(106) The shadow side of mourning

The loss of a dear one

The shadow side of mourning? Is there a light one then? Everything is relative, you could see it as the difference between dusk with a brilliant sunset and the oncoming night as the shadow side.

The mourning process about the loss of a loved one can become complicated, without talking though about complex mourning. No, about a form where many things play a role in the periphery of mourning. That I call the shadow side of mourning. A form that can lead you to deferred mourning and everything in between.

Mourning, imaged as a sunset

When you consider a sunset as an image for a mourning process, then mourning is limited to the processing of the loss of a loved one by you and by you only.

The image of the sunset is not just about the (sometimes) difficult moments in your life … but also including those great moments that you shared together. It’s about a life, that when someone asks you if you would be willing to live that life all over again … including all those sad and great moments … your answer would be an immediate yes!

It maybe is a meagre consolation, but the deeper the grief the greater the love that existed between you. At the moment of realization, it doesn’t console you though … because the other one isn’t there anymore and you can’t give him or her a hug or a kiss.

The shadow side of mourning

The shadow side of mourning is about a loss that can become an even greater one by aspects that play a role in the periphery of the grieving person.


Besides the loss of your loved one, you will also have to deal with aspects that are the result of how others manage the same loss. A disagreement between family members during the preparations for the memorial service could cause this … or just after that. Or the handling of the inheritance became an issue … and consequently, family ties could be lost. The so-called “glass door” effect for mourners results to the loss of friends. After the memorial service of your dear one, almost everyone promises to invite you. Only a handful honour their promise though.

The loss of a dear one might even lead to anger. Anger because you are so sorry that your last words didn’t reflect not even close what you felt for the other. You may feel abandoned because you now must deal with all those things and issues your loved one always did. You may find out secrets about your dear one that were hidden from you all the time. It could be even that your anger turns into hatred.

You may feel compelled or even forced to take over the position in the company of your loved one. A position you never wanted to have because you don’t have the knowledge or skills. But now you should do so.

When the shadow side plays an important role in your loss, then mourning becomes convoluted. It’s clear though, like everyone else, that only you can process your mourning. But that is not to say that a helping hand can’t be offered … a helping hand in the form of support or guidance.

Finding support … but how?

Support and guidance should primarily be directed to raise awareness and the understanding of what is happening to you (in other words, to understand the parts of your puzzle) at that moment; and what parts are important to you; and what could be done to resolve those parts of your puzzle.

Secondly, you should find out what parts of your puzzle could be resolved by yourself or by somebody else. And, not to forget, why and for which items of your puzzle support or guidance would be required. As normally would be the case knowledge and experience are important factors, but with grief or bereavement trust is the most important factor. The rule of thumb that should be used is: “When in doubt, out!”

Personally, I find it important that the grieving person should become self supporting as soon as possible. That means that all assistance or guidance provided is only of (very) short term nature!


Mourning is not just about the loss of a loved one. Parallels could also drawn for mourning as a result of a treatable but incurable disease up to and including a malignant terminal disease.

(4) It’s All About Ourselves, Isn’t It?

It’s all about ourselves. Is that why we avoid the conversation after a divorce or the death of somebody close to you?

When you start talking about divorce, death or grief, people tend to avoid the discussion because… Yes, why? Why don’t we talk about death? Why do people react that way?

After some research at the Dutch Bureau of Census and a couple of checklists on dealing with stress, it appears that in the Netherlands on average one in 30 to 35 people are somehow involved in coping with mourning. Look around you and wonder why people react in this way.

Listen to the news. Every day, people face divorce, death of a loved one, loss of work, an incurable disease or war. The question is not if, but when it happens to you or me. We don’t like it and we want to stay far away from it. However, life is different. Look around you and wonder why you react in this way.

Is it better, then, to prepare ourselves in some way in case something similar happens to us? I do not know. I have lost quite a few people who were close to me. Each time it was different and each time it felt different, not a little, but a lot different. In other words, preparing for it is difficult… if not impossible.

Yes, you can prepare for the rituals that are performed after a divorce or a death. But from an emotional point of view? It is not a play where you are a spectator. You are personally involved, and the script is different every time. It depends on many factors, such as the people around you, their relationships, and the way they deal with grief. Family and in-laws can talk very emotionally about the division of the estate; discussions that can go as far as breaking family ties. The more people are involved, the more complicated it becomes. In short, how should you prepare for such a situation? Personally, I believe this is not possible, but… this does not mean that we cannot try.

A first hurdle that could be taken is the taboo of talking about grief and mourning. It’s about the sad side of life, a side with an emotional charge. We don’t want it to happen to us, but it happens. We may be afraid of it, afraid of the change that is about to happen to us… afraid of the unknown.

But whatever the reason, we have lost someone and that has a significant impact on us and our lives. Sometimes that is a hard lesson and an extremely painful process that goes against everything we feel and want. Sometimes… we want… or we can’t adapt. And yet somehow, we will have to learn to live with it and find a new balance… or not… with all its consequences.

In short, it is not about the person we have lost, but about ourselves… is that why we do not want to talk about it?

Text updated on 23-09-2020