blue quilt on our bed. “Your mother has breast cancer,” my dad said.

I started to ask questions: Has it spread? How big is the tumor? Radiation? Chemo? “Helen, she’s asking questions,” my dad said. She took the phone from him. Clearly, he had called instead of her because he thought it would be easier on her. But Mom was the one with the answers.

After a year or so of surgery, radiation, chemo and all the things that go with breast cancer, her doctor said she could take a break from treatment. And then Sam was born.

She was there in the first hours after he arrived. And she was back a week later, soothing him to sleep with every song in her endless songbook, telling me to get up and out of the house, walk around a little to push those baby blues out of the way.

Two months after that, I was sitting on that same bed, same quilt, looking out that same window onto the same pretty trees. The cancer had spread to her liver. “I just wanted to see my grandchildren grow up,” she cried to me.

That was the last time she really got that upset to me about her lot in life. And that was the first time I couldn’t breathe.

How could my life be my life without her? How could it be possible my children would grow up without this creative former art teacher, whose entire mission was to pamper and teach and guide those grandchildren?

My parents are optimists, and they love(d) life as everyone wishes he could. They never asked how long Mom had, because they were living every day as fully as they could anyway. So they traveled, biked, continued volunteer work, visited friends and family.

For metastatic breast cancer, particularly the kind that spreads to the soft organs, the survival rate is not long-term. My parents may not have asked, but Steven and I did. “Six months to three years,” the second-opinion doctor said. I never told my parents.

In 2009, Jonah was born during a snowstorm. Just a week and a half later, Mom and Dad made it here from Pittsburgh. I have pictures of my mom, the lady with metastatic breast cancer, years of chemo and a little fuzz of hair, up to her thighs in the snow, helping Sam make snow angels and paint Christmas cookies as we were getting acquainted with our newborn. I was frazzled and sometimes unbearably sad about her life ending. She was calm and, well, living.

Mostly, she was mother/grandma. She always feared giving advice, afraid my brother or I would get annoyed. I sometimes teased her for her guidance. She would say one thing, and I’d exaggerate it to make it sound as ridiculous as possible. It was clear she thought we were too strict with the “no sweets” rule with Sam. “If he had more sweets, he wouldn’t act so crazy every time he had a cookie,” she said once. That turned into “Mom thinks we need to feed Sam more sugar to make him normal.”

As things got worse toward the end of 2011, I visited almost every weekend, usually leaving my boys at home with Steven because Mom was too sick to be around them, and so I could focus on her.

The things that were so everyday for “the rest” of the world began to make my knees buckle. One of the last weeks before Christmas, I took her to her multitude of appointments. In one waiting room, we pored over an issue of This Old House and dog-eared the many things we thought I should do if Steven and I ever remodeled. She would never see my house again.

We laughed as we snuck that magazine out of the office. I still have it next to my bed.

Just a couple of weeks after that day, one we spent often in tears from laughing so much, we moved my mother into a hospice house.

Her last real role as my mom was during the final moments of our lives together. It was about five days into the hospice stay — and just like the length of her cancer, this had lasted much longer than any doctors expected. She wasn’t mentally with us anymore, agonizing noises coming from her mouth. My dad had told me that night that I had to go home to my own small boys the next day. “Who knows how long this will go on,” he said. “You need to go tomorrow.”

And so that Saturday night, around 10, I sat with my incoherent mom, my face just wet.

“I don’t know what to do, Mom,” I whispered. “Dad told me I have to go. And I don’t want to leave you, but the boys need me. I don’t know what to do.”

My dad and I left. As I was about to crawl into bed, the phone rang. I grabbed it before he could, knowing it would be the wonderful nurse at the hospice house. She had done her rounds a few minutes ago. Mom was gone.

It was her final, selfless parenting act. I think she didn’t want me to have to make the decision about whether to stay or go, so she made it for me, and helped me go be a mom to my own boys.

So here’s the thing. The funeral happened. The year happened. And I survived. I’m still a mom, a wife, a daughter, sister, friend, employee. I can’t get on the phone with my mom every day. She wasn’t here to help me make the boys’ Halloween costumes this year. We didn’t have our summer beach walks or our annual Christmas shopping trip, and I can’t ask her for advice that I will later taunt her with.

In the end, as she always did, I lived. And although this year without her has been hard and sad and missing something big, it has still happened.

When I started thinking about writing about losing my mom, I thought I would be able to fill pages with what exactly has been lost. But it sort of comes down to one thing that my wise 3-year-old said recently, when he didn’t want me to leave his room after a prolonged bath-books-bed routine. He grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go and whined: “But I want you forever!”

My 38-year-old self gets it. Really, kid. I get it.

Amy Joyce is a Washington Post staff writer.

Who was that?

“At its best, this is what death offers, a jolt that makes you look at someone you loved and wonder more carefully than you ever have: Who was that?”
– Mary Schmich, Columnist, Chicago Tribune

From Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich writes about her brother:
Seeing a Brother More Clearly

January 12, 2013
I miss my brother.

I’ve been staring at my laptop screen, trying to write something about what it’s like to lose a sibling, and the only words that come clearly are those.

I miss my brother.

Bill was the first of my seven siblings, just a year younger than I am, the guy who elbowed me out of the center of our parents’ universe. We grew up eating the same fried-bologna sandwiches, watching the same Captain Kangaroo, smelling the same Georgia grass, absorbing our mother and father from approximately the same angle.

We were different, though. I crooned along with the Bee Gees; Bill rocked to Led Zeppelin. While I was rehearsing with the pompom squad, Bill brooded over the charcoal sketches he made in the bedroom he shared with his four brothers. As I bought my first professional clothes, Bill grew his hair to his waist and moved to the Oregon backwoods to paint.

For years we rarely saw each other, and rarely talked, but shortly after I moved to Chicago, he called me one night.

“How would you feel about me moving there?”

Bill, the iconoclast? Wanted to live near me? He and his girlfriend, Eloise, found an apartment a block from mine on Roscoe Street. We had good times.

After that, our paths diverged again. He married Eloise, had two sons who are now in their teens, got a job on the website of a small Colorado newspaper. He worked long hours, lived in a small house, wore thrift-shop clothes and never found enough time to paint.

Then the cancer came.

Do you ever wonder who you would reveal yourself to be if you were dying? Watching Bill, I often wondered.

Would I be so gracious? So humble and tenacious? Would my first words to visitors be “How are you?” His often were, until he could no longer speak.

Bill hoped against the cancer until the end. He used it as incentive to make art, down in the tiny basement studio that no one was allowed to enter, painting even when his fingers were bloated and burnt by chemo.

After he was laid off a year ago, losing his income and his health insurance, he sought the sunny side: “Now I can call myself a full-time painter.”

The cancer took him shortly after New Year’s. He was at home. Eloise, who had nursed him as the disease stole more from him every day, held his hand as he died.

During my brother’s dying, I came to see more clearly who he was. Through his final time, we talked about our parents, novels, TV, music, religion, his love for his wife and sons, the importance of staying connected to your siblings. Though he lived on intravenous nutrition, unable to eat, he taught me his elaborate routine for properly buttering toast.

In his absence these last few days, Bill continues to reveal himself. Paintings of his that I’d never known about have turned up, showing parts of him I hadn’t glimpsed before.

The morning of his death, Eloise opened the door of his little art studio. Sitting on an easel facing the door was a surprise gift. A portrait, almost finished, of his younger son, the one he wouldn’t live to shepherd out of high school.

I miss my brother, the one I got to know better as he died, and the one I’m still discovering.
At its best, this is what death offers, a jolt that makes you look at someone you loved and wonder more carefully than you ever have: Who was that?

Stormy times

“I’m not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship”. – Louisa May Alcott