Understanding Grief, Loss, and Bereavement

Grief, loss, and bereavement are the inevitable truths of life. As long as there is life, there will always be death. The emotions of grief and secondary losses accompany the death of a loved one.

Everyone has to face these cruel realities of life at one point or another. Coping with the loss of a loved one is one of the most heart-wrenching experiences in life; losing a spouse, parent, sibling, or beloved friend can be intense.

"The pain of grief is just as much a part of life as the joy of love; it is, perhaps, the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment."

English psychiatrist Colin Murray Parkes

Your relationship with the person who died, the circumstances of the death, cultural and religious experiences influence your reaction to grief. These factors combined are what makes grief unique.

One thing that you, as a bereaved person, may need to learn as you journey through your grieving process is to learn how to carry this pain of grief while moving forward with your life.

We gain a sense of understanding through information. Understanding how grief, loss and bereavement affect your circle of life and how to cope is essential to your healing.

This article isn't only for someone grieving the death of their loved one. It is also for anyone in their support bubble, i.e., friends, families, etc.

 

This article aims to bring you comprehensive information to help you understand grief, loss, and bereavement to gain a sense of control and be in a better position to provide others with bereavement support.

Grief is a natural response to loss. This loss is further classified as:

  • Physical, which involves the loss of a loved one, i.e. spouse, parents, child, etc., or someone you shared a close bond with.

  • Life events, such as divorce.

  • Occupational, which involves losing your job or financial status, etc.

Understanding Grief, Loss and Bereavement FAQs

Is Grief One of Life's Greatest Teachers?


Yes, grief is one of life’s most outstanding teachers. Grief makes the bereaved person question every decision of his/her life. The bereaved person assesses everything. It's like relearning how to live in life, how to cope with simple tasks and how to stay sane without drowning in grief. If you lean into the natural process of grieving, face the immense pain and express the emotions as it is; Grief can be completely transformative.




Is Grief Selfish?


The pain of losing, mourning the death of a loved one and seeing your life without them is unbearable. The bereaved person going through all this is learning to relive life. We advise passengers on an airplane to take care of themselves first when in an emergency. The same is true when you experience the death of a loved. Grieving properly is not selfish. It is essential to take necessary steps to ensure you heal and learn to adjust to the alternative world. The bereaved person may be perceived as selfish by those not grieving. As a result, their community network may become impatient with them. This has a tendency to prolong the grief. Not dealing with grief may cause the bereaved to be trapped within an endless cycle of grief and may not properly learn how to cope with the absence of their loved one. For them, this pain is their world and the world outside that pain is silent. Most times we rush bereaved people to move on and there is still a lot to learn on normalising grief, making the society grief sensitive.




What are the Physical Symptoms and Effects of Grief on the Body?


We often regard grief as an emotional process, but that's not entirely the case, as grief can also significantly affect a person physically. These grief physical effects include:

  • Insomnia: Lack of sleep due to shock and pain. This lack of sleep tends to harm a person's physical appearance and the brain's capability to tackle daily life functionalities.
  • Oversleeping: Some people seek refuge from their grief by staying asleep all the time, trying to run away from their thoughts and reality.
  • Weight loss/ Weight gain: Weight loss or weight gain occurs because of a grief-induced lack of self-care. Some people intend to eat too much to reduce stress, while some lose their appetite to even eat for their survival.
  • Aches, pain, or discomfort: In the early days or weeks of grieving, you might go through feelings of pain and discomfort in your body like headaches, migraines, heart pain, heaviness in the limbs, pain in your back, neck or overall pain in muscles.
  • Lowered immunity: You get sick more often, especially soon after the death of a loved one.
  • Fatigue: Grieving extracts all the energy from you as you feel devoid of energy to perform normal tasks.
  • Nervousness/ anxiety: You become more confused, anxious and less trusting around people.




How Long Does it Take to Stop Mourning A Loved One?


It can take a long time to learn how to cope with the death of your loved one, and as everyone's grief is different, everyone feels different with the time. There is no timeline of the length of your grief or of how you should feel at a certain time. For example, after twelve months it may still feel like yesterday, or it may feel like a lifetime ago! The hole in your heart, after the death of your loved one, can't be filled with anything. All the memories, emotions and feelings of someone who was once there stay in your heart forever. We learn to live with these emotions as they become a part of ourselves.




Will My Grief Ever End?


According to an unknown author: "Grief never ends. But it changes. It's a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith—it is the price of love." Grief is not a fixed location where you will live forever, nor a battle that you must win. Grief is a heartbreaking journey of growth. It's a journey to rearrange all the broken pieces of your heart one by one. By taking a step each day, you keep transforming and learning how to walk with grief. Eventually, you learn to live with the grief and the loss you suffered becomes a part of you.




What is Inconsolable Grief?


To be inconsolable is to be so sad or disappointed that it is impossible for anyone to make you feel better. The pain of grief is never gone, it only becomes easier to deal with. All grief is inconsolable. It’s an emptiness that goes nowhere, but only becomes more tolerable as you absorb the pain, face it, cherish all the memories of your loved one and look forward to living life. You learn to make a better life for yourself, one without the one you’ve lost.




What are The Common Roadblocks When Grieving?


A "grief roadblock" can be described as certain emotions or complicated actions that act as a barricade in healthy grieving. Such emotions include guilt, anger, envy, bitterness among others. After the death of a loved one, we may come across feelings of pent-up anger, regrets from all the experiences and guilt that may halt accepting the loss of your loved one and moving forward with grief. All these emotions are a natural reaction to your loss and everyone grieves differently based on their experience:

  • Anger: starts in the very early stages of grief because of the heart-aching experience, as one looks for reasons as to why this happened. One expresses his anger, emotions, pent-up suffering on the lost loved one, family members or God and religion.
  • Guilt/depression: The feeling of not being there for the loved one or not being able to spend time with him/her etc. These feelings of remorse combined with the memories leach onto your heart as you keep grieving, thinking about what you should have done.
  • Acceptance is the key to life: know that loss, grief and bereavement are inevitable. So, accept your emotions, go easy on yourself and live the life you dreamt of living with your spouse, mother, father, etc.




What is The Difference Between Mourning and Grieving?


These terms are used interchangeably by many people, despite having a critical difference. Grief is like a container storing all your emotions, feelings and visual memories of the trauma. Grief is a personal experience and has an internal meaning to the experience of loss. Mourning can be described as "grief gone public" or the external manifestation of grief. We also associate it with various rituals performed in each different culture or religion. Whilst Grief is universal, it is also unique. Each bereaved person has their way of grieving the death of their loved one. The intensity of grief also varies based on our bond with the lost loved one, circumstances of his/her death. The greater the pain, the more your life becomes altered.




How Do Grief, Sadness and Sorrow Differ?


Grief can be defined as "Love's unwillingness to let go". It's a natural reaction to loss and all the emotions that burst because of the shock are all the natural reactions to such a heart aching tragedy. Grief has no timeline and its intensity also varies. Grief changes you and it becomes difficult to be the same person before your grief. Sadness is an emotion that takes place in the "now" state. When you watch a movie, and you cry, or you feel sad, that's sadness, and you get over it in an instant. It goes away in an instant, unlike grief. Sorrow can also be used alongside grief, as it also depicts excellent emotional pain. The word sorrow is used to describe feelings such as loss, disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by the person.




How Long Does It Take to Go Through the Stages of Grief?


There is no specific timeline for how long it would take to go through the stages of grief. After a year, it may still feel like it happened yesterday or may feel like it happened a lifetime ago. It takes at least a year to realise what has changed in your life without the deceased while coping with long-term grief.




How Long is it Appropriate to Grieve? How Long Does Grief last?


How long it takes to grieve varies from person to person and may be influenced by several factors. For example, the bereaved person dealing with anticipated grief may find it easier to process their grief faster and move forward with their life. While the bereaved person experiencing complicated or prolonged grief may find the grieving process to last for a year or longer.




What are the Signs of Mourning?


We can describe mourning as an outward expression of grieving the loss of a loved one. It usually involves rituals determined by the culture to make sense of the death of their loved one. The common signs of mourning include Agitation, anxiety, apathy, anger, emptiness, despair, fear, guilt, isolation, loneliness, Numbness, impatience, sadness, etc.




What are the Five Stages of Grief According to Elisabeth Kübler Ross?


  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance
Recommended Reading: What are the stages of grief?




Is It Possible to Die from Grief?


Yes, it's possible that a person may die because of grief. Here, we can take the example of "the widowhood effect" to justify this. The widowhood effect can be described as the increase in the probability of a person's death soon after a loved spouse's death. This shows a significant death risk for the widow/widower, particularly in the first three months of their loss. Losing a spouse and then dying shortly after has been termed "dying of a broken heart". This heavy bereavement process makes a widow/widower go through many harsh steps alone that makes them vulnerable both physically and psychologically. The grieving person is most likely to suffer from symptoms such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, loneliness, anger, and feelings of guilt. These psychological symptoms also place a heavy burden physically, and they become significantly more vulnerable. Many even attempt to use risky behaviours and suicide too.




What is Complicated Grief/Bereavement? How to Deal With It


Whilst grief is a normal reaction to such a heart-aching loss, some people face a more substantial and prolonged level of grief known as complicated grief/bereavement. Complicated grief is considered when the individual’s capacity to resume daily activities and duties is continuously affected after six months of bereavement. Six months is regarded as the right point for consideration of complicated grief, as research shows that most people can now incorporate bereavement into their lives by this time. Complicated grief/bereavement may have some same symptoms as depression:

  • Intense sorrow, pain over the loss of your loved one.
  • Not able to accept that your loved one is dead.
  • Grief gets worse day by day.
  • Numbness and feeling that your life has no meaning.
  • Being stuck in the moments of your loved one's death or memories.
  • Depression, self-guilt, and sadness.
  • Isolation and not being able to trust others.
  • Recurring suicidal thoughts.
Please contact your local GP or call 111 as soon as possible if you believe that your experience is complicated grief. You may also check other bereavement support charities that may help you. If not adequately dealt with, complicated grief, unbearable grief, and depression can lead to emotional damage, significant health risks, and even suicide.




What Other Areas of Life Does Grief Affect?


  • Behavioural/ Social,
  • Cognitive and
  • Spiritual
Behavioural/social: Grief also targets behavioural/social responses of a person which includes social withdrawal, avoiding places or reminders of the loved person, massive changes in activity level, a complete focus on the reminders of the loved one and having unrealistic expectations from others. Cognitive: Grief also targets the cognitive or thinking capabilities of a person by inducing dreams of the loved person, confusion, disbelief, and hallucinations. Spiritual: This includes loss of meaning in life and in search of a new meaning. It can also decrease your faith in religious beliefs or strengthen your religious beliefs.




Why am I Unable to Cry as I Grieve the Death of My Loved One?


Crying is the outward expression of the pain and yearning that we feel for the loved one. Some of the reasons a person may not cry include but not limited to are:

  • There isn’t a powerful bond between you and the lost person.
  • Shock of trauma leaves the person numb.
The lack of tears does not mean that the bereaved person is not in intense pain and distress. When you feel nothing, the world becomes confusing and, soon after the death of a loved one, this numbness makes it more disturbing as you expect to feel so much. So, crying out your pain is very important as the state of being “cried out” signifies that the healing process has begun and is near the acceptance phase. Grief activates a mixture of different emotions in a person based on a person's shock or the circumstances of the loved one's death. One of these emotions is numbness or feeling devoid of everything or every emotion. This emotion of feeling nothing may be described as Anhedonia. Anhedonia refers to the loss of interest in everything and being numb or emotionally feeling nothing. You may begin to ask yourself questions like: Why am I not able to cry like the others?, Why can't I express my pain, grief?. This feeling of numbness and being devoid of any emotion is a natural response to the shock of grief. But if this numbness prolongs, then please seek professional help as soon as possible.




Is It Okay to Give Money to a Grieving Person?


It is perfectly okay to support the bereaved person financially. The death of a loved one, especially the death of a spouse, has a significant financial impact on the bereaved spouse who has to learn to adjust to the loss of family source of income. Here are some gracious ways to hand that money to the grieving family or person.

  • Start a fundraising campaign.
  • Contribute towards the funeral costs.
  • You can also give gift vouchers to the family in need. This can help them with food, clothes, etc., to fulfil the necessities.
  • You can also help by contributing towards their living expenses such as house rent, utilities, child care costs etc.
You can offer other practical supports to the bereaved too. It’s about knowing your capability, availability and creating a network of support that offers help in varied shapes and forms. The type of practical support you offer can be: i. One time support ii. Ongoing or long-haul support So, pay attention to the situation and act accordingly. Consider all the circumstances and the position of grieving people and then act accordingly.




What is Incomplete Grief?


Grief is our natural way of healing from a traumatic loss, specifically the death of a loved one. If the grief process gets halted, it affects your mental and physical health. It will keep interfering with your day-to-day tasks and your mental capacity to perform any healthy activity. A negative cycle will keep you stuck from moving forward. We can recognise the consequences of not grieving, and how to recognise incomplete grief through some common symptoms:

  • Sudden bursts of anger/irritability: Being annoyed or getting railed up over slight issues that wouldn't bother you usually. This is a sign of all the pent-up grief hiding within you.
  • Obsessiveness/emotional rewind: Being obsessed with the death of the loved one, the events that followed that death, are part of normal grieving. But if the obsession prolongs and the person can't move on from the emotional rewind, this stage symbolises incomplete grief.
  • Always expecting the worse: After the traumatic experience, it becomes a sort of anxiety or a very heightened fear that something worse will happen to your loved ones.
  • Overreaction: It’s normal grieving after a trauma, a person prepares himself/herself for future sadness, but those suffering from incomplete grief move to two extremes;
    • Relying totally on someone to console the pain of the lost loved one.
    • Pushing everyone away from themselves.
  • Adopting Self Harming behaviours: Everyone has their unique capacity to grieve their loss. Some can handle it, and after going through healthy grief, they learn to accept their loss. But some use alcohol, drugs, and other means to comfort themselves, which leads only to self-harm.
  • Complete Numbness: Pulling the shutter down on the grief results in a numb, empty feeling. This feeling doesn't symbolise that the grief is over; rather, it is being avoided, which affects the individual's life by having no will to do anything.




Is Action the Only Cure for Grief? What Sort of Action?


Yes, a potential healthy grieving mechanism is "Action". Now, what does action imply? We can describe this action as the will to endure pain and not run away from grief or absorb all the feelings that come in the path of grieving your loved one's death. This action can also be referred to as taking help or doing things to make peace with your pain. An action also specifies how you handle yourself physically to cope with grief using exercise or other methods. Grief is a treacherous journey filled with emotions and memories of our loved one, where facing pain is necessary, and the more we love the person, the more intense our grief will be. If we run away or try to shut our grief, it will only result in more complications like incomplete grief.




Does Grief Get Worse Before It Gets Better?


One thing about grief no one tells you about grief is that it will get worse before it gets better. The most tough time comes 4-6 months after a loss. The numbness and shock wear off and you felt a new reality. This experience can be hard because your family and friends may expect you to feel better at precisely the time you're at your worst.





Understanding Grief FAQs

"What we have once enjoyed we can never lose; all that we deeply love becomes a part of us."

Helen Keller

Coping with Grief Tips

How to cope with grief after the death of a spouse/ loved one?

Losing a spouse/loved one is one of the most heart-aching experiences one goes through in his/her life. It's an overwhelming burden of uncertainty and confusion.

 

These are some tips that may help ease your pain:

 

Give yourself space: 

So, it's natural to feel confused, overwhelmed and lost. Allow yourself to mourn, as it will help you express your pain and is an essential part of healing.

Everyone has their unique way of grieving: 

Try not to compare your grief with someone else's grief, so take each day as a baby step to grieve at your own time.

Share your feelings: 

Let everything out of your heart and allow yourself to speak your heart out. You can do this through any combination of the list below: 

  1. Lean on to your support network/system of family and friends to share your feelings and memories of your loved one. 

  2. Become a part of a grief support group, share your experience, feelings and share mutual support for each other. 

  3. You may seek the professional help of grief counsellors or therapists if you’re struggling to cope.

 

Be ready for mixed up emotions: 

There will be times where you will be overwhelmed with feelings of confusion, pain, grief, regret and anger. Don't be too hard on yourself by ignoring self-care or blaming yourself continuously for death. 

All these overwhelming emotions are a part of the grieving process and a natural reaction to grieving the death of a loved one.

 

Be compassionate towards yourself: 

 

Respect what your body and mind are telling you and accept those limits. Get rest, take a healthy diet, and lighten your schedule.

Treasure the memories: 

 

Share the memories of good times, bad times, and keep them close to your heart. They are the legacy of your spouse that will always be a part of your heart.

Grief is a journey: 

Remember, grief is not an event but a process that takes time. Be kind to yourself and respect your limits. Take one step at a time and gradually move forward.

Supporting Someone Bereaved

What advice/tips would you give to a grieving person? How can you speed up the grieving process?

Grieving and mourning a loved one is a very tragic yet inevitable experience of life. Grief will take the time it needs, as it can't be accelerated or pinned according to a map. 

The time also varies based upon your connection with the loved one and the circumstances of your loved one’s death. We all need help to move on from grief.

 

Therefore, as a friend, I would advise you:

Face the new normal: 

Unless you accept the sad reality of the tragedy you have gone through, you cannot move on in life and recover from it. 

You will be stuck in the same loop for days and years, asking yourself, "Did that just happen!" But why me? This can't be happening.

Drugs won't help: 

It's also worthwhile to notice, suppressing one's emotional pain with external sources like drugs, sleeping pills, or alcohol never works. 

You are merely deceiving your brain with chemicals that can have adverse effects in the long run. Sure, drugs and alcohol can ease the pain for a while, but they merely envelop the pain, not end it. 

Whenever you are going to remove the envelope, the letter's message will be the same. By resisting your emotions, you'll be engaged with an inner-conflict with yourself that might destroy your peace of mind.

Invest in healthy relationships: 

Know that we, as humans, are social beings , and you can't expect to get through grief alone. You need someone to share your grief, someone to lend you a helping hand when you are at your lowest.

Conclusion

In this article, I covered all the basic concepts regarding grief, loss, and how to cope with the loss of a loved one.

 

I discussed how healthy and incomplete grief affects a person, why healthy grieving is essential, and the stages of grief. 

This article also includes tips, ideas on how to deal with grief and provide grief support to your loved ones.

 

Hopefully, these tips will help you on your journey to healing and wholeness. Keep sailing until you reach the shore. There is a new journey once you arrive.

Bereavement Peer Support Group

The support group aims to create a safe space to share stories, experiences and receive mutual support amongst peers who have experienced a similar loss on their journey to heal, find hope and thrive

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