Grief vs. Mourning: What They Are & How to Find Power Through Both

By Georgia


Last Updated: August 28, 2021

Mourning isn't just for people you love.

Sometimes you need to mourn people and experiences you detest, or that hurt you. Sometimes you need to mourn ideas or desires that will never be fulfilled. And counter-intuitively, sometimes you need to mourn people and relationships that are still alive.

The mourning process is different for everyone, and everyone experiences grief differently. But at some point in life, everyone will be confronted with grief and have the opportunity to mourn someone or something. 


What is Grief?

Grief is a strong, sometimes overwhelming emotion for people, regardless of whether their sadness stems from the loss of a loved one or from a terminal diagnosis they or someone they love have received. - The Mayo Clinic

Grief refers to the internalized thoughts and feelings around the death or loss of a person, living thing, object, place or idea.

It is typically associated with:

  • deep sorrow
  • displacement
  • emptiness
  • hopelessness
  • regret

The loss does not have to be of someone, something or somewhere beloved or familiar. Nor does it have to occur after the loss.

Grief can be associated with the loss of a deep or fleeting connection. Traumatic events can still produce a grief response, which can feel very conflicting for the person experiencing it.

Grief can also occur before a loss, especially if the loss is known and impending. Fear of a vague future loss can also lead to grief feelings, manifesting from deep insecurity and co-dependence.


What is Mourning?

Mourning is the expression of an experience that is the consequence of an event in life involving loss, causing grief, occurring as a result of someone's death, specifically someone who was loved although loss from death is not exclusively the cause of all experience of grief. - Wikipedia

Mourning is the process of performing rituals and following conventions typically associated with death.

It is closely connected to culture, but can be highly personal to the person experiencing the loss and meaningful to the lost person or (formerly) living thing.

Mourning differs from grief by being an outward expression, while grief tends to be defined as more of an inward feeling. 


Living with Grief

Everyone grieves differently, and what makes perfect sense to some people can seem inconceivable to others.

One person may speak openly about their grief while others remain stoic and silent. Some celebrate, while many reflect. Some remember the good times and refuse to speak ill of the dead. Others honor the reality of the flawed being they remember.

No matter how a person reflexively or intentionally grieves, living with grief can be incredibly difficult.

Grief can interrupt and interfere severely with a person's life, causing more loss and grief.

This is especially true if:

  • they are abandoned physically or emotionally by their support system
  • they lose financial and physical stability and security in the form of work or housing


What Happens When You're Grieving? 

Grief can be closely associated with depression, anxiety and the onset or escalation of other mental health, addiction, substance abuse, or behavioral disorders.

While living with grief can be difficult, it can be managed with:

  • self-help techniques
  • professional counseling
  • group counseling and meetings
  • spiritual guidance

Life can feel both duller and hypersensitive living with grief.

Someone's senses can become simultaneously clouded and enhanced; such as:

  • food may taste bland
  • vision can become blurry and unfocused
  • they may experience sensitivity to light and sound
  • feeling irritable, numb, lonely, overwhelmed and crowded are also common

A person may feel restless or fatigued, want time alone or constant crowds, seek silence or stimulation. Feeling well, satisfied and joyous can feel impossible during the height of grief, or during any period of time thereafter.

Grief may strike suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere after a loss has occurred. This can be true even if an initial period of successful grieving and mourning has previously passed. Grieving may be short-lived or continue for a lifetime.

Each past experience is unique. But the feelings may layer on top of each other, reversing progress made on previous losses and even causing emotional regression.  

Read this next: Why Crying is Necessary for Healing

Mourning the Lost and Missing

There are millennia's worth of tools and techniques at someone's disposal to help them grieve and mourn the dead. There are excellent resources available to help with this process tailored for just such circumstances.

Mourning the missing can be more complex emotionally. Similar tools can be used to process a person's emotions. The questions regarding what happened, why, and if reunification is possible can disrupt the flow and progress of grieving.

That “what if” can slow down someone's acceptance of the loss significantly. 


Mourning the Living

Mourning the living can be even more tricky. The possibility of the lost person coming around and becoming who the mourner wants them to be remains alive. This could be a friend or family member, lover or teacher - someone who you have lost a relationship or connection with. 

But the sad truth is sometimes people never become who we need them to be. The relationship they want and deserve simply isn't possible, or is possible but will never happen. Holding onto hope in this case is emotionally exhausting and leads to disappointment at best - and devastation at worst.

Only this never gets resolved or goes away because the relationship is dead even though the person is alive. In cases like these, it can be helpful to grieve and mourn the person or relationship as is, or the idea of either getting better.


Don't Be Afraid to Face Your Feelings About Grief - Even Before They Happen

Life and loss go hand in hand.

Nothing lasts forever, and we'll all have to experience those feelings at some point. In this light, it would be a good exercise for everyone to examine their own previous responses to grief. This can help to learn effective ways to cope before an inevitable loss occurs.

It won't protect them from their feelings. But it may strengthen their resolve, insulating them from making destructive decisions or using counterproductive methods to process their feelings.

Whether a person has already lost someone or something, or never truly had a relationship in the first place, they can begin the process of letting go and developing healthier ways to cope going forward. 

If you or someone you know needs support while coping with grief and/or mourning, the Center for Grief Recovery and Therapeutic Services has a helpful list of resources you could reach out to. 

Photo by Alex Green from Pexels


2 comments on “Grief vs. Mourning: What They Are & How to Find Power Through Both”

  1. I don't even know how I came to receive your emails, but I am so grateful that I do. You have helped me immensely. Some days are tough & reading your articles always lifts me & motivates me so much. Just wanted to say a big THANK YOU.

  2. I have a friend that has shut off the world. She lost her Husband to a very rare form of cancer and has made herself a shut in. She couldn't even attend a memorial that was low key given by his closest of friends. The evening was field with laughter as everyone shared their greatest moments full of passion I asked I hope someone is taping this as his wife may find some comfort for the joy of the affair, but on the other hand she may fall deeper in her depression I pray to our Heavenly Father that she finds her way back to life!

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