Grief or Mourning?

Grieving is in the spiralling of your heart when the phone rings and your mother tells you that she has something important to tell you. It is the hush of a hospital corridor as a doctor tells you about options, the lack of options, do you have any questions? ‘Pebblecrete’ walls and yellow tiles, green walls and the sound of ventilators. Grieving is in the hospital chapel, the church, the car when you leave, railing against the inevitable. It shudders with slow tired breaths and deep wracking coughs. It is the weight of the sadness, fear and anger at the world. Grief is beyond your control. You may try to deny it, suppress it, or run from it, but it will find you.

Mourning is the act of turning grief into an action. That action may be spiritual, emotional or physical. You may begin to mourn before that person has passed. My own mourning began on the day when the old man wanted to return to the tree, but his wheelchair tipped on the muddy track and he fell out onto the place where his legs used to be.


We both realised that day that things could never be the same, and our responses were typical, anger from him, a numb facade masking a torrent of emotions from me. When he died three years later there was no funeral – the way most of us satisfy the need to mourn. The obituary, prayers, black, coffin, flowers, prayers, hymns, wake. All these features represent how many of us mourn. Denied that chance, we find that grief may be difficult to release, that it builds. And even after a funeral, we tend to see a statue of limitations. It’s not considered right to continue to mourn them, we talk about being strong, as though it is preferable to pretend that we don’t miss the dead so much that it hurts so much, for so long after.

I want to mourn when I hear the wind in the pines, or when I see a wheelchair. When it is dusk and the first stars come shimmering into being so hesitantly. When I smear Liptauer on rye bread or see a glass of red wine. When I smell cigarettes and cherries, when I need advice. When I dream.

But I am here…We are here. I can feel joy in the set of my toddler’s jaw, the twinkle in his eye when he says ‘NO!’ with such authority. In the delicate movement of his fingers, like a jeweller and watchmaker I loved and grieved and now mourn. I can feel joy to know that when I too am gone, the spirit of myself, my father and mother, Opa and Oma, have trickled on to the new peoples of this world, in all their beauty, love and strength.


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