Writing about "how to mourn" is like writing about "how to garden". Every situation is different. But the foundational steps are universal.
The process of mourning resembles inhaling and exhaling. The are four steps of withdrawing followed by four steps of expanding.
What have you been taught about mourning? When you have lost a loved one, how much time was needed for each of these eight steps?
When we receive the news it hits us as a personal loss. We hurt! Our lives are changed forever!
We withdraw from other circumstances of joy or sadness to focus on mourning intensely.
Funerals in different cultures can be quite different. But the core purpose is universal: we must recognize that many people share in the loss. So many lives have been disrupted. So many other people are grieving.
We are reminded how a death hurts an entire community.
We gather with other people to share stories about the deceased. We highlight his or her virtues. We recall his or her favorite habits and prayers.
These stories help us to identify the "loose threads" hanging off the end of the tapestry of his or her life.
What good and worthwhile things were interrupted that we might be inspired to weave into our own lives?
(I have shared one example about my grandfather.)
We spend time alone, preferably without responsibilities. Ideally we need not even worry about grooming or food preparation. Thus we can really process our loss. We need time to feel. We need time to imagine how shattered pieces could be put together, albeit imperfectly.
People visit us to offer support, but do so in ways that respect our need for isolation. They comfort us by
covering our responsibilities (meals, child care, things at work). They are quietly present because although we do not want to talk we also do not want to be alone. If we ask them, they briefly share some of their memories of the deceased or pray
with us. They allow us to initiate any conversations.
In some cultures, mourners in this early stage need not even acknowledge their visitors, who need no affirmation to know their presence was helpful.
We are probably still angry at God. Yet we force ourselves to participate in normal prayer times again. This is a public recognition that our circumstances do not change who God is. It also helps us come to terms with our anger and confusion.
Attending a worship service ends our isolation. It brings us out of the home, but without any expectation of normal interactions among friends or participation in work or community.
We are still grieving. There are still times of extreme pain and loss. But we start asking friends to be with us and help us endure.
We become ready to do more than receive care. We resume personal and household responsibilities. We start expressing thanks for what others have done. When other people initiate conversations we will participate.
With friends, away from any judgmental or public eye, we start to "try on" the ideas we imagined about how to honor the deceased. How are we inspired? How might we weave into our lives certain "loose threads" from that interrupted tapestry we loved? This happens with fear and trembling: we do not show off, but we no longer hide.
We finally try to put into practice how old routines are enriched by how we remember and honor the deceased. We resume all of our other responsibilities. We go back to work. We rejoin the community.
The first time we attend a public celebration we proclaim that our time of mourning is complete. Some sadness will always remain but we are no longer grieving.
Our lives have changed. We can remember the deceased with a smile. We habitually honor the deceased by continuing his or her virtues and good deeds.
We are ready to resume participation in life's normal waves of joy and sadness.