Grief, Loss, and Bereavement

Bereavement refers specifically to the process of healing from the death of a loved one. Grief is an internal 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 which can vary dramatically from one person to another, depending on his or her background, beliefs, relationship to what was lost, and other factors.

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.

Grieving Styles

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:

  • Instrumental grieving involves focusing primarily on problem-solving tasks while controlling or minimizing emotional expression.
  • Intuitive grieving is based on a heightened emotional experience that leads to sharing feelings, exploring the lost relationship, considering mortality, and identifying meaning in life.

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 Healing after a Loss

Everyone grieves in his or her own way and in his or her own time. Some people heal from grief and resume normal activities within six 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 find relief even temporarily. Grief can be complicated; factors can include relationship, circumstances of the loss etc.

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, support group, counselling and strong social support can all contribute to alleviating some of the most challenging aspects of grief.

One of the many challenges associated with grieving is embracing the pain of the loss and adjusting to the new reality. This often requires developing a new routine, envisioning a new future, and even adopting a new sense of identity.

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.

In addition to individual therapy, group therapy, can be helpful for those who find solace in the reciprocal sharing of thoughts and feelings, and healing results are often rapid in this setting. Similarly, family therapy, may be suitable for a family whose members are struggling to adapt to the loss of a family member.