What is the difference between Grief, Bereavement and Mourning? Grief is a process of psychological, social, and somatic reactions to a loss. Bereavement is a state of suffering a loss—it is cyclical and natural. Mourning is a cultural response to Grief.
Most people equate “loss” to death, however any major loss can cause a grief reaction. Miscarriage and stillbirth, though not often recognized as major losses, can cause grief for the parents. A major lifestyle change, such as divorce, loss of a home, loss of a job, or loss of the ability to pursue a career (e.g., a physical injury ending an athletic career), may also result in grief. Grief responses may also occur following reminders of the loss, such as on anniversaries, holidays or other special days throughout the year.
Different types of grief include:
- Normal grief. Also called uncomplicated grief. The normal, healthy response to a major loss.
- Anticipatory grief. Grief that begins before (in anticipation of) the loss, such as the initiation of divorce proceedings or when a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness.
- Complicated grief. Given the amount of time since the death, there is some compromise, distortion or failure of one or more of the processes of mourning. In all forms of complicated mourning, the mourner attempts to do two things: (a) deny, repress, or avoid aspects of the loss, its pain, and the full realization of its implications for the mourner and (b) hold on to and avoid relinquishing the lost loved one.
Grief is a healthy and natural reaction to a major loss, often characterized by mental anguish. Though grief is important and leads to emotional healing, it can be a prolonged and intensely painful experience, and can result in significant emotional distress. The grief reaction may last for months or years. People who are grieving may never stop missing a deceased person or regretting a loss, but the pain will eventually lessen.
When we lose a loved one by death, we are emotionally wounded. Just as a wound needs to heal from within, so do we. We need to express our thoughts and feelings even when they seem crazy. We need to recognize that when speaking about death, “crazy is normal.”
Knowing this will not lessen your grief, but it may help your healing to begin. A support group is to the grieving like a healing salve is to a wound; it soothes and comforts us while we heal.
There is no “right way” or timeline for healing. We are each uniquely created by God, and we each cope with our loss and find healing in our own unique ways and times.
Understanding Grief and Mourning
Each person’s grief is individual. You and your family members will experience it and cope differently. Friends and relatives may feel uncomfortable around you; they want to ease your pain, but do not know how.
Whenever possible, put off major decisions—such as moving, changing jobs, retiring– for at least a year. Avoid making hasty decisions about the belongings of the deceased. Do not allow others to take over or to rush you into making those decisions. You can do it little-by-little at your own pace. You cannot remove the pain by removing the belongings.
Children are often the forgotten grievers within the family. They are experiencing many of the same emotions you are, so share your thoughts and tears with them. By doing so, you are giving them ‘permission’ to openly grieve. Though it is a painful time, be sure they feel loved and included.
Holidays and anniversaries can be stressful times. Consider the feelings of the entire family as you plan how to spend those days. Allow time and space for your own emotional needs. A mutual self-help bereavement group eases loneliness and promotes the expression of grief in an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding.
What You May Experience Emotionally
You may or may not experience some of these manifestations of grief, but for those of you who do, rest assured they are normal. The strength of the emotions can range from mild to intense depending on a variety of circumstances. Common emotions include, but are not limited to: inability to concentrate, sadness or mild depression, forgetfulness, guilt or anger about things that happened or didn’t happen in your relationship with the deceased, crying easily and unexpectedly, mood swings, you may not want to be alone or may feel uncomfortable around other people, haunted by thoughts of “if only” things had been done differently, and desire to become very busy in order to avoid the pain of loss.
What to Do For Physical Relief and Healing
Here are some suggestions to help you achieve physical relief and healing. They include, but are not limited to: taking care of yourself physically. In the early stages of grief, don’t force yourself to eat more than you want, but be sure to eat something nutritious no matter how little. As your appetite returns, eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. It may be helpful to give up caffeine to relieve nervousness; avoid alcohol, which is a depressant. Several studies suggest alcohol interrupts normal sleep patterns.
You may find that your sleep patterns are erratic due to your grief, so don’t compound the problem by drinking alcohol. Be sure you have a balance in your life: rest, recreation, prayer, and work.
Be gentle with yourself. Although you may often feel overwhelmed, remind yourself that what you are going through is normal.
Reach out to others. It is important to find friends with whom you can talk. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone who had “been there” is especially helpful.
As difficult as it might be, tell and re-tell what happened … remembering things about your loved one and the experience of their death. Good memories are also very important. Many people might feel uncomfortable approaching you because they don’t know what to say. By talking of your loved one you give others overt permission to talk with you about your loss. This is especially true of children.
Be aware that people grieve in different ways. Don’t measure your progress in handling grief against theirs. Don’t assume that all your immediate family members will grieve the same. You may or may not cry often, and for “no reason,” but when you do, realize it is therapeutic. Don’t fight the tears—they are part of the normal process of healing.
Confront guilt by realizing you did the best you could. Refresh your memory about all the positive things you did for your loved one before he or she died. This is especially true if you were the Caregiver.
Remember that grieving takes time and that experiences and emotions can recur. Be patient and allow yourself time to heal at your own pace.