Mourning rituals help people cope with grief, say scientists

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has plunged the royal household and much of the country into a period of mourning, with black armbands and flags at half mast. While such traditions may seem far removed from everyday experiences of bereavement, experts say rituals can help us cope with death.

“Mourning plays an important role in bereavement because it’s a way of externalising the emotions and thoughts of grief and, through that, incorporating the loss into your life and beginning to heal,” said Dr Lucy Selman, an associate professor in end-of-life care at the University of Bristol and the founding director of Good Grief Festival.

Dr Mary-Frances O’Connor, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Arizona and the author of The Grieving Brain, agrees that traditions are important.

“Mourning rituals can offer constancy and comfort in a moment when everything can feel very uncertain,” she said. “By connecting us to rituals that have existed for hundreds of years, we are reminded that those who came before us have experienced grief and uncertainty, and they have carried on and restored meaningful lives.”


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