Grief, Loss, and Bereavement


Bereavement refers specifically to the process of recovering from the death of a loved one. Grief is a reaction to any form of loss. Both encompass a range of feelings from deep sadness to anger, and the process of adapting to a significant loss can vary dramatically from one person to another, depending on his or her background, beliefs, relationship to what was lost, and other factors.



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Grieving Thoughts and Behaviours


Grief is associated with feelings of sadness, yearning, guilt, regret, and anger, among others. Some people may experience a sense of meaninglessness, and others can feel a sense of relief. Emotions are often surprising in their strength or mildness, and they can also be confusing, such as when a person misses a painful relationship.

Thoughts during grief can vary from “there’s nothing I can do about it” to “it’s my fault, I could have done more” or from “she had a good life” to “it wasn’t her time.” They can be troubling or soothing, and people in grief can bounce between different thoughts as they make sense of their loss. Grieving behaviours run from crying to laughter, and from sharing feelings to engaging silently in activities like cleaning, writing, or exercising. Some people find comfort in the company of others, particularly with those who may be similarly affected by the loss, and others may prefer to be alone with their feelings.

The different feelings, thoughts, and behaviours people express during grief can be categorized into two main styles: instrumental and intuitive. Most people display a blend of these two styles of grieving:



There is no right or wrong way to experience grief, though some thoughts and behaviours after a loss can be more helpful or safe than others.

The Process of Recovering from Grief


Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. Some people recover from grief and resume normal activities within a few months, though they continue to feel moments of sadness. Others may feel better after about a year, and sometimes people continue to grieve for years without seeming to improve or find relief even temporarily. Grief can be complicated by other conditions, most notably depression, or by the person’s level of dependency on the departed.

No one way of grieving is better than any other. Some people are more emotional and dive into their feelings; others are stoic and may seek distraction from dwelling on an unchangeable fact of living. While many difficult and complicated emotions are associated with the grieving process, experiences of joy, contentment, and humor are not absent during this difficult time. Self-compassion, physical exercise, and strong social support can all contribute to alleviating some of the most challenging aspects of grief.

Bereavement: A Short Video

One of the many challenges associated with grieving the loss of a loved one, whether to death or the dissolution of a relationship, is adjusting to the new reality of living in the absence of the loved one. This often requires developing a new routine, envisioning a new future, and even adopting a new sense of identity.



Complicated Grief          


The experience of grief is not something a person ever recovers from completely, but time typically tempers its intensity. The term complicated grief refers to a persistent form of bereavement that dominates a person’s life, interfering with daily functioning for an extended period of time.

Symptoms of complicated grief are nearly identical to those of acute grief, and again, the length of time it takes for a person to grieve is highly variable and dependent on context. But when symptoms are interminable without improvement, lasting for at least one year or more and interfering with one’s ability to return to routine activities, complicated grief may be implicated. Prolonged symptoms may include:



The DSM-5 includes diagnostic criteria for “persistent complex bereavement disorder” in the section of conditions requiring further study.

Therapy for Grief


When a person’s grief-related thoughts, behaviours, or feelings are extremely distressing, unrelenting, or incite concern, a qualified mental health professional may be able to help. Therapy is an effective way to learn to cope with the stressors associated with the loss and to manage symptoms with techniques such as relaxation or meditation.

Each experience of grief is unique, complex, and personal, and therapists will tailor treatment to meet the specific needs of each person. For example, a therapist might help the bereaved find different ways to maintain healthy connections with the deceased through memory, reflection, ritual, or dialogue about the deceased and with the deceased.

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