Skip to main content


Coronavirus and the Six Needs of Mourning

By Uncategorized

Alongside the physical pandemic, the novel coronavirus is causing a pandemic of grief. That’s what we’re all feeling right now—grief. It’s important to recognize that.

Grief is everything we think and feel inside of us whenever our attachments are threatened, harmed, or severed. We experience shock and disbelief. We are anxious, which is a form of fear. We become sad and possibly lonely. We get angry. We feel guilty or regretful. The sum total of all these and any other thoughts and feelings we are experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is our grief.

No wonder. The virus is threatening every single person on Earth with myriad losses of every kind, from separation from loved ones to financial endangerment to canceled once-in-a-lifetime events and many, many more.

Name something you care about or that gives your life meaning. In all likelihood, this attachment is now negatively affected or threatened in some way by the coronavirus.

And then, of course, there is our worry. What will happen next? Will we get sick? Will people we care about get sick? Will people we love die?

Our anxiety about all the future unknowns is also part of our grief. In fact, it’s called “anticipatory grief” because our minds and hearts are naturally trying to anticipate and prepare for what’s to come.

So we’re grieving. Grief is normal and necessary because it’s part of our love, and I’m sure you agree that love is our most precious asset.

But it’s also essential to recognize that we can and should work with our grief. While it lives inside of us, it’s passive and inert. But when we find ways to express it outside of ourselves, it changes. It becomes active. We feel better, and our experience of life is enriched.

This process of expressing our grief is called mourning. While each of us grieves and mourns in unique ways, we share six basic mourning needs. So let’s focus on understanding and intentionally working on these needs during the pandemic.

Need 1: Acknowledge the reality of the pandemic as well as your grief

First, please ensure that you’re accurately informed about the coronavirus, COVID-19 (which is the illness caused by the coronavirus), and measures you should be taking to keep yourself and others as safe as possible. There’s a lot of misinformation out there right now, so please limit your news to factual sources. And second, acknowledge the reality of your grief about the pandemic. As I said, everything you care about may be under threat right now. Grief is your normal and natural response to this threat. You can turn this static grief into active mourning by regularly talking to others about your internal thoughts and feelings and sharing fears. The more you communicate openly and honestly, the better you will feel.

Need 2: Honor all of your feelings

Again, it’s common to experience a wide range of emotions about this unprecedented global threat. I mentioned a number of them in the second paragraph: shock, disbelief, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, anger, guilt, and regret. Whatever you are feeling, know that it’s normal. Yet I understand that most of these feelings are unpleasant and uncomfortable. If you spend time each day on being aware of them, naming them, and expressing them outside of yourself in some way, they will soften. So talk about them with others, or write about them in a journal or on tools like social media. You’ll find that fully and honestly expressing all of your feelings will provide you with instant comfort and relief.

Need 3: Practice gratitude for the good in your life

Now is an essential time to be mindful of the good in your life. Spend at least a few minutes each day calling to mind the people, experiences, and things that have been and are the most precious to you, then find ways to express those memories and awarenesses. For example, while you’re at home sheltering in place, you might write one personalized thank-you note each day to someone who has meant a lot to you. Tell them about moments and memories that have been particularly meaningful in your life. Starting a gratitude journal is another excellent option. Having gratitude for what was and what is will help you foster hope for what will be.

Need 4: Be kind to yourself

Treat yourself with patience and compassion. Your pandemic grief needs and deserves tender loving care. Every morning, make a commitment to take care of yourself physically, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and spiritually in at least some small way on that day— for example, a ten-minute walk outside, a crossword puzzle, a brief FaceTime with a friend, a board game or online game with a loved one, and a five-minute prayer or meditation session. All five of these aspects of yourself are crucial to give attention to. If you neglect one or more of them, you’ll find yourself getting out of balance and your pandemic grief and health worsening.

Need 5: Search for meaning

Loss and grief always spur us to search for meaning. It’s natural to wonder why all of this is happening. We’re in what’s called “liminal space” right now, which means we’re suspended in this long, weird pause. There was our life before the pandemic, and in the future there will be our (unknown) life after the pandemic…but right now there is just this period of transition. It’s the time betwixt and between, and it’s uncomfortable. Yet it’s often this enforced discomfort that ultimately transforms us. In liminal times, it’s normal to search for spiritual answers and try to find steady ground. To meet this mourning need, work on mindfulness. Be present in this day and this moment. And devote some time every day to caring for your spirit. Whatever helps you feel joy, meaning, and purpose—do that.

Need 6. Reach out to others to give and accept support

Even during periods of isolation, we as human beings need personal contact. When we are grieving, we also need emotional support. So I encourage you to use this difficult time to build relationships. Talk openly and honestly with the people in your home and be as empathetic as you can. To communicate with others outside your home, video calls are probably the best substitute for face-to-face conversations. Voice calls come second. After that, emails, texting, and social media work too. And don’t forget the power of the handwritten letter! The point is to stay connected as much as possible AND to be open and honest in those communications about whatever it is you are feeling or struggling with at the moment. Your candor will encourage others to be honest as well, creating the opportunity for mutual support and kindness.

This pandemic will change the world, and it will also change you. The good news is that if you work on these six needs of mourning in the coming weeks, you will emerge from this liminal time a different person. Your grief work will cause you to evolve in ways that will make the rest of your life more meaningful. Through mourning, you have the opportunity to get to know yourself better. You might have the time to develop better self-care habits. You have the chance to solidify or improve relationships. And you may be able to gain more clarity about what really matters in your life (and let go of some of the things that don’t).

Grief is always a transformative experience, but this global grief may unify us like never before. Imagine what we can do together if each of us has used this liminal time to improve self-awareness, foster mindfulness, build relationships, soften fear, and take care of ourselves and each other. I have great hope for our shared future. Please join me in mourning well so that we can live better, love better, and change the world—for the better.

About the Author

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many bestselling books on coping with grief, including Grief One Day at a Time and First Aid for Broken Hearts. Visit to learn more about grief and loss and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.

Nurturing Hope in Difficult Times

By Uncategorized

“Hope is the pillar that holds up the world.” — Pliny the Elder

The caller to the Center for Loss asked a question that is on the hearts of many right now: “Are we going to get through this?”

It became obvious as the conversation continued that she was experiencing feelings of grief and in search of borrowing some much-needed hope. As I hung up the phone after 20 minutes, I found myself yearning to write about hope, because, especially during difficult times like these, it is indeed the pillar that holds up the world.

As director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition, I advocate for our human need to acknowledge and embrace our darker emotions. Our culture usually isn’t so good at honoring loss and supporting others who are grieving, even though they are essential parts of our lives. Instead, to our detriment, we tend to focus almost exclusively on the happy and the distracting and the fun.

It’s a question of balance. We need both, you see. We need to honor the light and the dark, the happy and the sad—and everything in between—because all of it belongs. All of it is authentic. And whatever is authentic is normal and necessary.

Usually we’re out of balance because we choose to shine our awareness only on the “good stuff.” But right now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re at risk for the balance tipping too far the other way, in the direction of fear and despair.

Yes, in difficult times, we must remember to hope.

What is hope? It’s an expectation of a good that is yet to be. It is an inner knowing that the future holds positive things. It is trust that no matter the current circumstances, the days to come will reveal happiness. It’s forward-looking—yet experienced in the now.

Like mourning, nurturing hope is active. It’s something we can do. Let’s look at what we can do to embrace hope even as we are experiencing the many losses caused by this pandemic.

Practice mindfulness

As I write this, most of us in North America are sheltering in place. Though our normal lives have been completely disrupted and we may be experiencing very real personal losses (sick friends and family members, financial jeopardy, lost connections with loved ones, to name just a few), many of us are also, in this moment, safe and comfortable.

Practicing mindfulness means learning to be present to our immediate surroundings right now. As I write this, the sun peeks out from billowy clouds in a denim-blue sky. I see spring crocuses blooming. My dogs sleep at my feet. Whenever I am mindful of the present moment, I find gratitude, and gratitude helps me access hope, which we might think of as gratitude for what is to come.

Being mindful in the now also helps me build relationships with the people I care about. In the now I can share quality time with my wife, and even though I can’t visit them in person, I can also spend time each day on video calls with my children and friends. The more I can use this time to strengthen relationships with my dear ones, the more hope I will have for the future gatherings we will share.

Relinquish the illusion of control

There’s a fine line between a) informing ourselves about the pandemic and steps we can take to keep ourselves and others safe, and b) overconsuming information (and misinformation), causing undue stress and even despair.

In this information age, we have limitless content at our fingertips. We could read, watch, and listen to new information about COVID-19 for many hours a day and still never be “caught up.” It makes sense that we might be tempted to overconsume information in an effort to feel in control of what is happening. The trouble is, we as individuals can’t control this epidemic, and we can’t even fully control what happens to us and our loved ones.

Relinquishing the illusion of control can lessen our anxiety and help us to build trust in our own capacity to cope with whatever happens. If we work on mindfulness, we don’t have to obsess and worry. Instead, we can learn to be OK with our lack of control and trust in our own resilience. When tomorrow comes, we will handle what comes tomorrow. Today we are only responsible for today.

Build hope

If we believe that our futures will include moments of joy, love, and meaning, we already have within us that spark of hope. We can grow that spark into a flame by intentionally building hope into each day.

How do we build hope during difficult times? Here are a few ways:

  • By taking part in activities we care about to the extent that we can while sheltering in place
  • By engaging in spiritual practices
  • By making a collage of words or pictures that symbolize hope in our mind and heart
  • By intentionally imagining the futures we desire
  • By making future plans that excite us and that we know we will enjoy
  • By helping others
  • By staying in close contact with the people we care about, ideally through video and phone calls
  • By taking care of our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our social connections, and our souls

Consciously Choose Hope

Please understand that hope is not something that will just passively float into your life. Instead, hope will enter when you create ways to consciously bring it into your day. Despite these challenging times, the door you open to hope each and every day will dramatically influence the quality of your life.

Consciously choosing hope means deliberately focusing on it—paying attention to it, inviting it into a given moment, and letting yourself feel it as it enters. Be creative with how you give attention to hope and invite it in. Moment by moment, choose hope over fear. Choose hope instead of despair. If you start feeling hopeless, act with intention to bring hope to that moment.

If hope feels out of reach right now, consider borrowing a little to get you through. When you cannot muster the energy to cultivate it yourself, it’s possible to receive hope from others. It’s appropriate in times like these to turn to people who have hope to lend.

How do you know someone is hope-filled? Look for friends and family members who have a hopeful outlook on life. They are people who have a positive energy when they are in your presence, and they make you smile when you simply hear their voice. They are also usually caring, nonjudgmental listeners. The energy they radiate can anchor you right now. Remember—hope is a renewable resource. Borrow it now, and know that in the future, when the time is right, you can pay it forward to someone else in need.

In the words of Victor Frankl, I remind you, “Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” As you choose your own way during these challenging times, I invite you to nurture hope and to be grateful for your life each and every day.


About the Author
Dr. Alan Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many compassionate books designed to help people mourn well so they can continue to love and live well, including The Mourner’s Book of Hope. Visit to learn more about the natural and necessary process of grief and mourning and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.

This Pandemic of Grief

By Uncategorized

The coronavirus is not only causing a viral pandemic—it is giving rise to a pandemic of grief. As I write this, in mid-March 2020, we as a global community are suffering so many losses that I hardly know where to begin.

Death and grief go hand-in-hand, of course. Thousands of people have already died of COVID-19 worldwide. Many more are dying right now. These are terrible losses for the loved ones of these precious individuals, and they will need our support and empathy in the months to come.

Yet what strikes me at this moment is that this aggressive new virus is threatening every single person on Earth with myriad losses of every kind. Name something you care about or that gives your life meaning. In all likelihood, this attachment is now negatively affected or threatened in some way by the coronavirus.

Social distancing is forcing us to be apart from friends and family for weeks and possibly months. Personal events have been postponed or called off, so we are unable to gather for life’s most meaningful celebrations and rituals, from baptisms and birthdays to weddings, anniversary parties, and funerals. Public activities and experiences that brought us together have also been cancelled. Workplaces are shuttering or moving to work-from home. Restaurants, museums, and theaters are closing. Sporting events have been shut down. Town squares stand empty.

While thanks to technology we can still stay in constant contact with one another remotely—something that wasn’t possible during past prolonged international crises, such as the 1918 flu pandemic—we are learning the limitations of digital love and care.

What is grief?

As human beings, whenever our attachments are threatened, harmed, or severed, we naturally grieve. Grief is everything we think and feel inside of us when this happens. We experience shock and disbelief. We worry, which is a form of fear. We become sad and possibly lonely. We get angry. We feel guilty or regretful. The sum total of all these and any other thoughts and feelings we are experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is our grief.

Our pandemic grief will change from day to day and week to week. This virus is fast. As it sweeps across continents and we collectively take action to “flatten the curve,” new rules and limitations are popping up every day. Restrictions are mounting and growing increasingly severe. As the noose tightens, our grief will change. And as with the virus itself, it will likely get worse before it gets better.

How to help yourself and others: emotionally, socially, and spiritually

There are a couple of important things to understand about your pandemic grief.

First, it is normal and natural. It is simply a part of your love and attachment.

And second, grief responds to awareness, attention, and expression.

You will feel better if you mourn. Mourning is being aware of your grief, giving it the attention it needs and deserves, and expressing it outside of yourself.

We have all heard a lot about how to take care of ourselves physically with this virus, but I have seen little about emotional, social, and spiritual health. During this time of great grief, mourning is the key to these pillars of self-care.

When we are feeling the emotional pain of our coronavirus grief, we can tune into it and allow it to teach us what we are really worried, sad, angry, etc. about. And then we can express it. We can talk to others about it, in our household, on the phone, or online. We can write about it in a journal. We can listen to music or watch movies that help us access, understand, and share our feelings. Mourning our grief in these ways helps soften it and gives us the emergency emotional release and sustenance we need to survive.

Socially, we can’t congregate in person right now. Did you know that the word “congregate” comes from the Latin roots com, meaning together, and gregare, meaning to gather in a flock? But we can continue to make efforts to reach out to the people we care about. Video calls are probably the best substitute for face-to-face conversations. Voice calls come second. After that, emails, texting, and social media work too. And don’t forget the power of the handwritten letter! The point is to stay connected as much as possible AND to be open and honest in those communications about whatever it is you are feeling or struggling with at the moment. Your candor will encourage others to be honest as well, creating the opportunity for mutual support and kindness.

And when it comes to spiritual health, now is an especially resonant time to work on caring for your soul. One redeeming factor of enforced isolation is that it creates the opportunity for spiritual contemplation and practice. In times of loss, we almost always wonder why things happen as they do. We naturally question the meaning of life in general and the meaning of our own life in particular. We turn our attention to our deepest beliefs and values. We talk to God or wonder about God or get angry at God.

If you’ve been struggling with beliefs, values, meaning, and life goals during the pandemic, you’re experiencing the spiritual aspect of grief. And the best way to care for your spirit right now is to be intentional about giving it time and attention. I recommend spending at least 15 minutes each day on spiritual practices. Whatever helps you get in touch with your divine spark—do that. For some people that might be meditation or prayer. For others it can be reading a spiritual text, speaking affirmations, attending a religious or spiritual service online, doing yoga, writing in a journal, or spending time observing nature or walking outdoors.

Simply being aware of your emotional, social, and spiritual health every day and being deliberate about self-care in those areas will help you and others today as well as in the weeks to come. There is no doubt that this is a challenging moment to be alive, but it is also a moment in which our collective resources have never been greater and more capable. So let’s be open, honest, and kind—to ourselves and to each other.

Suggestions for special circumstances


The longer we are isolated in our homes, the lonelier we are likely to become. Humans are social creatures. We are built for touch and body language and conversation. With the rise of technology and its modern-day substitution for personal contact, we were already suffering from a loneliness epidemic. But the coronavirus social-distancing efforts are making it (and will continue to make it) worse. My best suggestion here is to reach out proactively to others in all the ways that you can right now, as often as you can, for their benefit as well as yours. If you or someone you know is at particular risk for loneliness right now, ask for assistance. Find friends, family members, and neighbors who are willing to create a support team. Most people are happy to help but need suggestions about how.

Isolated seniors

On a related note, many seniors are particularly isolated right now. As you know, older people are at much higher risk for serious illness and death from the coronavirus and are having to self-isolate the most strictly. If you are an isolated senior reading this, the loneliness self-care tips I offered above apply to you. If you would like to help an isolated senior, brainstorm with others about the ways in which you can still provide safe comfort and support. For example, deliveries of food, books, and personal notes might help. Touching base by phone once or twice a day could make a world of difference. Be creative and practical in your efforts, and most of all, offer frequent and consistent contact.

Another special circumstance that applies here concerns seniors being cared for in longterm care facilities that have instituted no-visitors policies during the pandemic. Such policies are absolutely necessary right now, but they are also separating loved ones. And I have already heard of a number of cases in which an elderly resident is actively dying but their family is not allowed to be by their side as they die. This is a great heartbreak indeed, and I can offer no equal substitute for physical proximity at this pivotal moment in a family’s life. But I would encourage families to do whatever they can to convey their love. For example, it’s possible to write a letter to the person who is dying and ask a care attendant to read it aloud to them. Making a video recording of yourself, as if you were talking directly to the dying person, is another idea. Asking that special music be played and special memorabilia or flowers be placed in the room is a third idea.

Far-flung families

Many family members are separated from one another at the moment. Some live far apart but wish they could be closer together at this time of need and grief. But travel may not be possible, and for elderly or at-risk family members, physical proximity  may be inadvisable anyway. Again, I would suggest being in touch as much as possible, as often as possible, in any way you can. If you are feeling concern or love for someone who is far away, call them and tell them so. Send them a text. Write them an email. Send a heartfelt greeting card with a personal letter. Your grief over a possible threat to their well-being, yours, or both is tugging at you, so give it voice. They will feel loved and supported, and you will feel relieved and loved as well.

Cancelled events

In many ways, special events are the moments in which we most profoundly feel the love we share with our closest others as well as the meaning of life itself. We dream of and plan for significant expected events such as graduations, retirements, and family vacations. And when unexpected significant events arise, such as serious injuries, deaths, and funerals, we drop everything to be there. But we are living in a moment in time in which most such events are being cancelled in an effort to protect the health of the greater community and the most vulnerable among us. Naturally we are bereft over the loss of these rare opportunities to gather with loved ones and immerse ourselves in that which is most meaningful in our lives.

Whenever possible, I would advocate for such events being postponed rather than cancelled. If the graduation or retirement date comes and goes, maybe the celebration can still be held later on. If a public funeral can’t take place shortly after the death, maybe a memorial service can be scheduled some weeks or months from now. Untimely gatherings are not ideal, of course, but they are much better than no gathering at all. Virtual events may also be a good idea. Baby showers and christenings broadcast live online might be an option, for example.

But most of all, what I hope you will do when an upcoming event is cancelled is pay attention to your feelings about the cancellation and then communicate those feelings to the people who form the centerpiece of the event. If a wedding is cancelled, for instance, write heartfelt notes to the bride and groom and any other family members you are close to telling them why you were looking forward to the event, what it means to you, and what your hopes and dreams are for them in the months to come. They will find great comfort and meaning in your words.

Serious illness and death

If it hasn’t already for you, the moment will likely come during this pandemic when someone you care about—maybe not someone in your closest circle but a friend or neighbor—becomes seriously ill and perhaps even dies. I am certainly not trying to borrow trouble, but I also understand that, numerically, you and I may both find ourselves in this unfortunate circumstance at some point in the coming year. Such is the nature of COVID-19. And to complicate matters, it may happen at a time when we are still quarantined to our own homes, and public ceremonies are still forbidden.

Virtually all of us are grieving this possibility right now. If you have read this whole article, you know that I am an advocate for being open and honest about our inner grief. If in the coming days your grief includes this worry, please talk about it with other people, on the phone, online, and on social media. And if such a reality comes to pass for you, I hope you will remember that your grief is normal and necessary, and it needs and deserves expression.

Here in the American interior west, it feels strange to be rolling onto the onramp of a viral pandemic. We know the route we are heading down, but we don’t know exactly how bad it’s going to be or how our local communities—or we personally—will be affected along the way. Because of this uncertainty, our grief is in part anticipatory at this point. While we are already grieving very real closures, cancellations, and limitations, we are also, normally and naturally, anticipating the unknown griefs to come. They are also part of our love.

I hope that we will emerge from this viral and grief pandemic a more conscious, cohesive, and caring world community. May it shape and transform us into better versions of ourselves.

About the Author

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is a respected author and educator on the topics of companioning others and healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many bestselling books on coping with grief, including Grief One Day at a Time and First Aid for Broken Hearts. Visit to learn more about grief and loss and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.

How to Talk to Children About the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Uncategorized

As the coronavirus spreads across North America and our daily lives are transformed, we all must be aware of the need for good mental-health care. Obviously, it’s a stressful time. Families are confined to their homes. School is canceled. Many businesses are closed. Workers are being laid off en masse, causing financial distress. And then there is the illness itself, COVID-19. Will we or someone we love become critically ill or even die? We are all naturally worried about the “what ifs” and “what nexts.”

The youngest among us are not immune to all of this stress. They sense it in the adults around them, and they see it on social media and other sources of information. Their own day-to-day routines have been completely disrupted.

When it comes to painful, complex realities, it can be difficult to know how much we should share with children. Many people have an instinct to protect kids. But as someone who has worked with and advocated for grieving children for many decades, I’ve learned that what they really need is honesty combined with steadfast care.

Here are a few foundational dos and don’ts.

Follow the child’s lead

Pay attention to what the child seems curious or worried about. For younger children, these concerns may manifest through their play rather than directly. You don’t need to volunteer a lot of information. Instead, invite them to ask questions. And try saying just a little at a time. Children are often satisfied with short answers and small “doses” of information. When they want to know more, they’ll let you know, especially if you are someone who is always straight with them.

Talk openly and honestly to children about what is happening

It’s important to be honest with children about difficult circumstances. In fact, I often say that children can cope with what they know, but they can’t cope with what they don’t know. Be factual. Talk to them about social distancing and that it’s necessary to keep people safe. Explain to them that it’s mostly elderly people who are at risk of getting really sick or dying. If finances are an issue, it’s good to talk to them about that too. If someone in your family has been affected by the virus, keep the child updated. And if your family finances are being stressed, as they are for so many people right now, try not to overburden your children with this challenge. It’s OK to let them know about the need to curtail unnecessary spending, for example, but also keep in mind that financial issues are grown-up issues. We must be careful not to make children over-worry about this or feel responsible.

Use developmentally appropriate language

Use simple, concrete language when you talk to children about the pandemic. It’s OK to use the words “coronavirus” and “pandemic,” because children are hearing those terms, but you will need to explain them in ways that they will understand.

Share your feelings

As I said, we are all naturally worried about and disoriented over the pandemic. Circumstances are changing rapidly from day to day, and the future is unknown. Children who spend time with you will pick up on your anxiety, so it’s essential to tell them what you’re worried about. If you don’t, they are likely to imagine even worse scenarios–or think that they are somehow to blame or at risk. And it’s also important that you practice good self-care to manage any severe anxiety you yourself may be having. If your anxiety levels are too high, theirs will be, too.

Understand magical thinking

Young children are susceptible to what’s called “magical thinking.” They may believe that their thoughts and behaviors can cause bad things to happen. If they didn’t want to talk to Grandma the last time they saw her, for example, and she gets sick, they may secretly believe they caused or contributed to her sickness. So be attuned to any feelings of guilt or shame the children in your care may be hiding, and explain clearly to them that none of this is their fault.

Be patient, kind, and reassuring

Most of all what children need is reassurance that they are being cared for and that their family and others they care about are safe.

Routines help children feel safe, so if their daily routine has been turned upside-down, it’s important to create a new routine. Even if you’re stuck at home, you can still have breakfast together at a certain time and follow a daily schedule. Keeping evening rituals consistent is also essential. And while all of this is going on, try extra hard to be patient and kind. I know it’s extremely challenging to manage children patiently when school and activities are not there to help share the “it takes a village” burden, but keep in mind that your children will likely have strong memories of this strange interlude in their lives, as will you. You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to be caring, consistent, and honest.

It’s also important to emphasize to children that lots and lots of grown-up doctors, scientists, and government workers across the world are working to solve the problem. It is our responsibility, not children’s. We are working hard on treatments and vaccines as well as ways to help families who need help. We will get through this.

And I hope you will take advantage of any extra time you have during the quarantine to use for cuddles, hugs, and play. Physical closeness and care go a long way in helping children feel safe and loved.

About the Author

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a noted author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Among his many bestselling books are Healing A Child’s Grieving Heart and Finding the Words: How to Talk with Children and Teens about Death, Suicide, Homicide, Funerals, and Other End-of-Life Matters. To order Dr. Wolfelt’s books and for more information, visit

Coronavirus Safety Tips: Taking Precautions When Attending a Funeral

By Uncategorized

Recently, the United States officially declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a national emergency. National, state, and local officials are hoping to slow the spread of the disease in order to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system and its resources. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the virus seems to spread from person-to-person contact, which means people have to take precautions during events like funerals.  

If you are attending a funeral during this outbreak, here are six precautions you can take to ensure you and your family remain healthy

1. Practice Social Distancing

Although officials are unsure how the virus behaves, they believe it spreads through close contact with someone who is sick. That’s why many people are choosing to practice social distancing, which is defined as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”  

Since a funeral or memorial can involve a lot of people in close contact, you can try to sit further apart from others if there is enough space. Additionally, instead of hugs and handshakes, offer kind words and sympathy notes to those who are grieving.

2. Cover Your Mouth When You Cough

Officials also believe the virus can spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Covering your mouth with your arm or a handkerchief can prevent the spread of these droplets. The CDC does not recommend using a face mask if you are not sick. However, if you think you have the virus, wearing a mask can prevent your coughs from infecting others. Face masks may be limited, so if you are healthy, the best thing you can do is avoid coming into contact with someone who might be sick. 

3. Wash Hands Thoroughly and Regularly

Washing your hands is important to prevent the spread of any virus, including COVID-19. Germs can collect on your hands if you touch a surface that someone with the disease has also touched. Thorough and regular handwashing is an easy way to prevent the disease from spreading. When you attend a service, don’t be afraid to ask the funeral home staff where you can wash your hands. This should be done before and after the service to help maintain cleanliness.

4. Avoid Large Gatherings

Avoiding those who may be sick is key to slowing the spread of the disease. The CDC, along with federal, state, and local officials, are urging or mandating restrictions on social gatherings to “flatten the curve.” However, grieving people will still need the support of loved ones during a time of loss. Small gatherings or visits with the immediate family may still be possible in some areas that are least affected. Staggered events can also ensure that not too many people are gathered at the same time in the same place. Be sure to follow federal, state, and local recommendations and mandates to help keep everyone healthy and safe. If you cannot attend a funeral or memorial event, here are a few ways you can show your support for the grieving family.

5. Stay Home if You Are Sick

Staying home if you are sick or suspect you may have been exposed to the virus is paramount to stopping the spread of the disease. If you or a loved one were exposed to the virus, proceed with an abundance of caution. Stay home and make every effort to limit contact with others in your community. At this time, the CDC believes that infection is most likely once symptoms are present; however, they do state that some spread might be possible before people show symptoms. 

6. Follow Directions of Funeral Home Staff

Finally, follow the directions of the funeral home and staff. The funeral home may recommend limiting the size of public gatherings, postponing events, or live streaming events with only immediate family present, depending on how prevalent the outbreak is in your area. Some funeral homes are limiting their number of visitations and funeral services to one per day so they can ensure minimal exposure to others. If these services are held, the funeral home staff will likely take precautions such as holding open doors to limit your contact with surfaces, having one person sign register books, or offering electronic options. The funeral home may also limit the use of printed programs or other items. Alternatively, they may schedule funeral arrangement meetings over the phone or other technology to limit person-to-person contact.  

Remember, the needs of the grieving family for love and support during a time of grief don’t go away. If you can attend a funeral, show up! Even if you can’t offer hugs, your presence is more than enough.

A Year in Review: The Top 5 Books on Grief & Loss from 2018

By Uncategorized

We mourn because we love. That’s true of us all. Grief is a universal emotion, and because it is, we can find hope and encouragement in the stories of others. Dr. Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief expert, tells us about the importance of mourning well. He says, “Making the choice not just to grieve, but to authentically mourn, provides us the courage to live through the pain of loss and be transformed by it. How ironic that to ultimately go on to live well and love well we must allow ourselves to mourn well.” Below is a list of the top 5 books published in 2018 (chosen based on Amazon reader reviews) about grief, loss, and the journey toward healing. Perhaps the words and experiences of others will help you as you navigate your own grief journey this year.

Book #1: The Widower’s Notebook, a Memoir

Author: Jonathan Santlofer

Synopsis: On a normal day in New York, Jonathan finds his wife, Joy, fighting for breath in their living room. After calling the paramedics and spending many tense hours at the hospital, he learns that she has died. Not sure how to deal with the depth of emotion welling within him, he turns to writing and art to help him maneuver through the complexities of losing the wife he loved.

Review: “Widower is stunning, harrowing, un-put-down-able…Jonathan Santlofer finds language that is immediate and intimate for the irreconcilable trauma of loss. Without pause he captures the shattered time that is grief—this book is fearless, brave for its humanity, honesty, love. Santlofer brings the reader into his heart, sharing all the things that one feels but dares not say aloud, all that one wants to know but can’t ask of themselves, of those around them, of their lost loved one.” —A.M. Homes, author of May We Be Forgiven

Book #2: Grief Day by Day

Author: Jan Warner

Synopsis: Grief Day by Day offers 365 reflections, weekly themes, and healing exercises for dealing with the complexities of grief. Jan Warner draws on her own experience with loss to offer hope and useful guidance to others who are struggling. With the book’s set-up, the reader can use it in the way that best suits them and their specific needs.

Review: “This is quite literally a shattering book: it takes in both hands and smashes one of the most pernicious of our modern myths – that grief is an aberrant state, properly and speedily to be put away. It instead explores the idea of grief as a part of life. Thus repositioned, grief can be acknowledged as one (but only one) enduring element of the mourner’s identity.” ―Sarah Gristwood, best-selling author, historian, and commentator on the British royal family

Book #3: Wonder Widows

Authors: Trish Comer, Peggy Langenwalter, and Jennifer Cox Horak

Synopsis: Written by three widows, this book is an invitation to join Trish, Peggy, and Jennifer on their journey. They kindly and lovingly share about their challenges and triumphs while navigating widowhood. This book focuses on empowering widows. Not only do the authors share their personal stories, but they explores how to shape a new identity, how to handle holidays and anniversaries, and so much more!

Review: While Wonder Widows is a compassionate window into a sensitive and painful passage, it’s also hopeful as it explores the possibility of lives rebuilt. I think this is an important book for everyone to read because sooner or later we’ll all experience loss, whether our own or that of a friend. Reading Wonder Widows gave me insight into what might be going on behind the public face a grieving person presents to the world and how we might all be more aware and compassionate.” —Amazon Reviewer Danelle

Book #4: Grief as a Second Language: A Guidebook for Living with the Loss of a Loved One

Author: Stacy Parker

Synopsis: Written by a bereaved parent, this book helps people understand and become comfortable with the language of grief. As it moves the reader toward a greater understanding of the complexities of grief, it explores important topics like how to release self-blame, how to cope with the physical absence of your loved one, and which reactions are perfectly normal (all of them!).

Review: “This book is written by the best kind of grief expert, someone who has taken the journey out of the darkness and back into the light. Stacy shares with her readers practical tips and tools for taking care of your physical and emotional health after loss and for finding purpose and meaning again. Thank you, Stacy, for being honest about your own grief journey and helping us to navigate ours. I wish I had this book after my brother died; it would have been a lifeline at a time where I felt very alone and had no idea how to navigate the second language of grief.” —Dr. Heidi Horsley, Executive Director of Open to Hope Foundation

Book #5: Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense

Author: Dr. Paul David Tripp

Synopsis: No matter what the catalyst may be, we have all had our lives changed in an instant. Whether it be death, illness, loss of employment, loss of relationship, or something else, we aren’t sure how to deal with what has happened. In this book, Dr. Tripp shares his own journey and what it means to trust God even in the midst of suffering.

Review: “We don’t have to go looking for it. It will come and find us. Sooner or later, suffering at a catastrophic level will wreck our lives. Paul Tripp understands that personally. He also understands the gospel personally. His new book does not trivialize our sufferings with glib formulas. This wise book leads us deeper into the gospel of the cross and closer to the Man of Sorrows himself.” ―Ray Ortlund, Lead Pastor, Immanuel Church, Nashville, Tennessee

Another book worth taking a look at is by noted author, educator, and grief counselor, Dr. Alan Wolfelt. Grief Day by Day: Simple, Everyday Practices to Help Yourself Survive…and Thrive was published in late 2018 and offers answers to the questions that plague the hearts of those who are grieving. How am I supposed to cope? What should I do with these thoughts and feelings? How can I both grieve and still live with hope and meaning?

Hopefully, one or more of these books will speak to your heart and give you comfort and peace on your journey through grief in 2019.


By Uncategorized

We have been lucky to be blessed with three sons. They have each brought us special joy with their individual personalities, but our middle son, Billy, is fondly known as the “eternal optimist.” I wish that we could take credit for this attitude, but it’s something he was born with! For example, he had always been an early riser and liked to get in our bed at 5 a.m. As he would crawl into our bed, we would admonish him to be quiet and go back to sleep. He would lie on his back and say in a falsetto whisper, “It’s going to be a beautiful morning. I hear the birds singing.” When we would ask him to stop talking to us, he would reply, “I not talking to you; I talking to me!”

In kindergarten, he was asked to draw a tiger. Now, while optimism is Billy’s strong suit, art is not, and his tiger came out with a crooked head and one eye that appeared to be shut. When his teacher asked him about why the tiger had one eye closed, he replied, “Because he’s saying, ‘Here’s looking at you, kid!’”

Also, when he was five, he got into an argument with his older brother about whether a man on TV was bald. Billy said, “He’s not bald. He’s like Papa. He’s only bald when he looks at you. When he walks away, he has lots of hair!”

These memories and many, many more led up to the ultimate optimistic statement. Our third son, Tanner, was stricken with hemolytic uremic syndrome on a Tuesday and died the following Sunday. Billy was seven. The night after Tanner’s funeral I was putting Billy to bed. I often used to lie down beside him to discuss the day. On this particular night, we lay quietly in the dark with not much to say. Suddenly, from the dark, Billy spoke.

He said, “I feel sorry for us, but I almost feel more sorry for all those other people.” I questioned him about which people he was talking about. He explained, “The people who never knew Tanner. Weren’t we lucky to have had Tanner with us for 20 months. Just think, there are lots of people who were never lucky enough to know him at all. We are really lucky people.”

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Reprinted by permission of Health Communications, Inc. Copyright © 1996 Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen

What Two Funerals for One Elderly Woman Can Teach Funeral Directors

By Uncategorized

By Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt has long talked about the “whys” of funeral rituals, why they are important to families. His latest book addresses the “hows,” how funeral directors need to change their approach to serving families in today’s culture where ritual has been devalued.

What two funerals for one elderly woman can teach funeral directors

In my latest book, “A Tale of Two Funerals,” I tell a story in which, due to a Twilight Zonesque spacetime anomaly, two funerals are held simultaneously for the same elderly woman, Carol Williams. One funeral is arranged by funeral director Sam Standard, and the other by funeral director Grace Gatekeeper.

The two funeral directors have different approaches, which in turn result in two very different ceremonies. The question the book poses is: Which funeral is more helpful to family and friends, and why? I thought it might be helpful to talk about the book—why I wrote it, why I took this approach and what I hope people learn from it—in a question-and-answer format.

You’ve been an advocate for meaningful funerals for a long time. Why?

I discovered long ago that “when words are inadequate, have a ceremony.” I trained for 13 years as a talk therapist, and I discovered early on in my career that the funeral ceremony is an essential rite of initiation to get people off to a good start following the death of someone in their life.

But more and more, people today lack an understanding of the value of funerals. I feel I have a responsibility as a grief counselor and death educator to attempt to counter this trend toward deritualization. It’s bad for families, it’s bad for funeral service and it’s bad for our society as a whole. In my writing and teaching, I’ve attempted to articulate why we’ve had funerals since the beginning of time. The pyramid graphic shows the main purposes of funerals. I call it my hierarchy of the “why” of funerals. The essential idea is that personalized, full funerals give families the chance to begin working on healing, and the “whys” of the funeral are what helps put them on the path to healing.

Reality, for example, is the foundation of the pyramid. Funerals help families acknowledge the reality of the death. Recall is the next layer, because funerals help families actively remember and tell stories about the person who died. Next we come to support. Funerals are all about people gathering to support one another in their grief. Expression means embracing and outwardly expressing the pain of the loss, and meaning is all about the thinking through that goes on at funerals of the meaning of the life and death of the person who died.

Finally, we come to transcendence. Ultimately, good funerals help us take a step toward transcending our grief and continuing on with a life of purpose and love. When families don’t have a meaningful funeral, they often struggle much more than they otherwise would. I’m honored that many organizations now use the pyramid and other visual tools I’ve created to help families and their communities better understand why we have funerals. I hope to continue to be an advocate for meaningful funerals, and writing “A Tale of Two Funerals” is one way to achieve that goal.

You’ve written other books on the subject. Why did you decide to try this creative storytelling approach?

I realized it’s one thing to talk in the abstract about what funeral directors should do, but it’s another thing to show it. The story in “A Tale of Two Funerals” shows, moment-by moment, step-by-step, how the two different funeral directors work with the family. The reader gets to be a fly on a wall throughout all the steps, from the transfer all the way through to aftercare.

In the story, one of the funeral directors, Grace Gatekeeper, stops now and then to explain to the family why they might consider including a certain element or piece of ritual. Is this important?

Educating families about the “why” of the funeral is the crux of the matter. For a number of reasons, today’s families are often inexperienced with death and funeral planning. They don’t understand why many of the elements of ritual that funeral service takes for granted are included. Not understanding the value of many of the elements, they often subvert or eliminate them. The more they eliminate, the less likely they are to achieve a “sweet spot” of experience.

So funeral directors must educate families. Why have a visitation, for example? What functions does the visitation serve? If you look back at the hierarchy of the “why” noted above, you’ll see that the visitation helps mourners with many of them. Spending time with the body is one significant way in which families really begin to acknowledge the reality of the death. Memories start coming up, and people share those with one another. They also hug, talk to and support each other.

Expressing the pain of the loss is natural at the visitation as well, as is talking about the meaning of the life and death of the person who died. It’s essential to educate families about all of the reasons why we have visitations. When funeral directors connect everything they do with information, education and choices, they have the power to help families in profound ways—ways that will impact their lives for decades to come.

Do you think funeral directors know why we’ve traditionally used the various elements of funerals, such as music or the committal?

I think funeral directors understand that most of the elements are helpful, but I don’t think they’ve ever been asked to articulate why. Why is it good to have a personalized eulogy, for example? To help families, you’ve got to be able to explain this and many other “whys” to them as you help them plan.

“A Tale of Two Funerals” gives many examples of how Grace Gatekeeper teaches the Wilson family about the “whys.” I also wanted to show readers how using the many elements of the funeral together is what creates what I call the “tapestry” of experience for the family. If a basic, generic funeral is a serviceable “throw rug,” then a comprehensive, personalized funeral rich in elements and the participation of people who cared about the person who died is a beautiful tapestry. That’s the goal.

You present a fair and balanced view of funeral service in this book. Both funeral directors are good people who are good at their jobs. Why didn’t you make one of them the “bad funeral director?”

I’m honored to be invited to speak at many funeral service conferences. I also count many funeral directors among my friends. In my experience, funeral directors are rarely “bad” at their jobs. On the contrary, they’re kind, and they’re good at getting families through the experience quickly and efficiently. They’re skilled at making things as easy as possible for families.

The trouble is, some funeral directors whom I’ve observed (and I could say this about funeral service in general) tend to confuse efficiency with effectiveness. I would suggest that fast and efficient are not better. When it comes to planning and carrying out a truly meaningful funeral, slow and thoughtful are much more effective. I believe part of my role as a funeral service educator is to encourage funeral directors to slow down and try not to confuse efficiency with effectiveness.

We have good funeral directors. What we as a culture now need, because of the deritualization trend I mentioned earlier, are great funeral directors. We’ve got to train both veteran and rookie funeral directors in how to anchor everything they do in the “whys” of the funeral. For funeral directors to be able to teach the purposes of the elements of funerals, they have to study the body of knowledge in ways they have not done before. My goal in the book is to hold the mirror up to funeral directors and ask: Are you educating every step of the way, from the moment you’re receiving the call all the way through to aftercare?

Back in the normative days of funeral service, when families knew what they wanted, tended to have multi-day funerals and understood the importance of ritual, you could get away with not educating. But now, in the integrative phase of funeral service, we need funeral directors to teach families about everything. Because the choice today is to educate people or run the risk of going out of business.

How do you envision “A Tale of Two Funerals” being used?

My hope is that the book will be an excellent training or in-service tool for funeral homes. It’s concise, and the story format makes it engaging to read. I’ve included discussion questions at the end of each chapter, so funeral directors can reflect on what they’ve read and come to a meeting prepared to talk about their responses.

Of course, it also makes a refreshing textbook for mortuary schools. Funeral directors-in-training would really benefit from seeing their roles as educators from the get-go. I also enjoy hosting an annual training for funeral directors every June in Colorado, so I will use this book as one of the resources for that course as well.

What’s the one thing you hope funeral directors take away from “A Tale of Two Funerals?”

That it’s doable and rewarding to create exceptional funerals. All it takes is a slight shift in focus and a commitment to doing what’s really and truly best (not necessarily easiest) for the families you are honored to serve.

Let’s all remember: Good funerals are no longer sufficient. Based on the trend away from ceremony when death occurs, funeral service’s commitment must be great funerals, funerals that help people see the value in every aspect of the experience. The goal should be for every funeral to conclude with families and guests saying, “Now that was a great funeral!”

About the Author:

Dr. Alan Wolfelt is a noted author, educator, grief counselor. Dr. Wolfelt believes that meaningful funeral experiences help families and friends support one another, embrace their feelings, and embark on the journey to healing and transcendence. Recipient of the Association of Death Education and Counseling’s Death Educator Award, Dr. Wolfelt presents workshops across the world to grieving families, funeral home staffs, and other caregivers. He also teaches training courses for bereavement caregivers at the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he serves as Director. Dr. Wolfelt is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. He is also the author of many bestselling books, including Understanding Your Grief, The Mourner’s Book of Hope, Creating Meaningful Funeral Ceremonies, and The Paradoxes of Grief: Healing Your Grief With Three Forgotten Truths, upon which this series is based. For more information, visit

Printed by permission of Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, all rights reserved.

Skip to content