There is no grief like the grief that does not speak. – Henry Wordsworth
As you journey through grief, others will try to be helpful. They may, at times, offer you unhelpful responses and advise, usually well intentioned, but from a place of discomfort with the idea of death and grief. They want you to be “all right” so they won’t have to deal with those distressing feelings, so they sweep you and your grief under the rug.
You may be (probably are) upset by or angry at these peoples’ insensitivity. It is possible, even probable, that they have never experienced a loss of a loved one and the resulting grief, and are simply clueless, ignorant.
You have certain “rights” as you grieve that you should not relinquish for anyone.
The following list is intended both to empower you to heal and to decide how others can and cannot help. This may assist you in distinguishing useful responses from hurtful ones.
The Mourner’s Bill of Rights (8)
1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.
No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for support, don’t allow them to tell you what you should or should not be feeling or doing.
2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. You have the right to your silence if at times you don’t feel like talking.
3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
Confusion, disorientation, fear, anger, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel during your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling one of them – anger, for example – is wrong. Don’t believe them. Instead, find listeners who will accept and honor your feelings without conditions.
4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Exercise regularly. Eat balanced meals. And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel ready to do.
5. You have the right to experience “grief bursts.”
Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may come over you. This can be frightening to you and uncomfortable for others. It is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.
6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More important, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you their opinions that the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don’t listen.
7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious/spiritual beliefs. If you feel angry with God, find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.
8. You have the right to search for meaning.
You may find yourself asking, “Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?” Some of your questions may have answers; some may not. Some people may give you clichéd responses. Comments like, “It was God’s will” or “Think of what you still have to be thankful for” are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.
9. You have the right to treasure your memories.
Memories are one of the best legacies that you have after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.
10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.
Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is best experienced in “doses.” Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.
(8) Wolfelt, A. Understanding Your Grief. Fort Collins, CO: Companion Press; 2003. P 103-104.
- Have you ever been approached by someone infringing on one of your rights? How did you respond? How would you respond differently now, after learning about the Mourner’s Bill of Rights?
- Which of these ten rights is your favorite and why?
- Can you think of another you would like to add to the Mourner’s Bill of Rights?