Scripture tells us to mourn with those who mourn; it does not say to grieve with those who grieve – but we should. Mourning and grief are not the same. Mourning has a beginning and a distinct end, but grief goes on much longer. Mourning is made up of rituals and procedures that immediately follow death: preparing the body for burial or cremation, announcing the death and the funeral plans, the funeral or memorial service, sympathy cards, food is taken to the home, and flowers sent for the wake and funeral. These and other rituals are prescribed in various ways in all cultures. They assure survivors that the loved one is remembered, respected, and sent properly to the place of the dead. The rituals of mourning usually end after a few days; grief goes on.
It is a commonplace that widows and others who have lost loved ones receive lots of attention at the time of the death but are soon abandoned by nearly all of the well-wishers.
Grief goes on much longer than mourning. For some widow-men, grief continues for the rest of their lives, even though it mellows and often becomes a treasured part of those men’s identity.
In Eritrea and Ethiopia in Africa, mourning rituals are prescribed at intervals of a few weeks, a year, and even seven years.
The Jewish practice of “sitting Shiva” is the custom of going to the home of a grieving family, eating from a buffet, but mainly just being there. You might sit silently for 30 minutes or for several hours. You might speak a few words to one or more family members, but this is not mainly a time to talk. It’s a time to be there to express your sympathy by your presence.
While your grief continues and changes shape, try to be patient with those who think your grief must now be over. It’s your own personal experience, your own time of remembering your wife and valuing the time you had together.
Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday beginning today. You can write Dr. Kardatzke c/o firstname.lastname@example.org