A Hospice Story

The Paradoxes of Mourning (Part 1)

Submitted by: Denise Torgerson - August 25, 2017

We have a lending library here at our Solace Centre. One of my favorite authors that we carry is Alan Wolfelt. He is a very prolific writer and I believe we have most of his books in our library. One of my favorites is called "The Paradoxes of Mourning". In the book Wolfelt discusses three paradoxes; this blog post is a summary of the first paradox: You must say hello before you say good-bye.


The Paradoxes of Mourning

A summary of the first paradox, from the book by Alan Wolfelt

Paradox: a seemingly self-contradictory statement or situation that is in fact often true. The paradox will seem contradictory at first, but it is in fact a forgotten truth. A truth we must re-discover as it is essential to healing in the aftermath of a significant loss.


We must say hello to our grief. We must acknowledge it and even embrace it. Grief is the other side of love. We grieve because we love deeply. We must accept our loss.

We work at our grief, while at the same time surrendering to it. This in itself is a paradox.

Saying Hello to the physical reality of the death

In the past, our culture was more open about death. The body was in the living room! People, families were the ones who cared for the body. By removing ourselves from the process, we have denied ourselves an important part of the grief. That is that this death is real. I see his body and understand that he is gone. It is in this being with the body that we will accept the death sooner.

The guest of honour is often missing in action at a funeral.

Saying Hello to the reality of the death after the funeral

The work of grief begins after the funeral.

Saying hello to what you are experiencing as you move through the grief experience by asking yourself, what am I thinking and feeling right now concerning this loss, is an important part of healing. By checking in with yourself and allowing your feelings to rise to the surface without judgement you open up a space to allow the grief to happen.

Mourning is our outward expression of grief. The next level of hello is to express your grief authentically to others. We are saying hello to the need to mourn.

Saying Hello to the new self you are becoming

Your self-identity will change. Part of your self- identity came from the relationship with the person you lost. Who are you now – without that person? The way you see yourself will naturally change. Your roles will change. You may have gone from being a wife to a widow or a parent to a bereaved parent. The way society defines you will change.

Sometimes you may have to take on roles that you don't want. If your husband was the bill payer, you will have to learn new skills.

You confront your changed identity every time you do something that used to be done by or with the person you lost. That person was a part of you.

By saying hello to your grief, you allow the room in your life for all of the changes and feelings that go along with it. If you can, welcome the feelings and ask the question what does this mean to me?

Saying Good-bye

Grief never truly ends. People do not "get over" grief or complete it. You will always love your person. You will always remember them. By saying hello to your grief and allowing it to be a part of your walk, over time, you will, "reconcile" yourself to the loss. Reconcile literally means to make life good again.

The reality of the loss is integrated into your life and you are living in your new reality.

The sharp ever-present pain of grief will be replaced with a renewed sense of purpose and meaning. The intensity of the feelings will soften. The pangs of grief will come less frequently. You will have discovered a new normal.

Saying good-bye is not the same as "closure". You will never fully close the door on the love and the grief you feel.


To be continued…