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There Is No Wrong Way to Mourn a Loss

The book Stuart Little is unsettling because of the way it ends. Or rather, doesn’t end. The story is about a mouse who goes on various adventures with his bird friend, Margalo. One day Margalo flies away and the mouse is distraught. He sets off on a journey to find her, but never knows if he will. The book ends there. Much like life, there is no tidy closure that comes with a loss. The future is left unknown.

When someone loses a person who is close to them, it’s often difficult to move forward. By delaying or avoiding the grieving process, the illusion of stability is upheld, but the reality is warped.  Grieving and mourning are imperative to finding closure and ultimately healing. Without them, we may find ourselves continuously searching for something or someone that does not exist.

Grief and mourning, while often times used interchangeably, are not the same thing. Grief is an emotional response felt inwardly. When grieving, someone may feel shock, anger, confusion, depression, or isolation. While not everyone feels the same emotions at the same time, almost all feel a particular sense of distress.

Mourning is the expression of grief. According to The Atlantic, sixty percent of mourners show no symptoms of grief one month following a loss. While there are many different ways to mourn, rituals remain some of the most concrete examples.  

Rituals associated with mourning include:

  • Funerals
  • Wearing black
  • Lighting candles
  • Celebrating an anniversary
  • Creating a scrapbook
  • Compiling a mixed CD or playlist of beloved songs
  • Planting trees
  • Making a donation to a charity
  • Visiting a cemetery
  • Holding on to an object that a loved one treasured
  • Visiting a special place that had emotional meaning
  • Burning a written letter
  • Using creativity, such as painting or playing music as a way to release emotion

Certain phases are normal when experiencing grief. These five stages are:

  1. Denial. Sometimes the shock of what has happened is so overwhelming that it doesn’t feel possible. If the air is the same temperature, the clock is still ticking, and electricity is running the same as usual, how could something catastrophic have happened? This is a natural response.  
  2. Anger. Most people do not like feeling out of control.  When a loss occurs, it is common to feel helpless.  If the natural response to helplessness is anxiety, it is not a wonder why most people experience anger.  Since everyone responds to anger differently, the outcome is varied.  Some people may direct their anger toward others.  Some might direct it at themselves.  Many people are angry with a higher power or the person they have lost.  While it may not make sense, this is a common reaction.
  3. Bargaining. This, too, is a reaction of lost control. Going over what could have been prevented or how situations could have been handled differently may be repeatedly revisited. Attempting to strike a deal with a higher power may also occur during this stage.
  4. Depression. Once the loss is understood, coming to terms with the lasting effects on daily life can set in.  During this stage it is not uncommon to experience crying, loneliness, sleep issues, appetite changes, and foggy thinking.  This can feel overwhelming without support.
  5. Acceptance. This is the final stage of grief. The sadness may still be there, but moving forward is now possible.

There is no right or wrong way to mourn a loss. Practicing private rituals can help in a way that is more personal and sometimes more helpful. Traditional rituals may help connect people together during a time when support is needed. While some cultures find it necessary to publicly cry, others reserve that expression for a private place.

Regardless of how one mourns, the grieving process is one that we all go through in the collectivity of our own individual pain. While it is unique to each of us, it is common as a whole.

There Is No Wrong Way to Mourn a Loss

Rebecca Lee

Rebecca Lee lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. She has published with: Harvard, Adbusters, The Virginian Pilot etc. Her book, Object Relations, is due for publication in July.

APA Reference
Lee, R. (2018). There Is No Wrong Way to Mourn a Loss. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 25 Jun 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.