by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.


“Mourning never really ends. Only as time goes on, it erupts less frequently.”

How do you ever find your way out of the wilderness of your grief? A number of psychological models describing grief refer to “resolution,” “recovery,” “reestablishment,” or “reorganization” as being the destination of your grief journey.

As a bereavement caregiver, you may even have been taught that the grief journey’s end comes when the mourner resolves, or recovers from, his or her grief.

But you may also be coming to understand one of the fundamental truths of grief: Grief never truly ends. People do not “get over” grief. My personal and professional experience tells me that a total return to “normalcy” after the death of someone loved is not possible; we are all forever changed by the experience of grief.

Reconciliation is a term I find more appropriate for what occurs as you work to integrate the new reality of moving forward in life without the physical presence of the person who died. With reconciliation comes a renewed sense of energy and confidence, an ability to fully acknowledge the reality of the death and a capacity to become re-involved in the activities of living. There is also an acknowledgment that pain and grief are difficult, yet necessary, parts of life.

As the experience of reconciliation unfolds, you will recognize that life is and will continue to be different without the presence of the person who died. Changing the relationship with the person who died from one of presence to one of memory and redirecting one’s energy and initiative toward the future often takes longer—and involves more hard work—than most people are aware. We, as human beings, never resolve our grief, but instead become reconciled to it.

We come to reconciliation in our grief journeys when the full reality of the death becomes a part of us. Beyond an intellectual working through of the death, there is also an emotional and spiritual working through. What had been understood at the “head” level is now understood at the “heart” level.

Keep in mind that reconciliation doesn’t just happen. You can help others reach it through encouraging their deliberate mourning. They reconcile their grief by…

  • talking it out.
  • writing it out.
  • crying it out.
  • thinking it out.
  • playing it out.
  • painting (or sculpting, etc.) it out.
  • dancing it out
  • etcetera!

To experience reconciliation requires that you descend, not transcend. You don’t get to go around or above your grief. You must go through it. And while you are going through it, you must express it you are to reconcile yourself to it.

You will fine that as you achieve reconciliation, the sharp, ever-present pain of grief will give rise to a renewed sense of meaning and purpose. Your feeling of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften, and the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent.  Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future, realizing that the person you have given love to and received love from will never be forgotten. The unfolding of this journey is not intended to create a return to an “old normal” but the discovery of a “new normal.”

To help explore where you are in your movement toward reconciliation, the following signs that suggest healing may be helpful. You don’t have to see all of these signs for healing to be taking place. Again, remember that reconciliation is an ongoing process. If you are early in the work of mourning, you may not see any signs of reconciliation. But this list will give you a way to monitor movement toward healing.


Signs of reconciliation

As mourners embrace their grief and do the work of mourning, they can and will be able to demonstrate the majority of the following:

  • A recognition of the reality and finality of the death.
  • A return to stable eating and sleeping patterns.
  • A renewed sense of release from the person who has died. They will have thoughts about the person, but they will not be preoccupied by these thoughts.
  • The capacity to enjoy experiences in life that are normally enjoyable.
  • The establishment of new and healthy relationships.
  • The capacity to live a full life without feelings of guilt or lack of self-respect.
  • The drive to organize and plan one’s life toward the future.
  • The serenity to become comfortable with the way things are rather than attempting to make things as they were.
  • The versatility to welcome more change in life.
  • The awareness that they have allowed themselves to fully grieve, and they have survived.
  • The awareness that nobody “gets over” grief; instead, they have a new reality, meaning and purpose in their lives.
  • The acquaintance of new parts of themselves that they have discovered in their grief journeys.
  • The adjustment to new role changes that have resulted from the loss of the relationship.
  • The acknowledgment that the pain of loss in an inherent part of life resulting from the ability to give and receive love.

Reconciliation emerges much in the way grass grows. Usually we don’t check our lawns daily to see if the grass is growing, but it does grow and soon we come to realize it’s time to mow the grass again. Likewise, we don’t look at ourselves each day as mourners to see how we are healing. Yet we do come to realize, over the course of months and years, that we have come a long way. We have taken some important steps toward reconciliation.

Usually there is not one great moment of “arrival,” but subtle changes and small advancements. It’s helpful to have gratitude for even very small advancements, If you are beginning to taste your food again, be thankful. If you mustered the energy to meet your friend for lunch, be grateful. If you finally got a good night’s sleep, rejoice.

One of my greatest teachers, C. S. Lewis, wrote in A Grief Observed about his grief symptoms as they eased in his journey to reconciliation: “There was no sudden, striking, and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight, when you first notice them they have already been going on for some time.”

Of course, you will take some steps backward from time to time, but that is to be expected. Keep believing in yourself. Set your intention to reconcile your grief and have hope that you can and will come to live and love gain.


Read the book: “The Journey Through Grief: Reflections On Healing”