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Bereavement and Grief

What is bereavement and what is grief?

Bereavement is defined as a state of sadness or loneliness. Grief is the collection of feelings and behaviors associated with the loss of a person. The loss is commonly caused by death of a friend or family member. However, the loss can also be caused by such events as someone moving away or by a divorce.

What feelings and behaviors are associated with bereavement and grief?

Some feelings associated with bereavement and grief are numbness, loneliness, sadness, guilt, shock, anxiety, depression, anger, and agitation.

Some behaviors associated with bereavement and grief are crying, insomnia, restlessness, and withdrawal.

What are some of the characteristics associated with grief?

It is extremely common for the person who is grieving to be critical of himself/herself for either doing something to or not doing something for the person who has died or left. It is also common for the grieving person to think that he/she should have died instead of the loved one. It is not unusual for the grieving person to be angry toward others, especially other family members or God.

During the grief process many people are surprised to feel the strongest feelings they have ever felt in their lives. Having a depressed mood during grief is quite normal. Insomnia, crying spells and social withdrawal are common. However, a sense of worthlessness, severe guilt, or thoughts of suicide can signal a problem with the grief process. An evaluation and treatment by a professional can often help the person deal with both normal and abnormal feelings of grief.

What is anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory grief is usually experienced by someone who is observing a loved one die slowly from a terminal illness or an unexpected injury. During this period some people prematurely separate and withdraw from their dying loved one, and therefore, anticipatory grief can sometimes lessen the impact of the loss at the time of death. At other times, however, the person feels a strong sense of closeness to the loved one during the anticipatory grief period, and this leads to a greater sense of loss at the time of death.

How often is grief seen in our society?

Grief is universal for people with close emotional bonds to their friends and families. Since loss is a part of life, grief is extremely common.

How is grief treated?

Although most people recover from their grief, there are those who get stuck in the grieving process. Frequently, brief supportive therapy can be helpful. Support groups can also be quite helpful because a group provides the grieving person with mutual support, empathy, and understanding. Sometimes the grieving person may need medications for depression if the depression becomes severe or if it lasts for more than a couple of months. Also, medications are helpful to the person suffering from prolonged insomnia or excessive anxiety associated with grief.

What happens to someone with grief?

There are usually three overlapping phases of grief:

    • Shock and denial
    • Anguish
    • Resolution

First, a person experiences feelings of disbelief and numbness upon the loss of someone close. The person often describes "being in shock" or "in denial." This period might last just a few minutes, but it can also persist for weeks.

Next, a person in grief goes through a time of acute anguish. During this period he/she experiences waves of distress lasting from a few minutes to an hour or more. Emptiness, weakness, and mental pain are common feelings. The person might believe that he/she can actually see, hear, or communicate with the deceased person.

During the third phase, which can last many months, resolution of the loss takes place, and the grieving person returns to his/her usual activities.

People in grief often experience the same symptoms as those associated with depression. Depressive symptoms such as poor appetite, insomnia, and weight loss are frequently present.

While some people experience unusually intense and disruptive feelings of grief, still others do not express the feelings that are expected or that are considered usual, normal, or healthy during the grieving period. Rather, these people encounter a muted, delayed, or inhibited reaction to the loss of their loved one.

Although most people normally recover from their grief, some people do not, and they experience an intense, prolonged, or chronic grief. If the grief period is too intense, too long, or too inhibited an evaluation and treatment by a professional is recommended.

What can people do if they need help?

If you, a friend, or a family member would like more information and you have a therapist or a physician, please discuss your concerns with that person.

Page last modified or reviewed by athealth on January 30, 2014