Grief, Bereavement, and Mourning

The terms grief, bereavement, and mourning are often used interchangeably, however, they have different meanings. Grief is the normal process of reacting to a loss. Grief can be in response to a physical loss, such as a death, or a social loss including a relationship or job. Bereavement is the period after a loss during which grief and mourning occurs. The time spent in bereavement for the loss of a loved one depends on the circumstances of the loss and the level of attachment to the person who died. Mourning is the process by which people adapt to a loss. Mourning is greatly influenced by cultural beliefs, practices, and rituals (Casarett, Kutner, & Abrahm,2001).

Grief Reactions: Typical grief reactions involve mental, physical, social and/or emotional responses. These reactions can include feelings of numbness, anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness and despair. The individual can experience difficulty concentrating, sleep and eating problems, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, physical problems, and even illness. Research has demonstrated that the immune systems of individuals grieving is suppressed and their healthy cells behave more sluggishly, resulting in greater susceptibility to illnesses (Parkes & Prigerson, 2010). However, the intensity and duration of typical grief symptoms do not match those usually seen in severe grief reactions, and symptoms typically diminish within 6-10 weeks (Youdin, 2016).

Complicated Grief: After the loss of a loved one, however, some individuals experience complicated grief, which includes atypical grief reactions (Newson, Boelen, Hek, Hofman, & Tiemeier, 2011). Symptoms of complicated grief include: Feelings of disbelief, a preoccupation with the dead loved one, distressful memories, feeling unable to move on with one’s life, and a yearning for the deceased. Additionally, these symptoms may last six months or longer and mirror those seen in major depressive disorder (Youdin, 2016).

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; American Psychiatric Association, 2013), distinguishing between major depressive disorder and complicated grief requires clinical judgment. The psychologist needs to evaluate the client’s individual history and determine whether the symptoms are focused entirely on the loss of the loved one and represent the individual’s cultural norms for grieving, which would be acceptable. Those who seek assistance for complicated grief usually have experienced traumatic forms of bereavement, such as unexpected, multiple and violent deaths, or those due to murders or suicides (Parkes & Prigerson, 2010).

Disenfranchised Grief: Grief that is not socially recognized is referred to as disenfranchised grief (Doka, 1989). Examples of disenfranchised grief include death due to AIDS, the suicide of a loved one, perinatal deaths, abortions, the death of a pet, lover, or ex-spouse, and psychological losses, such as a partner developing Alzheimer’s disease. Due to the type of loss, there is no formal mourning practices or recognition by others that would comfort the grieving individual. Consequently, individuals experiencing disenfranchised grief may suffer intensified symptoms due to the lack of social support (Parkes & Prigerson, 2010).

Anticipatory Grief: Grief that occurs when a death is expected and survivors have time to prepare to some extent before the loss is referred to as anticipatory grief. This expectation can make adjustment after a loss somewhat easier (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). A death after a long-term, painful illness may bring family members a sense of relief that the suffering is over, and the exhausting process of caring for someone who is ill is also completed.