Lesson 3 of 7 - learn how to grieve well

    A Sample Family
    Grieving Policy

    By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

    Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/grief/policy.htm

Updated 02-04-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles comprising online Lesson 3 in the Break the Cycle! self-improvement course. This lesson aims to educate readers on healthy grieving basics so they can spot and complete unfinished mourning and evolve pro-grief relationships and families.

      Premise - incomplete grief in kids and adults is one of four or five major reasons for widespread personal and family stress and psychological and legal divorce. That stems in part from public ignorance about bonding, losses, and healthy mourning.

      This self-improvement Lesson aims to educate readers to healthy grieving basics so they can spot and complete unfinished mourning of major losses and reduce personal and family stress. Benefiting from this Lesson requires major progress on Lesson 1 - reducing psychological wounds.

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

      Premise - All persons and families evolve an unspoken "policy" on how they "should" react to inevitable life losses (broken bonds). Policies range from toxic (grief inhibiting) to healthy (grief promoting). Once you identify your policy, you can update it if needed for better wholistic health. 

      This article illustrates a healthy family grieving "policy" - a written set of attitudes, beliefs, and guidelines that adults can use to guide all family members in mourning life losses more effectivelyFamilies who live by such a policy can be called "pro-grief" - i.e. they consistently encourage healthy three-level mourning in their members and others.

      The widespread alternative to evolving and using such a policy is to take the process of grieving for granted. This risks (a) promoting the toxic effects  of incomplete grief among family members and their descendents, and (b) leaving minor kids without healthy guidance on accepting their inevitable stream of broken bonds.

      Do you know anyone who intentionally uses a Good Grief policy? As you read this sample, imagine how your other family adults would react to it. Then consider what you all are teaching the young people in your life about how to bond and mourn well.

      Learn something about your family by answering this anonymous question.

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Our Family's Good Grief Policy

       Everyone in our family has experienced broken emotional bonds (losses) since early childhood. Losses hurt. Grieving is Nature's way of healing our hurts, sadnesses, and "holes" over time, so we each can regain our balances; make new bonds; and move on.

      Mourning is a normal, healthy reaction when people of any age attach to, and later lose, precious things. Some big losses take people years to mourn fully. This policy says clearly how we want to help our family members to mourn their losses. It defines healthy three-level grief, and guides us all on how to lovingly help each other do it effectively.

 1)  We believe that the natural process of mourning has three levels:

  • Emotional level - shock hope (maybe) anger or rage deep sadness and eventual acceptance - but not forgetting; and...

  • Mental level - overcoming initial denial and "magic thinking," and patiently converting mental confusion into understanding and acceptance by evolving credible answers to some normal questions about our losses and their affects on the people we care about; and gradually...

  • Spiritual level - regaining and stabilizing our spiritual faith if it was weakened by our losses.

2)  We believe that adults and kids can get stuck or blocked in the grieving process if they don’t have seven requisites. The adults in each of our family homes are responsible for...

  • understanding the toxic [wounds + unawareness] cycle and these hazatds;

  • providing these good-grief requisites, starting with proactively reducing any psychological wounds they may have inherited.

  • grieving their own losses well; and...

  • intentionally helping each of us grieve to completion over time.

3) We all accept that attachments (bonds) and losses are a normal part of life, and that the special people and things we lose will never come again in the same way. When any adult or child breaks a bond, we need to get clear on specifically...

  • what we lost,

  • why we lost it,

  • why we miss it,

  • how the loss affects people we care about, and...

  • how we really feel about our loss and it's impacts.

      Losing special people (relationships), dreams, things, pets, customs, health, freedoms, places, securities, rituals, roles, hopes, identity, privacy, and opportunities all can hurt a lot!

4) We believe it's good to talk openly about prized things that are gone for good - over and over if we need to, until the hurt, anger, confusion, and sadness stay down. The other half of talking is listening with our hearts, without judgment, to ourselves and each other. That really helps!

5) We e3ncourage each other to use mourning language without guilt or embarrassment. It sounds like:

"I hurt!"

"I'm really sad!"

"I remember..."

"I'm not ready"

"I need..."

"I need a hug"

"I feel..."

"I miss _____ so much!"

"Not now"

 "I am so angry that..."

"I don't understand why..."

"If only..."

"Goodbye, _______"

"I wish..."

"I've lost..."

"What will happen to ___"

"I remember ..."

"I'm grieving _____."

      Recall - this is a sample family grieving policy.

6) We feel it's good to cry alone and with each other, when we need to. This is true for each of our boys, girls, women, and men. People who feel their anger and hurt - and cry it out - are naturally releasing stressful chemicals, not "weak"! It can hurt our health to block crying;

7) We encourage feeling and expressing anger about our losses, as long as we don't hurt ourselves, others, Life, the Earth, or important things. This is part of the healthy anger policy we want to help each other evolve and live by;

8) We believe it's good to forgive any person or Being who caused us to lose someone or something dear - when we're ready to. Forgiving is a good way to set ourselves and others free from old anger, resentment, guilt, and stress;

9) It's good for each of us to remember the people and things we've lost in our own ways, with love and appreciation. As we come to accept our losses, some sadness may stay - e.g. on anniversaries;

10)  We believe it's good to ask for help from each other when we need a hug and/or an ear, to be held or comforted, or some information about our losses or other people's feelings, opinions, or beliefs.  It's good to pray for help or understanding or patience or strength or guidance - alone and together;

11) We encourage people in and outside our family to tell us honestly if they feel burdened by us as we grieve, or if they can't listen to or support us at the moment. It's OK to not help a griever if we feel too distracted or weary!

12) It's good to say - and mean - "I did," and "I'm sorry" when any of us causes a painful loss to another; And to...

13) We want to proactively help ourselves and other family members move through our mourning phases. Each of us can decide what things and memories we need to keep, which to let go of, and when to do so. We can't decide these for someone else;

14) We strive to accept that we can't heal another person's hurt, or fill the holes in their life that broken bonds make. We can patiently love, support, and be with them, as they fill these holes themselves over time;

15)  We agree we really can't know what a mourner is feeling and thinking, even if we've lost what they have. Saying "I know just how you feel" can be disrespectful and aggravating, not comforting. Asking gently "what's this (loss) like for you now?" - and really listening empathically - can be more helpful.

16)  It can help to make a special diary and/or a scrapbook about what we lost, what we miss, how we feel, and anything else we need to do. If anyone does this, they can keep their writing private without guilt or shame, or show it to people they trust;

17)  We support being alone with our grief-related thoughts and feelings as w mourn, as long as we don't overdo it. It also really helps our grief progress when we talk to trusted others about our losses and feelings;

18)  We believe no one has to mourn like anybody else: we each find our own way of saying goodbye and accepting our broken bonds when we're ready;

19)  We will affirm and encourage any adult or child who’s grieving, if we choose to - and we don’t have to. Affirming can sound like:

"I feel really good that you’re able to feel __________ / talk about ______________  /  cry about __________ /  take your time with _________ /  face ________,  /   ... Good job!"

20)  We will each experiment and change how we mourn, over time - there's no perfect way!

21)  We'll learn from our losses - e.g. to really appreciate and enjoy the special people and things in our lives while we have them;

22)  We want to help each other enjoy life as best we can, and care well for ourselves while we mourn, and after the confusion, hurt, and anger have faded;

23)  We'll get special (professional) help if any of us gets really stuck in moving through their grief levels and phases. The adults in each of our family homes are responsible for deciding if and when this should happen, and for doing it.

Our Policy About Supporting Mourners

24)  When any of our family members has a significant loss, the others will try in their own ways and within their limits to:

  • Understand and believe in our good grief process;

  • Ask our loser what they need from us from time to time;

  • Be empathic, comforting, and available "enough";

  • Really listen from our hearts - often - without trying to "fix" our griever;

  • Offer patient, warm acceptance and encouragement, without rushing their process.

  • Honestly say when we've heard enough or need to attend our own affairs;

  • Be as steady, realistic, honest, and optimistic as we can;

  • Be at ease with strong feelings in us and our mourner;

  • Avoid distracting our loser from their feelings by asking too many intellectual questions;

  • Hold and hug our griever when needed, and respect their wish to avoid these at other times;

  • Work towards knowing how and when to smile, laugh, and share comfortable eye contact;

  • Be comfortable with shared silences;

  • Hold no secret bad feelings (like resentment) about giving of our time and attention;

  • When it seems OK, gently remind our mourner of the new choices that always appear from their losses;

  • Make our home a safe place for our family members and others to grieve well;

  • Care for and love our Selves just as we do for our griever.

      These statements form our family policy on how we want to mourn our broken bonds. Using this policy is important to each of us, because incomplete grief can make people stressed, unhappy, or sick.

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       Notice how you feel and where your thoughts go. Reflect for a moment on what the (probably  unspoken) policy about grieving was in your childhood and ancestors' homes. Compare it to this one.

      Reflect further on what the mourning beliefs and practices are in your present home, and in key relatives' homes. What do you think might happen if your family adults took the time to evolve and live by a "pro-grief" policy like this one?

       I caution you against using this sample grief policy as it stands. Your policy will best evolve through many family talks, meditations, and several drafts. Perhaps outside counsel would add value. Allow your policy to grow and emerge as your family develops.

       As with family mission statements, brevity, simplicity, and clarity help in evolving personal and family anger and grieving policies that are really useful. If you can distill your key grieving beliefs and goals down to one page - and then display that page (maybe signed by all, and/or framed) in a public part of your home - it's more likely to work for you all! This sample policy is longer because it includes some points yours might not need.


      This article is one of a series on healthy personal and family grieving (Lesson 3). The series exists because incomplete grief seems to be a major stressor for many troubled people, relationships, and families. This probably stems from widespread psychological wounds + ignorance of healthy-grieving basics.

      This article provides a sample family "good-grief" policy. If you change "we" to "I" it becomes a personal grieving policy. This sample is based on two premises:

  • all individuals and families form an unconscious policy (beliefs + values + rules + consequences) on how to handle bonding and broken bonds "right," and...

  • most such policies are ineffective or even harmful because of the inherited [wounds + unawareness] cycle. 

      What is your family's policy on mourning significant losses - and how healthy is it?

 For more awareness about bonding, losses, and good grief, keep studying Lesson 3!

      Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what do you need? Is there anyone you want to discuss these grief-policy ideas with? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self, or ''someone else''?

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      Also see this article on anger policies. Anger is a normal part of healthy grief.


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