Six Mourning Needs

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., has identified what he calls the “six mourning needs.” There are several ways to address each of these needs and to find comfort throughout the planning of the funeral, the actual visitation or wake, the funeral or memorial service, and long afterward.

When someone we love passes away, we need to do the following:

  • Acknowledge the reality of the death
  • Move toward the pain of the loss
  • Remember the person who died
  • Develop a new self-identity
  • Search for meaning
  • Receive support from others

Although life will never be the same without the person who has died, part of him or her will remain a part of us as long as we remember what is important and forget the rest. Eventually, a new feeling of normalcy will emerge.

  • Experiment with ways to acknowledge the reality of death.
    Have a wake or visitation, speak of the person by name and in the past tense, touch the body’s hands and notice how they feel, sit with the body in private for a while, talk to the body or cremated remains (even if only in your head), or think about the things that will be different without the deceased person.
  • Try to move toward the pain of the loss.
    Viewing the dead body may be one of the most painful yet therapeutic moments for survivors, according to Dr. Wolfelt. Open yourself to your feelings by listening to music, reading poems or quotations, creating a list of what you’ll miss most, or visiting favorite places and feeling the difference of these places without your deceased friend or family member.
  • Remember the person who has died.
    Talk about him or her, look at scrapbooks or albums you may have, set up a display of his or her hobbies or talents, play the person’s favorite music, or wash and fold his or her clothes.
  • Develop a new self-identity.
    How are you different since he or she died? How are you the same? What can you do now that you didn’t consider before the death? Make a list of your strengths and needs, then create a plan for using those strengths and taking care of your needs.
  • Search for meaning.
    Consider the deep questions about life. Ask “why” questions in many ways until you begin to envision an answer—even if you believe the answer would make no difference to you. Ponder what lessons might be learned from the deceased person’s life and read poetry or philosophy that enriches your understanding of life and death.
  • Receive support from others.
    Learn to say “thank you” sincerely. Accept that you deserve support from others. Write notes to people who sent flowers, brought food, baby-sat, chopped wood, or whatever kind of gesture. Let people know what you would need or appreciate, or call a friend and explain that you just need to talk.