Right to Mourn

Mourner's Bill of Rights

Many years ago our grief expert and Thanatologist, Stephanie D. Rogers, came across a valuable “Mourner’s Bill of Rights” written by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., CT. Although perhaps well-intentioned, it’s not uncommon for others to do or say something that doesn’t help at all. Here’s what you should know…

The Mourner’s Bill of Rights

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., CT


Though you should reach out to others as you do the work of mourning, you should not feel obligated to accept the unhelpful responses you may receive from some people.


You are the one who is grieving, and as such, you have certain “rights” no one should try to take away from you. The following list is intended both to empower you to heal and to decide how others can and cannot help. This is not to discourage you from reaching out to others for help, but rather to assist you in distinguishing useful responses from hurtful ones.

  1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.  No one else will grieve in exactly the same way as you do.  Don’t allow others to tell you what you should or should not be feeling.
  2. You have the right to talk about your grief.  Talking about your grief will help you heal.  Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief.
  3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.  Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt, and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey.  Know that there is no such thing as a “wrong” emotion.  Accept all your feelings and find listeners who will do the same.
  4. You have a right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.  Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued.  Respect what your body and mind are telling you.  Get daily rest.  Eat balanced meals.  Don’t allow others to push you to what you don’t feel ready for.
  5. You have the right to experience grief “bursts”.  Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may over come you.  This can be frightening, but is normal and natural.  Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.
  6. You have the right to make use of ritual.  The funeral ritual provides you with the support of caring people.  More important, it supportively sees you off on your painful but necessary grief journey.  Later rituals, such as lighting a candle for the person who died, can also be healing.  If others tell you rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary or morbid, don’t listen to them.
  7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.  If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you.  Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs – including any need you may feel to question those beliefs.  If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.
  8. You have the right to search for meaning.  You may find yourself asking “Why did he or she die?”  Why now?”  Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not.  Watch out for the clichéd responses some people may give you.  Comments like “It was God’s will” or “think what you have to be thankful for” are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.
  9. You have a right to treasure your memories.  Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of a loved one.  You will always remember.  Instead of ignoring memories, think of creative ways to embrace them.
  10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.  Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly.  Remember, grief is a process, not an event.  Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you.  Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.


Don’t be afraid to share this Bill of Rights with friends and family members – especially those who may have trouble understanding what you’re experiencing.


For more information on Dr. Wolfelt visit [centerforloss.com](https://www.centerforloss.com “centerforloss.com”).