Understanding Bereavement

Bereavement is the immediate period of grief and mourning experienced after a death. It is the state of having suffered a loss. The length of time that bereavement lasts varies, dependent upon many factors, including how close a relationship the bereaved has with the deceased, an individual’s personality and coping skills, and the experiences surrounding the death.

Grief or grieving is the natural period of mourning that takes place following a loss. Some will use the terms bereavement and grief as synonyms. Technically, bereavement is the intense period of loss immediately following the death and is usually of a limited duration of time. Grief is more encompassing and may last much longer.

Mourning is the outward expression of grief. While mourning may include tears and a solemn nature, it is also affected by an individual’s culture and personality. Some religions and cultures have specific rituals through which the dead are honored and the survivors are comforted. Because every loss is different, the expressions of mourning will be different for every individual.

Bereavement and mourning are a part of the grieving process. The bereaved are the individuals who are most powerfully impacted by the loss of the loved one. While the immediate family is most often the majority of the bereaved, the group may also include extended family and some of the closest of friends and co-workers.

Coping is the way people respond to stress. Coping is a way that an individual attempts to maintain balance and structure in life. The things that cause stress may vary according to an individual’s personality and circumstances, but they almost always involve change. While some positive events may cause stress, the events most often have a negative impact upon the individual. Death is one of the most potent sources of stress and require special kinds of coping techniques.

Grief can cause reactions within the mental, emotional, physical and social realms of an individual. Mental and emotional responses may include anger, anxiety or fear, and guilt. Physical reactions can include illness, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, and muscular aches and pains.

How to Cope with Loss

Experiencing grief and coping with the loss of an important person in life is difficult. Grieving is a very unique response to loss because the impact that a loss has is also personal and unique. The circumstances surrounding each death is also exclusive to each loss.

How an individual copes with death is unique to the circumstances. The methods or strategies that may help to deal with the stress of bereavement and mourning are called coping mechanisms. These responses which attempt to balance emotions and health will vary and depend on past experiences with grief, the relationship shared with the deceased and the circumstances of the death, and the personality of the one grieving. Factors that play a role include religion and culture, the support of family and friends, and other responsibilities of life may affect the time, duration and characteristics of the coping strategies.

When grieving, it is helpful to understand that there is no standard time length or methods that are considered the “norm”. There are many resources outlining the various stages of grief and coping providing differing viewpoints and perspectives, but all are consistent in emphasizing that grieving is a process that takes time. Those grieving may share some characteristics often referred to as stages of grief. Some people will grieve for a few weeks, others for months, while others may find themselves in a grieving process that lasts multiple years.

Ways to Cope with Bereavement and Mourning

There are many ways to cope with grief. Some methods may provide temporary relief by avoiding or ignoring the real causes and issues. More positive methods give relief in the present while providing opportunities to work through the actual problem.

Below are common ways that may be used when coping with grief:

  • Listening to music
  • Playing with pets or animals
  • Writing, painting or other creative activities
  • Involvement in religious organizations or charities
  • Personal spiritual reflection, meditation and prayer
  • Gardening or home projects
  • Service to others
  • Exercise or physical activity

Support from others is an important positive factor in coping with the grief of bereavement and mourning, though it is natural to want to push family and friends away and to process grief alone. Finding ways to interact with others in any kind of activity will set the stage for healing.

How Long to Grieve?

There is no limit to the length of time that grief and bereavement may affect an individual. It is important and recommended to pay close attention to the severity and intensity of the grief. During the grieving process friends and family may want to pay particular attention to the level of interruption that such grief has on an individual’s life. It is normal to feel upset, depressed, weak, numb, sad or otherwise unhappy following the loss of a loved one. If these emotions intensify and persist for many months, interrupting a daily routine, there may be deeper problems. It may then be advisable to seek professional grief counseling and guidance.

Grief that persists demonstrating an intense state of mourning should not be overlooked. Examples of such mourning may include denying the death of a loved one for many months, avoiding otherwise happy scenarios because of the memories of the lost loved one, feeling extremely angry or bitter about the loss, or becoming preoccupied with the person long after the death has occurred. These may be signs that professional help may be needed and the simple support from friends and family members just may not be enough.