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In this video, Dr. Wolfelt discusses the difference between grief and mourning, two terms often conflated.

Grief is Internal

While they are often used interchangeably, the words grief and mourning contain a subtle but important difference. The term grief refers to our thoughts and feelings on the inside. After the loss of loved one, our initial, private response is grief. We feel bereaved, which means “torn apart.” Mourning is the next step in the process.

Mourning is External

Mourning is the shared, social response to loss, or “grief gone public.” Mourning takes our internal grief and externalizes it in the form of an action, a symbol, a ceremony, or a ritual that activates social support. It is essential for creating forward movement in a state of grief. Without external mourning, grief turns into “carried grief.”

The Function of the Funeral

A good funeral helps us to begin mourning by externalizing our feelings. It offers us a “good beginning” and moves us from grief to mourning, from solitude to community. This is a necessary part of the journey to healing. It is important that we find an outward channel for our grief, an opportunity to mourn publicly. By coming together with a group of people to express our honest feelings, we find a healthy way to release these feelings. We also find love, support, and encouragement in each other, and we find the strength to begin our journey through grief.

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor with over 30 years of experience working with bereaved families. He has written many best-selling books on grief and loss, including Healing Your Grieving Heart and The Journey Through Grief. Dr. Wolfelt serves as the Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. Visit him online at


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