The Mourner's Book of Courage: 30 Days of Encouragement

The Mourner's Book of Courage: 30 Days of Encouragement

by Alan D. Wolfelt

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Written for those times in grief when the strength to do the hard and necessary work of mourning is waning, this book contains inspiring words about finding the courage deep within to embrace the pain and go on living. Presented in a one-reading-a-day-for-a-month format, it features compassionate writings by grief educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt, as well as quotes on


Written for those times in grief when the strength to do the hard and necessary work of mourning is waning, this book contains inspiring words about finding the courage deep within to embrace the pain and go on living. Presented in a one-reading-a-day-for-a-month format, it features compassionate writings by grief educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt, as well as quotes on courage from some of the world's greatest thinkers. The Mourner's Book of Courage provides the needed boost to confront grief directly and allow the process of healing to continue.

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Companion Press
Publication date:
Mourner's Book of Series
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 7.20(h) x 0.80(d)

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The Mourner's Book of Courage

30 Days of Encouragement

By Alan D. Wolfelt

Center for Loss and Life Transition

Copyright © 2012 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61722-157-6


Day 1

Open to Loss

Whatever you do, you need courage.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Believers, look up — take courage.
The angels are nearer than you think.

~ Billy Graham

Loss brings uninvited pain into our lives. In opening to the presence of the pain of your loss, in acknowledging the inevitability of the pain, in being willing to gently embrace the pain, you demonstrate the courage to honor the pain.

Honoring means "recognizing the value of" and "respecting." It is not instinctive to see grief and the need to openly mourn as something to honor, yet the capacity to love requires the necessity to mourn. To honor your grief is not self-destructive or harmful, it is courageous and life-giving.

The word express literally means "to press or squeeze out, to make known and reveal." Self-expression can change you and the way you perceive and experience your world. Transforming your thoughts and feelings into words gives them meaning and shape. Your willingness to honestly affirm your need to mourn will help you survive this difficult time in your life. Your spiritual purpose is not to repress or overindulge your emotions but rather to allow them so fully that they move through you.

The pain of grief will keep trying to get your attention until you unleash your courage and gently, and in small doses, open to its presence. The alternative — denying or suppressing your pain — is in fact more painful. If you do not honor your grief by acknowledging it, it will accumulate and fester. So, you must ask yourself, "How will I host this loss? What do I intend to do with this pain? Will I befriend it, or will I make it my enemy?"

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

I have learned that the pain that surrounds the closed heart of grief is the pain of living against yourself, the pain of denying how the loss changes you, the pain of feeling alone and isolated — unable to openly mourn, unable to love and be loved by those around you. Instead of dying while you are alive, you can choose to allow yourself to remain open to the pain, which, in large part, honors the love you feel for the person who has died. After all, love and grief are two sides of the same precious coin.

As an ancient Hebrew sage observed, "If you want life, you must expect suffering." Paradoxically, it is the very act of mustering the courage to move toward the pain that ultimately leads to healing.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.

~ Maya Angelou

Personal Reflection on Courage

In what ways have I been opening to the presence of my loss? In what ways have I perhaps been shutting out or denying the presence of my loss?

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Day 2

Feast on Hope

Courage is like love; it must have hope for nourishment.

~ Napoleon Bonaparte

Courage is a kind of salvation.

~ Plato

Finding hope in the face of death can seem impossible. If someone you love has died, you might feel as if it's simply not worth going on. Yet, somehow you do. Somehow you get up in the morning and go about your day despite the heavy pressure that sits on your heart and threatens to break it open.

The strange, often surreal, thing about life is that it never stops. Often, the demands of life don't let you step off the ride and take the long, needed break that you deserve. It seems unbelievable, really, that you must partake, interact, and engage in life after a profound loss or tragedy.

What keeps you going? What stops you from simply curling up and dying yourself? Hope. Hope in the form of your own inner, divine spark — your own light that might be dimmed by loss but refuses to be put out — your internal energy that gives meaning, purpose, and fight to your life.

Feast on that hope. Embrace the belief that there will be days ahead when you can get through without crying, when you can go through an hour without feeling debilitated by thoughts of losing your loved one. Savor the knowledge that someday again you'll be able to smile and really mean it, laugh and feel real joy.

Until then, take in hope from wherever it resides and let it feed your inner flame. Maybe it lives in a beloved child's smile, a blooming flower, the warmth of the sun on your face. Absorb its force, its light. Do you hear it in the voice of your best friend or a support group member who offers words of encouragement and reminds you that you are not alone? Someone who lets you know that there is life outside your pain? Or maybe it is in allowing yourself to simply breathe in and out as you shift into neutral for a while.

Two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.

~ Karl Von Clausewitz

Take in this hope, this strength. Feed on it. After all, it's nourishment for courage. And it is courage that will carry you from moment to moment, day to day; courage that will lift you out of constant pain, hurt, and sadness; courage that will fuel your healing and help you walk into the wilderness of grief and enter the deep pool of mourning that, once experienced, prepares you for a future where you will be able to, once again, live a purposeful, joyful, and bountiful life.

Every day begins with an act of courage and hope: getting out of bed.

~ Mason Cooley

Personal Reflection on Courage

What small joys fuel me throughout the day? What brings my life meaning? What makes my life worth living?

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Day 3

Take Grief's Hand

It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.

~ Theodore Roosevelt

Someone you have given love to and received love from has died. You are grieving. You are "bereaved," which literally means you have been "torn apart" and have "special needs." You are beginning, or are in the midst of, a journey that is painful, often lonely, and naturally frightening.

Among your most special needs right now is to have the courage to grieve and mourn in a culture that doesn't always invite you to feel safe to do so. That said, I have written this book to help you draw forth your courage — the courage that already exists within you — to accept grief and mourning as they come.

There is a difference between grieving and mourning. Grief is the constellation of internal thoughts and feelings we have when someone we love dies. Mourning is when you take the grief you have on the inside and express it outside yourself. In other words, mourning is grief in action.

I encourage you to take grief's hand and let it lead you through the darkness and toward the light. You may not see the light at first, but forge ahead with courage, and with the faith that the light of hope and happiness does exist. Feel your pain, sorrow, sadness, disbelief, agony, heartbreak, fear, anxiety, and loneliness as much as you can.

This may seem odd, as these emotions could well be the ones you most want to avoid. You might fall into the common thinking of our society that denying these feelings will make them go away.

To have courage for whatever comes in life — everything lies in that.

~ Saint Teresa of Avila

You might have the urge to "keep your chin up" and stay busy and wait to "get over" your grief. Yet, ironically, the only way to help these hard feelings pass is to wade right into them. To get in and get dirty. Grief isn't clean, tidy, or convenient. All major life changes start with chaos and messiness. Yet feeling it and expressing it is the only way to feel whole once again. Grief that's not reconciled or integrated can leave you feeling "stuck" or empty. Your ability to engage in life could be inhibited, and you might feel like you've shut down.

Instead, choose grief. And as you walk with your grief, actively mourn in ways that are unique to your personality. Cry when you need to, call a friend when you feel overwhelmed, join a grief support group, express yourself through writing, music, dance, or sports. By taking action, you will eventually integrate the death of your loved one into your life. In exchange, you will find the hope, courage, and desire to once again live a full and rewarding life.

While walking with grief, remember two important things: 1) Grief and mourning have no timeline. Your grief journey is unique and will take as little or as much time as needed, depending on the unique circumstances of your loss. 2) Taking breaks along the way is needed and necessary. I like to use the word "dosing" when referring to grieving and mourning. Grief is not something you can do all at once. Feeling too many feelings and thinking too many thoughts can make you feel overwhelmed and totally emptied out. Instead, take in "doses" of grief and mourn in bits and pieces. Retreat and welcome respite as needed.

Grief may never leave your side, but it will allow you to let go and venture forth on your own more and more as days, weeks, months, and years pass. Tap into your innate courage and accept the hand of those people who support, love, and nurture you.

Personal Reflection on Courage

What feelings of grief are coming up strongest for me today? What am I doing with these feelings? Am I befriending them or am I fighting against them?

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Day 4

Befriend Courage

The strongest, most generous, and proudest of all virtues is true courage.

~ Michel de Montaigne

What is courage? When you think of courage, images of bravery might come to mind — knights on horseback charging the line, firefighters risking their lives to rescue a family from a burning building, or hikers summiting Mount Everest. This is bravery, not courage. Bravery is loud and boisterous. Courage is soft and quiet. Without the steady, quiet resolve and unfailing commitment of courage, bravery would never happen. Courage is what fuels bravery. It is the bridge between fear and action. It is a still, quiet voice encouraging you to go on.

Bravery is daring and doing; courage is friendly and welcoming. Find ways to make friends with courage. To "befriend" literally means making an effort to "become friends." Imagine what it would be like to have courage as a friend who walks beside you at all times: a friend who never nags, never pushes, but simply places a gentle hand on your back and whispers words of encouragement, helping you take the next step, and the next. With courage by your side, you are able to go on, to walk through your days and do the next right thing.

Cultivate a relationship with courage every day. Each morning, welcome courage. Before you rise, say your favorite quote on courage out loud. Maybe it is the Serenity Prayer, borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous, and one of my favorites: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Or maybe there's one that you especially like in this book. If you want, write down your favorite quotes on courage and put them on your fridge, dashboard, mirror, or computer at work. This will help you keep courage close, all day long.

And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

~ Anais Nin

Look for simple ways to give voice to courage throughout the day. Maybe it is simply having the ability and courage to get out of bed. But maybe it's the courage to share how you feel about your loss with a coworker or friend, or to walk through the doors of a grief support group. It could simply be making a phone call you've been putting off, writing a thank you to someone who helped after the funeral, going to a place of worship alone, or finding the capacity to be honest with yourself about something you fear. Healing after a death is hard. It takes courage in all shapes and sizes to mourn fully while living day to day. Congratulate yourself on welcoming courage, regardless of its size or reach.

Personal Reflection on Courage

In what ways can I befriend courage every day? If courage was a friend walking beside me, what words of encouragement would I want to hear? Who in your life seems to be able to empower you with courage?

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Day 5

Voice Your Feelings

One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.

~ Maya Angelou

It takes courage to grieve. I know a woman who lost her husband in a tragic car-bike accident. The timing for tragedy is never good, but for her, it was downright cruel. They had just gotten married, bought a house, and were looking forward to starting a family. Her shock and disbelief were overwhelming. She asked all the big questions. She felt every emotion: anger (over the driver's carelessness), guilt (for being short with him in their last conversation), terrible sadness (over losing him and their future), and countless others. But she allowed herself to express her many thoughts and feelings.

This woman fell into a habit of walking with a good friend a few times a week. While they walked, she talked. She'd mull over what happened, and how it could have been prevented; she'd nearly scream with rage about how the driver wasn't taking any responsibility, and how his carelessness took her husband's life. For a year straight, they kept up this ritual.

I admire her for her bravery to voice her feelings — to share them as many times as she needed to — day after day after day. She was not going crazy by talking about the death over and over again. She was simply "telling her story."

During this difficult time, you may feel okay one minute and in the depths of despair the next. As best you can, accept these sudden mood changes. You may also experience "griefbursts" — sudden feelings of overwhelming grief accompanied by anxiety and pain. Griefbursts can crash into you like an unexpected wave. You have no choice but to give in to the force of the crest, letting it toss you and twist you, leaving you unsteady and off-balance. This feeling of uncertainty is another common grief emotion. Accept it as best you can.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.

~ Anais Nin

You may also feel an unending need to cry and sob. Sobbing comes from deep in your core. It is another way, besides talking, to express your deep emotions. Sobbing can feel like you have lost control, but by allowing yourself to sob you give voice to your authentic, deep grief. This is extremely important, because oftentimes grief is beyond words.

Grief is hard to feel and mourning is hard to let happen, but allowing your feelings to surface and honoring them with words and actions will help you integrate your loss. With active mourning comes the chance to let your grief move through you, leaving you changed, but intact. The alternative is burying your grief feelings deep inside where they settle and harden on your heart, making it difficult for you to feel, move, and grow. The result is that you risk dying while you are alive.

Personal Reflection on Courage

When you think of sharing your emotions with someone, who comes to mind? Can you call that person right now and arrange to meet, or at least talk on the phone? Can you request that she be on "standby" for times when you really need to talk? Better yet, can you ask her to commit to a regular visit? If talking is difficult for you right now, what other ways can you allow yourself to acknowledge what you think and feel?

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Day 6

Reveal Your Protest Emotions

Hope has two beautiful daughters - their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.

~ St. Augustine

You may not be feeling anger, but if you are, it's important to see anger for what it is: a protest. Explosive, protest emotions like anger, hate, blame, terror, resentment, rage, and jealousy may be a volatile yet natural part of your grief journey. All these feelings are a reaction to feeling ripped off or treated unfairly. Imagine a toddler who has a toy yanked out of his hands. He wants the toy, so his instinctive reaction is to scream, cry, hit, or wail with anger. When someone loved is taken from you, your intuitive reaction might be similar. Our human instinct is to want back what we lost and valued.


Excerpted from The Mourner's Book of Courage by Alan D. Wolfelt. Copyright © 2012 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Center for Loss and Life Transition.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD, is a speaker, a grief counselor, and the director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. He is the author of Companioning the Bereaved, Creating Meaningful Funeral Ceremonies, Healing the Bereaved Child, Healing Your Grieving Heart, Understanding Your Grief, and many other bestselling books on healing in grief. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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