Mourning Beyond the Loss

By Mary Gail Frawley-­‐O’Dea, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Counseling Center
Senior Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst & Trauma Specialist

Mourning is an essential aspect of psychological and spiritual growth. A good mourning includes elements of reminiscence, sadness, anger, and denial. It readies us to go on after loss. Failure to mourn, or substituting nostalgia for mourning, often leaves us stuck between a past we cannot relinquish and a future we are not prepared to embrace.

A good mourning includes:

Sadness: The griever experience sometimes searing sadness over the finality of loss.

Reminiscence: As we grieve, we relive our time with the lost, remembering moments of joy, triumph, pleasure, anger, jealousy, disappointment in ourselves and in the loss.

Anger: A healthy mourning always includes anger and anger does not have to be rational. “Why didn’t he stop smoking earlier?” “I was a great employee – how could she fire me?” Some amount of anger is healthy and cleanses us during the mourning process.

Regret: In reminiscing about the loss person, thing, or experience, we remember moments when we could have been better in a relationship, or more preserving of an experience.

Denial: In grief, we go through periods of denying the loss, insisting that the lost will be returned to us in some way.

When we refuse to embrace mourning, we can get stuck in a number of ways:

Persistent Anger: When anger dominates the mourning process, we become bitter, refusing to engage in life lest we lose once more.

Nostalgia: When reminiscence becomes nostalgia, the lost is unrealistically cast as better than was the case in before the loss. Remembering what never really was and insisting that it/s/he can somehow be restored becomes a defense against loss and prevents investment in going on.

Mourning hurts like almost nothing else does; it throws us to the floor, tears at our limbs, empties our tear ducts, and exhausts our soul. When we mourn well, however, we are indeed sadder but wiser. “Things” may not be better, but we are better and ready to go on. There is no timing that is “right” to this process; it takes what it takes and that is different for every person.

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