When someone dear to you is alive and with you every day, you come to assume their presence. Interaction between you forms the scenery and the background of your daily life. Much is missing when someone close to you is no longer there. Lines that tied your life together are severed. Mourning is often complicated by ritual and pretense. Sometimes we are led to believe that mourning is about the deceased, a kind of sadness about the deceased having lost life.
Mourning has to do with loss.
Sometimes the rituals around mourning mystify the process and fail to acknowledge the fact that mourning involves the loss of something profound suffered by a living person for whom a gap is cut in the surface of their life. Most of the time, when someone is truly mourning they are missing something routine, something profoundly familiar, trusted, reliable, but forever now vanished. Uncountable strings severed are the grounds for mourning. Human beings mourn whenever circles are not closed, tasks left undone. Death is always a sudden severing of actions and rituals that were ordinary before.
Mourning has to do with uncompleted tasks.
Mourning sometimes also involves profound conflict, guilt, and anger. It is often about uncompleted tasks, moments of forgiving or being forgiven that can never happen. Opportunities for personal reward and joy which can now never be experienced; doors closed that will never again be open; opportunities finally and forever missed; a statement, confession, or the plan for an affectionate hug that can never be realized; even a moment missed in a few terminal hours prior to death.
Mourning has to do with change.
Then there is the state one is in after a significant death. Many people who are in couples or families manage their lives as part of a couple or part of a complete family. Death throws them into a profoundly unfamiliar state. There are details of life that have to be managed without the usual support and help. People who are mourning often face a social environment in which they no longer fit. Many begin to fear for their own mortality and fear that they have entered a new and frightening stage of life themselves. Things they have lived with familiarity are suddenly strange. Memories are embedded in things that are no longer useful. Mourners contemplate what should be given away, but can't part with it.
Coping with mourning.
The best counseling takes a pragmatic approach to the specific elements of mourning. There are some important skills to be learned in the process. The loss sustained by the mourner will never be undone or replaced. But mourning dictates a need for change. Some people are simply good at abandoning what they had accumulated and starting again with nothing, but not everyone can do that. Find what had to be said and never was, discharge it. Remember the beauty of the past, memorialize it, but keep looking for beauty as you continue to live.
Some people never form profound attachments so that mourning for them is mild. In any case, the mourner must find ways to build a new life, employing vestiges of the old life or not. The uncompleted tasks have to be evacuated. Resentments have to be purged. Replacements have to be found to fulfill unmet needs. New social environments often have to be found and new bonds formed without losing contact with memories.
Counseling can help a mourner remain true to the past while carefully teasing away the things that are impossible to maintain after a loss. The past connections are a source of wisdom and the experience of connection enriches life even as it changes.