The Second 3 Needs of MourningJun 10, 2022
The Second 3 Needs of Mourning
By Kimberlee Bow, MA, LPC, R-DMT, CT, ACS, CFE/T, RSME/T, RYT500
Thank you for continuing the journey of engaging and understanding grief, mourning, and bereavement. Several steps on this journey have already been taken and so much information has been covered. In the previous post, the first three of the Six Needs of Mourning were introduced. As a gentle reminder, It is important to keep in mind that these needs of mourning are not linear and not about checking a box. As people journey through grief, they will touch in and out of these needs, potentially visiting them a number of times. And not everyone expreiences these needs the same way. As mentioned, the first of the three needs have been covered. Now it is time to explore the next and final three needs. And, as always, continue to hold this experience with compassion and care.
Again as another gentle reminder, the model that is being discussed, the Six Needs of Mourning, was introduced by Dr. Alan Wolfelt who is passionately devoted to the field of thanatology.
Need 4: Develop a new self-identity
Humans grow and develop with the social world. Through relationships with people our brains begin to grow and develp. Think of an infant and a caregiver. That relationship helps the brain even begin to decide if the world is safe place. Furthermore, parts of self-identity come from the relationships that people have with others. When a person whom one has a relationship with dies, self-identity or the way that people see themselves changes. Social and personal identities such as spouse, caregiver, or friend shift and change to widow or widower, for example. Both ther internal and experience ways that people think of themselves and the way society defines people change.
Digging deeper, this translates to not only mourning the loss of the person, but also mourning the loss of a piece of one’s self. Depending on the relationship this may also mean that new roles emerge as the solo caregiver or the manager of the finances. In engaging the new roles and tasks, people confront their changed identity. This can be hard, draining, and energy demanding. Sometimes people feel a temporary heightened dependence on others in addition to feelings such as helplessness, frustration, inadequacy, and fear. The hopeful side of this work is the potential to unearth some positive aspects of this changed self-identity, such as different pieces of the self like confidence, kindness, or empowerment.
Need 5: Search for meaning
Questioning the meaning and purpose of life can be a natural question after a death. Often times people question their philosophy of life or explore religious or spirtual values. This is when the “Why?” and “How?” questions may emerge to help explore the menaing of continued living. Being reminded of how one lacks control may leave people feeling powerless. Furthermore,
people may feel that a piece of them died with the person, and they are now faced with finding some meanining in continuing with life despite the possible feeling of emptiness. People may start to confront their own spirituality where spiritual conflicts and questions emerge. This is a normal part of the journey towards finding renewed living.
Need 6: Receive ongoing support from others
Humans are social creatures as alluded to above, whether introverts or extraverts. The understanding support, both the quality and quantity, have an impact on people’s capacity to heal. A grief journey is not meant to be taken alone! With the encouragement and experiences from friends, family, fellow mourners, or supportive others, one steps into a healthy human need. Asking for support is not a sign of weakness, rather a sign of strength. And as the process of mourning does not occur over night, support remains important for months, even years, after a death. What that support looks like may evolve and shift over time, but is still needed!
Sadly, some cultures and societies place value on a more ‘keep going’ mentality. This is examplified in phrases like, “keep busy,” “carry on,” or “pull yourself up by your boot straps.” That type of mentality sends the message to people who are mourning that they need to get on with their lives and get back to “normal” at a rather quick pace. The consequences, however, serve to encourage people to deny or repress their normal and necessary grief instead of allowing for them to engage in expression. And yet, other cultures have a different perspective and understand the need for continuing support and acknowledge that grief is not something to get over.
A helpful support system needs to appreciate the impact that a death has on a person and provide that supportive time and space needed to mourn. These are the type of people that one needs to gather. There is something called the “rule of thirds.” While there is no research to back to this up, it does seem to hold true. In general, one third of people in a person’s life will be
supportive. Another third will be harmful while, yet, another third while be neutral and neither harm nor be helpful. What people in grief need is that support third.
Thank you for your time in reading this post and for continuing this journey. It truly has been a lot. All Six Needs of Mourning have been discussed and hopefully ties together why each of the previous steps have been taken. A foundation was needed so that the process of diving into understanding grief and mourning provided a different depth of understanding. May the knowledge gain be of support to all of us on our own journeys.
Wolfelt, A. (2006). Companioning the bereaved: A soulful guide for caregivers. Companion Press.
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