Grief vs. mourn isn’t a lawsuit, and the words shouldn’t compete. Find out why.
What Happens When We Forget to Mourn?
“Their choices just make me so sad,” I said to my therapist as tears ran down my cheeks.
“You know you can’t control someone else’s choices, right?” she said, handing me another tissue.
“I know.” For a few minutes, the tears clogging my throat prevented me from speaking. My shoulders shook.
“It doesn’t look like you’ve taken time to mourn your grief,” my therapist said as my tears subsided. “Mourning helps us express our grief in healthy ways so we can continue to heal.”
“You’re right,” I said. “I haven’t mourned. It feels selfish to cry over someone else’s choices and how they might affect me.” Tears leaped out of my eyes again. “But everything is so different now.”
“It sounds like nostalgia for the past keeps you from enjoying the present, too.”
I nodded. “You’ll probably need to buy another box of tissue when I leave,” I said, trying to lighten the mood. That’s me, always wanting to bring a note of humor into any situation.
“I have plenty. Mourn all you need to.”
We sat quietly, and I mourned. Occasionally I would toss out a sentence or two explaining the reasons for my grief.
At the end of our hour, I felt wasted but more hopeful than I had in months. Most importantly, I’d learned the difference between grief vs. mourn.
The Skinny on Grief vs. Mourn
According to Websters, grief is a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.” Grief, an emotion that affects our mood, health, and memory, isn’t good or bad. It just is. If trauma accompanies our grief, the toll on our physical health increases a hundredfold.
To mourn, on the other hand, means to express our grief or sorrow. The grief vs. mourn debate ends up an apple vs. oranges comparison. Or, more accurately, a noun vs. verb problem. We experience grief—what we choose to do with it can either help us move on or remain stuck. Grief, a noun, gets diminished by taking the time to mourn, a verb.
If we have setbacks and disappointments—small griefs—and never acknowledge them or take the time to mourn them, they can pile up like rocks on our backs. Throw in an above-average need for self-castigation, and you have the recipe for depression.
I went from a generally sunny disposition to having to bite my tongue multiple times a day because people annoyed me. Instead of enjoying my normal activities, I’d wander around the house with the attention span of a gnat. I struggled with insomnia. You can find a full list of the warning signs of depression here. I realized I needed help before I slipped into full-blown depression.
My therapist helped me understand the importance of mourning what grieves me. Sometimes, a simple statement will do. “I’m really sad that we won’t get to spend time together this summer.” Other times, I must give myself the time and space to cry. I may write in my journal, listen to sad songs, or watch a sad movie. But I acknowledge the reason for my tears. They come not only because of the lyrics or the storyline, but because of my sadness.
The Biblical Mandate to Mourn
Jesus even encourages us to mourn in his Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 NIV
We can’t receive his comfort if we don’t express our grief through mourning. All too often, Christians think the Bible says something about keeping a stiff upper lip. But the only reference to the word ‘stiff’ in scripture has to do with ‘stiff-necked people.’ I don’t want to act all stiff-necked and think I can stuff my emotions and get away with it.
Jesus calls us to mourn. And so my word of the year for 2023 is MOURN. I want to explore the biblical concept of mourning. This includes handling grief in an ongoing way instead of letting it build up to dangerous weights.
I hope you’ll join me each month around the 22nd as I chronicle my journey with my word. God knew I would need to practice the discipline of mourning as he whispered the word in my heart when someone asked if I had a word for 2023.
If you have a word of the year for 2023, I’d love to hear about it!