When someone you love dies, you experience an entire realm of emotions. You may have many different thoughts and feelings about the experience, many of which are painful. We call this inner experience of loss “grief." Mourning is what we call our outward expression of grief. Some people mourn by talking, crying, sharing stories, going for walks, creating a memorial book or many other things. No matter which act of mourning feels right to you, mourning is an extremely important part of healing and attending to your grief.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, grief educator and author of The Journey Through Grief, writes about how each of us will grieve and mourn differently. However, there are actually six steps in mourning that we all encounter. When we work toward reaching these six steps, we are working on actively attending to our grief, which will help us move toward meaning and purpose after loss. These six needs are:

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death
  2. Embracing the pain of the loss
  3. Remembering the person who died
  4. Developing a new self-identity
  5. Searching for meaning
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others.

Acknowledging the reality of death involves coming to terms with having someone you love not return to your life physically. This step may take weeks or months to acknowledge fully, and being gentle and kind to yourself can be helpful. Some people find that telling the story of the loss can help it feel more real over time.

Embracing the pain of the loss is inherently difficult because none of us want to experience pain. We would prefer to avoid it instead of confronting it. When we are ready to embrace it, finding the right amount to embrace at a time is helpful. We cannot or should not try to take on too much pain at once. Dr. Wolfelt says, “Doing well with your grief means becoming well-acquainted with your pain.”

After someone dies, we may wonder if we still have a relationship with them. Remembering the person who died is a vital step in attending to our grief. Our relationship with those we love will always remain, but it does shift to a relationship of memory. This step involves letting yourself discover that relationship through photos or other items that link you together and sharing that outside of yourself.

Our self-identity often comes from the people we are in a relationship with. When one of those people dies, we have to discover who we are now without their presence in our lives and how we label ourselves. That means confronting the new roles that were once filled by the person who died. Though this can be a difficult transition, many people also find some positive aspects of their new identity, like more confidence or newly learned skills.

When someone you love dies, you question the meaning of life and your spirituality in general. Asking “how” and “why” questions are normal and we are constantly reminded of our lack of control and the presence of sadness and loneliness. Expressing your search for meaning outside of yourself can be helpful, such as with a support group or for a cause that is meaningful to you.

Receiving ongoing support from others is Dr. Wolfelt’s last step in mourning. We are not meant to grieve alone. We often think of grief as the counterpart to love. Whether you find support in friends, family, support groups or counselors, finding that long-term support circle is vital in seeing your grief as a necessary part of having loved.

Though these six steps are not linear and will be unique to each person, there is common ground here for everyone who is grieving. Attending to your grief with these steps one day at a time will help you move toward a life of meaning and purpose.



Wolfelt, A. The Journey Through Grief: Reflections of Healing, Second Edition, Companion Press, 2003.