While funeral directors are masters at
staying in the background, there is a rock star out there who rules funeral
service. Sadly, he’s American.
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, the world-renowned
grief counsellor, author and educator, founded the Center for Loss and Life
Transition as a safe place for men, women and children to grief without the
pressure to “get over it,” “move on” or “stay busy.”
Sadly, many of us are rushed through our
grief because of the nature of our death-avoidant, hurry-up-and-heal culture. Just because “stay busy” advice is common
doesn’t mean the directive is rooted in common sense.
“You can’t heal what you don’t feel” is
an adage worth remembering as you explore and journey through your grief.
Below is one of Dr. Wolfelt’s most
popular rallying cries for mourners: “The Mourner’s Bill of Rights.” Consider
this list your manifesto about how you expect family, friends and strangers to
treat you as you heal and grow stronger.
In the words of Dr. Wolfelt, “You are
the one who is grieving, and as such, you have certain ‘rights’ no one should
try to take away from you.”
You have the right to experience your
own unique grief. No one else will grieve in the exact
same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don’t allow them to tell
you what you should or should not be feeling.
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 about your
grief. If at times you do not feel like talking, you also have the right to be
You have the right to feel a multitude
of emotions. Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt
and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief
journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong.
Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who
will accept your feelings without conditions.
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. Eat balanced
meals. And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel
ready to do.
You have the right to experience “grief
bursts.” Sometimes out of nowhere, a powerful
surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is normal and
natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.
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 importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If
others tell you the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or
unnecessary, don’t listen.
You have the right to embrace your
spirituality. If faith is a part of your life,
express it in way that seems appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around
people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at
God, find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings of hurt
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,
but some may not. And watch out for the clichéd responses some people may give
you. Comments like, “It was God’s will” or “Think of what you have to be
thankful for” are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.
You have the right to treasure your
memories. Memories are one of the best legacies
that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead
of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.
You have the right to move toward your
grief and heal. Reconciling your grief will not happen
quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. 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.