Allow Grief, Receive Support

An expression that has recently gained popularity is the “ugly cry” and its cousin, the “ugly cry face.” It refers to crying accompanied by a mouth open in a grimace, widened lips, a clenched brow, quivering chin, bodily heaving, awkward noises, puffy eyes and a red nose. I’ve sometimes wondered if part of the cause of this ugly cry is fighting the underlying emotions. What would that cry look like if we simply welcomed the grief and sadness? You’ve seen people who tear up, and then tender drops roll down their cheeks all while the rest of their face remains peaceful. Could it be that these people allow the emotions?


We might never know the answer to that, but we do know many in our culture try hard to avoid the grief and sadness. One thing I’ve learned when working with people who have lost a loved one is their fear of experiencing the “dark” emotions is usually worse than actually experiencing them. And experiencing them is what our bodies are telling us to do.

“A cut finger—is numb before it bleeds, it bleeds before it hurts, it hurts until it begins to heal, it forms a scab and itches until finally, the scab is gone and a small scar is left where once there was a wound. Grief is the deepest wound you have ever had. Like a cut finger, it goes through the process of healing and leaves a scar.” As this quote from Doug Manning, pastor, speaker and author, describes, in most cases our bodies can heal from all types of wounds, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are hard-wired for grief; dealing with losses is something we as humans have been doing for centuries. Grief is what we feel on the inside and mourning is when we move it to the outside. Both are part of the healing journey.

According to Alan Wolfelt, author, educator and grief counselor, mourners have six needs:

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death – You learn to accept that someone you love is no longer physically present.

  2. Embracing the pain of the loss – You allow yourself to feel the pain in increments; taking it all in at once could be overwhelming.

  3. Remembering the person who died – You move from a relationship of presence, to a relationship of memory with your loved one.

  4. Developing a new self-identity – You have a new role now, for example, a widow or widower, and you change how you see yourself.

  5. Searching for meaning – You question meaning and purpose in life as you ask “How?” and “Why?” questions; grieving is a spiritual process.

  6. Receiving ongoing support from others – You become the recipient of understanding support from those who appreciate the impact of your loss. Sometimes this support comes in the form of professional help.

If you notice what you’re feeling inside after a loss, your body is likely encouraging you to work on meeting one of these needs. And because grief is as unique as our fingerprints, the way these needs are met varies from person to person. One common way is to create and participate in a personalized ritual honoring the life of your loved one, such as a funeral, memorial or life celebration service. For some who don’t want a service, as a celebrant I’ve facilitated meaningful and healing story-sharing or Legacy Gatherings. When done intentionally and with care, each of these services and gatherings helps you begin to meet the six needs.   

Another common way to work towards meeting the needs of mourning is to spend time in a group setting with others who have lost loved ones. Being in a safe space with individuals who relate to what you’re experiencing can encourage you on your way.

This article has been adapted and originally appeared in The Centre County Gazette.