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As we move into the new year, I thought it would be good to revisit this topic and what it means and how we might use it as we work through our grief. It is definitely important for those who are newly bereaved, but it is also important to remember and consider along the way for those who are “further down the road”.

waves of grief

Two quotes to begin with:

“Life is like a river and grief is like a flood.”

“Grief is like waves breaking on a beach, overwhelming during a storm and changing to broader, lower swells that wash up less often and more gently on the shore when the storm is over.”

Definition(s) of Grief and Mourning:  What are we actually talking about here?

Grief: is a deep sorrow within us, especially when caused by someones death. It is a feeling within yourself in response to someone dying. 

I think the important thing to remember here is that grief is a feeling or actually a large group of very intense feelings in your body, mind and emotions that come over you, sometimes all at once, and kind of take you over. Especially early on, it is often totally visceral and emotional and often not rational or thoughtful at all.

Mourning: is the outward expression of deep sorrow caused by someones death. It is an external expression of your inner feelings (of grief) when someone dies. 

Mourning is about your personal expression of how your grief makes you feel. There are many traditional mourning customs, like wearing sack cloth and ashes and keening, of rocking back and forth and crying, of wearing black, and many other, specifically cultural things. There are also individual things that your grieving makes your body, mind or emotions do to try to relieve the very intense emotions and pain that you personally are experiencing. 

As with all parts of grief, they are your expressions and reflect who you are and how you loved.

I think it’s important, however, to always remember: We grieve because we love! 

I believe it is important to know and remember that it is our love and the ending of our lives with our loved ones that cause us to grieve. 

We miss them and all the interactions and time we spent together. We miss the things we did and said and were to each other, the things we will never get to do, or the things we will never do together again. We miss talking to them at the end of the day. We feel the sadness and loneliness of being without them filling their space in our daily lives. 

For all these things and more, we experience deep sorrow and pain, feeling and believing that we will not be able to have any more time, or experiences, or love with our spouse or partner.

And everything and every moment reminds us of this. And it hurts! And it becomes the most wished for thing we have, “if I could only have another hug or another day or…”

Here’s a verse and chorus from a song we wrote that captured those feelings pretty strongly I think.

Now there is empty,

now there is sadness,

now there is living all alone,

Now there is wishing, 

with every breath I take,

for your somehow coming home. 

…I am standing,

Though I’m wracked with pain,

though my life has been shattered,

from us, into me, all alone…

from “I Remain” (howard and andi fischer 12/2020)

We are not our grief, We are grieving: 

Some Affirmations:

The main thought I want to share tonight is based on something I learned from Andi during her cancer journey. She decided early on that she was not going to be her cancer. She was going to be herself living with cancer and she was going to go on living despite it and be herself as much as possible through it all. 

What I learned was to apply that idea to the experience of grieving as: 

We are not our grief, we are grieving… 


Being our grief or becoming our grief seems to me to contain the idea that grief has been incorporated into who we are and has become a permanent part of us. It suggests that grief now somehow defines us, and that we are somehow stuck in a new life of grief without end. 

Being separate from our grief or not being our grief, to me means that grief doesn’t own us or define us. It is not actually a part of who we are and so, in time, we can pass through it because it is something that is happening to us and not part of who we actually are.

Grief can be one of the most overwhelming emotional turmoils we ever experience. It can feel and be one of the most painful things we ever go through. But even during the worst of the pain, it is always helpful and healing to remember that grief is something that is happening to us but it isn’t really us. It isn’t who we are. Through it all, we can still be growing, learning and healing, even if the changes are so small that we don’t notice when that growth and healing is happening.

As we grieve, as we experience our grief, we are also changed by the experience. It is not that because we are changing we become our grief, but that the experience of going through the intensity of our grieving changes us just as any powerful experience changes us. Those changes in ourselves are how we respond to what is happening in our life. Again, just because we are changed by our grieving, it doesn’t mean we become our grief. 

Our grief may become all encompassing for a while, painful beyond relief for a while but with time, we also begin to become ourselves again, separate from the grief, learning to honor our loved ones in memory but, we are not our grief, we are grieving!

Another idea to consider that I stress all the time:

As we grieve, I think it is also important to remember that there is no one way to grieve, nor is there one way to go through grief and mourning, nor is there a timetable, nor a “should do” list, nor a calendarHow ever long it takes, that’s how long it takes! When its time to do something, it’s time to do it, when it’s not time, it’s not time.

Something else that is important that I want to affirm here is:

It’s always OK to grieve! 

Because there is no one way to do it, nor one right way to do it or experience it, you can do it in your way and do it in your own time. It’s not up to others to tell you how or when to grieve nor for anyone to tell you when your grieving should be ended. 

When it’s time to do something on your grief journey, you will know it, but it should be when it feels right for you and not when somebody, or some book, or something you saw on the internet or on social media, says you should do something or be something. This may be especially true if it comes from the non-bereaved!

It’s just different for each of us and we need to follow our own inclinations and our own hearts… Again, how ever long it takes, that’s how long it takes.

Negative grief and mourning behaviors:  

Just as a reminder here, there can be grief or mourning behaviors, perhaps the results of anger or frustration within our grief and mourning, that are loud or violent, that are hurtful to ourselves or others, or that are intrusive on others. We should be aware of those things and seek professional help if and when our grief or mourning becomes too intense to navigate by ourselves or within a Support Group setting. It’s always better to call someone and find help then to stay isolated in the worst parts of our grief.


Does it help to think of being separate from your grief and not let it be who you are?

Can you see a way to separate from your grief but still remain yourself within the grieving?

What would you be willing to share about how your grief makes you feel and act, especially in the early days? What does (did) it feel like for you?

Do you think it’s ok to grieve/mourn in public? (Is there really a choice?)