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Grieving vs. Mourning, Is There a Difference?

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

Clients have asked me, "What is the difference between Grieving and Mourning?" These terms are often used interchangeable, but it is important to note that there is a difference. Grieving is a term used when speaking of the internal experience of the one who has lost a loved one to death. Grief is what we think and feel on the inside such as sadness, fear, regret, even numbness (the sense of being without feelings) are all part of grieving. Mourning is the term applied to the external process we go through in adapting to the death. This might look like crying, talking about the death, journaling about our experience, even the memorial service and burial are part of the mourning process. These are ways of externalizing the pain and confusion that is inside.

The reason it is important to note the difference is because those around you who have lost someone close, could be grieving, but not mourning. If we do not see the mourning, or external process, we may assure they are no longer grieving. This can often occur when it has been several months after the event and functioning has returned. But functioning and truly living are quite different. We need the mourning process for true healing. Alan Wolfelt, PH.D, bereavement expert writes in his book Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens, "Everybody grieves inside when someone they love dies. But only people who mourn really heal and move on to live and love fully again."

It has been noted by research and experts that the most difficult times for those grieving are one week after the event, 3 months after the event, the first year anniversary of the event, and the holidays. So as the holidays approach, may we be mindful and reach out to those who have lost a loved one, especially within this past year. I often hear people say, "I don't know what to say," or "what if I make them feel worse?" and therefore, they opt to do nothing. The best rule of thumb is to be simple and thoughtful. Just knowing that others are thinking of them will go a long way to someone trying to get through their first holiday season without their loved one.

And remember, even if you do not see them mourning, they are still grieving.

Brenda Stutler, LMHC, GC-C

Note: if you know someone who is grieving but not mourning, who seems to be "stuck" in the process, or someone showing signs of depression/anxiety following a loss, please call Providence Counseling Center, help is available: 407-423-0790.

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