Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | August 31, 2010

Mourner’s Rights

I seem to have had a run on bereavement recently, in that I’ve had several patients who have lost loved ones. Some have wound up in my office for unrelated complaints, only to have the grief spill out. I’ve become aware of the struggles of others via Facebook. I’ve found this handout (from Family Practice Management several years ago) to be very useful. I keep copies in my office and hand them out when needed, but it occurs to me that having another way to disseminate this helpful information would be a good idea. Here’s the text in its entirety:

When your parent, child, sibling or partner dies, you become a mourner. You stay a mourner for at least a year.

While you are a mourner, you are at a higher-than-usual risk for:

  • dying,
  • getting a new illness,
  • getting a flare-up of an illness you already have,
  • not getting enough sleep (or sleeping too much),
  • becoming malnourished,
  • making decisions that you later regret,
  • thinking that you are losing your mind.

On the positive side, you are also more likely than usual to:

  • notice what you appreciate about being alive,
  • become more aware of your deepest values and top priorities,
  • get a clear view of the status of all your relationships.

You deserve lots of extra support while you are a mourner.

You deserve help to protect your physical and mental health, and you deserve support to take advantage of what is special and precious about mourning. This is true whether the person who died was young or old, whether the two of you were close or estranged, whether the person died slowly or suddenly, and whether you expected the person’s death to “get to you.”

In some cultures, a mourner is considered legally insane for a year. The mourner is allowed to blaspheme, break promises, wake people up at night, change his or her mind repeatedly, and express emotions, including anger at the one who has died. While our culture may not provide as much grace to mourners, you should give yourself a break.

Many mourners find that grief takes the shape of a spiral. You spin from feeling normal to grief-stricken, and back again. Often, two members of a mourning family will find themselves on opposite sides of the spiral.

Person A:

  • “I’m OK.”
  • “I’m over it.”
  • “I can function.”
  • “Why can’t B move on?”

Person B:

  • “I’m not OK.”
  • “It’s really hitting me.”
  • “I can’t function. I can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t focus, can’t stop crying, etc.”
  • “Why doesn’t A care?”

The swings get less dramatic as time goes by, but they don’t stop happening entirely.

If you would like to talk about your grief, or any other issues, please visit your family physician.

(Click here to access the original, which includes a link for a pdf download.)

So to Sandy/Beth/Jill, and everyone else mourning a loss, I hope you find the above helpful. I’m here if you need me.


  1. You might want to check out the book “Tear Soup” by Pat Schweibert – – it says everything in your handout, but through a short story.

  2. Nice post. I like the “at least a year” part — since there’s no timetable for grief. And in many if not most cases, there’s no “closure” either — you just get used to a “new normal.”


    Kensington MD

  3. Thanks for sharing this – I’ve definitely been there. This is why I always try to make a few nice healthy meals for the recently bereaved. I’ll be filing this away for future reference.

  4. This is very timely for me. I ran smack into a wall of “I think I’m crazy” this weekend. Nice to know I’m not alone. And probably not crazy.

  5. Wonderful…wish I had seen this to give out when I was a hospice nurse. I especially loved the “legally insane” part, having lost both of my parents….I did things I never thought I could, and not in a positve way…after my Mom died. In American society we want people to “get over it” in six weeks, and unless we are talking distant great-Aunt Fanny, it is unlikely to get through the process of mourning in less than a year, and more like five years for a spouse or child, IMHO and hospice experience.

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