181: Grieving (and Can We Do it Better?)

Grief abstractThe death of loved ones and other difficult transitions really shake us up, and it is very natural for us to want and need to grieve our losses. Unfortunately, we sometimes don’t take the time to fully acknowledge our pain and the complicated emotions associated with that person (or situation) or choose to allow our feelings the chance to play out. Many times, we will distract ourselves from these vital processes, or, at times, we will feel cultural pressure to “move on” quickly, to seamlessly return to our normal lives and become our regular, cheery selves before we are really able to do so. As a result of having shortchanged the important processes associated with grieving, we eventually find ourselves in crisis—depressed, volatile, “acting out,” questioning our faith or worldviews, or finding ourselves unable to function well in any of many other ways. In previous historical eras, as well as in many cultures worldwide, the importance of grief/grieving was often honored in much more formal and accepted ways. Through special attention to changes in status and via rituals that designated periods of separation and reintegration and that called for regular memorialization of the deceased, many cultures confront death and its consequences (both for the community and the individuals most closely associated with the deceased person) in a much more straightforward way than what we most often find today. If we don’t live in one of those cultures, what are we losing? What are the personal and social costs of distancing ourselves from death and painful loss, and of not recognizing the importance of grieving processes as vital in our moving forward in life as our best, healthiest, most whole selves? How do contemporary Mormon views and practices stack up in terms of honoring these great needs?

In this episode, Jana Riess, Lisa Tensmeyer Hansen, Cindy Jones, and Connie Ericksen join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a broad as well as personal discussion of grief and grieving in general and within Mormon culture, especially focusing on death but with wider applications, as well. The panel examines key framing ideas found in anthropology and psychology/counseling, as well as sharing personal experiences of loss and grieving processes. What are the emotional tasks that grief calls us to? What are the best ways to mourn and to “mourn with those who mourn”? The discussion also touches on LDS ideas and practices: where are they strong and where do they perhaps fail to encourage some important kinds of expression or healing kinds of involvement by the larger community?

Please listen and then share your ideas below! We want to hear your stories of best practices as well as frustrations and how you are working through them.



Books mentioned in the episode:

Lauren F. Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath

J. William Worden, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy

Other Mormon Matters episodes that connect with these themes:

87–88: Pacific Island Mormon Identities (Ep 88, 17 mins in begins discussion of places Islander culture often overrides LDS ways; 27:50 is where discussion turns directly to funerals and grieving)

94–95: Suicide

119–121: The Problem of Evil and Suffering

174–175: The Chaplains on Suffering



8 comments for “181: Grieving (and Can We Do it Better?)

  1. Mary Shaver
    July 14, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    This was beautiful and much appreciated.

    My Mother, Catherine Elizabeth, died on January 4th of this year. It wasn’t unexpected – in fact – it may have been anticipated. She had a most terrible form of Alzheimers disease, and had been gradually leaving us for several years. The last several months of her life were horrid!

    My sister, brother, myself, and my Mother’s two sisters decided to put my Mother on Palliative care, so she could be sedated and her mental agony would be minimized. She died four weeks later.

    The pain of it almost overcame me. It was almost as though I couldn’t breathe – or maybe I didn’t want to breathe. All of a sudden, what seemed so clear before she died, became very blurry – and I battled with myself, wondering if we did the right thing.

    This is a portion of a prayer I wrote a few weeks after she died:

    “. . . . I feel You understanding that my heart is just too full of words, and sadness, and confusion, and mourning – and I haven’t really known what to say, or think, or even feel – or where to go with it all.

    “In some ways it looks as though life is going on since Mom died, and yet I feel so conscious of the void she has left – I feel like it will always be there, and that perhaps, someday, I’ll just get use to it – but I don’t have the words God – I don’t even understand what the language is – this all feels very unfamiliar – foreign and SAD.

    “I don’t even know what to ask You for.

    “Are mourning and sorrow actual languages? Languages that don’t have words, but wordless words that change the very soul of a woman or a man? We are so dependent on words, and this seems to be something – something so deep and primal that words are simply inadequate – not on the radar – not appropriate – not complete- not enough – not even in the realm of this depth of feeling.

    “This is so new to me God – words have always seemed so beautiful and complete, and now I have come up against an experience for which words will not suffice – and all I can do is cry and feel the groaning that comes from the pit of my soul. You reminded me of Romans 8:26

    ” ‘The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. When we cannot choose the words in order to pray properly, the Spirit itself expresses that plea in a way that could never be put into words.’ (The Message)

    ” This brings me peace because I understand this now – that words are very inadequate – ancient perhaps – that there is a means of communicating that comes not from the mind or even from the will – but expressions of soul and heart and flesh and spirit and universal feeling that lives in all of us, but of which we only become aware of when it is all so deep – it is all so new – it is all so ancient and naked that we drop to our knees (in soul and in spirit) – and wait – because there is nothing else to do – but wait – in silence with the speaking that lives outside of words.

    ” . . . and this place comes with many tears – shed and unshed – it comes with a willingness to mourn and feel the sorrow and grief that come with these times in life – it can’t be felt in running – it is not familiar – and even I (who think I am so committed to experiencing living out ALL the verities of life) want to run. God, I don’t want to be proud in this expression. I don’t want to run away – I sense an invitation from You to something new – not a high new, but depths of humility new – and I don’t know how to get there. I don’t have a map, and no one has explained this to me before . . . . ”

    I hope this isn’t too long, or deep, or inappropriate. It’s my ongoing experience. It’s still hard. Now, do I have the nerve to post it?

    Mary Elizabeth Shaver

    • MCA
      July 15, 2013 at 9:53 am

      This was beautiful. Thank you for bearing your soul and allowing us in.

  2. Leslie G Nelson
    July 15, 2013 at 7:38 am

    I really enjoyed this podcast. Thanks Dan, Jana, Cindy, Lisa and Connie!

    There are so many similarities between what was discussed here and what I am dealing with. I’m not grieving a loss due to death, but I am certainly grieving as I work through the stages of healing from childhood abuse.

    I wish I had a black ribbon or arm band. (Yes, I looked up the article on the Huffington Post and quite enjoyed it!) What a wonderful idea. Then people around me would understand if I am less friendly than usual, or even irritable–its not you.

    And the mourning bench! I love that idea. I would definitely sit there to let my church friends know, “Yes, you can talk to me about this. I need you to talk to me. I don’t want to be abandoned in my time of grief.” I think that would make a great blog post (for my own blog).

    Finally, I appreciated the ideas about somethings we may experience and not recognize as part of the grief process. There were two or three of those that I identified with and thought, “Oh! That’s why I feel this way. So perhaps I won’t feel this way forever.” What a relief!

    About burial or cremation, I know this is silly but a casket makes me feel claustrophobic, and I’m afraid of fire so–I favor a mourning shroud. Just wrap me up in a shroud and bury me (no embalming). I don’t know if my family would go for it, but that would be my preference.

    Thanks so much for this, it was really timely and helpful to me!

  3. MCA
    July 15, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Thank you all for sharing your grief with us (complete strangers) and
    allowing us to be part of that process. It’s so deeply personal and it was a privilege to be listening in on something so intimate.

    The section on how other cultures process death and their practices of mourning was fascinating–especially how the Mormon Polynesians go through their songs of lament. I loved that. I tried to envision my family doing that and felt a pang of cultural envy or something!

    I also appreciated the story of losing your cat and the howls of grief that escaped you. The subsequent discussion about grief over pets and animals got me thinking about the all the different things that we grieve that are sometimes not considered. In death it’s clear that one would grieve. But what about when a child leaves home, you lose a job, experience faith transition/crisis or even retire? All of that and a million other things or life transitions can lead us into grief but it isn’t recognized as grief necessarily–especially when the event from the outside looks like something that might be considered positive (like retiring). Yet, the grief is very real and often ignored because it doesn’t seem like one *should* be grieving that experience. Just so many different places and ways in which grief can hit us unexpectedly. Receiving outside acknowledgement and support can be even trickier because they aren’t the ‘typical’ reasons for being in grief or mourning. I guess just being really aware and allow ourselves the privilege of grieving and mourning according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow others the same privilege; let them grieve how, where, or what they may. 🙂

    Thanks again for a wonderful panel and discussion.

  4. Cheri Smith
    February 10, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    I am listening to the podcast and are very grateful for the candid remarks by a few of the participants in terms of how our society grieves and how we are often pressured to put on a happy face and move on quickly. However, I would have liked to have heard someone on the panel who has lost a child share their experience. As heartbreaking as losing a pet, a spouse, or a parent is, there is nothing more devastating, or unnatural than losing a child. I buried my teenager a few months ago and although I have a strong testimony of this restored gospel, it takes all I have to wake up each day. I would love more discussion on this – but particularly, advice and counsel on grieving the loss of a child.

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