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Grief, Loss, and Bereavement

Most people will experience loss at some point in their lives. Grief is a reaction to any form of loss. Bereavement is a type of grief involving the death of a loved one.

Bereavement and grief encompass a range of feelings from deep sadness to anger. The process of adapting to a significant loss can vary dramatically from one person to another. It often depends on a person’s background, beliefs, and relationship to what was lost.


Grief is not limited to feelings of sadness. It can also involve guilt, yearning, anger, and regret. Emotions are often surprising in their strength or mildness. They can also be confusing. One person may find themselves grieving a painful relationship. Another may mourn a loved one who died from cancer and yet feel relief that the person is no longer suffering.

People in grief can bounce between different thoughts as they make sense of their loss. Thoughts can range from soothing (“She had a good life.”) to troubling (“It wasn’t her time.”). People may assign themselves varying levels of responsibility, from “There was nothing I could have done,” to “It’s all my fault.”

Grieving behaviors also have a wide range. Some people find comfort in sharing their feelings among company. Other people may prefer to be alone with their feelings, engaging in silent activities like exercising or writing.


Grief can vary between individuals. However, there are still global trends in how people cope with loss. Psychologists and researchers have outlined various models of grief. Some of the most familiar models include the five stages of grief, the four tasks of mourning.

Five Stages of Grief

In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five linear stages of grief:

  • Denial

  • Anger

  • Bargaining

  • Depression

  • Acceptance

Kubler-Ross originally developed this model to illustrate the process of bereavement. Yet she eventually adapted the model to account for any type of grief. Kubler-Ross noted that everyone experiences at least two of the five stages of grief. She acknowledged that some people may revisit certain stages over many years or throughout life.

Four Tasks of Mourning

Psychologist J. W. Worden also created a stage-based model for coping with the death of a loved one. He divided the bereavement process into four tasks:

  • To accept the reality of the loss

  • To work through the pain of grief

  • To adjust to life without the deceased

  • To maintain a connection to the deceased while moving on with life


Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. Some people recover 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.

Sometimes people grieve for years without seeming to find even temporary relief. Grief can be complicated by other conditions, most notably depression. The person’s level of dependency on the departed can also cause complications.

The grieving process often involves many difficult and complicated emotions. Yet joy, contentment, and humor do not have to be absent during this difficult time. Self-care, recreation, and social support can be vital to the recovery. Feeling occasional happiness does not mean a person is done mourning.

Grieving the loss of a loved one be a difficult process, whether the loss is due to death, a breakup, or other circumstance. One of the hardest challenges is adjusting to the new reality of living in the absence of the loved one. Adjusting may require a person to develop a new daily routine or to rethink their plans for the future. While creating a new life, a person may adopt a new sense of identity.


The experience of grief is not something a person ever recovers from completely. However, time typically tempers its intensity. Yet an estimated 15% of people who have lost a loved one will experience “complicated grief.” This term refers to a persistent form of bereavement, lasting for one year or more.

Again, the length of time it takes for a person to grieve is highly variable and dependent on context. But when symptoms persist without improvement for an extended period, they may qualify as complicated grief. In addition, the symptoms of complicated grief to be more severe. Complicated grief often dominates a person’s life, interfering with their daily functioning.

Prolonged symptoms may include:

  • Intense sadness and emotional pain

  • Feelings of emptiness and hopelessness

  • Yearning to be reunited with the deceased

  • Preoccupation with the deceased or with the circumstances of the death

  • Difficulty engaging in happy memories of the lost person

  • Avoidance of reminders of the deceased

  • A reduced sense of identity

  • Detachment and isolation from surviving friends and family

  • Lack of desire to pursue personal interests or plans


Bereavement can involve a lot of vulnerability and pain. Like a physical injury, the emotional wounds of loss often take time to recover. If you are grieving, it is vital that you take care of yourself.

Self-care can take different forms. During the grieving process, there are five aspects of yourself that may need healing.

1. The Physical Aspect

Stress from grief can cause changes in your body. You may feel unexplained aches, sleep issues, or changes in appetite. Fatigue is especially common. Don’t be surprised if you need more rest than usual.

During this time, routine can provide a sense of stability. A nutritious diet can reduce stress, so try to eat three meals a day, even if you are not hungry. A set sleep schedule can help stabilize energy levels as well. That said, be gentle with yourself. A nap or a snack can go a long way to providing comfort.

2. The Cognitive Aspect

Your mental state may be compromised during bereavement. You may have trouble focusing or making decisions. Like the rest of your body, your brain may need a bit of a break.

You may wish to restrict or avoid alcohol use during this time. Although alcohol may make you feel temporarily better, it is not a long-term solution to grief.

3. The Emotional Aspect

You may be overwhelmed with emotion, or you may feel completely numb. There are no “bad” feelings during grief. Remember to be patient and have self-compassion.

During this time, you may need to be proactive about pursuing happiness. If you know you have an activity to look forward to, you may find it easier to get out of bed in the morning. That activity could be eating lunch with friends, watching a favorite show, or relaxing in a warm bath.

Many mourners find comfort in listening to music. Happy music may cheer a person up. Sad music can be cathartic. You may prefer different music at different stages of the grieving process. A song tied to the deceased may be too painful to listen to at first but grow nostalgic as time passes.

4. The Spiritual Aspect

When a loved one dies, it often sparks questions about death and life. People who have strong spiritual beliefs may find comfort in talking to their religious leaders. Rituals of mourning can provide validation.

Some people have no defined belief system, yet they may still seek to clarify their relationship with death and find meaning in life. Some may join a support group for people with existential questions. Others may find their own answers through meditation. Nurturing one’s spiritual self can be as vital as self-care in any other realm.

5. The Social Aspect

Grief is a difficult process to go through alone. Social support can make recovery easier. Friends and family can help you with daily responsibilities as you recover. They can also offer emotional support.

When a person dies, the dynamics between their loved ones may change. You may find yourself growing closer to some people and further from others. Different people can fill distinct needs. One friend may offer a shoulder to cry on. Another may be more suited for days when you need cheering up. Being honest about your needs can help prevent misunderstandings.

Your surviving loved ones cannot replace the deceased. However, they can help you recover from the loss.

Therapy can also be an important part of self-care.There is no shame in seeking help


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