The Mourner’s Bill of Rights

As I was searching for some resources to help us work through our grief, I stumbled upon this gem. It is just too fabulous not to share.

Renowned grief counselor Dr. Alan Wolfert proposes people in grief should not feel obligated to accept “unhelpful” responses from others. Instead, he argues that grieving people should be empowered in their grief, boldly proclaiming –

“You are the one who is grieving, and as such, you have certain ‘rights’ no one should try to take away from you.”

Wolfelt calls these the Mourner’s Bill of Rights.

Though these are helpful for any loss, I found the recognition of these rights especially liberating for the pain of miscarriage and stillbirth, losses which are so frequently discounted and unrecognized by the wider world. Validating these too often disenfranchised forms of grief by recognizing these needs as rights is empowering.

Stand in that power, my fellow traveler. Let no one take these from you.


1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.

No one else will grieve in the exact same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don’t allow them 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 about your grief. If at times you do not feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.

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. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without conditions.

4. You have the 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. And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel ready to do.

5. You have the right experience “griefbursts.”

Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but it 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 does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral or healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don’t listen.

7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.

If faith is 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. 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 this way? Why now?” Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for the clichéd responses some people may give you. Comments like, “It was God’s will” or “Think of what you have to be thankful for,” are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.

9. You have the right to treasure your memories.

Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share 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.

All of this is borrowed, with deep gratitude, from the work of Dr. Alan Wolfelt. According to his bio, Dr. Alan Wolfelt is a grief counselor, educator and author who founded the Center for Loss more than 25 years ago to offer education and support both to people in the midst of grief as well as to bereavement caregivers. To learn more, please visit

Alan Wolfelt

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